Crimewriters Frances Fyfield and Christopher Brookmyre came to Durham on a wet and windy evening: the rain lashed the Gala Theatre, and the audience huddled into the auditorium for an evening of murder and mayhem. Fellow crime-writer Chaz Brenchley, presiding, had other ideas: "I hate lectures," he declared, "I love conversations." This was an apt introduction to an evening of sparkling conversation, in which the darkest aspects of crime were discussed with warmth and humanity.
In his introduction, Chaz Brenchley claimed that to call crime writing a spectrum is to suggest something altogether too linear. Nonetheless, the evening's guests could be seen as coming from opposite ends of the field: Christopher Brookmyre writes "high concept, high octane, in-your-face books", while Frances Fyfield writes subtle and understated murders. They each, in turn, confounded his expectations.
Frances Fyfield read a short passage from her forthcoming novel, Safer than Houses. The book features Sarah Fortune, who has, through the series of books in which she appears, made the transition from solicitor to, in the author's words, "tart with a heart". Most authors, reading from their work, choose a passage from near the beginning of the book - if not the opening itself - but Frances Fyfield's selection of a passage from near the end of the book gave away just enough to leave the reader wanting more: who is the unpleasant character who is being punished, and what has he done to deserve the nightmare retribution of being led through a crowded hotel lobby, dressed in nothing but a feather boa? This is not a murder mystery, warned the author: "I no longer feel the necessity, in books, for everyone to die."
Likewise, Christopher Brookmyre denied writing Hollywood-style high concept novels: his next book (due to be published in the spring) is a small town murder mystery entitled A Tale Etched in Blood and Hard Black Pencil, in which the investigation is interwoven with the past. He joked, waving a sheaf of loose pages, that he was doing something that his publisher hated: "I'm going to read from something you can't buy - which is the direct opposite of Jeffrey Archer!" The passage he read described the schooldays of his characters through the eyes of a child: writing about school, he declared, was writing about society. This aspect of the book lay at its heart, and he had written the childhood material before coming up with the idea of the murder: it was a departure for Christopher Brookmyre, and he was anticipating what he called "a 'Dylan goes electric' backlash".
Frances Fyfield summed up the difference between the two writers: "My style is footsteps in the dark, the fear of the fear; in all your books, the worst actually happens." But the difference was one of style. In the discussion that followed, they were substantially in agreement about the value of crime fiction as entertainment, both equally appalled by violence and using fiction as a way of exploring it, and of dealing with it. Neither of them had intended to write in the crime genre, but had discovered that their writing came to life when they tackled subjects that interested them. Both accepted the description of themselves as "addictive writers": Christopher Brookmyre had been writing since the age of eight: "The stories are conceived in your head, and somehow they must be written."
Questions from the audience covered how and when they write, how they deal with editors (and copy editors!) what they enjoy reading, and whether they enjoy seeing their work on the screen: on which the verdict was that it varies, but it can be wonderful.