Killer Women festival: The female crime novelists transforming how the publishing industry works

Female crime writers are teaming up for a Killer Women festival, part of a growing movement of authors joining forces to promote their own work

The thought of a group of crime writers gathering together in a dark room in London tonight is enough to send shivers down the spine. How many ingenious ways to bump you off could they conjure up together? The answer is plenty – but fear not, because Killer Women, a clutch of female crime novelists, aren't interested in mayhem and murder but in transforming the way the publishing industry works.

Offering an innovative package of events, debates, interviews, talks and workshops, Killer Women hope that this collaborative approach will not only promote their own work but help forge a closer bond with readers as well.

"I feel our voices are stronger together," explains the group's co-founder Melanie McGrath, who as MJ McGrath writes the Edie Kiglatuk Arctic mysteries. "It also allows the 15 of us to achieve a direct connection to readers – we can bring out anthologies under our own brand and put on a variety of specially-tailored events."

McGrath and her co-founder Louise Miller came up with the idea for Killer Women "partially as a social get-together and partially to pool our resources in terms of expertise and teaching skills and workshops, but also to create a collaborative brand… I think the relationship between reader and writer has become very different in recent years. It's more democratic and interactive and thus doing something like Killer Women, which introduces the reader to other authors they may not have known, makes a great deal of sense."

Clare Mackintosh, whose debut crime novel I Let You Go is a Richard & Judy pick for this summer, has run the Chipping Norton Literary Festival since 2012. She agrees that collaboration is increasingly important in a world where authors can struggle to make an impression. "It can be really hard to have a voice in a sea of voices and collaboration is a really good way to stand out. Increasingly, I think people are relying on more creative ways of promoting their books, such as grassroots book clubs, small festivals and even the Women's Institute. Social media means that writers are in more contact with their readers and at the same time readers are more demanding, they expect a more 3D approach, to find out more about the author, where they work and how."

Mackintosh hails Killer Women as "an absolutely brilliant concept" while adding that it's a shame, as a non-Londoner, that "it's just London-based". The decision to make it so was taken, McGrath says, so that the collective could meet up regularly rather than simply online, a decision which crime writer Erin Kelly admits was part of the appeal. "An author's life is quite bipolar: you're either working in complete isolation or at a heaving literary festival having strained conversations over a glass of warm white wine," she says. "It's quite rare for writers to meet formally without any agents, editors and publishers so the chance to form deeper friendships with other ambitious writers was a big pull for me."

Of course it's not just about hanging out with like-minded souls. The group's events are carefully (and cleverly) curated – this week McGrath, KT Medina and Jane Casey debate the relationship between women and violence at hip women's club, The Trouble Club, while the whole group are doing a meet and greet at Crime Fest on Friday – and Kelly feels that's a huge part of Killer Women's appeal. "It's sometimes easier to attract audiences to see themed panels of writers, even unknown writers, than it is to get bums on seats for best-selling authors on their own," she explains. "People will take a punt on a debate, like our recent event 'A Woman's Place in Crime Fiction', whereas they might not come out for an author they're not already familiar with."

That said, it's not the first time that female crime authors have banded together in this way. In the late 1990s, Stella Duffy, Lauren Henderson and Sparkle Hayter formed Tart Noir, a female crime writing collective who wanted "a website where writers like us would feel normal, rather than being the token girls on a panel with four boys, or the two or three girls in an anthology with 15 boys". Their witty website Tart City celebrated the idea of feminists and femme fatales (and indeed feminist femme fatales) and in 2002 they brought out a Tart Noir anthology.

Similarly in the US, Sisters in Crime, first organised by Sara Paratsky in 1987 to promote "female mystery writers", continues to thrive, while the International Thriller Writers Network has recently grown in popularity. Both these organisations, however, are large, more formal and thus more impersonal.

"The key to Killer Women is that we all know each other," says McGrath. "That means that our discussions and events feel warmer and more integrated. This isn't just a support network. We're friends."

For more information go to killerwomen.org

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