I feel the need… the need to read!
I’ve read since before I can remember – I could read before I went to school, which didn’t please the teachers… I read the back of the cereal packet before going to primary school, comics and magazines on the bus to middle school, and appalled my first high school English teacher by reading a Jeffrey Archer novel in our free-choice-of-book-silent-reading class (she thought it was too grown up, I thought it was far more interesting than the selection on her classroom shelves). We had a library about ten miles away, and moving from the strict three books at a time in the children’s section to at least a dozen when I was deemed old enough for adult tickets was better than any kid in a sweet shop cliche you can think of. I explored the shelves regularly, and neither the librarians nor my parents ever stopped me from reading anything I chose.
My first foray into mysteries was via The Famous Five, The Secret Seven and Scooby-Doo 😀 My first adult crime fiction was my mother’s Agatha Christie novels when I was perhaps ten or so; though I never opened my grandma’s Ngaio Marsh paperbacks, and I wish now that I had. I dallied with sci-fi and fantasy in my teens and 20s, but always borrowed my dad’s Dick Francis, Reginald Hill and Colin Dexter collections any time I had nothing new by my bed. At university, studying English Literature and Classical Studies meant enforced reading and forensic examination of a play or novel each and every week, and I had neither time nor inclination to read outside that (I went to the pub instead, of course, which turns out to be perfect training for book festivals!).
But books were always there for the holidays, and bookshop jobs too, and now I find myself reading almost every day, even if just a chapter before I go to sleep. And while I still pick up the odd book outside the genre, crime is where I’ve hung my hat firmly, from the fast-paced, twisty plots of the modern thriller to the slow burn and treachery of a vintage spy novel to the evocation of murder on the streets of Victorian London to relishing the return of a much-loved series character. Anyone who tells you crime is badly-written genre trash is displaying an ignorance to be pitied.
My love of these books has been fuelled by seeing the authors at events and finding out how brilliant, hilarious and genial they so often are. I’ve seen plenty of writers new to writing or to the genre talk about how welcoming the crime fiction world generally is, and I’ve found it to be so as a reader too, both in terms of finding friends among fellow fans at festivals and in talking to authors across signing tables and in bars. If you see me at a book event, do say hi – I’ll be in the front row of the audience, or the back of the bar…
I’m a freelance production journalist and proofreader, and was the crime fiction reviewer for The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday newspapers for several years. I was a member of the judging pool compiling the longlist and shortlist for the Theakstons Crime Novel of the Year in 2019, and have chaired panels at Newcastle Noir and Bute Noir. I am currently co-judging the 2021 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best First Novel, part of New Zealand’s premier crime/thriller/mystery prizes.