Sunday, 14 February 2016

Call for Papers - The Ageless Agatha Christie

The Ageless Agatha Christie: Adaptations and Afterlives
A One-Day Conference at the University of Exeter, Monday 20th June 2016

Confirmed Keynote Speakers
Sophie Hannah, author of Hercule Poirot mysteries
Dr Mark Aldridge, Southampton Solent University

When Agatha Christie died in 1976, she was the acknowledged Queen of Crime. The bestselling novelist and most successful playwright of the twentieth century, she created the immortal detectives Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple. Forty years after her death, her play The Mousetrap is in its seventh decade in London’s West End, while the BBC’s And Then There Were None was the most viewed television drama on Boxing Day 2015. With continuation novels, apps and video games, and big screen adaptations forthcoming, the Christie brand continues to adapt and evolve.

This conference will consider Agatha Christie in the context of adaptations and afterlives. We invite proposals for twenty-minute papers relating to this theme in any way. Suggested topics include but are not limited to:

Christie in the 21st century
Continuation and tribute novels
Fandom, fanfiction, and fan studies
Stage, Screen, or Radio legacy
The art of adapting
Christie as a fictional character
Graphic novels
New strategies, new readers
Politics and globality
LGBTQ+ readings and appropriations
Detective fiction today
National identity and heritage
Rediscovery and re-evaluation

Please email abstracts of around 200 words to the organisers Dr Jamie Bernthal and Mia Dormer, at no later than Monday 29th February 2016. We also invite unorthodox or creative approaches to the theme.


Saturday, 13 February 2016

From the Domestic to the Dominant

‘From the Domestic to the Dominant: The New Face of Crime Fiction’
Edited Collection 
Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn), The Silent Wife (ASA Harrison), The Girl on the Train (Paula Hawkins), are just three recent novels that have captured the commercial imagination and conceivably shifted the critical perception of what a contemporary crime thriller is and should be doing in the second decade of the 21st Century. The terrain is domestic, the narrative perspective and criminal perpetrator firmly female. However, the political is of course ever present in relation to gender and society. The crime thriller has always been a peculiarly modern form. Its transition to an urgent, necessary and contemporary form of literary expression is arguable, and lies at the core of the discussion within this collection.

Julia Crouch (Cuckoo, The Long Fall, Tarnished and Every Vow You Break) recognised as the originator of the term ‘Domestic Noir’ stated that it ‘takes place primarily in homes and workplaces, concerns itself largely (but not exclusively) with the female experience.’ 

Domestic Noir is often concerned with crimes of an extremely intimate nature. Renee Knight’s Disclaimer and Claire Kendal’s The Book of You, both deal with unusually invasive forms of stalking. Christobel Kent’s The Crooked House and Erin Kelly’s The Poison Tree both detail the horror of long-buried secrets surfacing. Many of the novels deal explicitly with what Rebecca Whitney (The Liar’s Chair) describes as ‘toxic marriage and its fallout’, such as Emma Chapman’s How to be a Good Wife, and Lucie Whitehouse’s Before we Met. There are also versions of the marriage thriller that present economically or sexually independent women transgressing, such as Louise Doughty’s Apple Tree Yard and Jill Alexander Essbaum’s Hausfrau

Children and adolescents often figure in Domestic Noir as incendiary characters such as in Emma Donoghue’s Room, Kate Hamer’s The Girl in the Red Coat, and Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk about Kevin. Adolescent girls occupy centre stage in Megan Abbott’s reinterpretation of Lolita, The End of Everything, her twisted take on cheerleaders, Dare Me, and mass hysteria at a high school, The Fever. Also relevant here are Gillian Flynn’s first two novels Sharp Objects and Dark Places, and Tana French’s The Secret Place

Domestic Noir is a particularly crystallised version of crime fiction. These are novels that not only toe a strong narrative line but also address the very real issues of life, death, and how we relate to each other. As there has not yet been a publication that addresses Domestic Noir, we welcome chapters on all aspects of the sub-genre for a volume to be presented to a major UK or international publisher. You may wish to submit on the following topics, though this is by no means an exhaustive list: 

