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Friday 28 December 2018

Killer Women Weekend 2018

Report by Radmila May
What is Killer Women?
Killer Women is an author collective of 21 female criminal-writers who work together to put on exciting and innovative crime fiction events around the country in which women and men writers participate. It was founded by Melanie McGrath and Louise Millar and books by their 21 members have been reviewed by Mystery People. There is a members Crime Club of which are offered exclusive access to free chapters of new books by the members, giveaways, competitions and discounted early bird tickets to their annual Killer Women Weekends reports of which have been published in Mystery People. See the Killer Women website 

So far there have been three Killer Women Weekends, as well as numerous events in libraries, bookshops and festivals in various parts of the country. The first Killer Women Weekend (2016) took place in Shoreditch Town Hall and the second (2017) in Brown’s Hotel in Central London. The 2018 Killer Women Weekend returned to the historic Courtrooms in Brown’s Hotel and featured 15 sessions running in three parallels. Unfortunately it was not possible for me to go to all the sessions at once; what follows is a description of the five which I did go to, and the titles of and participants in the others.

Presenting Poirot: Sophie Hannah.
Sophie is the highly successful author of numerous crime novels. She told us that she had been amazed and pleased to be asked by the executors of the estate of Agatha Christie, creator of the world-famous Poirot series, to write a novel in the same style. Three titles, all set in the Golden Age, The Monogram Murders, Closed Casket, and The Mystery of Three Quarters, have followed, each of them achieving considerable success and much acclaim. She had always been a Christie fan; her current favourites are The Hollow, Evil under the Sun, Murder on the Orient Express, Three-Act Tragedy and After the Funeral. These, she felt, displayed Agatha’s talents as a writer perfectly: the balancing of character, the puzzle element, the picture of dysfunctional families, and double-layered motives for murder. In Agatha’s writing the clues were all-important, often being verbal and being repeated so readers had every opportunity to spot the clues; any failure to do so, was a failure by the reader. But Agatha was a great deal cleverer than most of her readers. And so is Poirot. And the perfection of the structure of her novels explain why they make such good TV; the series with the incomparable David Suchet is currently from time to time available on ITV3 and on Catch-Up. Taking part in this session was Agatha Christie expert Dr Mark Aldridge.

The parallel sessions were Sex Crime: Writing Sex in the #MeToo Age, presented by Erin Kelly, M J Arlidge and Chloe Esposito with Mel McGrath in the chair; and Out of Thin Air, an exposition of a true-life murder in Iceland by Anthony Adeane, Yrsa Sigurdsdottir, and Dylan Hewitt with Kate Rhodes in the chair.

Digging for Death: Forensic Archaeology, Elly Griffiths talks with Linzi Harvey
Elly is the author of the Ruth Galloway series, set in Norfolk. Ruth is a lecturer in forensic archaeology at the local university who is often called in by the local police, in the shape of DI Harry Nelson (with whom she has a complicated personal relationship), when unexplained human remains are found. Although not herself an archaeologist, Ruth’s husband is, and she also often consults Linzi Harvey who is an osteologist (a bone specialist) at the Natural History Museum. Linzi’s knowledge extends back to prehistoric times; she told us that damp is a good preserver of human bones. Apparently, 80% of enrolees on forensic courses are women, perhaps because women are especially good at puzzling out the solutions to problems. Bones don’t lie, Linzi, said but they do require expert interpretation. She described the skeletal differences between men and women, particularly the pelvis, and also methods of ageing bones. New techniques have enabled tiny fragments of bone to provide information. Much can be learned from radiocarbon-dating, but this only extends back to around 50,000 years ago (and the further back the more imprecise); beyond that, however, we can discover through examination of the bones themselves the evolution of humans from as long ago as 7 million years!

Elly’s latest Ruth Galloway is The Dark Angel and the series has been optioned for TV. She has another series, the Stephens and Mephisto novels, and has written a standalone, The Stranger Diaries. She also writes women’s novels under her own name, Domenica del Rosa.

The parallel sessions were: Mad or Bad: Inside the Mind of Psychopaths, in which the speaker was forensic psychology lecturer Jennifer Rees; Women on the Front Line, with former police officers Alice Vinten, Lisa Cutts and Caroline Mitchell, chaired by Jane Cassidy. 

