I’m heading to the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate tomorrow morning (for the first time ever and feeling a bit like the new girl who switches schools half way through term and has to walk into a class where she doesn’t know anyone!) so this evening, while I procrastinate instead of pack, I thought I’d share with you a story about my introduction to crime (writing): Kay Scarpetta and the woman who invented her, Patricia Cornwell.
One Christmas, back when I was (I think) either 12 or 13 (ish), a friend of mine lent me her older brother’s Patricia Cornwell paperbacks. Now, I’m not sure if she leant me one and then I bought the others, or if she lent me the whole lot and I just never gave any of them back – in fact, the more I think about this entire incident, the fewer tangible details I can recall – but I do know that several nights in a row, over the school holidays, I stayed up reading until three or four in the morning because I couldn’t sleep until I got to THE END.
Now I’m sure I’d read other crime novels before that but there was something about Cornwell and her central character, Kay Scarpetta, that moved me from mild interest to totally obsessed. The feisty women, the high-octane plots, the autopsies (ewwww), the pristine house (I STILL want my own mud room and totally OTT home security system) and the detours into highly descriptive Italian cooking sessions (???) – I loved it all. (I never quite understood why a medical examiner would be out in the field investigating crimes, but anyway…) They would be my gateway drug into Harlan Coben, Michael Connelly, Karin Slaughter, Gillian Flynn (I was reading her long before Gone Girl was a blinking cursor on her computer screen HASHTAG SMUG), and all the other amazing crime/thriller fiction writers whose books I devour today.
Last August I finished my own thriller and when it came time to write the all important cover letter, I mentioned that Cornwell was my introduction to the genre:
Crime/thriller novels have been my reading passion ever since a friend’s older brother irresponsibly let me borrow his collection of Patricia Cornwell paperbacks when I was 12 and, if my apartment spontaneously burst into flames right now, my ‘grab’ item would be my limited-to-200-edition, numbered, gold-edged, slip-cased, red leather-bound copy of Nine Dragons that Michael Connelly personally inscribed to me as a competition prize. (Safe in the knowledge that my MS has been saved to Dropbox, mind you.)
Flash-forward now to the beginning of April this year. My superagent, Jane Gregory, has got me a 2-book deal with Corvus, an imprint of Atlantic Books, and although I’m not allowed tell everyone yet, I have told a few someones: my writing friends. A gang of us go out to dinner to celebrate in Jamie’s Italian in Dundrum. There’s five of us setting at the table – all either published or about to be – and three of us write crime while a fourth says she doesn’t but there’s a dead body in her book. (Although I’ve stopped saying she’s written crime because it’s starting to really annoy her, I think.)
(But it IS.)
So the waiter arrives at our table to take our drink order, and we decide to order a bottle of wine. (Good decision.) Everyone elects me to choose which one. (Bad decision. I only started drinking wine in the last year – I actually started drinking it at the Irish Book Awards when I turned to Hazel Gaynor and uttered the immortal line, “How winey is that wine?” – and all I know about it is whether it’s white or red.) The waiter eventually steps in and says he’ll pick a wine for us, tells us nothing about his decision and then disappears to go get it.
This is what he brought back:
Naturally, the table erupted. I couldn’t believe it, and I still can’t believe it now. (And no, the waiter knew nothing about who we were, what we did, why we were there or what we were celebrating.) Isn’t that amazing? I mean, what are the chances?
(And it was quite nice, by the way. If anyone knows where outside of Jamie’s Italian you can buy it, do let me know.)
I’m hoping it’s a good omen for the adventures ahead…
Side note: reading this back, you can tell that I’ve had a LOT of coffee today and that I cleaned out my talent for writing words more good getting the latest draft of Distress Signals done last week, can’t you?