Hanging with thriller authors + doing research

Mike GristLife, Writing Leave a Comment

On Monday night I went to the First Monday Crime group, which meets at City University, and is sponsored by the MA course they run in only writing thriller novels. I checked out the course website. It says something like- The only MA course which allows you to complete a full novel!

That’s an odd boast. I don’t need someone to allow me to write a novel. I can write a novel whenever I want. I don’t need your permission!

Anyway, there were some speakers. Fiona Cummins who wrote Rattle. I read the first few pages in advance and thought it was pretty opaque linguistically. She purposefully doesn’t give us much to go on in in terms of concrete setting, character, emotion. It’s rather poetic and annoying to me.

I didn’t read the other authors on the panel. We met in a lecture hall and they talked about their work first, and then largely about their research. I was quite amazed by how much research they do. Cummins talked about writing letters to serial killers in prison. One guy talked about his trip to North Korea, so he could write a spy thriller set there. The others are always in real-world libraries (ie – not Wikipedia) seeking out true life peccadilloes.


I guess it’s coming from science fiction and fantasy that makes me feel odd about this. Like, are you telling a story or doing journalism? I suppose it is both. I suppose the journalism, direct experience side of this kind of writing is what gives an author authority. ie- people like to read spy thrillers written by real spies, action thrillers from real soldiers, and etc…

What an exhausting amount of work! It doesn’t interest me. I suppose to get that authority though, as if I’m telling stories from the real front line, I should go visit with some US cults in person. Maybe it’s not enough to watch Louis Theroux and others go do that stuff for me?

Ugh. Somehow it feels prurient, a bit ghoulish… It would definitely give me something different to blog about. In keeping with my days as a ruins-exploring ‘dark tourist’. Hmm…

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