#BritCrime Festival: Nick Quantrill talks to Barry Forshaw about Brit Noir

Brit Noir by Barry Forshaw
by Nick Quantrill

So, Barry, piecing together “Brit Noir” must have been something of a thankless task? Allowing for the fact we all have our personal favourites, did you have a set of self-imposed rules to make sense of the contemporary crime writing scene?

I had a few rules. Firstly that Brit Noir was to cover only the contemporary scene – and as it was a relatively compact guide, I’d agreed with my publisher that it should be living writers. Of course, that made the book a hostage to fortune – just before it was published, the great Willie McIllvanney died, and I reluctantly had to remove his entry. I made a point, however, of saying elsewhere in the book that he was the godfather of Scottish crime fiction, influencing Ian Rankin et al.

I had not set out to write a social history of the British crime novel, though I tried to touch on the more radical notions of the genre; however, the ‘reader’s guide’ format I used (with entries ranging from expansive to capsule form to single-line entries) hopefully allowed for a comprehensive celebration of a lively genre, a genre, in fact, which continues to produce highly accomplished, powerfully written novels on an almost daily basis.

You state in the book’s introduction that crime writing is in rude health. What do you attribute that to?

Crime fiction has always been a much-loved genre, but some years ago, it comfortably became (in terms of sales and library lendings) the most popular of popular genres, outpacing romantic fiction. I suppose one might argue that in turbulent times, crime fiction presents solutions to what might once have seemed insoluble problems – giving the reader the kind of closure that one doesn’t really find in real life. Of course, that's pretty well always been case since the time of Dickens, so it's not a new phenomenon. Rude health? Yes – there are a lot of bloody good writers around at present!

I found the geographical split in the book to be fascinating – location is such an important facet of crime writing – did you detect any patterns emerging in terms of regional output? Did you surprise yourself?

Actually, Nick, you touch on one of the nightmares of writing the book -- so many writers (Ann Cleeves, for instance) set their books in a variety of locations. This made it difficult not just to locate writers, but to identify specific geographical trends – and regarding the latter, I’d say that most patterns and trends might be seen to be spread throughout the country; in other words, people are writing domestic noir (for instance) all over the UK. inevitably, though, the genre itself largely remains London-centric.

The second half of the book centres on film and television. Are we still trying to catch up the Americans and Scandinavians when it comes to onscreen crime?

The Scandinavian influence has been largely beneficial, forcing British filmmakers and writers to up the ante in terms of social commitment and sense of place. It's one of the reasons we now have shows such as Broadchurch.

We’re clearly living in increasingly uncertain and unstable times (it’s probably all changed again since I typed this…). Do you expect to see that reflected in the crime fiction we’ll see published in the near(ish) future, or do you think as readers, escapism will be the order of the day?

Escapism will always have a place – and why not? -- but publishers are now cannily aware that an element of societal critique in a crime novel will furnish some added value. Which means we’ll continues to see both.

Indulge me a personal question on the roots of the Brit Noir…I’m a crime writer from the Humber region, the stomping ground for Ted Lewis. Where do you see writers like Lewis and Derek Raymond fitting in? Do you see their fingerprints on present day crime writing?

Derek Raymond
You know, it’s ironic. the influence of Ted Lewis may be seen not so much in his books, but refracted through the use of Newcastle in Mike Hodges’ film of Jack's Return Home, retitled (of course) Get Carter. That film was almost single-handedly the reason why the English provinces are now treated in crime fiction with the kind of richness and thoroughness that was previously seen in books set in the capital. As for the unique (and louche) Derek Raymond, he remains a kind of ‘evolutionary sport’ – his deeply personal books can hardly be said to have created a school, could they? His writing was so individual that no one else could really manage the same idiom.

And lastly, you rightly say you cast the net as wide as possible to include as many writers and locations within the book’s pages. Fancy updating it in the future?

I'd love to update it -- excellent new writers are appearing all the time. And (to my cost) quite a few of them have already ruefully remarked to me that they didn't make the final cut – though you’re in it,Nick! Right now I'm tackling American Noir for the next book, so I have my hands full all over again.

Barry Forshaw’s Brit Noir is published by No Exit Press

Nick Quantrill is the author of  The Dead Can't Talk and other books.

More BritCrime Festival author interviews

1 comment:

  1. It appears that only traditionally published authors are considered in this book. Seems a shame sine there are so many very good indies and self published, maybe make the project too big.