Val McDermid – Oxford Alumni Weekend 2009

I’ve just returned from the most fantastic weekend in Oxford where I attended talks, readings and discussion panels with writers as part of the university’s Alumni Weekend. The next three posts will focus on highlights from the event. First up, here’s what Val McDermid had to say on crime fiction:

“The crime novel relies on the suspension of disbelief. One of the ways we do this is with a vivid sense of place. If the reader recognises streets and buildings they are more likely to believe other stuff that the author says.”

“I am a great believer that if you have three facts in your possession you can plot for half an hour on any subject.”

“When I started writing, I didn’t know a lot about police procedure. I didn’t realise at that point how much was just makey-uppy.”

Ideas generally start as something small. They’re tangents; something where I think ‘I didn’t know that. That’s really interesting!’”

“With the first couple of books it’s about developing a writing process that works for you. I used to work out the story, write it out on filing cards – I had different coloured filing cards for different plot strands – and jiggle them around till it made narrative sense. That worked really well for me for about 15 books, then it stopped working. Now I write the first 60 pages, put the book to one side to let it percolate, then I take six to eight weeks to finish the first draft.”

“I think writers have always taken revenge on people that have annoyed us over the years. You draw on your whole database of human experience when you draw your characters. Readers never recognise themselves in the unpleasant characters!”

Val McDermid’s most recent novel, Fever of the Bone, is available to buy from Amazon.

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Onwards and Upwards

My novel has been on the back burner these last couple of days so that I could concentrate on some other projects. I’m feeling a bit guilty now so I think I will go back to it tomorrow. Hopefully the days off will mean that I can start redrafting with some fresh ideas. It’s already occurred to me that one of the characters can be cut because he does not contribute to the plot (with him goes the dreaded sex scene) and that another character is far too tortured and needs to be lightened up. I’m sure when I read everything through tomorrow I will find a load of other stuff that can be sharpened up. I far prefer redrafting to the actual writing because then I know that things can only get better. Can’t wait to get started!