Guest Post: Changing Gear - Becoming a Thriller Writer by Dreda Say Mitchell

Monday 10 November 2014

Two murders. Two different crime scenes. One killer?

Mac wakes in an smashed-up hotel room with no recollection of what has happened. With his lover's corpse in the bathroom and the evidence suggesting that he killed her, Mac is on a mission to uncover the truth and find the real killer.

But he's in a race against time with less than a day to unravel the mystery. Still reeling from a personal tragedy Mac isn't afraid of pain. Hot on his heels is tenacious Detective Inspector Rio Wray. Double-crossed and in the line of fire, Mac has to swim through a sea of lies to get to the truth.

But only Mac knows he's been living a double life. Can he be sure he doesn't have the blood of a dead woman on his hands?

Today I am very excited to be part of the blog tour for Dreda Say Mitchell's new book and her first thriller Vendetta. I specifically asked for the guest post of writing in a different genre and the challenges that brought. I loved reading the post and hope that you do as well.

I recently reviewed Vendetta, rating it five stars and you can read the review here.

Shifting Gear:
Becoming A Thriller Writer

What is genre in fiction? Like describing an elephant or giraffe, we all know what we mean but it can be difficult to put into words. Where do thrillers end and horror stories begin? If a man is murdered on a spaceship, is that crime or science fiction? If it’s the ghost of the butler who murdered the duke in the country house, are we talking whodunit or the supernatural? But of course we all use these labels because we live in a labelling age and we can get a little uncomfortable when we can’t categorise things. Unfortunately, that’s true even when those labels are a little unhelpful.

But for authors switching genres, it becomes even more problematic. How much of what readers like about your books can you keep in a new format? What’s your motivation and most importantly of course, can you pull it off anyway? Many literary writers, fed up with their books only appealing to a small crowd of black jumper wearing literati in Soho, have had a go at genre with mixed success, (readers can spot a faker a mile off).

When I came back to writing crime fiction after a break of a couple of years, these were among the many problems I had to grapple with. My novels by that stage had largely been set in East London gangland. As someone who grew up in the East End and had heard all the stories, it was a natural fit. But when I started out as a writer there were so many themes that I wanted to bring to fictional life on my computer, so it was time to wave good-bye to East London and it was time to move on. As a thriller fan – love, love, love Lee Child’s books - moving onto that format seemed a natural progression. And so my new thriller series, starting with ‘Vendetta’ was born.

But when I was writing ‘Vendetta’, what I found was not only what was very different about mining in a new seam but also what was also so similar. The locations and settings change of course as do the bad guys. Gangland tends to focus on specific types of crime, such as robbery and drugs, whereas thrillers cross crime borders of all types these days and so do the characters they feature. Gangland is often rooted in a particular place, while thrillers can go international. The potential to spread my writing wings felt both exciting and energising. Yeah, I could see myself as a thrill-girl. But some things stay the same; characterisation, pace and a roller coasting plot always mattered to me and in ‘Vendetta’, I stuck rigidly to my own rules.

But there is one great advantage to switching genre. In writing, as in anything else, you learn as you go along but sometimes, when you’ve already set your own template it can be difficult to incorporate those lessons in your work. Start something new and it’s far easier. I’d already decided that I didn’t want to be confined to one lead character or to lose some minor characters in my books in the new series I was planning. Starting with ‘Vendetta’, I decided to run with three main characters, Mac, Rio and Calum, who had all attended Police College together but gone in different directions. That way, I could revolve the lead character in each novel while giving supporting roles to the other two. In Vendetta, Mac takes centre stage and in my next novel it’s Rio. As minor characters became interesting, I can incorporate them in the future.

But what does genre and any of this ultimately matter? A good storyteller can make a phone directory compelling. Whether it’s War and Peace or Mills and Boon that’s all matters for most novel buyers. Readers, (and all writers are readers), ultimately divide books into good and bad. In the end all a writer can hope for is to be in the good genre and not the bad one.

VENDETTA by Dreda Say Mitchell is out now in paperback and eBook, published by Hodder, £6.99. For more information visit and follow Dreda on twitter @DredaMitchell


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