Saturday, 8 January 2011

Feeding on the Spoils by Gillian Philip

Bird of prey...or crime writer on the prowl?

Sometimes I feel like a vulture.
They say (though it’s always hard to pinpoint who ‘they’ are) that writers have hearts of ice. And I think that’s especially true of crime writers. How can we wallow in the worst that humanity can do to itself? Because crime novels do, usually, involve death: deliberate and (more often than not) calculated killing.

Every writer is asked that old chestnut, ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ And the fact is, I get some of mine while I watch terrible stories on the news, or read them in newspapers. I still remember the murder that sparked the idea for Crossing The Line: the stabbing to death of a young man in London, a promising sporting talent, whose only mistake was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I didn’t write about that young man; I don’t take my characters from real people. But I certainly used his story to spark my own. Is that exploitation or is it an attempt at understanding? I don’t know, I really don’t. I think it’s probably somewhere between the two.
I console myself that whatever my more selfish motives, trying to understand can’t be wrong. I think many things motivate us when we write crime and also when we read it. The thrill of the chase and the mystery are part of it, and the sheer chill we get from watching what one human being can do to another. But maybe – I hope – it’s also to do with looking into ourselves, seeing what we’re capable of, and perhaps, with luck, recognising it when it rears its head in real life.
That’s why I write and read crime, I think. Sheer fascination. The good kind and the bad.


  1. Greta post, Gillian! I'd like to add that vultures eat virtually only carrion - i.e. stuff that is already dead, whereas other birds of prey - raptors, owls - prefer their prey live and on the move.

    Which do you think crime writers are?
    (and it says at the bottom this post is by Keren David btw)

  2. Great post. As ever with your writing, Gillian, so much said in so few words, and you still leave us thinking.

  3. It just says that I posted it...I'm administering the site this month. Gillian's byline is at the top..

  4. I think this is true of all fiction? Certainly all my writing stems from trying to understand ...people, motives, how the world turns...

  5. Great post, and excellent question! Uhmm, am I a vulture? Gee, all my favourite crime writers seem like such nice folk, too... Lol! Personally, I think we explore the dark side of humanity because, well, it scares us a lot.Maybe at some deep, subconscious level we think that if we can understand, we'll be safe? I used to be a journalist covering the criminal courts; some of the people I saw there both fascinated and repelled me. What made them - some quite ordinary people - do such terrible things? What was the trigger, the mental/emotional flaw, whatever, that caused the quiet, polite guy next door to eviscerate his wife? What dark secrets does the person sitting at the next desk hide? Creepy, huh?