Ann Donald talks to crime writer Val McDermid about the new breed
of female Private Investigators with i
‘Crimc writer seeks feisty R]. with a sense of humour
for fun in a few books.‘ This was the literary lonely hearts ad that Val Mchrmid placed in her own head in order to create lx'atc Brannigan. one ofthc current crop of contemporary literary crime-lighters. In fact ‘feisty‘ is fast-becoming the generic term to describe every female Pl in town : from Liza Cody‘s Anna Lee to Sara l’aretsky‘s \Cl. Warshawski and now Val McDermid's fast-talking. kick-boxing bylancunian- based heroine.
(Truck Down is .‘\rlcl)ermid‘s third novel to feature the sharp-thinking Brannigan. this time entangled in a grubby world of crack-dealers. child pornographers. car thieves and ex—army psychos all intent on riddling her young frame with bullets. The pace is fast and furious. the Moss Side setting contemporary and living without being condescending and. with Mchrmid‘s quick-fire humour shot through it. the plot is utterly compulsive.
As McDermid herself acknowledges, this new breed of P.l.s that emerged in the l98()‘s are light years away from the quaint and doddery Miss Marplcs of St Mary's Mead. They tend to share the
common characteristics of sassiness, bravery, single- status and are very tnuch their own independent women: ‘This all goes back to the whole feminist movement of wanting to write about strong women,‘ explains .‘vleDermid. A statement she qualifies by saying.- ‘These characters are to a certain extent mythological so we can fantasise about being them ourselves.‘
She attributes this change in a more positive and realistic direction by female crime-writers to a factor recently highlighted in Helena Kennedy's book, live
I Was Framed; that historically the judiciary‘s
treatment of women leaves a lot to be desired. ‘1 think what‘s very interesting in Britain at least. is the fact that out of all the women writers of my generation, none of us are writing about conventional policeman. We're all writing about private investigators or amateur detectives.‘ Expanding on this jaundiced view ofthe legal establishment Mchrmid continues. ‘I think that this is due to a complete disenchantment in that the law does not serve women. either as victims or offenders and that we don’t feel that kind of trust in the police that would allow us to create an Adam Dalgleish or inspector Wexford.‘
One of Brannigan's other characteristics that distinguishes her from more conventional crime- creations is her apparently inextinguishable optomism. Though McDermid‘s vision of the crime world may focus on such hard—hitting themes as crack or Moss Side gangland, Brannigan retains her sense of balance (and humour) in that she doesn‘t succumb to the nail-biting. whisky—drowning wilds of other cliched 'tecs. In comparing (her peer and self-confessed No] fan). Sara Paretsky‘s character V.l. Warshawski with her own, McDermid concedes that, ‘I think that Sara‘s vision is much bleaker than mine. I see disasters ofthe inner city and try to draw something positive or some hope from it.’
inevitably the feisty Brannigan was recognised as having screen potential and is all set to make the transition from black and white page to technicolour screen thus joining the ranks of Kathleen Turner's V.l. Warshawski and Imogen Stubbs Anna Lee on our TV screens. with Amanda Donohoe in the kick- boxing role if McDermid has any say in the matter. With another Brannigan novel already at the half- way stage Donohoe should have no work worries for the foreseeable future should she choose to accept the contemporary crime gauntlet. (Ann Donald)
Cmr'k Down by Val Menermid is published by Collins at £14.99.
:- Talking ’ bout my. . .
It’s official — poetry has been well and truly outed. No longer the closeted domain of ivory-towered Oxbridge intellectuals and po-faced people in black polo-necks and MRS glasses: suddenly it’s hip to buy and read poetry, it’s the new rock ’n’ roll we’re told. There are Poems (in The Underground in London, there’s The lndependent’s daily poem and now that bastion of crass culture Radio One has decided to climb aboard the bandwagon with an unprecedented week of forty poetry readings being broadcast to the nation. To all intents and purposes it would appear that poetry has become a marketable commodity about to be thrust upon a Techno-sired, three-minute-cultural- attention-span generation, with all the
hype and hard sell we would usually associate with Jilly Cooper and Jeffrey Archer.
The New Generation Poets both
epitomise and celebrate this resurgance in an art form that has for too long been tucked away on the dusty shelves of our cultural supermarket. Conceived at an lnlonnal discussion between three publisher’s editors who felt that the strength of current British poetry merited iubilations, the idea gathered momentum until a panel of judges was assembled to select twenty young (around 30-year-old) poets who they felt formed the nucleus of this llew Generation. Among them names like Carol Ann Duffy, lion Paterson, Simon Annitage, Kathleen Jamie and Robert Crawford. All of whom are now embroiled in the month-long publicity haze of readings, signings and radio and TV work from Aberdeen to london. As Bill Swainson, one of the ., instigators of the campaign and the ‘ Deputy Chairman of The Poetry Society explains in his publicity blurb, ‘lllle set out to celebrate the wealth of talent among younger poets . . . and to bring their work to the attention of a new audience. Above all, we wanted to
demonstrate that poetry is exciting and accessible, yet at the same time “rich and strange ”. I believe that in the future the effective promotion and enjoyment of poetry will be normal and no longer exceptional,’ he says, finishing on a note of surging optimism.
One more cause for optimism is the fact that seven out of the twenty chosen poets happen to be Scottish, a fact that mirrors not only the lively Scottish poetry scene but the increased profile being given to the Scottish arts scene by the London media. Witness the national coverage devoted to James Kelman, Janice Galloway, Irvine Welsh and A.l. Kennedy’s recent publications. Hopefully, it the publicity blaze works for poetry it won’t be long until we see the same coverage being given to the likes of Carol Ann Duffy, Jackie Kay’s and lion Paterson’s new collections. (Ann Donald)
The official publication of the low Generation Poets is Poetry Review, £4.95.
The List 6-l9 May l994 71