THE IN­TER­RO­GA­TION

VAL MCDER­MID

Crime Scene - - CONTENTS - BY AN­DRE PAINE

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.

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