Crime fiction writers give a panel at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, March 2014
By Iffat Siddiqi
DUBAI -- The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature 2014 (held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai), which took place at the InterContinental Hotel in Dubai Festival City, organized a panel on crime writing. The session, called “The Thrill of the Chase and the Twist in the Tale - The Crime Panel: Peter James, Simon Kernick, Camilla Lackberg and Deon Meye,” started at 9:30 on the morning of Friday March 7. The session was both interesting and thrilling. The writers on the panel were the best of the best in crime writing from around the world and very proficient at their craft. They generously shared their passion for writing and the process that they go through while writing with the audience. Peter James and Simon Kernick are British crime writers, while Camilla Lackberg is a Swedish crime writer whose books have been translated into more than thirty languages. Deon Meye is a South African writer who writes thrillers in Afrikaans and then translates them into English.
The panel opened with the host asking each writer when he or she decided that he or she wanted to be writers. Lackberg replied that she knew she wanted to be a writer when she was four and wrote her first picture book; it was about Santa Clause and his wife. The book was four pages long and starts on a happy note, but something goes horribly wrong and Santa’s wife is beaten to death in the end. Lackberg said that she has always been the fan of Agatha Christie and follows her style of narration. Here Peter James interjected that he does not follow traditional crime writing techniques and narration. All the writers agreed that they knew they wanted to be writers from a young age, but did not start writing until later in life. The journey was not easy as they all had faced rejection in one way or another, especially Kernick, who sent his first book to almost three hundred publishers and was rejected by them all. They all emphasized that a writer must nevertheless be persistent and not give up.
The writers on the panel then moved on to talk about the craft of writing. The discussion opened with the creation of characters, as the writers agreed that it is the most important part of the writing process. According to Meye, it is important to create empathetic characters who capture the audience and keep them involved in the events of the story. Meye said that empathetic characters are those that are not perfect but flawed, as that keeps the reader interested in the story.
James then went on to talk about inspiration. He said that characters are based on people in your life. This does not mean that you replicate the person as a character, but you pick certain personality traits in people that you find interesting and elaborate on them. According to James, this makes for interesting characters who interact with a reader. While discussing characters, the writers on the panel, who were mostly male, talked about how difficult it is for them to create female characters, as they do not have insight into the female mind.
The discussion then moved on to plot. Kernick said that as a crime writer, he keeps in mind the time frame and location. Time is very important as it sets the pace of the story and the rate at which the crime is solved. Kernick also highlighted that the place at which the crime is committed is important as well because you must take into account whether or not it is monitored by security cameras. For example, if the crime happens at a public place, the murderer can easily be identified. He said that if you cannot come up with a plausible explanation for how the crime was carried out, the plot is lost. Here Lackberg added that it is important to go into the psyche of the criminal rather than focus on innovative ways for him or her to commit the crime, as it makes for a more detailed plot that way.
At the end of the panel, the writers said that they plan at least ten percent of the book before writing as this decreases the chance of writer’s block. A lot of research goes into writing crime fiction, and if you don’t have a tentative plot before writing then the research cannot be carried out in which case a good, detailed plot cannot be developed.
The session lasted an hour with a question answer session afterwards, where the authors answered questions about their books individually.
Iffat Siddiqui is a Pakistani student in her junior year at the American University of Sharjah. She is majoring in English Literature, and hopes to pursue a career in publication. She is passionate about literature and food, and hopes to combine the two in the future. Her biggest dream is to open a bookstore and restaurant in her hometown, Karachi. She is obsessed with all things Harry Potter, and in case of fire will not leave her Elder Wand replica behind.