Click here to read Val McDermid's thoughts on women crime writers on The Guardian website.
Publishers' Weekly talks with Val McDermid
by Ralph Menconi -- 18th December 2006
British author Val McDermid mixes intrigue and history in The Grave Tattoo(Reviews, Nov. 6), which supposes that Fletcher Christian, the leader of the mutiny on the Bounty, secretly returned to England.
The Grave Tattoo is unlike anything you've written before. What made you take this new direction?
At a Crime Writers' Association meeting, a speaker described a 19th-century murder in the Lake District and mentioned that the Romantic poet William Wordsworth and Fletcher Christian were in school together. This area of England was a haven for fugitives because of its emptiness and lack of law enforcement, and rumors persisted that Christian did not die on Pitcairn, but returned to his native heath for shelter by friends and family. I started to wonder: what if he came back to tell his side of the Bounty story? What if he told his old friend William? I knew instinctively there was a book here.
Did Wordsworth write about the mutiny as your contemporary scholar heroine, Jane Gresham, believes?
Wordsworth's account is fictitious, but I haven't tampered with the historical record. I've created a story that fills the gaps in what we know and makes sense of some puzzling postmutiny events. For example, most of the mutineers are buried on Pitcairn, yet there's no grave site for Mr. Christian. By the way, the late Robert Woof, who ran the Wordsworth Trust, described the premise of The Grave Tattoo as "improbable, but charmingly plausible."
A 13-year-old mixed-race girl from the London slums, Tenille, attaches herself to Jane after an encounter with a child molester. Through Tenille, are you seeking to raise social issues about modern Britain?
I don't set out to address particular issues, but as I work out a story, important issues arise from the experiences of characters. I first focus on the story's structure. Then I examine characters and how they became the people they are. At first, Tenille was a plot device-to get some action at the start and to allow contrast between Jane Gresham's city life and her life in the Lake District. But soon it was clear that Tenille could carry a more important role, so I had to write more about her and her circumstances with an unflinching eye.
I'm about to deliver Beneath the Bleeding, the fifth Tony Hill and Carol Jordan novel, on which the BBC America hit show Wire in the Blood is based. It's contemporary and will be published in the U.K. in July 2007. After that will be another stand-alone set partly in 1984 and partly in the present.
SOMETIMES all it takes is a sentence or so for a novel to be born, a little twist of facts and fate that everyone else might ignore. This can be frighteningly rare: even if you've been a bestselling writer for 20 years, even if you think you know exactly what you're looking for, that one quirky detail that unlocks a whole book can still take you completely by surprise.