-    Literary antecedents of Domestic Noir (i.e. In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes)
-    Female perpetrators, female gangsters, and women who kill
-    21st century crime fiction and its cultural relevance
-    The genesis of crime sub-genres
-    Gendered and generational readings of Domestic Noir
-    Crime and mental health in the 21st century
-    Location, geographies, and race in Domestic Noir
-    Intimate crimes (stalking, rape etc.)
-    New work and domestic patterns
-    Domestic Noir and the Bluebeard cycle.
-    Suburban Gothic
-    Small and big screen interpretations of Domestic Noir


Abstracts of 400 – 500 words including up to five keywords should be sent to Laura Ellen Joyce ( or Henry Sutton ( by 18 March 2016

Notification of acceptance: 22 April 2016

Full chapters of between 6000 – 8000 words are due by: 16 September 2016

Final versions are due by: 31 December 2016

Friday, 12 February 2016

Three Seminal Sherlocks

As many have pointed out, if ever an actor was born for a part, Basil Rathbone was born to play Sherlock Holmes.  His aristocratic profile with the aquiline nose make him a dead ringer for the Holmes of the Paget illustrations from the original stories.  Rathbone holds a pipe with great ease, and his mellifluous baritone has all the requisite weight and authority.  In the original two 1939 movies set in the Victorian period, his Holmes commands the screen, and the black-and-white fits the stories, especially The Hound of the Baskervilles.

The only real disappointment is Nigel Bruce as a bumbling comic Dr. Watson, a role he would continue to play in subsequent movies.  Updating the later films to a contemporary setting (1940's London) was a bit jarring, as were Nazi villains and the like, and the results were more pedestrian and formulaic than with the original two films.  A low point comes with a deformed actor playing the "Hoxton Creeper" in The Pearl of Death.

Still, for several decades up until the 1980's, Rathbone’s visage was generally what popped into your head at the mention of Sherlock Holmes.  That all changed in 1984 when Jeremy Brett burst onto the television screen in the elaborate Granada productions with spectacular location shooting.  Brett also seemed born to play the part.  With his pomaded black hair swept back and his long thin frame, he also resembled the Paget Holmes.  However, the contrast with Rathbone was striking.

Rathbone was always calm and self-possessed, while Brett radiated nervous energy, was slightly manic with a neurotic edge.  You were never certain what his Holmes might do.  His movements were often explosive: wrenching a glass from his pocket, throwing himself on the turf to look for footprints, or the like.  He was edgy and unbalanced, not poised and calm like Rathbone.  You could well believe his Holmes might have turned to drugs and that he had some dark depths indeed.  This Holmes preferred cigarettes to the pipe, something the chain-smoking Brett encouraged to allow him to smoke on camera.

Brett’s voice was part of the difference.  Despite some deeper undertones (perhaps because he smoked so much!), his was a tenor voice.   Brett had started out as a singing actor and had been told that with work, he might become an operatic tenor.  When he cries out or exclaims loudly, the voice has a piercing clarion quality.  The voice with its dramatic shifts in intensity contributes to that sense that his Holmes is unstable and unpredictable.  Unlike with the always affable Rathbone, you might think twice before inviting Brett’s Holmes to a dinner party!

Sadly, as most of his fans know, Brett’s health visibly deteriorated over the nearly ten year run of the Granada series.  By the end, the thin elegance and vitality of his early Holmes had vanished.  Still, he laboured on in very ill health.

Brett was lucky to have two very good Watsons, David Burke and Edward Hardwicke, both of whom were clearly men of intelligence and sympathy, far cries from the comic-relief Watson of Nigel Bruce.

