A collective of women crime writers in London and the South East are launching London’s first ever female-led crime festival.
The Killer Women festival, sponsored by audiobook giant Audible, and accountancy firm HW Fisher, will be a celebration of women’s crime writing, held at the Council Room in Shoreditch Town Hall, home of the inquest into the murder of Jack the Ripper’s last victim, Mary Kelly, in 1888. It will take place on 15th October 2016.
Spearheaded by award-winning writer and journalist Melanie McGrath, it already features a raft of high-profile authors on the roster including Ann Cleeves, Martina Cole, Mark Billingham and Val McDermid.
McGrath and fellow crime writer Louise Millar co-founded author collective Killer Women at the end of 2014 originally to "get round a dining room table" and network with other women crime writers. The now 18-strong women’s collective comprises acclaimed writers including Paula Hawkins, author behind Transworld’s runaway success story The Girl on a Train, and Sarah Hilary, who scooped the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year last year, as well as Wicked Girls author Alex Marwood.
The group, which meets quarterly, comprises Jane Casey, Tammy Cohen, Hawkins, Hilary, Alison Joseph, Erin Kelly, Colette McBeth, McGrath, Marwood, K T Medina, D E Meredith, Millar, Kate Rhodes, Helen Smith, Louise Voss and Laura Wilson (pictured below at the official Killer Women launch), who have since organised themselves into committees and sub-committees to meet more often in preparation for the festival. They are published by a variety of publishers including Transworld, Pan Macmillan and Headline, and have backgrounds in a variety of areas outside of their writing careers, from journalism, PR and publishing to business, education and the charity sector.
McGrath said: “We soon saw opportunities to maintain our profiles between books and to augment the publicity activities that our publishers were already carrying out and also to think about producing the kinds of innovative events it wouldn’t necessarily be easy for publishers to put on. The more we talked about doing this, the more there was enthusiasm. There was a sense we could all pool our joint skills and resources."
"Also there wasn’t a crime festival in London,” she added, "that seemed like an opportunity just waiting to be filled. Most readers of crime fiction are women and there’s a lot of enthusiasm for an event that was women author-led. The response of the sponsors and the headliners was a testament to our skills in doing that as a group and it’s been one of the joys of the group."
Publisher sponsors of individual events so far include Hachette, Penguin Random House, Orenda and Pan Macmillan.
While the festival is to be “female-led”, McGrath stressed there would be a number of male writers attending and it was an "equal opportunities festival".
“We wanted to celebrate women’s writing but everyone is welcome,” said McGrath. "The women angle was simply we are a group of women and we’re conscious most crime fiction is read by women. We noticed doing events it’s usually a ratio of about 70:30 women to men who come to events, so I think it was a response to all of those things. We’re very keen to encourage men and anyone who wants to come - and there will be men on stage."
The festival also intends to engage with people in the criminal justice system, and a detective will be coming to take attendees through the real-life process of solving a murder and modern forensic psychology. It will host TV-oriented events, promising “well known” actors and a screening room on the basis crime fiction and drama “go hand in hand”. And there will be all-day workshops and masterclasses taught by Killer Women in all aspects of crime storytelling and publishing, as well as panels, debates, a murder mystery and “Killer cocktails”.
Tracey Markham, country manager for Audible, said: "Crime fiction is immensely popular on Audible, from chilling psychological thrillers to police procedural – our listeners love to follow the gripping plot lines of crime fiction. Female crime writers, including some of the festival’s organisers, are amongst our bestsellers; from Paula Hawkins to Martina Cole to Ann Cleeves. When we heard Killer Women were launching their first festival we were really keen to be involved and now, like so many of their avid fans, we can’t wait to hear the line-up.”
Andrew Subramaniam, head of HW Fisher’s Authors and Journalist Team, said: "Crime writing is such a popular genre and we are delighted to be sponsoring Killer Women’s premier festival.”
McDermid, one of the festival’s headliners, added: "I've been killing women on my own for thirty years. Thank heavens for a bit of company!"
Literary festivals made headlines over issues of author pay in January when patron of the Oxford Literary Festival Philip Pullman resigned over the issue. Of Killer Women’s arrangements, McGrath said: “Author are going to be paid. It’s our inaugural festival so we’re calling it a church mouse payment, but authors are going to be paid and that’s something we believe in, as a collective, very strongly.”
"As a principle it’s important to recognise it’s writers’ time and expertise and that’s valuable.”
Priority tickets for Killer Women will be on sale from 20th to 31st May 2016 at a special discounted rate of £65 for Killer Crime Club members. The remainder of the tickets will be on general release from 1st June 2016 at £75 for the full day’s events. Limited edition copies of a forthcoming Killer Women anthology can also be found at www.killerwomen.org