Another panel discussion I enjoyed very much at the recent Ubud Writers' and Readers' Festival was the one on crime fiction which featured Marele Day, Kathy Reichs, and Nury Vittachi.
Marele Day, the author of four award-winning crime novels featuring the first Australian PI, Claudia Valentine, says we enjoy reading crime fiction because it enables us to travel to places we wouldn't normally venture into and we feel comforted while we read about danger.
With crime, she says, there's also the pleasure of the narrative. It has a well constructed plot, the stakes are high for the characters and we have characters we care about. The author plays with what we expect, and we like to be teased. She actually reckons it wouldn't be at all a bad thing for all writers to try a crime novel to hone their skills!
It was the she says that the story telling aspect, she says, that drew her to crime fiction in the first place, and she decided to set the novels in the part of Sydney where she lived and to write in the noire style she liked in the work of other crime writers.
Nury Vittachi reckons that science has tried to murder the detective novel and the fun part of solving crime has disappeared into the laboratory. (Which is true really, if you think about it!) So he is making a conscious attempt to put back the fun element in his crime novels. The protagonist of his five novels is feng-shui master C.F. Wong.
When crimes are committed in Hong Kong, the feng shui master is sent for to find out why the balance of harmony is out of kilter. What would happen, Nury found himself wondering, if the feng-shui master was faster than the detective?
Most crime fiction has a western setting, he says, and he wanted to spread the message about a new world by setting his fiction in Asia. One of the underlying themes of the books is the problems that east and west have in communicating with each other, and he plays on the use of English to illustrate this. But, the message is, if they do learn to understand each other, they can solve the world's problems.
Kathy Reichs is a professor of forensic anthropology, and took to writing crime fiction to earn a little side money! She draws on real life cases for her material, and the main character of her novels is Temperance Brennan who is like Reichs herself, a forensic anthropologist. (Temperance works in the lab at night and writes about a character called Kathy Reichs in the daytime!).
Reichs is also an adviser for the Fox TV series, Bones, and says she helps them to keep the science honest. (She has a friend who is adviser for Silent Witness, my favourite TV programme.)
(Nury has a great blog post on having lunch with Kathy Reichs.)
I'm actually wondering why I am so sniffy about crime fiction on the page, but love it on the telly. After this session, that might be set to change!