Writers tackle moral dilemma

Dunedin-based writer and academic Liam McIlvanney (left) is interviewed by Steve Braunias at the...
Dunedin-based writer and academic Liam McIlvanney (left) is interviewed by Steve Braunias at the Dunedin Writers & Readers Festival. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
Using violent crimes against women as a plot point is a reflection of reality, a Dunedin crime writer says.

Writer and University of Otago professor Liam McIlvanney told a Dunedin Writers & Readers Festival event yesterday the morality of doing so did make him uneasy.

But there were ways to mitigate the problem.

McIlvanney was in conversation with journalist and writer Steve Braunias at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery yesterday, in front of an audience of close to 100 people.

The University of Otago professor won The McIlvanney Prize at the Bloody Scotland International Crime Writing Festival in Stirling last year for his book The Quaker.

The annual prize was named in memory of his late father, William McIlvanney, a prominent British novelist and godfather of Tartan Noir, a form of Scottish crime fiction.

Braunias asked McIlvanney about issue of women and their role in crime fiction.

McIlvanney said it was a familiar trope in crime fiction to include the violated, traumatised body of a female victim, then have male detectives solve the crime.

He agreed he was "using that whole scenario" in his book, and was uneasy about that.

As mitigation he had narrated some of the book from the point of view of the dead women.

"It was my attempt to give some sense of agency to the women."

It also showed they had lives beyond being photographs in newspapers.

McIlvanney noted a prize developed for novels that did not feature violence against women, however Scottish writer Val McDermid had said she would stop writing such novels when men's violence against women stopped.

He said the subject should be tackled "with some degree of sensitivity".

"It's crime fiction. These moral issues are always going to be in play.

"You just have to handle them to the best of your ability."

McIlvanney also discussed the use of location as a character in crime novels, and how Dunedin might be used.

In his novels he tried to "uncover the hidden underbelly of an apparently respectable society".

That was easier in some places than others.

Nobody was surprised Glasgow was a violent city.

Its whole image was predicated on aspects such as razor gangs and a high homicide rate.

"It's a bit more of a challenge to write crime fiction in Glasgow. It's all underbelly."

Dunedin had a gothic vibe.

There was a feeling nothing happened in Dunedin, but when it did, "it happens", he said, such as the Aramoana and Bain family murders.

There was a potential here for the gothic to rise to the surface.

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