Trial and Error: Is Our Criminal Justice System Broken? William Clegg Q.C. and Sarah Vaughan with The Secret Barrister, chaired by Natasha Cooper.

The problems which have beset the criminal justice system have recently been much in the news. William Clegg is a leading silk with a criminal practice, while The Secret Barrister, who communicated with the session only on the condition that he remain anonymous as he has with his book despite which (or perhaps because of) he has attained a great deal of publicity in calling to the present parlous state of affairs in the criminal justice system. Former Guardian journalist, Sarah Vaughan’s recent novel, Anatomy of a Scandal, headed the Richard and Judy list. Both William and The Secret Barrister spoke vehemently about the failures of the police and the Crown Prosecution Service with regards to issues as Disclosure (the duty of the prosecution to disclose to the defence before a trial evidence which otherwise remains hidden) which has resulted in a number of miscarriages of justice as was highlighted in a recent report by the Criminal Cases Review Commission which said that failure to disclose was the biggest single cause of such miscarriages. Most publicity has been given to cases of alleged rape, which were taken up by the tabloid press, but there are many other instances, some of which resulted in persons wrongly convicted being imprisoned perhaps for years. This, despite the long-standing common law principle that a person tried for a crime has the right to know what the evidence against him is (also enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights), and recent legislation. Nonetheless, the problems continue and are down, not to malice by the prosecuting authorities, but to savage cuts to the funding of such authorities coupled with the exponential growth in digital material. Including such a topic in a literary festival was a bold step but highly praiseworthy.

The parallel sessions were I Spy: Espionage and Surveillance in the Internet Age with Mick Herron, Asia Mackay and Luke Armitage, chaired by Sharon Bolton; and A Map for Murder: Geographical Profiling with Dr Spencer Chaney.

From Page to Screen and Back Again, Paula Hawkins and Jill Green, chaired by Alison Joseph
Alison began by stressing the importance of storytelling while Paula, author of the phenomenally successful Girl on a Train, said that she began with character which should be compelling so that we want to know what happens to her/him. Jill, producer and chief executive of Eleventh-Hour Films, agreed but said that a good narrative was also essential. She also said that casting the right actor was very important: another Rebus series is being considered with yet another actor playing the main part. In answer to the question from Alison as to why do we like crime so much, Paula said that it was a common human attribute; also we like puzzles! Of course, screen writers are vital, although authors may have an input. But, said Jill, firmly, it is the producer who takes up an idea, whether or not it comes from a book, and sees it the whole way through. As for what might be The Next Big Thing, both Paula and Jill speculated that it could be true crime or based on real crime.

The parallel sessions were My Family and Other Criminals, in which Sabine Durrant, Alex Marwood, and Louise Voss held a discussion chaired by Julia Crouch who coined the term domestic noir; and The Scene of the Crime: an Interactive Murder Mystery with Kate Bendelow, a serving crime scene investigator, former Chief Superintendent Graham Bartlett, and leading criminal lawyer Neill White.

Fresh Blood, Rachel Edwards, Alex Reeve, Lynne Truss and C J Tudor, chaired by Sarah Hilary
These were four debut authors. Alex Reeve’s The House on Half Moon Street is set in Victorian London. It is the first in a series featuring a transgender protagonist (a woman presenting herself as a man) who is suspected of the murder of the woman he loves. Rachel Edwards, herself of mixed Jamaican and African birth, in Darling describes the relationship between the black British woman, the eponymous Darling, and her white
stepdaughter. It opens on the day of the Brexit vote. In C J (Caz) Tudor’s
The Chalk Man a group of children have been making line drawings on pavements of a figure on gallows. But then the figures start appearing of their own accord and lead the children to a corpse. Lynne Truss has written many books, but A Shot in the Dark is her first venture into crime fiction. It is a comic crime novel which is set in peaceful Brighton in 1957 and features Constable Twitten.

The parallel sessions were acclaimed thriller writer Mark Billingham in conversation with crime writer and reviewer Laura Wilson; and Capital Crimes, crime fiction set in London with M J Carter, Amer Anwar, Dreda Say Mitchell, and Chris Fowler, chaired by Lesley Thomson.

I am looking forward to the 2019 Killer Women Conference. And next year there will be an event for aspiring crime writers – watch the website, we are told!

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