I think there is a rather straight line from Rathbone, to Brett, to Benedict Cumberbatch. We could never had arrived at Cumberbatch’s portrayal if Brett hadn’t led the way first.  Cumberbatch’s Holmes is also quixotic and excitable.  However, once again we have Holmes with a commanding baritone voice.  Cumberbatch certainly captures the arrogance of the character and his unpredictability.  And who knew that Holmes was made for a smart phone!

However, for my taste, all this strangeness gets carried a bit too far.  Portraying him as a frustrated neurotic virgin in the episode with a very unusual Irene Adler reduced his character to almost a caricature.  Ditto with making him always socially clueless and awkward.  Rathbone’s Holmes was always polite, and Brett’s Holmes could be charming in his social dealings when he wished to be.  Cumberbatch’s Holmes is too often simply boorish or rude.  Suggesting that he has Asperger’s or some other mental illness also seem to diminish the character.

I don’t fault Cumberbatch as an actor for this.  I think he is very good.  It is the scripts that are the problem.  I liked some of the early episodes in the Sherlock series, but 2016's The Abominable Bride was, for me, a major disappointment.  At first, I loved the traditional Victorian Holmes and Watson as played by Cumberbatch and Freeman and all the wealth of Victorian decor and costume, but they lost me when they started flipping back and forth in time between the 2010's and the Victorian period.  The script was too clever by far.  Suggesting that certain scenes were simply a drug hallucination was just lame, as was the feminist cabal behind the murders.

However, the resulting mishmash did indeed resemble a "bad trip," one you might undergo from taking hallucinogenic drugs after binge-watching various old and new versions of Sherlock Holmes on video.  I wish they would give Cumberbatch a chance to play a more straight Victorian Sherlock Holmes.  What we saw of him early on in The Abominable Bride did show that he, too, was made for the part, and Martin Freeman as Watson was a nice blend of comedy and compassion.

The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The White Worm by Sam Siciliano (Titan Books) £7.99 is out now.

Sherlock Holmes and his cousin, Dr Henry Vernier, travel to Whitby, to investigate a curious case on behalf of a client. He has fallen in love, but a mysterious letter has warned him of the dangers of such a romance. The woman is said to be under a druidic curse, doomed to take the form of a gigantic snake. Locals speak of a green glow in the woods at night, and a white apparition amongst the trees. Is there sorcery at work, or is a human hand behind the terrors of Diana’s Grove?

More information  about Sam Sciliano and his books can be found on his website.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Dangerous Promises with Roberta Kray

Sadie Wise has finally tracked down her husband Eddie, who left her five years ago, taking all her savings with him. Now in a new relationship, all she cares about is getting him to agree to sign the divorce papers so that she can move on. On the train to London to confront him, Sadie finds herself confiding the whole story to a stranger, Mona Farrell. In her mind, it’s a throwaway moment. In Mona’s mind, it’s a promise: she will rid her new friend of her husband, and in exchange, Sadie will kill Mona’s domineering father.

After securing the divorce, Sadie wants to put the whole experience behind her – but then she learns that just after she left, Eddie was stabbed to death. Mona took their chance encounter very seriously, and she won’t leave Sadie alone until she’s fulfilled her end of their ‘deal.’ Meanwhile, Eddie’s death has attracted the unwanted attention of the Gissings, a family Sadie doesn’t want to get on the wrong side of. They hold Sadie firmly responsible, and they want revenge.

Published in paperback by Sphere, 11th February 2016, £7.99

With the biopic Legend one of the biggest film hits of 2015, and a new Kray television documentary also released last autumn, our fascination with the East End gangland heyday shows no signs of abating.  Roberta Kray’s unique perspective into that world lends her latest fiction an authenticity that few could boast; coupled with fantastically-drawn, strong female characters and a pulse-racing plot.

Through her marriage to Reggie Kray, Roberta Kray has a unique insight into London's East End. Born in Southport, Roberta met Reggie in early 1996 and they married the following year; they were together until Reggie's death in 2000.  Roberta Kray is author of the bestselling Nothing But Trouble, Strong Women, The Villain’s Daughter, Broken Home and Bad Girl.  She lives in Norfolk.