Amber Allcock and Mollie Johnson review the 'moment of change' that was the #MeToo event at Birmingham Literature FestivalWritten by Mollie Johnson & Amber Allcock on 19th June 2018
Interview with Author Marnie Riches
Culture Critic Holly Reaney chats with author Marnie Riches, about life, books and advice for 18 year olds.
Marnie Riches is the award winning author of 'The Girl Who Wouldn't Die'. We discussed many things, including her debut novel, her latest novel and her inspiration for her work and her literary heroes.
How would you describe ‘The Girl Who Wouldn't Die’?
It’s a crime thriller that will appeal to fans of Jo Nesbø and Stieg Larsson, simply because when I wrote it I was an enormous fan of the euro-noir and had fallen in love as a reader with the daring do of Lisbeth Salander, Stieg Larsson’s heroine. I decided that when I was going to write a crime thriller, that I wanted to write my own with a feisty kickass heroine. So, The Girl Who Wouldn't Die is about a really strong and fearless heroine from the mean streets of South East London, who takes on the criminal underworld.
So, your second novel, ‘The Girl Who Broke The Rules’, directly lead on from your debut?
It’s a stand-alone story, all three that are coming out are stand-alone, so you can read them out of sequence. But The Girl Who Wouldn't Die, which was my debut, is set four years earlier, so it [The Girl Who Broke The Rules] moves on. There’s all the same characters again. So you can come to it fresh, without having reading read the first one. However, if you have read the first one then you understand George’s backstory.
What do you want your readers to take away from this novel?
I want them to be thrilled by it and be slightly horrified by it, because the book is about trafficking and the exploitation that goes on within the sex industry. So, I want readers to be wiser at the end of the book and find it quite satisfying. It reflects, very much I think, what goes on in the real world in organised crime circles. A lot of it is set the in red-light district and in Soho. I want readers to find it a really gripping thrill run but I want them to come away understanding some of the stuff that goes on behind seedy but sanctioned industries.
So, what drew you to the Amsterdam and Soho underworld and trafficking as main themes?
Well, all three of the books in the series have a lot to do with trafficking of some sort: the first one has a lot to do about drugs; the second on is more about the sex industry; then the third is about children, that is a much darker book. Also, the books have a real international flavour because I’m a linguist, I did a languages degree. Trafficking is such an obvious crime topic for a linguistic to pick because it crosses continents and I’ve always been fascinating by the idea that the cocaine that’s taken in the streets of London has made its way all the way from South America or the women who work in our nail bars in Britain, a lot of them have been trafficked from South East Asia. There’s an awful lot of slave labour in Dubai, people who’ve been fleeing Bangladesh, and there are people who are profiting from that. So, as someone who is very interested in world affairs and as someone that has studied a language, which makes you think about what goes on in other cultures anyway, it was an obvious topic for me to focus on. So, rather than just having serial killers bumping off victims or having a domestic murder to solve, I wanted to tackle subjects that were bigger picture geographically.
They say ‘write about what you know’ – are there elements of yourself within your novels and characters?
Definitely, like George I grew up on a rough estate and came from a single parent family. Like George, I grew up in quite difficult financial circumstances and I managed to learn my way out of the ghetto. So I basically worked very hard at school and managed to get to Cambridge and those were formative years for me, which is partly why I decided to have a young heroine at university because they’re such magical years. In fact, George in the first book is an Erasmus student in Amsterdam, and I did a year abroad as part of my course in university in Utrecht because I did a German and Dutch degree. So, lots of stuff that happens to her, happened to me. In The Girl Who Broke The Rules, it’s less so because the story is starting to move on and George is doing a criminology PhD, but even so that relates a little to my own experiences because when I was a student I did want to do a very similar PhD studying the feminist take on hard-core violent pornography. In the second book, George is doing studies into hard-core violent pornography. There is an autobiographical element, but then she’s just a much more kickass and exciting person than I ever was, lots of it is fiction.
What other projects have you got in store?
