What's a nice girl like me doing writing dark, gritty noir fiction, you might ask? Well, it's a good question. I'm not a member of some desperate underworld gang; I don't go out on the lam or rob banks in my spare time. I don't even put a bet on the Grand National. But for some reason, I've always been fascinated by crime.
This fascination started early. Almost as soon as I was out of the 'jolly gymslips' world of Enid Blyton, I'd moved on to crime fiction, mainly thanks to a secret stash discovered in a cupboard at my grandparents' house. The pile, including books by all the classic crime authors, was hidden away in the dressing table in the guest room used by my parents, and once I found it I fell on the likes of Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Georgette Heyer, and Josephine Tey, and devoured the lot. And loved them.
Back then, I mostly liked the puzzles. Just who was responsible for the murder? (Because in those books, there always was a murder.) Who was responsible for the dead body, or in many cases, the trail of dead bodies? And how would Poirot, or Miss Marple, or Peter Wimsey, be able to solve such a baffling case? (Because in those books, the detective always does solve the case.)
In my teens, the fascination moved on to cop shows on TV. My parents had always watched the old-time whodunnits and police series like Dixon of Dock Green, Z Cars and Sutherland's Law but now a new wave of exciting, gritty stuff turned up, probably kick-started by one of the first series ever to make it over the Atlantic from America. Starsky and Hutch looks pretty tame these days but back then it was so new, so controversial, and so very different to the stodgy fare on offer in Britain, that my Dad forbade me from watching it. I managed to sneak the occasional episode when his back was turned, and once at University with a tiny black and white TV of my own, moved on to the British versions like The Sweeney and The Professionals. These had fast, pacy plots, car chases (with the inevitable scattering of dustbins and cardboard boxes) and a tendency to focus on the darker underbelly of British society, rather than the cosy middle-class world of the classic whodunnits.
In the end, it's the grit that has stayed with me longest. I still occasionally dip into classic detective novels, but much prefer a darker, more realistic tinge to my fiction (Sebastian Faulks, say, or such modern authors as Sarah Hilary or Michael J Malone). And I absolutely love the so-called 'Brit Grit' genre which has sprung up here in the UK, in small presses and short-story anthologies, in the last few years. Authors like Ian Ayris, and Paul D Brazill, who like me cut their crime-writing teeth in the Radgepacket series from Byker Books. (Now sadly deceased, Byker published six anthologies of darkly humorous short stories, including three of my own under a different pen name, and was excellent at supporting newly emerging authors.)
All of that came together when I decided to switch from various different genres to writing crime alone. Unusually, I decided not to focus on the typical detective-as-main-character format, but to write from the point of view of all the other characters in a crime novel. Some of my stories feature victims (often turning the tables on their tormentors, as in 'Trick of the Trade', or 'Tuning the Old Joanna'.) Some involve the criminals themselves ('Dead Man Walking', 'Enjoy the Trip'.) But mostly I write about ordinary people, getting themselves into trouble and sometimes, but not always, getting themselves back out again.
The best example of this is my debut novella, 'Raise the Blade' (published by Caffeine Nights). In this, six very different victims end up trapped in a serial killer's web through their own flawed decisions, and may not make it out alive. It's dark, even gruesome (though with gleams of gallows humour) and it's about as far from a cupboard full of Agatha Christie novels as you can get. But the influence of Christie and her fellow 'Queens of Crime', and of those old TV series, is probably still there if you know where to look. I hope you'll dip into the book, and let me know if you can spot it.
"Like a spider wrapping flies...
When psychopath Duncan leaves a trail of duct-tape-wrapped bodies scattered across the suburbs of Birmingham, there's nothing to link the victims except his own name and address, carefully placed on each new corpse.
Six very different people follow his clues, each convinced they can use Duncan to further their own selfish or naive ends. Is there a reason Duncan's driven to target these particular individuals, or does their very nature contribute to their fate? Will any of them be strong enough to break the cycle and avoid a painful death? Or will Duncan reel them in and rearrange them to his own insane ideal?"
Darkly humorous novella 'Raise the Blade' (Caffeine Nights Publishing) examines the theory that certain people contribute to their own downfall through the choices they make, whilst referencing Pink Floyd's brilliant track Brain Damage - and the odd elephant or two.
Available in Kindle or paperback from Amazon.
Liverpool lass Tess moved away to work at a tender age. Since then her movements around the country have resembled a game of ‘Pong’, but she’s now settled in the far north of England, where she roams the fells with a brolly, dreaming up new stories and startling the occasional sheep.
Although officially a history graduate, Tess has long been a student of the darker side of human nature, and one of her favourite hobbies is watching the people around her. Many of her stories feature revenge, but she’s never been tempted to get her own back on anyone herself. Except, of course, by writing them into her stories… which you can find at the likes of Shotgun Honey, Pulp Metal Magazine, Out of the Gutter Online, Exiles: An Outsider Anthology, Drag Noir from Fox Spirit, 'Rogue' from Near to the Knuckle, and Crime Syndicate magazine. Her debut psychological noir novella 'Raise the Blade' is available from Caffeine Nights Publishing.
You can follow her ramblings, both literary and literal, at her website.