What is better than a Friday evening spent in the company of two of the best British crime writes? Not much and AyeWrite! Knows it. The Mitchell Theatre opened its doors and it welcomed a full room of crime book lovers who were queueing to see Ann Cleeves and Alex Gray and they certainly got an evening to remember.
Chaired by Jenny Brown, founder of the leading literary agency in Scotland and also an agent for Alex Gray, the discussion delved deep into the art of writing, Ann’s and Alex’s new novels and what the future might bring. Alex’s 16th William Lorimer book is called The Stralker and is once again set in Glasgow. The novel reflects life in more than just the dark parts of the book but also in the way that the main character is a writer and has an event in Waterstones Sauchiehall street; the same place that Alex Gray held an event for the book. Life is imitating art, and vice versa, and both Alex and Ann believe that crime writing is like a mirror that reflects humanity at its best and at its lowest. Ann Cleeves’s new novel, Wild Fire, is the last of the series and revolves around community and kindness, a recurring topic in Ann’s novels, which in our times of turmoil is relevant and important. Throughout the talk about their book the audience ”Aawwed” and ‘Aaahhhed” at the sudden twists and turns that the authors shared with us. Both of them captivating talkers, chaired by an incredibly good interviewer, Ann and Alex also touched upon the setting of their books, which seems to be very deliberate throughout their body of works.
Both authors emphasise the importance of setting. Alex’s books are primarily Glasgow based whilst Ann’s move from Shetland to Northumberland depending on the protagonist in the book. Ann repeatedly highlighted how vital the setting is for her book as she truly believes that a place in the sense of community is crucial for a good crime book. Alex agreed with this and the role nature can play in crime books. Crime writers examine the darkest side of human nature and if there is a beauty and nature in the setting of a book this can elevate the dark writing as it can sometimes be overpowering and dense.
Although they usually know where the book will take place neither of them plans the plots ahead of time. ” It’s definitely a kind of magic.” Alex said and it was wonderful to hear how both of them wake up early in the morning, sit down and let the writing take its course; a very spontaneous process takes place and the writer takes the place of the reader as they slowly figure out the plot of a story. However, they both mentioned that they do some research in order to keep the criminal and procedural elements of their books as close to reality as possible. Alex explained that she works with the police so that her writing can mirror life and sound authentic. Ann mentioned that most of the time she makes things up but she also uses the help of a crime scene manager for the trickier parts of her crime writing. All of these complexities to crime writing, from setting to the actual crime, was discussed with such an ease and understanding of their craft that it was easy for the audience to understand the machinations behind the writing process and the complex nature of creating a book which was truly revelatory for those of us who do not write even as a hobby.
After so many published books by both of them it came as a surprise to hear that Alex and Ann were not an instant success. Alex revealed that she didn’t believe she would get to book sixteen. She did not even believe she would get book number one published let alone make a whole series out of it and yet she got her breakthrough with The Riverman, which completely changed her career. This was a sentiment shared by Ann Cleeves who got her game changer after having written twenty books. Raven Black was the book that made Ann Cleeves so well known and she believed that the location of the book played a huge role in this success because it reminded people somewhat of Scandi noir settings. It was truly humbling to hear that even such great names did not make it overnight and it was also encouraging for everyone that struggles to know that there is a chance to eventually get there if you keep on pushing hard which both Ann and Alex have experienced.
With so many books under their belts unsurprisingly they have new projects they are working on which are due out this year. Ann Cleeves’ new novel, The Long Call, is coming out in September and it is a part of a new series, which once again will focus on human geography. Alex Gray currently has no title for hew new book but shared that she is 50,000 words deep into it so the readers can expect something new very soon. Needless to say that these books are a must for the crime book lovers out there and if anyone gets the chance to hear Ann and Alex speak, this writer urges you to do so as it was a genuine pleasure to spend an hour in their company.
Photo courtesy of Michelle MacLean.
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