Angela Savage is an award-winning writer of crime fiction and the new director of Writers Victoria. We caught up with Angela ahead of her Canberra later this month…
Why do you think crime fiction resonates with so many people? What draws you to the genre?
Earlier this year I wrote an article on the appeal of crime fiction for Smith Journal (see ‘Criminal Minds’, Vol 22, p. 115), suggesting there are multiple, at times contradictory reasons for the genre’s popularity. While crime fiction appeals to some readers for its escapism and vicarious thrills, others read it for its realism. An interesting finding coming from neuroscience is that some of us have brains wired to enjoy crime fiction: that is, we derive pleasure from the specific form of mental exercise—taking information under advisement and reassessing as we go—that is stimulated by a classic whodunit.
Personally, I’m drawn to the genre for its social realism—Garry Disher describes it as ‘a barometer of prevailing social tensions’—as well as for its great writing, memorable characters and vivid sense of place.
What kind of research do you do when working on a crime novel, and how do you ensure that it is realistic?
I set my Jayne Keeney crime novels in Thailand in the late-1990s, prior to the explosion of the internet, which has had such a profound effect on detective work. This enabled me to develop a character in the mould of the traditional detective, while placing her in the atypical position of being an expatriate woman in Thailand. Much of my research focuses on the Thai setting—the politics, culture, environment, language—and I put a lot of effort into getting these details right. This includes conducting field visits to Thailand and consulting Thai readers for feedback.
I do a bit of ‘method research’, too: for example, I’ll ask my partner (also a crime writer) to put me in a headlock, so I can figure out how my character might get out of it.
What’s your writing process? How frequently do you write, and are you a plotter or a pantser?
When I first started writing crime fiction, I was a complete pantser: I’d start a novel with no idea of how it finished. Over time, I’ve become more of a planner. Most writers are a combination of the two. My writing process involves a lot of what Marele Day calls ‘doing research in the imagination’. She does hers on the couch; I tend to do mine while walking. And I write my first drafts in long-hand. I know a few authors who do. We’re like a secret society.
Do you have any advice for aspiring crime writers?
Read, read and read. Learn from established writers in the genre. Some Australian examples that spring to mind as master-classes in crime fiction writing are Garry Disher’s Bitter Wash Road, Jane Harper’s The Dry, Jock Serong’s The Rules of Backyard Cricket, and Emma Viskic’s Resurrection Bay.
Also, write, write and write. Just get the story down. This was the best advice I was given when I first started writing. Your first draft is always rough. It’s in the re-writing that the magic happens.
What can writers expect from your upcoming Crime and Wine event?
I like to put the ‘work’ into workshop, so writers should come prepared to do a few writing exercises. I’ll provide an overview of crime fiction’s subgenres—I believe it’s important to know the rules before you break them—and touch on the essential elements of premise, character, plot and pace. There will be handouts. And wine.
Join Angela Savage at her ACT Writers Centre workshop ‘Crime and Wine’ on October 19. Click here to find out more and book.
While I’m not a big crime fiction reader, as I think Angela knows, I did enjoyed the one of hers the I read. I liked her answer regarding readers that some read “for its escapism and vicarious thrills, others read it for its realism”. I’m definitely the latter sort. I liked Peter Temple’s Broken shore, and I still want to read Bitter Wash Road.
Thanks for this interview!