Writing Workshop: Where The Bodies Are Buried with Stephen Booth
Bromley House Library, Thursday 10th November
It is at this point in the week where my carefully cultivated aura of mystery must falter somewhat. This is because in order to explain why I chose to attend this event, I must get a little personal.
I love crime fiction. I love detectives, I love piecing the mystery together, I love the clichés, the tropes, even the weird turns of phrase that have become ubiquitous. I love it so much that my dissertation for this year is a piece of detective fiction.
Basically, imagine me as the same amorphous grey blob, but now it’s wearing an ill-fitting trench coat and a fedora at a jaunty angle.
Also it has a drinking problem and doesn’t play by the rules but by god it gets results.
So, as you can probably imagine, I was rather excited from the get go. I stepped off the tram with a spring in my step. It was at this point that it started to rain. At least it was an appropriate aesthetic.
The workshop was in Bromley House Library, so it took me a good ten minutes running around Beastmarket Hill, asking every other shop in the area where it was. Turns out, it’s next to Game. But what a venue! If this event had taught me nothing more than where to find Bromley Library, I’d consider it time well spent. You need to be a member to enter normally, but they have tours every Wednesday. It’s a truly beautiful place, a grade II listed Georgian townhouse, and any lover of literature should check it out at least once.
The workshop was in one of the little reading rooms. Led by Stephen Booth, a writer with sixteen published books to his name, it was clear from the first few seconds that he knew his stuff.
In the first half, Booth talked about his experience writing crime fiction. Little known fact: crime fiction fans are apparently adorably nerdy, on the same sort of level as the trekkies. They actively seek out locations he mentions in the books, even when they don’t exist. It highlighted how important a sense of place is though, in any kind of fiction. People like to have that connection between the real world and the fictional world that they love.
Allow me to put on my writer hat for a bit while I talk about the more technical aspects Booth mentioned. Mostly, he focused on creating a sense of place and setting. As a writer, I’m rather bad at this so the advice was more than welcome. Perhaps the key advice given was about focusing on specific details. Nobody remembers the detective’s office, but they remember the mug with ‘number one mum’ written on it, the smashed pieces of an ashtray in the waste bin, and the unpaid phone bill left on the desk. Booth also drew attention to focusing on sensory aspects of a scene, even in little hints.
At this point we stopped talking for a little while and wrote together. There’s something great about writing in silence as a group, in a way that’s hard for me to describe. You can fill in your own joke there. Once we finished the true workshopping began, where we each read what we’ve written and get feedback.
Full disclosure here, I’ve done workshopping before as part of my degree course. But I know most of the people on that course, I’ve been working with them for over two years. You kind of forget how, for want of a better term, intimate it is to read your work out for a group of strangers. Still, it’s fantastically refreshing.
Plus, because every piece is crime fiction, each reading ends with a shuddery ‘oooh’ in reaction to the images people chose. One of the pieces which stood out involve the rather brutal and seemingly ritualistic murder of a fox. But everyone brought fantastic work to the table, considering it was all written over fifteen minutes and with no editing.
Perhaps the key thing about crime fiction that will stick with me was from Booth’s closing remarks: ‘People remember characters and place, and both of those things inform the other. They’ll struggle to tell you anything about plot.’ As a writer who tends to interact with other writers, I often forget about the perspective of the readers. I know how ‘technically’ important plot is. But readers love characters they identify with, places they can imagine, and images they can see. It’s why Booth’s readers like to visit the places in his books.
I hope one day I can inspire even a fraction of that devotion in my readers.