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'Hard-wired for narrative'

20 January 2003

'Literary fiction in the U.K. became very concerned with literary theory, critical theory, to the extent that the notion of narrative almost became a dirty word. That's slowly started to change because the simple economics of the marketplace dictate that readers actually want to read things that have a beginning, a middle and an end. I think we're hard-wired for narrative. I've been saying this until I'm blue in the face for the last 10 years.

But it seems to me that although literary fiction is returning to the notion of narrative, [literary fiction writers] are still not engaging with the society that we're living in. There's a big boom in historical fiction, whether it's recent history or further back in time... And I think that if you look at the successful books in literary fiction, this is what you find. So the crime novel started to pick up the baton in the '90s. We were the ones writing about the reality of the world we lived in.'

British crime writer Val McDermid, in Salon, on why crime writers are filling a void that literary fiction has left behind