Sunday 13 April 2014

Strops, sex and death: creative essentials for crime writers.

So, there’s a blog tour on, and The Horrormoanal Woman was tagged by the very lovely writer and possessor of amazing white hair, Wendy Storer. The idea is, that I’m going to say a few words, like a bad father at a wedding or a covetous best man trying to show his lifelong friend up in front of a room of 100 drunken, beige people wearing nice clothes from BHS, because really, he would have liked to have knobbed the bride. I’m going to talk about my creative process...except for me, of course, this presents a problem. This blog that you’re reading now, festooned with lurid tales of shitting in baths full of cold baked beans and being fingered on the night bus, belongs to The Horrormoanal Woman. She’s an anonymous type, pictured right, in a snowboarding anorak. You can’t even see her face. And that’s the way she likes it. The one who does all the serious work, however, is her alter ego, Marnie Riches, who wears actual deodorant and nice clothes.
The only good hair day in 20 years.

For today only, for the purposes of this exercise, I shall write as a strange mash-up of The Horrormoanal Woman and serious author, Marnie Riches, because as Marnie Riches, I don't have a blog and as The Horrormoanal Woman, I just sit around swearing and drinking and generally lady-frotting against the flotsam and jetsam of the internet.


What am I working on?

Just like in love, you know when you've written The One. Chemistry is King.
I have a euro-noir crime thriller, Blown Away that is on submission to editors. The book is marbled with so many of my own experiences, and the characters have become so real to me, that I would say it's my soul-book - a term a friend came up with. Rather like a soul-mate. If you’re lucky enough to find a true soul-mate, you cling on for the ride no matter what, don’t you? Because you know life without them will be a poor facsimile of what it would be with them. It’s a high risk strategy emotionally. You may crash and burn. But it’s so worth it, if and when it blossoms into something wonderful. I’ve always felt like this about Blown Away

Being on submission is a tricky waiting game and can mess with your mind after a while. When my agent first started sending Blown Away out, I was faced with making a decision. Should I start something new? Should I plan further novels in the series? Or should I just twiddle my thumbs and wait? Thumb-twiddling was never an option. So, for a while, I worked on a high concept Young Adult novel. I got half way through a first draft and then Christmas happened and then I limped on for a while longer and then my inspiration ground to a halt. I switched tack and have started work on sample chapters and an outline for an entirely new adult thriller. But to be honest, my heart still beats strong for Blown Away. My fingertips are poised to launch into the second book in what I hope will be picked up as a series. Time will tell...

How does my work differ from others of its genre and why do I write what I do?

In terms of writing crime, I try to meld well-crafted prose with snappy dialogue and a plot that moves at a blistering pace. There’s no doubt that my tastes are commercial as a reader and my writing is too. I want to thrill. I want to be thrilled. I like to punctuate the darkness with lighter moments. Humour is often frowned upon in the crime genre. But life isn’t like that, is it? Even in the midst of tragedy and horror, life is full of those darkly comedic moments. We can fall in love even when our worlds are crumbling around us. We see it in TV series like, Breaking Bad. Why shouldn’t we read it in novels?

Violence is good in crime, as far as I’m concerned. It ups the stakes. I’ve always been fascinated by chains of events that turn apparently ordinary people into dangerous psychopaths. I’m interested in a serial killer’s modus operandi too. Guns? Strangle and dump, sexually motivated murders? Boring! I strive to make this element in my writing as unconventional as possible.  Best of all, I choose to have really strong, complex characters – many of them women, of course - who are often deeply flawed or anxious beneath their evil or heroic exteriors. I’m interested in blurred boundaries and grey areas. This is what holds fascination for me in life, as it does in fiction.

Different locations and cultures lend a rich, extra dimension to my writing. I have lived abroad and like to travel extensively, finances permitting. The criminal landscape of today is an international one, so why would I ever base an intricately-layered story in just one place? Blown Away is set mainly in Amsterdam, but the action also moves between Heidelberg, London and Cambridge. Writing stories with international reach offers the reader a more interesting journey.

I like to explore racial politics and have at least one major character who is Black or Minority Ethnic. Although I am white, I have a culturally rich, minority ethnic heritage. White, middle class, Anglo-Saxon is not my experience of life, so I write ethnically different characters because they feel familiar.

How does my writing process work?

Well, if I was writing as The Horrormoanal Woman, I would tell you that I wait until I have stinking PMT and get pissed off about something and then I compose a rant. Then I go through it and inject some laugh-out-loud bullshit observations and phrases, which makes me seem a little less like a homicidal old bag with an axe to grind. Writing seriously as Marnie Riches...? Not much different! In savouring the melodrama of life, stories come to me fairly thick and fast. I select the more compelling ideas. Initially, I might do an outline that is about four pages long, before embarking on the manuscript. First, I’ll write a rough draft. I’ll think it’s the best thing I ever wrote. Then I’ll realise it’s cobblers and the characters are thin. Then, I’ll do a second and third draft until it’s better and about five times longer and full of swearing and nookie (which is one of my favourite things to write – always nice to deposit new thoughts in the wank bank - and one of the most excruciating things to have other people read) and really horrible violence. Now, it’s definitely the best thing I ever wrote. By this stage, my agent might tell me it’s still shit, except he wouldn’t actually say “shit” but something like “needs a bit more thought”. I might throw a paddy in the privacy of my own home but I will listen to good advice, go back and take a machete to as much of the text as needs be, rewrite it and finally, produce something good. Maybe. Until the next draft. And most of the nookie and swearing will have gone, because reasonably well-behaved and professional, Marnie Riches is more likely to sell lots of books than that filthy cow, The Horrormoanal Woman.

So, that’s your lot. Watch out for news on Blown Away...

Now, I’ll pass the blogging baton onto two real stars

First, the tremendously inspiring and energetic Martin Ed Chatterton - a fellow north-westerner who shares my passion for crime writing, children’s fiction and general interest in world-domination.

Martin Ed Chatterton has been illustrating and writing for thirty years. His children’s books have been published in more than a dozen languages, and have won or been shortlisted in awards in the UK, US and Australia. Mort, his time-travel series is in production as a TV series by Endemol Australia. As ‘Ed Chatterton’, he writes dark crime fiction. He is currently combining writing his PhD with co-writing a children’s book with James Patterson.

...and secondly, the novelist, Emma Jane Unsworth whom I met a while ago through a mutual friend and who shares my keen interest in drinking and swearing. Her word-wrangling is both elegantly executed and funny.

Emma Jane Unsworth's first novel Hungry, the Stars and Everything won a Betty Trask award and was shortlisted for the Portico Prize 2012. Her short story 'I Arrive First' was included in The Best British Short Stories 2012 (Salt). Her second novel Animals will be published by Canongate in May. 


  1. What a fascinating insight into your creativity, Marnie. Great post.

    1. Thanks, Wendy. Glad you enjoyed it. Seems weird to be writing sensible things here, instead of smut!