Brighton Festival: Natalie Haynes, Lindsey Davis, Tony Parsons and the Dark and Stormy Festival

The Amber Fury by Natalie Haynes

We’ve reached my final weekend of the festival now, and here I will recount two thirds of the events from the penultimate day. These events were part of the Dark and Stormy Festival, a celebration of crime fiction, which partnered with the Brighton Festival.

(I failed at tacking pictures at this event, sorry!)

Natalie Haynes and Lindsay Davis.

The Murder BagHaynes and Davis write very different fiction. The former set her début novel, The Amber Fury, in modern-day Edinburgh. The latter is the author of the Falco series set in Ancient Rome, her latest novel Enemies At Home is the second in a new series on Falco’s adopted daughter, Flavia Albia. However, what these two authors do have in common are the elements of the Classics in their fiction. Davis with the historical settings of her novels and Haynes with her modern-day novel playing out like a Greek tragedy.

Former comedian Haynes studied Classics and is very passionate about the subject – she did triple Classics at A-Level. The first sentence I wrote in my notebook was, ‘Natalie is a very funny comedian’.

“I like being funny, but this isn’t funny, this isn’t a comic book.” – Natalie Haynes

Having devoured her novel a mere two days after seeing her talk, I can attest to this.

Haynes explained that she set The Amber Fury around fate and determinism, encased in a story of bereavement and teaching Greek Tragedies to troubled teenagers. Haynes said she borrowed elements from the classics she loves, such as the ‘seeing but not seeing’ plot device from Oedipus. Her protagonist, clouded by bereavement, fails to see what is unfolding. It is not till after the fact that she sees everything clearly.

“I’m writing the Roman Archers.” – Lindsey Davis

The Murder BagDavis is a former Civil Servant, she described herself as someone who is able to write on subject she knows nothing about as if she were an expert. A skill which has served her well for her Falco series. Although, I am sure she is now a relative expert on Ancient Rome. Falco is a detective – as much as one could be one then – in Ancient Rome. Davis chose to set her novels in this period as at the time no one else was doing this.

Davis explained why Falco’s job title is Informer, people who were used in court to provide information in court for the prosecution:

“I wanted to write about a private detective and they didn’t have them”.

After discussing their own novels, Haynes and Davis moved on to discuss the writing process with one another. Dialects were touched upon, Haynes purposefully chose not to write in an Edinburgh dialect as ‘Irvin Welsh has done it so well.’ Where as Davis has attempted to translate what she supposed the slave dialogue would be in her latest novel. Davis comments that she felt Haynes had a good sense of place despite the lack of dialect, and I completely agree with her.

To conclude both Haynes and Davis went on to give some advise on the practise of writing. Davis believes that while you can teach yourself editing and good grammar anyone can write as long as you have a good vocabulary. Haynes agreed and stated further that you need to love what you are writing about. Neither were particularly fond – but not dismissing of – writing courses. Somewhat controversially Davis said that you can’t be a good novelist unless you have lived first. She felt that young writers won’t have the ability to sustain their writing without life’s challenges. She began writing at 35, and felt that was a good age to begin to become successful. While Haynes argued there were exceptions – Eleanor Catton – she seemed to agree with Davis.

Tony Parsons

The Murder BagConfession: I’ve never read a Tony Parsons books and I had decided prior to the talk that I wouldn’t like him. So I was surprised when –  views on UKIP aside – I liked him rather a lot. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover (or it’s endorsement of UKIP) etc. etc.

While already a well known author for books such as Man and Boy and One For My Baby this is Parsons first foray into Crime Fiction.

Parsons spoke of his love of Bond. He explained that in his latest novel The Murder Bag he wanted to recreate something similar set today, to reinvent the crime novel.

“I thought, how can I do this differently.”

He felt Max Wolfe, his protagonist, needed to be more than a guy who sleeps around so gave him a dog and a daughter. It was an offhand comment that made his female character sound like an accessory.

The discussion soon moved on to discuss Parson’s early years at NME. At 22 he was hired at NME, a young journalist in the 70s in a time hung over from the 60s. He spoke about the musicians he got to meet, the adventures they had and the drugs they took (briefly).

“A spliff the size of a Cornetto would be passed around.”

This was a pre AIDS time for drug taking, when it was prolific and untamed. It sounded fun, but particularly exhausting.

He was very keen to explain that he didn’t luck into the things he has accomplished in life, and that he has worked hard to achieve them. He had published his first novel, The Kids, while working in a Gin distillery, NME hired him off the back of that. He is a ‘grinder’ and I felt he was right to be proud of his accomplishments.

“The Murder Bag is the highlight of my career.”

Parsons was full of admiration and praise for his publishers. It was lovely to see an author talk about how important their input, that of his editors, into his novel. He also spoke of how warmly the crime community have welcomed him into their world.

As the event concluded I still felt Tony Parsons was not an author of books I would enjoy, but I felt I had a better understanding of him.

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One more post to come and then I will have concluded my Brighton Festival experience.

Are you a Crime Fiction fan?

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