A New Writing Game

Over the past few weeks I have been preoccupied with the new adventure in writing, becoming a crime novelist. As many of you know, A Madras Miasma was taken up by Tom Vater and Hans Kemp of Crime Wave Press – many thanks, guys – and appeared first in e-version then quickly in paperback on Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/A-Madras-Miasma-Brian-Stoddart-ebook/dp/B00KL9KG90

Miasma has allowed me to become a member of the Australian Crime Writers Association, and an overseas member of the Crime Writers Association in the UK. Both memberships are a source of delight. Some of that, of course, stems from the names of other members. In Australia: Adrian McKinty, Kerry Greenwood, Peter Corris, P.M.Newton and all the rest. http://www.austcrimewriters.com/ In the UK: well, who is not a member? Names like Ian Rankin, P.D.James, John Harvey, Mark Billingham and others are just a few of many. http://thecwa.co.uk/ Being a fellow member does not mean equal skills, or sales, but it is a buzz to be part of the same crowd.

There is a deeper reason for that, too. The recent Bendigo Writers Festival demonstrated that reason perfectly. The ACWA ran a panel one afternoon, and followed that up with the announcement of the Ned Kelly Awards shortlists, the big prizes for the genre in Australia. The panel was fabulous, featuring Michael Robotham, Angela Savage and Garry Disher. http://www.garrydisher.com/ Michael is one of Australia’s most successful international writers, as is Garry, and Angela is one of the real rising stars. http://angelasavage.wordpress.com/

Michael RobothamAfter the session I introduced myself to Michael who is President of ACWA. He was amazing. At his Ned Kelly shortlist speech he welcomed me as a new writer. http://www.michaelrobotham.com/index.asp Angela and Garry were also very encouraging, as were the other members there. In all honesty, that is not something with which anyone with a life in academia is familiar! There, the competition, especially now, is so fierce that the once much vaunted collegiality is largely in tatters.

And that warm welcome is not restricted to the Australian crew. Last year I attended my first CrimeFest convention in Bristol, and had the same experience. http://www.crimefest.com/ This year I was able to meet as friends some great writers who have been wonderfully encouraging: Jeff Siger (check out his very successful Mykonos series), Ruth Downie (see her Russo in Roman Britain books which are best sellers in the States), Stav Sherez (shortlisted for this year’s Theakston award), Bill Ryan (his Korolev in Stalinist Russia books are brilliant) and Quentin Bates (who writes excellent Nordic noir) were just some of them.

An unexpected bonus of becoming a crime writer, then, is encountering camaraderie. The idea that writers like these would be supportive and encouraging never entered my head. It has been a joy to be even a very small part of such an open community.

There are several ideas put forward as to why this is so, but the common one is this: crime writers are used to being looked down on by the other literary fiction brigades, so find strength in numbers! While there might have been something to that in earlier times, the fact is now that the best crime novels carry as much social commentary and insight as does so-called “serious” fiction. Many writers, for example now point to the major shift that has occurred in crime writing. The “Golden Age” stars like Christie, March and Allingham concentrated most on the puzzle, with the victim simply an excuse for the puzzle. Now, though, there is a lot more empathy for the victim, and the better crime fiction is as much about the “why” as the “how”.

J.I.M. StewartSome earlier writers took the divide between crime and other writing literally. J.I.M. Stewart, for example, wrote one of my favourite campus novel series, A Staircase in Surrey, as well as literary criticism. From the mid-1930s until the mid-1940s he was Professor of English at the University of Adelaide, and retired as a professor at Oxford. As Michael Innes, however, he wrote crime fiction. While there was some cross-over for him, there was far less than might be anticipated now.

Stewart is part of a long line of mystery and crime writers who come from academia. Two leading examples now are Dominique Manotti and the very successful Fred Vargas. http://authors.simonandschuster.com/Fred-Vargas/33800314 Then there is Liam McIlvanney who is Sturt Professor of Scottish Studies at the University of Otago. The Michael Stanley books set in Botswana are written by two other academics, Stanley Trollip and Michael Sears. An outstanding Australian example is Barry Maitland who came to Australia to teach architecture. http://www.barrymaitland.com/ In addition to the members of the academy there are those with PhDs. There are a lot of them, but some well-known names at present are Denise Mina of the tartan noir school, the very successful American writer Megan Abbot, and musician-physicist-writer and stirrer Doug Johnstone. http://dougjohnstone.wordpress.com/

For that very reason, being at the crime conventions is stimulating in the extreme, because many of the writers come from diverse backgrounds, careers and experiences. My writing friend Robert Darke, for example, was a customs security officer in an earlier life. http://www.robertdarke.com/ The discussions in the bar are lively, to say the least.