Well, I’m just doing the edit on the third book which comes out in March. By that stage, George is a fully qualified criminologist, working on studies for the home office and she’s also still very much entrenched in academia, doing some stuff at Cambridge University on the subject of trafficking. That should be quite an exciting book and my publisher thinks that’ll be the biggest out of the initial three. Then, I have a woman’s novel that on submission to editors at the moment that I wrote last year which is probably of less interest to a student readership because that’s about midlife crisis and all the stuff which afflicts forty year old woman. My agent is currently negotiating for more in ‘The Girl Who…’ series. I am busy working on new stuff and hopefully more George.
What words of wisdom would you give to aspiring novelists?
I started writing when I was at university and I wrote a novelisation of an epic Dutch 12th century poem and wanted it to be a great fantasy novel. I was into Lord of the Rings when I was a student. Then, stupidly, I wrote the thing and shoved in a wardrobe. I never had the confidence to keep going with it. So I shoved it in a file in the bottom of the wardrobe for seventeen years, which is bonkers really! What I should have done is go back to it and reworked it and reworked it until it was good enough to get published. So, I would say to aspiring writers, especially at university, to just keep writing and don’t stop because the minute you think ‘I better get a proper job to pay the bills’, ‘when I graduate I better be grown up and forget about the dreams’ ‘I need a fallback option’, that’s lethal really. You’ll find you’ve frittered away a couple of decades and then think ‘God, I still really want to be a writer and haven’t done anything with it’. So, I would say keep going and don’t give up your dreams so easily because when you’re in your twenties you can still take those risks before serious relationships come along, before kids come along, before the mortgage happens. I would be brave and determined, you’ve got to work really hard if you want to be a writer and keep going, keep practising until you’re really good. The only benefit of waiting until you’re in your middle years is that you’ve got a hell of a lot to write about because you’ve done a lot of living. But if you’ve got a good imagination, and you want to succeed, then don’t be told that you can’t do it. Don’t listen to parents, or tutors that try to fill you full of well meaning advice.
Who are your literary heroes?
I would say in terms of crime fiction, Thomas Harris, who wrote Silence of the Lambs, that’s a seminal work as far as I’m concerned. Hannibal Lecter is by far the best good baddie there ever was, he’s brilliant. Other genres, Lord of the Rings and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials are two of my absolute favourites just because there are just bloody good stories. The vivid imagination building in both those books is just phenomenal. I was a children’s writer before I was a crime writer, I absolutely adored the Harry Potter books, again it’s a world building thing and that has crossed over into my crime fiction I think. I try to be very vivid in my settings and characters. Jo Nesbø as well because he plots so well. He’s a great crime writer. I’ve probably missed out loads because I do read loads of different genres, but those would be my favourites.
What encouraged you to make the move from children’s fiction to crime thrillers?
I’m quite a dirty minded, sweary old bag and although I adored writing children’s books because you can use your imagination a lot more and accommodate flights of fancy and inject a great deal of humour into what you write. There was always the feeling that my voice as an author is better suited to adult material and I have always loved a complex, twisty crime thriller. Since reading the Silence of the Lambs, donkey’s years ago, I had aspired to write one as good as that. So, it was always one of those things that someday I would like to do when I’m good enough and competent enough in my craft. I think that I was always better at writing older fiction. In terms of TV and film, I adore Tarantino, Breaking Bad and The Wire, so, it’s always dark, edgy, crime related stuff with lots of violence. It was logical that I would end up writing that kind of thing. In fact when I submitted work to my agent, I submitted a middle grade novel and the debut to ‘The Girl Who Broke The Rules’. We didn’t even have a conversation about the middle grade novel because he automatically opted for the crime novel because it’s more me.
What advice would you give to yourself age 18?
I would say to be daring and to trust my gut instinct. I think when you’re at university and you’re academically bright, you have a tendency to overthink things. I still do that, you over analyse situations and tend to be judicious about what you do because that is the nature of academia. You weigh up the arguments and present balanced views of things. But that can put the kibosh on your dreams and you’re at an age at 18 when your dreams can still become a reality. I mean they always can, but it’s easier when you’re younger and the future’s still fluid. I would say don’t be so quick to brave the mantel of adulthood, which is settling down into a sensible life. So, see the world, take risks and squeeze the lemons of life until the pips squeak!