April 12, 2019

New scheme to encourage female BAME and working-class crime writers supported by J.K. Rowling


Back in 2016 we wrote about a new women’s crime festival launching in London. Organised by Killer Women, a collective of 20 female crime writers, they put on crime fiction events around the UK, run a Crime Club offering members early access to book samples, giveaways, and competitions, and organise the new London festival, to great success. As they share on their website:

Our 2018 Killer Women Crime Festival in London’s Covent Garden was sold out. Among the wonderful writers and experts we welcomed Sophie Hannah talking about adapting Agatha Christie, the Secret Barrister revealing the secrets of the criminal justice system and criminal psychologist Jennifer Rees talking about how to spot a psychopath.

The next festival will take place on 15 March 2020, and in the meantime, the collective has announced a new scheme which launched this week. It aims to support emerging female crime writers from BAME and working-class backgrounds by offering four women seeking to write crime fiction mentoring support. Authors Jane Casey, Tammy Cohen, Emma Kavanagh-Jones, and Colette McBeth, will each take one of the chosen submissions and offer advice and up to twelve hours of one-to-one contact.

The scheme, receiving funding from Arts Council England, is being supported by crime-writing royalty J.K. Rowling, Val McDermid, Martina Cole, and Ann Cleeves. McDermid and Cole, from working class backgrounds themselves, lacked confidence when they first started writing. Cole shared on the Killer Women website “my friends would say ‘working class people like us don’t write books.'” And McDermid said:

“I grew up in a working-class home, well aware that people like me didn’t become writers. I was lucky enough to break out thanks to a first rate—free—university education, but when I started writing, I knew nobody in the publishing business.”

J.K Rowling famously wrote her first crime novel under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, which, she says “was a way to ensure that my books be judged on the merit of the writing alone, but I know how hard it is when you first hit the scene as an unrecognised author.”

Perhaps it could be said the mentors and supporters of the scheme, eight white women, demonstrate how restrictive the genre is at present. And perhaps this new scheme will help to encourage and address that problem. Entry is free and is open to UK women over the age of eighteen from BAME and/or working class backgrounds. Entrants need to complete on online form and include a short synopsis along with a 4000 to 5000 word writing sample to be in the running. Closing date is 9am (GMT) on 1st July 2019.



Nikki Griffiths is the managing director of Melville House UK.