Emily Maguire is the author of five novels, including An Isolated Incident, which was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award, the Stella Prize and the ABIA Literary Fiction Book of the Year. Ahead of her one-day crime-writing workshop, Beyond the Whodunnit, we caught up with Emily to find out about the joys of genre writing and how to pen a page-turner.
You’ve written across a range of genres, but your most recent novel, An Isolated Incident, centres on a violent crime. What brought you to write crime fiction?
When I began I didn’t realise that I was writing crime fiction. I thought of it as a story about grief and losing one’s sense of safety in the world. But I’m a big reader of crime fiction and true crime writing and as I wrote I recognised that many of the tropes and conventions of those genres were finding their way into the work. Rather than resist those elements I thought hard about how to play with them, subvert them and use them to help tell the story I wanted to tell.
Which crime novels have you found inspiring or helpful?
P.M Newton’s novels The Old School and Beams Falling are beautifully written and absolutely gripping while never sensationalising their subject. Newton also writes about grief and trauma better than anyone I can think of. Megan Abbott is another writer whose novels are both nail-bitingly thrilling and insightful about human behaviour. The crimes in her books terrify me more than most because they happen in such ordinary circumstances, committed by seemingly decent people. I’m always left haunted by the feeling that anyone – the teenage girls on my bus, my elderly neighbour, I, myself – might be capable of murder if the circumstances were right.
Crime and mystery novels make for compelling reading. What can writers do to make sure their manuscripts become page-turners?
Nobody stays up reading all night to find out what’s going to happen to someone who bores them. If readers care for, worry about or fear your characters, if they love them and want to see them happy or hate them and want to see them punished, then they’re going to keep turning those pages until they know how it all turns out.