Crime legend Val Mcdermid.
She’s the Scottish author who created one of crime’s most popular duos in TONY HILL and CAROL JORDAN, a pairing that became a TV hit. A former tabloid reporter, she’s won multiple awards in the past two decades – and her dark, psychological thrillers continue to impress critics as much as loyal readers.
“There are certain kinds of book where it is necessary to write very directly about different kinds of violence,” she tells Crime Scene. “There’s something dishonest about not dealing directly with what violence is and how it contaminates people.”
While some authors toil away quietly, Val Mcdermid is a big personality who enjoys the sociable side of being a best-selling crime writer (11 million books sold). She’s won Celebrity Mastermind and guested on Desert Island Discs; an episode of quiz show Eggheads, with Mark Billingham and Christopher Brookmyre, airs later this year. As well as putting her literary wealth into sponsoring a stand at her beloved Raith Rovers, she’s a co-founder of the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival (and a former winner of its novel of the year). When Crime Scene runs into Mcdermid at the London launch event for this summer’s festival, she’s enjoying herself at the gathering of thriller scribes in Browns, a former courtroom that still features the judge’s bench. The author’s good spirits may partly be down to her forthcoming honour at the festival: outstanding contribution to crime fiction. When our Crime Scene interview is arranged, she’s racing to finish her next novel, Out Of Bounds, published in September. But Mcdermid seems relaxed about her deadline and welcomes the hour-long conversation about her remarkable career. “It’s better than working,” she laughs. When the discussion turns to her longevity, she suddenly realises it’s an anniversary. “God, yeah, it’s 25 years this week,” says Mcdermid of life as a full-time writer, following a career as a tabloid reporter. Her psychological profiler Tony Hill and detective Carol Jordan have become a hugely popular partnership, thanks in part to Wire In The Blood starring Robson Green and Hermione Norris. Splinter The Silence, the ninth novel featuring the duo, is one of her best. Mcdermid’s also written just as many standalones, including the adapted-for-tv A Place Of Execution, as well as separate series of novels featuring her Manchester private eye Kate Brannigan and Scottish journalist Lindsay Gordon. “My aim has always been to make every book better than the one before,” she says of her enduring crime career.
As you write your 30th thriller, how do you feel about being called the ‘queen of crime’ by some critics?
It’s very flattering to have people consider you in that sort of light. I just want to do the best job I can do and I hope people enjoy the books. It means much more to me when readers come up and say ‘I love your work’, than it does being labelled the queen of crime by a newspaper reviewer.
Does it feel like crime fiction is more popular than ever?
I’m lucky that I started writing crime fiction at the point that I did, when the genre kind of reinvented itself. I think we’re definitely in a second golden age of crime writing, and it’s become such a broad church that it can accommodate any idea that I come up with. And there are so many events and crime festivals, you do actually get out from behind the desk and get to spend time with readers, but also with other writers. It’s good to spend time with people who understand the stresses and the strains and the joys of it.
Social media has also changed writers’ routines, but Splinter The Silence exposes its dark side…
I think social media is a double-edged sword. It’s a tremendously positive thing in the way it allows people to communicate. But the other side of it is the anonymity that allows people free rein for their extremely unpleasant vitriol. There have been cases where people have killed themselves because of the pressures they’re being put under by the trolls. So trollling and the kind of abuse that goes on with social media, it made me start
We’re definitely in a second golden age of crime writing
thinking about the effect this might have.
Have you had any bad online experiences?
Not really, no. Friends of mine have had really horrible experiences online, people like J.K. Rowling. I’ve had the odd nasty tweet but you just block them. It becomes problematic when the volume gets to the point where you spend your whole day blocking people, but I’ve never had that kind of thing. My son says it’s because I’m too scary, which is not necessarily the thing you want your child to say about you!
Splinter The Silence also brings Tony Hill and the old team back together. How did you make that realistic?
I had to go away and think about it, because I had left them in quite a difficult place at the end of Cross And Burn. It made sense to me to have this idea of a regional major incidents team. So I ran it past one of the Police and Crime Commissioners that I know, and she said: “It’s not happening yet but I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens in the next five years.”
Do you see Tony and Carol as a willthey-won’t-they relationship?
I don’t really think of it in those terms. I don’t have a long-term story arc in my head – I’m not thinking they’ll slip off into the sunset together. The one promise is that I’m not going to kill them. I remember talking about this when Colin Dexter killed off Morse. He very much wanted to end the series, he wanted to stop the pressure of readers and publishers saying ‘give us the next one’. The difficulty with killing off a long-running character is that, for new readers, there’s a kind of disincentive to start a series where you know the character dies in the end. I want them to continue having a life in the heads of readers.
When you appeared at the launch of
Crime Scene last year, you said you regretted making Tony Hill suffer from impotency…
Yeah, it has given me certain problems in terms of Tony and Carol’s relationship. On the other hand, it’s quite useful to have problems to surmount because it makes you more creative. The thing I probably would have done differently, I would have set it in a real city. A fictitious city means it never feels quite as grounded to me as when I was writing about Manchester in the Kate Brannigan novels in the ’90s. Although it is handy: when I was writing Beneath The Bleeding I wanted a Premier League football club in Bradfield, so I just gave them one.
The extreme violence in The Mermaids
Singing is still shocking 20 years after it was published. Do you regret it?
Not at all. There are certain kinds of book where it is necessary to write very directly about different kinds of violence. There’s something dishonest about not dealing directly with what violence is, and what it does and how it contaminates people. I do
Mcdermid began her writing career as a newspaper reporter.
Robson Green stars as Tony Hill initv’s Wire In The Blood.