I am in awe of readers and crime readers in particular, for the sheer speed and determination of their reading. When reviewing they will often say ‘read in one sitting’ or ‘read on my commute to work in three days flat. When is the next one coming out?’ No pressure! If I could write as fast as readers read, I’d either be very wealthy by now, or possibly writing rubbish, in which case they wouldn’t be asking for the next one at all.
My first book took five years: from the first scene being committed to the computer, to it being accepted for publication; but I had never written a book before, so this was a necessary apprenticeship in writing, re-writing, cutting and burning, before the final manuscript emerged. The second book hasn’t been quite as slow, and changing publishers meant To Catch a Rabbit got a second outing with Allison and Busby and a beautiful new cover design; so readers who discovered it this year will have only waited seven months for its sequel.
Discovering an author with a long backlist is a joy for the keen crime reader, ready to immerse themselves in a series and connect with a continuing central character. A friend told me that she’d discovered Leigh Russell this year and ‘read everything she’s ever written’. We all experience ‘book mourning’ when we’ve got to the end a story we’ve loved, but to get to the end of a writer’s entire output is quite traumatic. Fortunately I was able to tell her that Leigh is working on something new and she won’t have long to wait.
I’m ashamed of my own reading speed. The guilt is exacerbated by Amazon politely requesting I review something I bought for my Kindle ten days ago, of which I’ve only read two chapters. I make it worse for myself by reading two things at once, usually a book by my bed and an e-book for travelling. This is a very bad habit, and can lead to confusion. I’m loving both books I’ve got on the go at the moment, and I’m desperate to get to the point when I can review them, but I need to put some serious time management in place first.
To get to the bottom of what drives crime readers’ reading habits, (and to see if I could acquire some of them), I turned to two avid crime readers, Jane Fenn and Alyson Shipley.
How many crime books do you read a month?
Jane: One to two books per month, depending on how much free time I have, or if I have long car journeys, I can lose myself in an audio book.
Alyson: One to two a week, but if I get something really great I can polish it off in a day. To Catch a Rabbit took me a day and The Girl on the Train took me two. Last week, I had four brilliant ones in quick succession, so I got through six. Others can be harder and I can take a week or more.
Why do you read crime?
Alyson: When I ‘graduated’ from kids books to adult in the 80’s there was very little YA fiction out there. I read my first crime book when I picked up an Ian Rankin from the library, purely because I didn’t fancy anything else. Rebus blew me away and Ian Rankin is solely to thank for my love affair with the crime novel. Rebus will always be my first love and my favourite copper.
Jane: I enjoy exploring the ‘moral compass’ in all of us, and how a situation can change the boundaries between ‘good’ and ‘bad’, from the safety of an armchair.
Do you have another genre that you alternate with?
Jane: I frequently read other genres associated with crime fiction, like spy/thrillers/suspense, and also the occasional autobiography. Sometimes I’ll read a documentary/factual book where it has interesting social context or comment.
Alyson: I don’t alternate as such but operate the ‘what’s recommended, what’s trending on Twitter, what are Richard and Judy up to, what’s happening with the book awards’ approach. I’m a charity shop addict and have found new (to me) authors there, like Linwood Barclay and Kathy Reichs. Others pop up in discount bookshops. My current TBR pile stands at sixty-five!
Do you have any pet hates or likes?
Jane: Doesn’t everyone love the maverick that bends the rules to breaking point, but for all the best and most noble of reasons? I hate books with really long chapters, or really short chapters – I like my chapters just that perfect length. And I find it too hard work to cope with timelines that loop back on themselves every few chapters.
Alyson: I have no pet hates. For me, anyone who has the balls, the talent and the imagination to write deserves to be read. I couldn’t do it, so I’m in no place to criticise. I love finding new authors. My shelves have all sorts lurking on them, including: Graham Hurley, Jo Nesbo, Steig Larsson, Tess Gerritsen, Tim Weaver, Mark Sennen, Nick Quantrill, Elly Griffiths, Luca Veste, Erin Kelly (Sick Rose is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read), Ian Rankin, Peter James, David Mark, Tom Bale, Patricia Cornwell, Chris Carter, Kathy Reichs, Stuart MacBride, Boyd Morrison. Plus a lot of random recommends: Book of You, A Trick of the Mind, A Song for Issy Bradley, I Let You Go, Stef Penney’s The Invisible Ones and the divine Daphne du Maurier.
A huge thank you to Alyson and Jane for taking the time to respond. Alyson’s comment about her TBR pile prompts this question: what is the largest TBR pile among CRA members? And how do you propose to tackle it? I’ve already taken to referring to those trips – formally known as holidays – as ‘reading weeks,’ where I find myself praying for rain and a good armchair, so I hope this summer brings you, if not sunshine, then some happy reading. HC
Helen Cadbury is the author of To Catch a Rabbit and Bones in the Nest (July 2015, Allison and Busby) – books one and two in the Sean Denton series, set in Doncaster. She had a former life as an actor and teacher and spent several years teaching in prisons.