It’s crime time

Debarati Palit Singh
Thursday, 14 September 2017

Crime writers Braham Singh and Alison Joseph talk about the genre and how it is fiction based on reality

If I find any error while reading a book, I lose respect for the whole narrative. That has sort of petrified me all my life,” said writer Braham Singh during a session on ‘Obsessed with Crime’ at the recently held Pune International Literary Festival.

Singh was joined by English crime writer Alison Joseph at the session which was moderated by director, screen-writer and novelist Piyush Jha. Singh, who launched his debut novel Bombay Swastika, maintained that while writing a book, research plays a huge role for him. “I had met one of the publishers in America who told me, ‘You are one of the best researchers I have come across but one of the lousiest writers’. While writing my novel, I had visited the places my protagonist has been to. Though my book is fiction, it’s based on facts. There is a real character like my protagonist who, to avoid the Nazi Germans, landed in Mumbai, was thrown at Purandar Fort and whose parents were shot dead,” he said.

Joseph, known for novels like Sacred Hearts, The Hour of Our Deaths, The Quick and the Dead, Shadow of Death and others added, “Even though what we write is fiction, it is based on reality. I collect as much information as possible through my interactions with the police to write my novels.” Singh shared the example of well-known author Martin Cruz Smith and said that Smith’s crime novels like Gorky Park give an insight into the Russian mind and environment. “You learn about Russia from him more than anybody else. Interestingly, Martin was not a Russian but an American. He wrote both the good and bad about Russia. He made his writing entertaining. He has been a huge influence on me.”

Both the writers agreed that one should leave research for a later stage and first concentrate on writing the story. “You sometimes get carried away by the research,” said Joseph, to which, Singh added, “Sometimes we spend a lot of time in researching and it might take 10 years to write a book also. As for me, while writing, I leave blanks and fill them later when I get the details or more information.”

Joseph maintained that people are opening up to the crime genre in India, Europe and America. “There are some big things happening in this genre. It’s a fantastic genre to be a part of.” Joseph added that writers use crime to explain something about society, its people and they are ultimately conveying a message. According to her, crime writers want to bring social justice. “When you close the book after finishing it, you know the right thing has happened,” said Joseph who is famous for writing cozy crime fictions. She is inspired by well-known author Agatha Christie and has a character in her nun series, dedicated to her. She said, “It’s an interesting category. Unlike Agatha Christie novels, I don’t have millions of guns, shootings, danger and torture, I show in a realistic manner, people behaving very badly,” she said.

When Jha asked her about her switch from writing books on relationships and romance to crime, she said that it happened by accident. “I have been a compulsive writer, even as a child I used to write a lot. I wrote short stories which got published in magazines and that gave me confidence. I was writing for television,” she said, adding, “I have been reading a lot of crime fiction.

The strength of that genre is that if you start your book with a dead body, you have already got a story.” Joseph’s detective nun stories are a huge hit. “The detective nun became a bigger scene than I realised, which kind of motivated me to write more,” said the writer, who was also the chairperson of The Crime Writers’ Association (UK).

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