Why we need Crime Fiction (and performance and activism)

Contemporary crime fiction is like a pendulum beam swinging backwards and forwards revealing and hiding modern britain in a way that no other form quite matches.

In crime fiction everyone is present. When you start reading you’re built in to the characters and plot in a way that makes you a participant. It’s a kind of stage where all the men, women and children are players. Crime writing helps us talk to each other.


Image Courtesy of I have No Teeth (Beautiful Blog)

Perhaps, in 2016 it’s the place to go to find and seek justice against cold crimes of all kinds and all kinds of micro aggressions. It’s a place where urgent new characters, plots and questions can be asked. Worried about the power of the media? Read this crime caper. Appalled by serial killers?  then watch this

Crime writer Dreda Say Mitchell grew up, as I did, when culture (reading writing, performing) was transmitted through institutions that had been reformed or created by the impact of the second world war. Schools, Libraries, Health, Child Care, Theatres, Orchestras, were places where you could learn and be socially mobile, part of a community and an individual.


Authors Dreda Say Mitchell and Kimberley Chambers doing the tour of Mile End, visiting the hospital where Dreda’s mum worked.

Many crime writers are writing  from a locally rooted perspective, even though they’d see themselves as able to travel anywhere.  Like Nottingham’s Niki Val, Nicola Monaghan although they travel the world they know and care about the future of the place they came from.

Now a lot of the functions of schools, hospitals, libraries, child care, care of the very frail and elderly have been contracted out. Some stay the same (we still make, administer, serve, teach, learn, work, we still play, we still perform) but it’s in a strange mirror way where every single person feels both at home  and at the same time a fragment of a distorted social media mirror. Where nothing is quite right.

In 2016 we’re all seeking an identity, a place, a refuge, a home that makes sense, connects us to meaning. In a way we’re all on the run, sun rise to sun set, watching an imaginary clock tick and we want to know ‘who did it?’  to us, to them, here, there and everywhere. Reading and writing crime fiction today is about putting our good and bad selves to rest.

When we find the killer do we also find ourselves?

In the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s the culture we created and lived in was about knowing people on our doorstep. There was a real sense that social mixing was all we needed. Everyone knew people from a really wide range of backgrounds, you knew your doctor, dentist, shopkeepers and life was really moving for all classes.

People who grew up in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s, grew up at a time when being working class seemed to be only one part of your identity and not a wholly negative thing. It wasn’t an underclass. When we look at the present and the future ways of living, growing, making and behaving, maybe we need to look harder at what’s been pulled away and what’s been substituted. “Reality shows and chavs” as Dreda mentions on the radio show Saturday Live

In previous eras class was there, every new council house street was policed (and often had police houses at the top of the street) by the ideas of a new start,  working hard, cleanliness and competition but there was also the idea of individuality and learning, performing and connectedness. The new council house estates felt a weight of community leadership and change that’s never been paralleled. Putting council housing into a museum might also help understand what was great about it, as the Beamish museum in County Durham are doing.

When I was a child on the council house estate I lived on we had people who’d been rehoused from Radford, Edwalton, Hyson Green, the Meadows on our street and the people from Radford and Hyson Green brought the idea of ‘the show‘ ‘the performance‘ to the little circle of council houses, as well as notions of community activism, religious piety, glitter and make up to gardens in West Bridgford.

Performances and campaigns. Practise makes perfect.


Activist  community food and theatre

That’s what a community adds to the individual and the individual knows that. Now council estates are seen as places where you can only rehearse failure. Like prisons, though, they can change.

If you keep rehearsing failure and just surviving how can anything change?

For us it was ‘A Park for the children and Mary Poppins was on the lawn for one night only and the Seven Dwarves transferred to St Saviour’s in the Meadows ‘ (because it was so popular). That little  park is still there, at the bottom of Greythorn Drive in West Bridgford, fifty years on from the activism of Jean Stansfield (now a senior but still campaigning!)


Vintage Disney Mary Poppins Plate by Sun Valley Melmac
This is a vintage Disney Mary Poppins melmac plate made by Sun Valley. This plate is part of a set that was released as part of the original movie merchandise that accompanied the release of the film in theatres.

Labour Councillor Michael Edwardes writes a blog about that subtly charts the changes that increasing automation and professionalisation makes to neighbourhoods and distribution of knowledge and Paul Goodman writes a conservative blog that explains change from a different perspective

Above Paul Goodman who writes Conservative Home and Councillors Michael Edwards and Nicola Heaton in the Meadows Nottingham, talking to constituents.

We need the reasons why spoken by ordinary children, teenagers, young, middle ages and senior people in a constructive and creative way that leads to real solid trust and change, not just another acronym. SMSC is the latest (Spiritual, Moral , Cultural and Social change which is monitored by OFSTED)

But all children need access to good books and to write their own stories

so do teenagers

so do the rest of us

Where is culture now? Perhaps it’s in the places people are and perhaps it’s dependant on who goes into their lives now?

Are we all ambassadors for a narrower view of culture dependant on who is funding that culture?

Or are we all the melting pot for what we need, desire to be?