Unbound: Hull Noir at Humber Mouth

Introduced by crime writer Nick Triplow, Hull Noir presented Unbound in the Reading Room at Hull Library as part of this year’s Humber Mouth. The panel discussion led by Ali Harper featured Eva Dolan, Jo Jakeman and Sarah Hillary all four prize-winning and critically acclaimed authors from the world of Crime Fiction. 

Unbound by Hull Noir with Ali Harper, Eva Dolan, Jo Jakeman and Sarah Hillary picture Jerome Whittingham @Photomoments

Over the next hour the four women explored the reasons behind the rise in women writing and reading crime fiction.  Jo Jakeman author of Sticks and Stones described how it wasn’t until she spoke with her publishers that she realised that this story she was telling about domestic abuse fitted into the crime fiction genre. She explained that she thinks of herself as writing domestic noir but there are many different ways to frame psychological thrillers.

Sarah Hillary author of the Marnie Rome series suggested that the reason that women authors could write crime stories that connected with their audience was due to female intuition and an inbuilt heightened sense of danger after young girls being told to be wary of strangers, to be afraid of the dark. “This heightened sense of danger,’ she continued, “Allows us to explore darker aspects of society and ourselves.’

Asked about the way they tackle representations of power and violence Eva Dolan said that she was acutely aware to not play on those fears but reminded the audience of something Val McDermid said recently when asked the same question that When men stop hurting women we’ll stop writing about it. “You have a responsibility to lots of things when you write about crime beyond gender.”

Talking about how some story lines could trigger memories for a reader, perhaps memories of experiences they’d rather not be reminded about Eva said that she guards against being exploitative, exploring feelings rather than the myriad ways to cut up a body for instance.

Sarah spoke about the way she has to be honest with her characters. ‘Crime readers are the smartest and most attuned readers,”  and in that way her characters can help open doorways into the readers own lives, that means something to their experience.

The role of relationships is discussed at length family set ups, Sarah describes how she isolates her main characters so that they are not wrapped up in perfect family situations. The nuclear family being too perfect for crime novels.

The panel discussed stereotypes male predators, female victims and how they feel i is necessary and more believable to challenge themselves and the readers by writing nuanced characters with flaws and weaknesses. D.I. Marnie began quite prickly,” says Sarah Hillary, “By book five she is much more likeable. I found that her strength came from how she makes herself more emotionally vulnerable. Describing Marnie’s backstory she says describes how Marnie was in torment, torturing herself for not spotting a murderer living right under her nose in the family home. Her latest novel Come and Find Me opens with a prison riot and her murderous stepbrother who has never fully explained the reasons behind killing Marnie’s parents now hospitalised.

Eva Dolan’s describes her approach to writing and how she starts not with character but an issue, in the past she has explored disability hate crime. It is the timely subject of gentrification that has moved her to write her latest book This Is How It Ends that sees developers tearing down social housing to build luxury flats leaving just six inhabitants fighting against eviction. Eva also explores inter-generational relationships with her two protagonists Molly and Ella. She describes how she feels that there aren’t any portrayals of nuanced older women suggesting that after they have become too old to be an attractive victim they are just not seen. Through Molly, a lifelong protestor who began on Greenham Common and the twenty year old political blogger Ella she can explore intense friendships and intergenerational conflict things rarely seen in the genre.   

During the Q & A the four writers talk about their different approaches: start with character, then pace ‘It’s not fair to dawdle,’ they talk about the importance of secrets, breadcrumb trails and the seemingly sticky question of the presence of good prose in crime fiction. “Writers care more about it than they’d care to admit,” concludes Eva. The evening ends with a lively lighter discussion on the pitfalls of self-publishing and the pros and cons of Amazon reviews.

Look out for more fascinating insights into crime fiction presented by Hull Noir in 2019.