Harrogate Dispatches #3: Domestic Suspense with Paula Hawkins, Clare Mackintosh, Alex Marwood, Helen Fitzgerald and Julia Crouch

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crime-logo-e1434622076626Domestic noir is one of the hottest sub-genres in crime fiction at the moment and for this panel session, five of the best exponents it gathered on-stage to talk about the hows, the whys and the wherehaveyous.

The session was hosted by the ever-excellent Julia Crouch and during her questions, she said something that seemed to sum the whole genre up: “the idea of the home being a refuge is being turned on its head.”

This idea that humdrum, middle-class lives can melt into a vortex of paranoia, suspicion and chaos is, at its heart, pure noir. It’s just that domestic noir uses the backdrop of home and routine-based lives to weave it suspense from. And, in the case of Clare Mackintosh (fresh from her Crime Novel Of The Year victory last night) and Paula Hawkins, their books have become enormous sellers and are being adapted for screen.

Julia asked what the trigger point in their stories were, because every good noir story needs a good trigger point to begin a character’s descent. Paula said that for her character in The Girl On A Train, Rachel, it was the break-up of a relationship, the loss of her job and her drinking.

And what is it about domestic noir at the moment? Clare said that whenever a genre is successful, more people want to write in that vein – it becomes self-perpetuating. Domestic noir is also popular, she said, because they’re more whydunits than whodunits.

Meanwhile, Paula said that we all have voyeuristic tendencies, and these tendencies often lead us to believe that we have connections with people that aren’t there. Also, things are so much more frightening when they’re happening on your doorstep.

Alex Marwood chipped in, too, saying that domestic noir is a clash of the commonplace and the horrific.

They chatted about the ways domestic noirs, and in particular how they play around with time-shifts and different voices, and the characters themselves, often complex and often unlikable.

Then each of them told us what they’ve got coming next. Clare’s next novel – I See You – is out at the end of this month and focuses on a commuter on a tube train who sees a photograph of herself in the classifieds section of a daily newspaper, and sets out to find out why. She recounted a story of visiting a friend and travelling on the Tube with her, and the way she knew exactly where to stand on the platform to gain the quickest entry onto the train. “If I know what I’m doing every day, so can someone else,” Clare said.

The funniest moment of the session came when Helen was asked to read out the first line of her latest book – also out in a matter of weeks and already optioned for television – called Viral. It tells the story of a young teenage woman who goes on holiday to Magaluf and does something unspeakable, which goes Viral.

That first line: “I sucked 12 cocks in Magaluf.”

Let’s be frank here – the demographic of most festival goers at Harrogate sit in the 50 upwards range. So you can imagine the sharp intake of breath when Helen recounted this line.

I had to chuckle when one elderly lady almost shouted to her hard-of-hearing companion sitting behind me: ‘SHE SAID: I SUCKED 12 COCKS IN MAGALUF.’

‘Ooooh,’ she replied.

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