It’s not just crime fans who are looking forward to Granite Noir… crime writers are, too, including one of the best known in the world.
Sara Paretsky, who revolutionised the way women were portrayed in crime fiction with her creation, VI Warshawksi, cannot contain her enthusiasm about Aberdeen’s crime-writing festival.
“I am looking forward to it very much. I was just looking at the programme which looks brilliant,” she said, speaking to Society from her Chicago home.
“I just sent a message to the organisers saying I hope I can get a ticket to the Outcasts: Women, Crime and Society programme.
“I love the way (Granite Noir) has all been put together with music, shows and film. It’s just a wonderful potpourri.”
Of course, one of the major attractions of Granite Noir – which runs until Sunday – is Sara herself, in conversation with fellow crime-writer Denise Mina tomorrow night, in a Scottish exclusive.
The author, whose 20th VI Warshawksi book Dead Plan will be published in April, is relishing the prospect of her evening at the Music Hall.
“I have done events with Denise before and she’s a brilliant interlocutor and she will move things along very briskly,” she said.
“What I always want is for people to come away feeling they have been entertained and if they have questions about how we create our characters or what we do or why we do what we do, then we will give the answers they came for.
“But mostly we are entertainers and want people to be entertained.”
Sara said events such as these are as enjoyable for her as an author as for the fans who come along.
“As an author you are on your own all the time so this is a chance to complete the circle, the reader and the writer work together – I know that sounds like a saccharine cliche,” she said.
The author added that everyone brings their own experiences into play when reading any text, including her novels, and react and interpret it in their own way.
She said: “Often it surprises me that it’s something quite different from what I was imagining. So it’s my chance to engage with people who are reading but have a very different set of experiences.”
Sara said authors are often asked where they get their ideas.
“People roll their eyes, but I always think that’s a very valid question. What I hear them asking is ‘are my ideas as good as yours?’ And of course they are, it’s just that, for better or for worse, crime writers have a morbid take on what’s going on in the world, so the same idea you have, we might put a really terrifying twist on it.”
The arrival of VI – and Sara herself – in 1982 was a seismic shift in the world of crime fiction, forever changing the perception that women were either vamps or victims. Her private investigator is “fairly fierce and outspoken” as well as a match for the denizens of Chicago’s underworld.
Sara said her intent “wasn’t quite as grandiose” as to transform the genre – although she has since influenced a generation of writers and also established Sisters In Crime, a global organisation to promote, advance and recognise women crime writers.
“I had always been a big reader of crime fiction, starting in my teens. But when I started reading American noir, I was struck in an unhappy way by the way in which women with a sex life were always responsible for any evil that got done,” said Sara.
“I wanted to turn the tables on that view of women and show we were just ordinary human beings and had a sex life, as people do, that had nothing to do with our moral character. That we could solve problems and didn’t need to be rescued or locked up. My first book sold 3,000 copies, so it did a great job of transforming the world,” she said, laughing.
But publishers wanted more and more of VI – to Sara’s surprise.
“Suddenly here I am a number of years later with 20 VI novels.”
Sara does take a moment to reflect on how VI – who was portrayed by Kathleen Turner in a 1991 movie – has changed over the years, as she has herself.
“I have had to fill her out significantly as a personality, so she has to be more self-reflecting and those kind of things. But also, we started out the same age, 30, together. Now I’m 70 and she’s 50, so she’s obviously much better than I am in so many ways. So much more effective.
“One of the side effects of ageing, or maybe ageing in these troubling times we are living in, is that I don’t have the same kind of optimism I had 40 years ago, thinking that great, grand change would be possible in my lifetime.
“That gets reflected in the character. Her mood is much more sombre now.”
But Sara said she still finds ways to bring her villains to justice, despite reflecting the modern, cynical world.
“If I gave up hope, I would just have to jump out the window, so I do continue to be hopeful”.
One of the most surprising aspects of Sara is that she has often started writing a book, not convinced that she can.
“I am trying to overcome that. I know I can write a book, I think I am still scared I can’t write a good book,” she said.
When it’s pointed out that’s not happened yet, Sara bursts into laughter.
“When I sent my agent Dead Plan, the new book, I said it made me sick to my stomach trying to read it. He said ‘oh good, if you ever sent me a manuscript where you said I feel wonderful about this, then I would be really scared’.”
For now, though, she’s looking forward to coming to Aberdeen, with plans not just to take in Granite Noir, but also go on a Nuart walking tour.
But that does beg the question whether she will also be visiting a distillery to add to her fabulous collection of single malts. A huge whisky fan, she even named her second golden retriever Cardhu.
“Sadly, I won’t have time on this trip,” Sara said, laughing again.
“I’ll just have to come back.”
Granite Noir: An Evening With Sara Paretsky is at the Music Hall tomorrow. For tickets visit aberdeenperformingarts.com