So the cross-over now is more common, but there are still pitfalls. I was asked recently if I could make one paper less chatty, for a more academic audience. Perhaps I should now just stick with crime fiction writing. Mind you, I have form here. A million years ago I wrote a piece for a leading Asian Studies journal. It never appeared. One reviewer opened its critique with the memorable line, “This piece is so well written I immediately became suspicious.” Perhaps I should have started writing crime novels then. One friend has said he can’t read the book because he keeps seeing me, and that’s not what I write!

The good news is that Miasma is going along nicely enough on Amazon (though more reviews are always welcome!). A number of readers have made very kind comments as well as constructive criticisms. There has been a wonderfully encouraging review on one of the main UK blogsites which, among other things, said that some of the writing was the “most gripping” the reviewer had read “in a long time.” http://www.crimefictionlover.com/2014/08/a-madras-miasma/

That raises one of the other changes, the promotion. As a New Zealand academic of Scottish stock, my natural tendency is to downplay things. In this new writing age, social media and other outlets are a vital part of getting the work known, so it means a change of approach which is sometimes uncomfortable. (The friend who can’t read the book tells a great story about this sort of humility. Question: “Why didn’t you tell me you were from Aberdeen?” Answer: “I didn’t want to skite!”)

So the second Le Fanu novel is now in full draft and about to be edited. Watch out on Crime Wave Press. http://www.crimewavepress.com/ It will be out before the end of the year, and might well be launched at the Georgetown Literary Festival in Penang, Malaysia at the end of November, and where I get to do my debut as a crime fiction panel member. http://georgetownlitfest.com/

That will be another great encouragement because it will also feature the same elements of encouragement and support that I have found elsewhere. This has been a great shift of field, thanks to all those other marvellous writers out there whose work I have enjoyed reading and whom I now get to meet. There are a lot worse things to be doing.

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Comments
4 Responses to “A New Writing Game”
  1. Korr, Charles P. says:

    Dear Brian: Glad to get the good news about the book and what has come from it. Your involvement with other mystery writers sounds exciting and it also brought back some interesting and good memories for me. Your comments about the comradeship of the mystery writers in response o be “looked down on” reminded me of what I like about most of the members of NASSH. There has been a sense of supporting one another and I’ve always felt that was in reaction to the “that’s not real history” comments of colleagues. The downside has been that too many times there has been reluctance to challenge the work of other NASSH members. On a more personal note, I’ve had a few very special times at meetings of the Crime Writers Association in London. I often stayed with friends, Katharine Whitehorn and Gavin Lyall. Gavin died a few years and was the writer of very good espionage novels. He was a member of CWA, as well as the Detection Club. I went to some of the receptions of the former and dinner of the latter and always had a very special time. Not much new here. Anne is going through a new round of physical therapy for the bursitis in her hip. The p.t. seems to be helping, but pain is still severe and walking is difficult. The bizarre part is that the spinal surgery was a complete success ad causes no problems. I just got back from a brief trip to L. A. and Oregon coast. Went to a memorial for a friend I met in high school and got to see a few other friends in L. A. I’ll be in New York a couple of times in thr winter and plan to be in London for a week in February. Would be great to figure out a way to see you ad Sandi. regards too all, Chuck ________________________________

    • Hi Chuck

      Great to hear from you, and our best to Anne, as ever. The CWA is an extraordinary group with a long and impressive history, of course, and continues to do great things.

      What I like, really, is the chance to do something new, because it is refreshing and interesting at the same time.

      At some point we will coincide somewhere!

      Cheers

      Brian

  2. bern1509 says:

    Dear Brian

    I enjoyed this post, the previous one introducing your character, and your reading list.

    I’ll get hold of your novel and pleased to see you embracing your new career. May you meet with publishing success. I have only just moved back to reading novels in the past year or two but have very much enjoyed Philip Kerr (Berlin Noir, the Prague one and a couple of others), Lionel Shriver (half a dozen), a couple of Garry Disher books and most recently three by Kate Atkinson. For the past five years or so my main reading aside from history and biography has been essays, short stories and memoir.

    Over the last few years I’ve written a lot of short form material in note books, some of which is fiction as well as pieces of memoir. A few months ago I wrote a 70,000 word memoir which deals with my life up to the age of thirty-five and has been a lot of fun to produce. I plan to publish this via print-on-demand. I have found a lot of this writing has had a liberating effect on my sports writing and made me a better writer overall.

    Best regards

    Bernard Whimpress

    • Hi BJW, great to hear from you. There are several good points you make, among them the idea that seeking new writing avenues helps improve the more customary ones. I agree totally with that. It is the same with reading different stuff: it makes you think more clinically about the stuff we do otherwise. As Chuck says above, in areas like sport that is important where, sometimes, the uncritical acceptance of work does no-one a service.

      I’ll watch out for the memoir, wonderful.

      And among the crime writers I am following currently: Adrian McKinty, Liam McIlvanney, Gordon Ferris, Megan Abbot. Kerr remains among my faourites, tho I thought the most recent a bit pedestrian.

      Keep up the great work

      Cheers

      Brian

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