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Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

This week we’re continuing our look at the upcoming events featured at the Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate. One not to be missed is the panel discussion ‘Standing on the Shoulders of Giants’ at 5pm on Friday 19th July.

We asked panellist Henry Sutton to give us a flavour of what to expect from this intriguing panel focusing on the writer’s writer.

What the brochure says:

Isaac Newton famously attributed his own success to this. The work of great writers, past and present, echoes right across the crime genre, mostly because authors are fans too. The towering influences of other much-admired writers can inspire, scare and shape novelists in many ways, including some they’re not even aware of till later. We ask Sophie McKenzie, Denise Mina, Louise Penny and Henry Sutton – four of crime writing’s hottest names – to reflect on their own heroes and divulge which faithful books they return to time and again, as chair Martyn Waites asks whose shoulders it is they strain to peek over.

Over to Henry:

There’s a lot of fancy criticism that effectively implies that nobody writes in a vacuum. All writers, whether consciously or not, draw on the work of all those who’ve gone before. Writing, so the lit-crit fraternity go, can only ever be a dialogue with tradition, even if its aim is to break from just that.

T. S. Eliot actually came up with the rather creepy notion that to be a poet, you had to have fallen in love with a dead poet. While death will certainly be on the agenda at Harrogate this year, as of course it is every year, no one will be taking anything too seriously, least of all dryly. Just the thought of the beer, those puffy Yorkshire skies, and the best bunch of crime writers, readers and fans imaginable, gets my pulse racing.

However, the topic I’ll be discussing on a panel with the beguiling Sophie McKenzie, Denise Mina, Louise Penny (and which is to be chaired by the incorrigible Martyn Waites) addresses, head on, the key tenet certainly about writing fiction. Our work as writers, as crime writers, is the sum of not just us: our experiences and research and personalities, our likes and dislikes; but all the novels and stories, by all the authors, that have preceded us – whether we are aware or not. Influence can be a pretty sneaky and subtle thing. Or it can be much more obvious, searched for and wholly welcomed.

What we’re going to be talking about – I think, because you never quite know how a discussion will swing at Harrogate – are the authors and books that have meant the most to us. Right off, Denise Mina’s coruscating, damning and disturbing The End of the Wasp season is a recent influence. In that novel she manages to dismantle a seemingly privileged society while keeping in close check the lives of the financially deprived, while smuggling in a new type of police procedural.

I suppose it’s these unexpected books that have meant the most to me: unexpected in terms of plot and intent, and also unexpected when it comes to enjoyment and some sort of revelation about the human condition, especially in extremis. All this of course is what good crime and thriller fiction is exactly about. Among others, John Le Carre, Patricia Highsmith, and James M Cain will hopefully come up in the conversation. And just perhaps the odd dead poet or two.

Standing On the Shoulder of Giants, Friday 19 July, 5pm.

A big thank you to Henry Sutton – we look forward to seeing him at the festival!

Heading to the Harrogate Crime Festival? Let us know which events you’re most looking forward to over on our Dead Good facebook page.

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