Crime Fiction? I said, mildly appalled.
Not having had any dealings with publishing before, I thought to be classified as a writer of genre fiction was somewhat demeaning. This is an example of the ignorant state I was in. Of course, like many first-time writers I had thought I had written a literary novel, the best I could possibly write, potentially the next Booker Prize winner.
A little like a kinda sorta twenty-first-century Virginia Woolf.
To me back then, crime fiction was a lowly form. It was the Aggies I would guiltily devour from from a holiday cottage’s shelves while my husband sat with his James Joyce. It had police and a murderer and a neat conclusion. No book I have ever written has any of that.
But no. It was crime fiction, Simon insisted. Because it had a plot, twists, darkness and death. ‘A bit like Sophie Hannah,’ he said.
What? I thought. But I love Sophie Hannah’s books. And so they were crime fiction? Really? And then I suppose I have always enjoyed Barbara Vine, P D James, Ruth Rendell, Patiricia Highsmith…
I have since learned that, of course, crime fiction is one of the finest and broadest forms of fiction. Finest because the writer has to create an utterly believable world while keeping the reader guessing, turning the page, siding with the characters and enjoying the story. And broadest because it takes in everything from the hard-edged cop thriller to the twisted psychological end which is more my home. Crime fiction also has the most devoted, prolific and critical readers, and the best parties and festivals.
So now I’m a little wiser, I’m delighted to be marketed as crime fiction. However, the genre breaks down into a number of sub-genres, and this is useful because it helps readers decide which of the thousands of books published every year they are going to like. You have spy thrillers, cosy crime, police procedural, suspense, horror, paranormal, historical, psychological, zombie, dystopian, etc, etc.
All four of my books have been put in the psychological thriller sub-genre, but I’ve often felt that this doesn’t quite do the job. Yes, they’re psychological in that the action often is a result of the imperfect minds of my characters. But that can be applied to almost all works of fiction. Also, while I hope I have written page-turning stories, with shocks and surprises and the odd chilling moment, the engine driving my work is more an unravelling than the high octane roller coaster suggested by the word ‘thriller’.
So some readers have expectations raised by that word that aren’t met. I know I shouldn’t read my Amazon reviews, but I have picked up the odd critical response along those lines (eg ‘Good, but not a thriller’). So, for the past year I have been digging around for a name for a sub-genre for my work. Finally, over a G&T at Bristol Crimefest this year, Sam Eades my publicist at Headline and I came up with the term Domestic Noir, which really captures what I’m up to. I’d also say it might be a good sub-genre home for writers like Erin Kelly, Araminta Hall, Louise Millar, Paula Daly, Samantha Hayes, even more literary types like Louise Doughty, Julie Myerson and Lionel Shriver.
In a nutshell, Domestic Noir takes place primarily in homes and workplaces, concerns itself largely (but not exclusively) with the female experience, is based around relationships and takes as its base a broadly feminist view that the domestic sphere is a challenging and sometimes dangerous prospect for its inhabitants. That’s pretty much all of my work described there.
So this is my first outing of the phrase. What do you think? Does it describe our work better than psychological thriller? Can you think of other writers who might fit into it? Can you extend the definition? I’d be really interested to hear your views.