Imagine a room that’s packed to capacity. Bodies pressed against the wall, drinks getting spilled, no room to wriggle through. Imagine everyone it is brilliant, fascinating, talented, and interesting. The air is thick with witticisms, insights, and bon mots. Now imagine you’re desperate to get into this room. You’re standing outside clutching your ticket, but you can’t find a place to squeeze in. Is there any space for one more?
I’m back from the Harrogate crime festival, and still in the mopey downtime of returning to the blank screen after days of fun, books, booze, and amazing people. So the room above is both a literal one (though it wasn’t quite as jammed as that) and a metaphor for the current state of crime writing. Among my other thoughts on coming home (why can’t every day be such fun; but it’s probably a good thing because I’d never sleep/get any work done; why on earth does everyone keep saying ‘oh, you were drunk last night’; I’m so lucky to have a publishing deal and with a great company; everyone is so nice and friendly etc), is this: I sometimes despair at the sheer volume of amazing crime writing that already exists.
Quite apart from established UK super-sellers, there’s all the American-based big-hitters There’s the backlist of the brilliant but dead like Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle (can we put a moratorium on them getting read? They don’t exactly need the sales). Then there’s the new debuts setting the world on fire. How is there any room for someone like me, with yet another crime thriller to add to the pile? And then there’s the people getting huge deals now, snapping at my heels. And someone in a room somewhere writing what will be the Next Big Thing. And this is even before you move out of crime to all the other amazing books that are being published in other genres. I work for a crime writing association. I can read a book in three hours. I don’t have another job, don’t watch a lot of TV, and I go to bed late. If I can’t get through all these books and writers, then who is reading them? Who’s going to read mine? Is there any room? Oh dear, I think I’m experiencing a post-Harrogate panic. It may be another Irrational Writer Worry (see posts to come), but it’s something I do mull over. Is there space for us all to get by and enjoy doing our own thing, while welcoming more people in? Will the bar run dry of booze? Will it start serving residents only? Will the card machine break down? (Yes, yes, and yes, in the case of Harrogate).
I’ve written before how incredibly nice everyone in crime is (except when they remember what you’ve said drunk and cast it up to you). This is true. No one is trying to keep you out of that room; rather they’re waving to you from the other side saying, ‘Come on in, I’ve got you a drink’. It’s incredible, when you think about it, to be like this. I suppose this is because most people write from love of the words, because they can’t do anything else. If only everyone in the world was so welcoming and open, perfectly happy with just some books and a drink. I feel very lucky to be part of such an industry now, and to be waiting in the queue for my chance to join the published authors. I’m grateful to them for making room. After all, the world can only be a better place with more good words in it (albeit words that are about hideous death, mutilation, and torture in the case of crime writing).