Killer Women dispatches #2: Mark Billingham, Ann Cleeves, Gaby Chiappe, Douglas Henshall


Screen Shot 2016-09-01 at 22.39.21The next stop for me at yesterday’s excellent Killer Women Crime Writing Festival was the panel session comprising some big names from the world of crime fiction and crime drama, which was obviously a good fit for this site. Entitled ‘Serial Thrillers’ it was hosted by Colette McBeth and asked questions about what it takes to adapt something for TV. 

Shetland is a hugely watchable and likeable series with dark strokes, which has been adapted by Gaby Chiappe from the books of Ann Cleeves. The discussion turned to the art of adaptations and the actors that play the characters on the small screen. Mark was effusive about David Morrissey, who played DI Thorne in the Sky1 adaptation of Scaredy Cat and Sleepy Head, and Ann was similary complimetary to Douglas Henshall, who was also on the panel. It was an interesting discussion, with Gaby chipping in with nuggets about the adaptation process.


The Serial Thrillers panel

But discussions like this are fun and interesting because of the little things that come out in general conversation, and when Colette asked Douglas about filming in Shetland, he produced some great stories. Filming on Shetland, he said, was difficult. Not because the locals weren’t great or the place itself wasn’t amazing but because they have to be prepared for all weather, at any time, which can change in the blink of an eye. They film exteriors on the islands, and the rest on the mainland, but, as Douglas, explained when they’re filming on the islands they can literally see the weather rolling in from the ocean. Sometimes that gives them as little as 40 minutes to shoot a scene before that front hits them.

A bit later on, Colette asked the panel if there was too much crime drama on television, quoting that 72 per cent of all commissioned drama on TV is crime. Douglas was emphatic – yes, there is too much crime drama on television. To an extent, Mark agreed that there was too much adapted crime drama, while Ann argued that the breadth of crime drama is what has changed – there may be loads of it, but there’s stuff out there that ranges from the Scandinavian series to Happy Valley and other things. Within the genre itself, there is diversity.

Mark chipped in by saying he’d like to see a model that was adopted by The Wire all those years ago (ie novelists being involved in the creation of something new), which saw David Simon hire people like George Pelacanos and Richard Price as part of his writing team.

If the BBC bid £15m on the Great British Bake Off, surely it could broaden its drama range, Mark argued. Which then led onto the question: why isn’t there a crime version of Bake Off Why can’t there be a murderer in the kitchen? Or even a serial killer on the loose in Big Brother?

Paul Hirons



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