Writers Elly Griffiths and Alex Gray

One celebrated writer told me plotting was 'easy'



I DISCOVERED THAT the Shetland Noir Crime Fiction festival existed from friends who know Ann Cleeves, patron and curator of the Festival, so booked early. People have flown in from Canada, the US, Switzerland, and many other countries, for the excitement of listening to writers talking about crime fiction.


I started out with Speed Dating: half a dozen delegates sitting round a table listening to crime writers who had two minutes in which to talk about their work. There was meant to be a Q and A option but it was hard to find the time.


I’m baffled by crime writers’ obsession with their characters – as if the Marjory Allingham and Dorothy Sayers love affairs with Albert Campion and Peter Wimsey still lived and thrived in 2023. There was much talk about the ‘golden age’ of crime writing, but as one who read all these many years ago, I find them far more difficult to accept now, with their casual racism, anti-Semitism and occasional misogyny, however disguised. I swallow it because the plots are so good. I tried to ask how a crime writer plots the narrative, but few seemed willing to answer. One celebrated writer told me plotting was easy. In a crime novel there’s a murder, and a solution, and that’s all the writer needs to think about. Others in a panel discussion, did accept that managing the reveal was critical.


Q: Do crime writers find it easy to work out the main criminal in another crime writer’s novel?

A: Yes.


I’m still baffled. It seems to me that plotting is a great skill. Most of these writers didn’t want to tell us – though Shona Maclean, whose work I had not read, led a workshop on a Sense of Place, and inspired great respect in me for saying, All readers have a bank of images on which to draw. Don’t overwrite.


I enjoyed spotting other delegates on the plane from Edinburgh, and seeing the same faces in Lerwick. I’ve listened to writers describe their sequence of novels, all using the same detective, the same place, how agents/editors tell them not to write a standalone crime story, or the contrary. Crime novels are popular among the young in Shanghai. Short stories polish one’s skills.


I’m here with a daughter and we dive off into Shetland Wild, to white beaches and blue, freezing seas. We’ll get up for a 5:30am boat trip to gaze at seabirds, and wake at 2am to find ourselves able to read by daylight. I’m looking forward to stories about crime on Shetland that aren’t all solved by Jimmy Perez. The film crews are everywhere ...


Eating Cullen skink, a local speciality soup of haddock, onions, potatoes

We dived off into Shetland Wild