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Monday, October 25, 2010

The appeal of crime novels

Catherine Sampson .


An interview with Catherine Sampson by Zara Majidpour

. “I am about to pull the curtains and shut out the weather when, at the margin of my vision, a woman falls out of the sky. I do not see how it began. All I see is that she falls, feet first but tipping forward, arms stretched out as if to break her fall, her clothes as chaotically twisted and tossed as the rain, and the weight of her body carrying her down through the currents of air straight to the earth like an anchor.” ..

That is the beginning of “Falling off air”, written by English writer Catherine Sampson. She went to China as a 19 years old student 27 years ago. She has lived in China for a period of 15 years and for a couple of years in Hong Kong. ..

Her career started with the BBC and The Times as a Beijing correspondent and continues to work with BBC news from China. “Falling off air” is her first crime novel in the Robin Ballantyne series which was published in 2004. The other books in the series are “Out of mind” (2005), “The pool of unease” (2007) and “The slaughter pavilion” (2008). ..

Here is the interview I had with Catherine Sampson recently. ..

As a former journalist, what led you to become a crime novel writer? ..

I always wanted to write fiction. For me journalism was a way into writing, not an end in itself, but it took me to some fascinating places. I love to read, and I love to read strong stories. Crime novels are always strong stories, and at their best they are peopled with believable characters. Crime novels may say a lot about society, or about how people behave under pressure, and these are both things that interest me. It is also a form that is very much about people trying to find their moral centre, which is also very interesting. . . How do you come up with characters? Are they based on real characters or are they fictitious?

.. Sometimes one of my characters starts out with someone I know. Although I can't think that I've ever used an entire real person as a model. Usually, it's just a bit of a person, either a manner or an opinion, or a way of looking. And certainly after they have been through the mill of a story, they would no longer be recognisable. Sometimes characters just seem to walk into my imagination, and that's the best bit of writing, when something happens that feels very much like inspiration. ..

You are writing mostly about murder. Does it have any effect on you as a woman? ..

Strangely, I hate watching scary movies, but I can write the most appalling things. When I write, I'm not emotionally involved, so it doesn't scare me. Sometimes the things that I read for my research leave me feeling quite depressed. Fictional crime is not true crime. Something happens when crime is turned into fiction. And one of the things is that it becomes more bearable. . . Why are crime novels so popular? ..

I don't really like to divide novels into different types. So I think that novels are popular, and novels with strong stories are popular, and novels where characters are challenged and changed are extremely popular. The crime novel should be all of this. The crime novel is now such a wide and varied form that there are different types of crime fiction for different kinds of people. Like your crime novel gory? Like it cosy? Like it pornographically violent? Like it thoughtful? Swedish? Chinese? It's all there. . Is there a difference in the approach used by female authors as opposed to that of their male counterparts when it comes to the subject of crime? ..

I'm not sure there is really any difference between male and female crime writers. Some of the nastiest are written by women. Really, I had to remove one book from my bookshelves after I had read it - I was too worried about visitors picking up and reading. I'm not sure whether women just wallow in being something that readers don't expect, or whether publishers push them into it, or whether it's just a fashion. If so, I'm afraid it's one I'm not really into.


This interview was translated into Persian (Farsi) and published in Shahrzadnews website