Books·How I Wrote It

Why Andrew Battershill ignores the genre debate when writing crime fiction

The author of crime novel Marry, Bang, Kill talks about how he wrote his latest work.
Marry, Bang, Kill is Andrew Battershill's second novel. (andrewbattershill.com/Goose Lane)

Andrew Battershill is a Vancouver-based author whose debut novel Pillow appeared on the 2016 longlist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. His sophomore novel, Marry, Bang, Kill, is about a low-level thief named Tommy Marlo and the trouble he gets into after stealing from the daughter of a high-ranking member of a motorcycle gang.

In his own words, Battershill tells CBC Books how he wrote the crime novel. 

Island life

"My parents live half a year on Quadra Island, off the eastern coast of Vancouver Island. I was staying with them and the book came from spending time there. It's such a cool place and I thought it would be a good place to set a crime novel. I was reading a lot of Elmore Leonard at the time.

"This is a more straightforward novel compared to my first novel, Pillow.  Pillow is more of a one man show, with a central character. With Marry, Bang, Kill, I wanted to push things out — be a little busier — and play with having multiple characters, who are all roaming around and have competing interests."

Character interplay

"I start with the characters and figure out how I want to handle the right tone of voice for each particular one. I usually end up with a bunch of messy pages, where I initially don't know where things are going. From there, I sit down and properly figure out the plotting. The book alternates the characters' point of view, chapter by chapter. That actually helped me structure the plot because I was having to attend to switching character perspectives, which made it easier to figure out the mystery, in terms of who knows what as the narrative unfolds."

The purpose of violence in crime fiction

"I had a version of this book that was grimmer. It wasn't actually so much the level of violence, it was more tonal. Violence in fiction is mostly objectionable when it doesn't have a place in the narrative. I only look at violence levels during my edits, looking at the overall pacing and how it might impact the readability."

Ignoring genre

"My approach is to try to write the best book I can without thinking about it as a strictly commercial product. I think it's more a question of complexity — hard genre fiction tends to steer away from any sort of moral or stylistic complexity in favour of super readability and delivering narratives that are familiar to people. That's, for me, the line between the two."

Andrew Battershill's comments have been edited and condensed.

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