The Lemon Tree Theatre is bustling as Aberdeen’s crime fiction festival, Granite Noir, reaches its mid-point. We’re in safe hands as Sarah Ward, author of A Patient Fury and reviewer for the Crimepieces book blog, settles in as chair for a session entitled Page and Screen.
M J Arlidge begins by sharing how one of his proudest moments was making his mum jump when watching a scene he’d written for TV. Having studied English Literature and screenwriting at university, he went on to pen episodes for Eastenders, then Monarch of the Glen, and now writes for Silent Witness. He’s also author of the bestselling DI Helen Grace series, which began with the runaway success of Eeny Meeny, followed by six further titles that continue the nursery rhyme theme, including Pop Goes The Weasel, Little Boy Blue and his latest, Love Me Not.
He wrote Eeny Meeny when his children were small, so writes in short chapters, understanding his readers are most probably time-strapped too. It’s a stylistic decision that’s paid off. Today as well as enjoying a loyal following of traditional thriller readers, teenage and young adult fans are also keen to devour his work.
Next to Arlidge on the sofa is Swedish author, Stefan Ahnhem, whose Fabian Risk thrillers include Victim Without A Face, The Ninth Grave, and Eighteen Below, with a television series in development. Like Arlidge, Ahnhem cut his writing teeth on screenwriting, most famously working on adaptions of Mankell’s Kurt Wallander series.
Ahnhem admits that at school writing never came easily but that he could always tell stories. Initially, he wanted to make movies, but no-one offers their screenplay to a “nobody”. So instead he wrote commercials before creating comedy, but what he longed to develop was suspense.
Having had to pair back his writing for screenplays, he chose to make his novels long, which he muses was a stupid decision financially, as they take longer to write. He too is a fan of short chapters that are both interesting and thrilling.
Listening to Arlidge and Ahnhem makes it clear there is no one way to become a sought after screenwriter and author. Despite all their accomplishments, both appear grounded, almost wary that their success might disappear. A fear that must surely be unnecessary given their entrepreneurial work ethic and swelling band of devoted fans. This is a master class in how to make it as a writer.