'Killer Women', At The Chiswick Book Festival

Sophie Swithinbank is fascinated by new group for female crime writers


Sign up for our weekly Chiswick newsletter

Comment on this story on the

Killer Women is an acclaimed new writer’s group for female crime writers. Three members of the group, Erin Kelly, Jane Casey and Colette McBeth attended the Chiswick Book Festival to discuss crime writing and the necessity of including a ‘killer twist’. This panel of women sit with an air of power and danger that I can see in their eyes and the poise before the start speaking. They are strikingly beautiful and they sit in their studies all day thinking up ways to kill people. This fascinates me and I immediately want to know more about them. Is there a reason that today’s best crime writers are women? Perhaps women have more to feel angry and murderous about. The session is chaired by Laura Wilson, author of The Wrong Girl, who opens the talk with the killer question, ‘Are twists a necessary part of crime writing?’

Erin Kelly, author of Broadchurch and The Ties That Bind, describes herself as a ‘twisty writer’ and answers with an immediate ‘yes’ to Wilson’s question. Twists are addictive. Twists sell. She explains in a black-and-white manner that her books that have big twists have sold more than her books that do not. She advises the audience (who are a mixture of crime readers, writers and enthusiasts) that twists can be very clever and original, but one must not build a book around a twist. This leads to a book with a lack of authenticity, life and content, which leaves the reader longingly waiting for the twist and not focusing on the writing.

Jane Casey, the dark and handsome author of After the Fire, is less keen on twists. She explains that she hates reading a book when she knows there is a big twist because she spends the whole time guessing what the twist will be. Kelly argues that this only happens if the twist is badly executed. Colette McBeth, former BBC journalist , reveals that she does not think twists are necessary because she can never think of them, which slightly contradicts the reality of her writing. Her most recently published book, The Life I left Behind (2015) includes daringly exhibited and perfectly timed twists.

On the subject of writing technique the Killer Women disagree on almost everything. Kelly uses writing program Scrivenor and has no physical written evidence of any of her novels, while McBeth writes plans on huge pieces of wallpaper and often finds herself scribbling away on a notepad in the dark while her husband sleeps. Wilson chimes in that she can only write notes in a particular yellow notepad, which, to her great distress has recently been discontinued by the supplier. Casey can write notes in any old note pad and rarely re-reads them. She justifies this by pointing to her head, ‘it’s all in here.’

One thing the Killer Women absolutely and resolutely agree on is to never talk to anyone about your book while you’re writing it. Not your mother. Not your best friend. Not your agent. And especially not your husband.

These women are possibly the most independent and clear thinking writers at the festival, so any disruptive and unthoughtful opinions thrown at them during the writing process are really rather unneeded, unhelpful and unwelcome. Long may they continue twisting and turning and writing in the dark.

Buy the Killer Women’s books and find out more about the authors at


Sophie Swithinbank


September 16, 2015

Bookmark and Share