Katherine Howell is the author of the bestselling Detective Ella Marconi series. Her work has won awards and is published in multiple countries and languages. She has delivered workshops and seminars on crime fiction, mentored writers working in the genre, and wrote her Master’s degree thesis on developing suspense in fiction.
What keeps a reader turning the pages in a crime novel?
The answer is suspense: the desire to find out what’s going to happen to characters they care about. I learned a lot about this when I researched the subject for my Master’s, after my agent rejected a manuscript because it lacked suspense. If the reader doesn’t care what will happen and/or doesn’t care about the characters, suspense dies right there on the page. There are all sorts of techniques to build both elements – techniques that I both teach in the workshop and that enabled me to turn the rejected manuscript into a novel that sold first in a two-book deal to Pan Macmillan, then in 11 countries and six languages around the world.
You worked as a paramedic for 15 years. How did your experiences influence your writing?
My 15 years as a paramedic influenced the approach I took to the stories and the kind of detail I used. Being able to use paramedic characters meant I could give readers a new viewpoint on the crime scene, because it was through the paramedic’s eyes that they saw the victims and the crime aftermath. Paramedics have a different focus and notice different details to the police, so I could play with what they each saw on scene, for example, and encourage the reader to wonder which details were the clues. It also allowed me to explore the lives of people in the emergency services who weren’t police, as well as blend in some medical details, which I for one always love reading.
Surely everything’s already been done in crime writing, hasn’t it? How can writers bring a fresh perspective to the genre?
While much crime writing has a similar framework – there’s a crime, then it’s solved – I don’t think everything’s been done and I believe there’s plenty of scope for new perspectives. For example, just as my paramedic characters brought something different, so could characters working as crime-solving electricians on a spaceship. Then there are many writers who are moving beyond that framework altogether, writing about crime that isn’t solved, writing about the effects of the crime rather than the solving itself.
Keen to learn more about the elements of crime fiction? Join Katherine at Making a Killing: Writing Crime on Sunday 1 May, 10am-4pm at the NSW Writers’ Centre. Plus! To win one of Katherine’s books, see our giveaways below.