A Thrilling Companion

How would your ideal fitness instructor be? A kindly ear to those New Year’s resolutions? Strict? Funny? You may wonder where this is going. I ask because I recently started to plan a thriller. If you’ve ever written something lengthy you’ll know it can be a kind of marathon. Searching for guidance, I found it in A Companion to Crime and Thriller Writing via a dedicated (and dead-pan) pair of literary personal trainers.

Crime writers Michelle Spring and Laurie R King guide the novice around the machinery of Thriller writing. Revealing their own practices, this study of style and structure is delivered in tangible detail, with dark humour.

With guest chapters by authors Val McDermid and Sara Paretsky, among many others, reading this guide felt similar to sitting in on a panel of experts in conversation, without the hefty conference fee.

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In case you’re interested, in a personal trainer, I’d look for someone:

– Encouraging
– Funny
– Well-studied on bones, muscles and the like

This book has all of these qualities, almost. I didn’t really learn about biology – nor was I hoping to – beyond the cheery topic of the post-mortem. But I did gain an appreciation of the text as a physical entity and that Crime writing must reach towards substantial human truths if it is going to be more than a gruesome news story.

Encouragement from Spring and King includes sharing their own writing styles. I must admit it felt a little strange to reduce the process of creativity to only two options (Am I an Orderly or Organic writer?) as I suspect that many of us use a combination of strategies for getting our writing organised. But knowing that these modes exist did make me take a lighter look at my own pile of out-takes.

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George Pelecano’s chapter, ‘One Book, one teacher’ is profound. Taking his role as writer beyond the pages of fiction, he here details his work on literature in Washington DC’s prisons. The emotional content of his story jogged a memory in my own teaching: A relationship built on ‘Junk’

The beauty of this book is that it both trains and entertains, makes the goal of writing a thriller feel possible. Like the best coach, it shares a wealth of knowledge and never condescends.

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Interested in Crime and Thriller? I recommend this collection of short stories.

I review thrillers and literary fiction. Contact me via Twitter

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