Chapter & Verse Blog
The Manchester Literature Festival Blog
Review: Manchester Crime Scene at Manchester Town Hall
When I moved up to Manchester from Somerset in the 1990s, my parents were pretty much convinced that I was striding recklessly into some kind of warzone, with muggers on every corner and a fair chance that I would be ruthlessly bumped off by the weekend. All nonsense, of course, although I couldn’t help but think it fitting that my event for the Literature Festival this year was Manchester Crime Scene, a gathering of crime writers with a local connection brought together to discuss the importance of the city in their fiction in the beautiful environs of Manchester Town Hall.
First up, the phenomenally successful Val McDermid, who divides her time between Manchester and Northumberland, read from her latest novel, Cross and Burn, and spoke about how she began writing about Manchester not only because she was living and working here, but because she felt it was a city in transition. She also talked about something that I’ve always loved as a Manchester resident – how it’s a big city that feels small, allowing different worlds to collide in her novels, creating dynamic tension as unlikely alliances are formed between social groups.
Apparently the Tony Hill novels would have been set here had the series – critical of the police – not first appeared during the James Anderton (former Chief Constable of Manchester) years; instead, McDermid created the fictional town of Bradfield, finding this has given her more creative freedom in releasing her from the need to be entirely accurate in her descriptions of location.
Next, Cath Staincliffe, who also lives in Manchester, read from Blink of an Eye and talked about her desire to explore contemporary issues of urban life – and also (semi-jokingly, I think) how her hatred of having to do research (her “guilty secret”) meant that setting her books in areas she already knew made perfect sense. Her Scott & Bailey and Sal Kilkenny novels are all based in the area, as is Tom Benn’s Chamber Music, the second of a trilogy set in 1990s post-IRA bomb Manchester. His fiction presents the crime world through the eyes of a criminal rather than a police officer or detective, and is dialogue-heavy, using a form of vernacular that Benn feels shows the Mancunian protagonist’s character perfectly.
Once all three writers had read from their work, journalist Helen Carter led a discussion about the crime novel genre, with Val McDermid saying she feels the crime novel has become the novel of social history, and Cath Staincliffe agreeing that her interest in the great inequality in Manchester in being at risk of crime – and the fear that engenders – led her to want to chart what was happening around her as a way of tracing the city’s growth and change. For Tom Benn, who grew up in Stockport but with family in Hulme, the novels always start with the architecture – and his particular interest in the gentrification of Manchester following the IRA bombing.
One thing they all agreed on was the importance of place in the crime novel – and listening to this erudite panel in the stunning Town Hall with the sound of sirens drifting in from outside, it was hard to disagree.
About the writer: Liz Gregory is a lecturer and freelance writer. You can read her very greedy blog at Things to Do in Manchester