I managed to catch the ITV 3 documentary about Val McDermid, a crime writer of genuine distinction. A good programme, which gave a flavour of her writing strengths, whilst inevitably paying some attention to her much-hyped difference of opinion with Ian Rankin about what it takes for a woman writer to reach the top of the sales lists.
Val is best known for her The Wire in the Blood series, featuring Tony Hill, but before that she served her apprenticeship with a series about a journalist (Val too was a journalist before she began to write full time) and then a series featuring a female private eye based in Manchester. In recent years, she’s written a number of stand-alones, and a recent change of publisher may well see her selling even more copies than in the past.
Val and I were contemporaries at university, but our paths didn’t cross there, and we first met through the Northern Chapter of the Crime Writers’ Association, back in the early 90s. Leafing through an old photo album recently, I came across a few snaps of her playing with my son – much to his delight - when he was very small, in the course of a fun weekend organised by Reginald Hill for the Northern crime writers in the Lake District. (Long before I dreamed of setting a series of my own in that wonderful location, I should add.)
I was there at the CWA Daggers Awards ceremony the night when the first Tony Hill book, The Mermaids Singing, won the Gold Dagger, and that was probably her ‘breakout moment’. She deserves her success, for she is a highly intelligent and talented writer. When I’ve talked to her, I’ve been impressed by her knowledge of and love of the classic detective stories, and she recognises the importance of a strong, twisty plot as well as good characterisation. I confidently expect that she’ll be a major force in the genre for many years to come.