Journalists. Police officers. Doctors. Engineers. School teachers. I met a lot of crime writers at the Bloody Scotland crime writing festival – and pretty much all of them had another string to their bow.
As someone who came to fiction writing late, I found it really heartening to discover that my fellow “new” crime writers picked for the Crime in the Spotlight strand of the festival were not the dynamic 20-somethings of my imagination, fresh from their creative writing MA. I wasn’t the elderly elephant in a roomful of under-30s, but typical of a group of professionals who’d spent 20 or 30 years working at one field or other, before translating that wealth of life experience to writing fiction.
For some of us, writing is a second job – I wasn’t the only working journalist who’s turned to fiction, and I met a teacher who manages to scribble down a novel during the six week summer holiday (respect!).
Others had begun writing after retiring from a career in medicine, or in the police force, or the army. Perhaps it’s no surprise that these professions that can bring you up close and personal with the grittier side of life tend to produce writers of crime fiction.
But the biggest surprise was Yrsa Sigurdardottir, the wildly-successful Icelandic crime writer I was paired with. I was amazed to discover that she doesn’t write full time – far from it. She’s an engineer who runs her own construction company.
Writing, she said, was like a hobby she turned to at the end of a hard day’s planning construction projects with her team. She says she takes a couple of weeks off when she’s nearing the end of a book, to get it ready for publication. Is it hard to go back to work again? Certainly not. ‘I kiss the floor of the office ,’ on her return to work, she said!
I get that. Working in the ‘real world’ means you engage with people, share the load, focus on clear, deliverable results. Writing a novel is about trying to choose between the endless possibilities in your own head, and what you hoped to achieve never seems quite to translate onto paper. Perhaps that’s why so many writers in the crime genre, which involves letting your imagination go to some pretty unsavoury places, are firmly rooted in the real world outside of fiction.
By the way, if you’re a crime fiction fan, I can heartily recommend the Bloody Scotland festival. It was tremendous fun, with a wide variety of events catering to every type of crime fiction imaginable. See you next year?