Crime Writing in Scotland and India

Crime writing, it instantly reminds of murder mysteries and detective stories. Growing up we all had a favourite mystery writer and a favourite detective. Lets face it, all of us wanted to be a smart detective one day – be it  Feluda, Sherlock Holmes, Nancy Drew, Byomkesh or Poirot. We swayed between Agatha Christie, Satyajit Ray, Arthur Conan Doyle and others. But how many of us have seriously thought of this genre of literature and what goes in making it the top category. In UK,  Crime writing is the number 1 genre of literature.  The session “Bloody Scotland in Kolkata” deals with this – understanding crime writing genre of literature. Bloody Scotland is a crime writing festival in Scotland aimed at supporting the Scottish crime writers.

Scotland obviously boasts of the famous Scotland Yard, the most efficient police service in the world. But the session doesn’t involve just detectives, police and murder mysteries  instead it goes deeper – analysing the very basis of crime writing. The panel includes terrific crime writers from Scotland and India. It has Lin Anderson and Doug Johnstone from Scotland, and Monabi Mitra and Krishnendu Mukhopadhay from India.

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The session began by knowing the difference between English and Scottish crime writing. Scottish Crime writers Lin and Doug both agreed that English crime writing mostly deals with detective stories and the police proceedings while that of Scottish crime writing is quite different. It incorporates religion and societal structure. They cited the example of RL Stevenson Treasure Island, Jackyl and Hyde. Like Doug Johnstone says, “Most people think of crime writing is about detective stories, police procedures but there are more to it.” Like he writes about psychological aspects, domestic stories which deals with the dark side of human nature. Lin Anderson, also spoke about how having a father from the forensic department helped her inclination towards crime writing.

Monabi Mitra talks about the police force and resurgence of urban areas in crime fiction. She says “there has been a resurgence of crime fiction based on urban centres like Kolkata”. Her stories are based in Kolkata and it mainly deals with the working of the police force. Being a daughter of a policemen she has first understanding of the problems they face while guarding the society. The society in turns ridicules them as inefficient and yet they are interested in the working procedure of the police. Thus, she gets inspired by them and hence started crime writing based on them.

Krishnendu Mukhopadhay on the other hand speaks about the crime writing genre being a relatively new one in India – just about 100 years old. He speaks of his stories where he dwells more on the psychological aspects of his characters. He admired Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” and went looking for secret societies. Surprisingly, he found about Emperor Ashoka’s Secret society “Nine Wise Men” which the emperor formed to get information about  public views about the healthcare, education and other facilities of his kingdom. This influenced his crime writing.

Coming to cities and their set up as a favourable place for Crime Stories, the panelists gave out some diverse views. While Doug and Lin highlighted their characters are based in Scottish cities like Edinburgh, Glasgow etc. they sometime make them travel to the outskirts. Doug explains that each cities have certain intricacies which helps in certain types of crimes and crime writing. Like Doug said, “Edinburgh is a relatively small city with an affluent based surrounded by poor areas”. So these divide helps in crime writing. Lin believes we have to true to characters as people generally hail them. They readily accepts a change in story pattern but not in the leading characters. This is the reason why crime television series are so successful.

Krishnendu Mukhopadhay says “Calcutta isn’t an ideal place for crime writing”. Apart from certain stories like the “Stone Man” which occurred 15 years ago nothing unique happens. The stone man is a case involving a man who killed people by hitting them with a stone. Monabi, agrees that Calcutta is generally regarded as a friendly peaceful place. But in every city there is a rivalry between governance and criminals (the underworld etc), and that can be used as crime writing.

The session ultimately concluded by showcasing the latest books of each of the writers. The take home point from this session is this – there is a huge potential for crime writing. It doesn’t necessarily stick to mystery or detective writing. It deals with the larger psychological nature behind the crime and the societal structure creating it. In the end, it is the characters which makes these stories. The characters make it a thrilling crime story.

It can happen in any set up, any place. It is in our daily surroundings. Being observant is the elementary criteria for crime writing. Crime is everywhere, so does crime stories.

So be observant and look for stories around you. Keep alive the Feluda in you.

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