‘Most of us aren’t as brave as we think’

Emma Herman interviews crime writer Denise Mina


'Most of us aren't as brave as we think'

Crime writer Denise Mina talks about strong female heroines, a strong sense of place and being a player in a man's world. She writes graphic novels, plays and short stories. Gods and Beasts is out in March. 

1. Is it difficult to create a female protagonist in a crime novel who isn’t a cliché?

Ironically, in the space of about five years we’ve gone from ‘why do you have a female protagonist?’ to ‘how do you stop them being a cliché?’ It’s brilliant. Because of the Killing and Girl with the Dragon Tattoo everyone is suddenly aware of how untapped these characters are. What usually happens then is mainstream literary fiction starts adopting the mores of crime fiction so we should see a welter of great female leads in the next ten or fifteen years. The question can just as easily be applied to male protagonists: it’s difficult not to slip into well-worn characterisations of people in extreme situations. A cheap way to do it is base them on a friend (I have a lot of cheeky friends) and ask yourself if they really would behave like that in that situation. I think most of us are far less brave than we suppose.

2. Your novels tend to be very place-specific; do you find the setting affects your writing?

It does give a flavour to the story, in the same way that the colours of the light, the season, the time of day create a mood. The light in Scotland is astonishing, especially at this time of year. It’s like walking through a Caravaggio painting, except with Irn-Bru cans and Greggs wrappers everywhere. Glasgow is also a good size for crime novels: you can walk across the city in about eight hours and feel you know everyone, but the population is 1.8 million.

3. Have you found the male-dominated world of graphic novels intimidating? No. I think there may have been attempts to intimidate me but they didn’t take. I’m not terribly tuned-in socially; if someone is flirting with me I need a sign affidavit before it registers. I had an argument with an editor, which may have been a cock fight, but I’m from Glasgow and very assertive.