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McDermid, Val (b. 1955)  
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Mermaids and its sequel, The Wire in the Blood (1997), served as the basis for a six-part BBC television series also entitled The Wire in the Blood in 2002. McDermid worked with the writers on the adaptation and had a cameo role--as a journalist--in one of the episodes. McDermid's award-winning A Place of Execution (1999) is under development by BBC Wales as a television film.

In addition to her series books, McDermid has published three stand-alone mysteries, a collection of short stories, and a nonfiction work, A Suitable Job for a Woman (1994), a compilation of interviews with female American private investigators.

McDermid has explained that the ideas for her mysteries may come from anywhere--"a detail in a news story, an item on the radio, a throwaway line in a conversation"--to which she applies "the writer's secret weapon . . . the two magic words 'What if?'" Although she may use an actual event as a starting point for a story, she stresses that she has no desire to write "true crime" books. "The problem with real life is that it's messy and untidy and the dramatic climaxes never work themselves out neatly enough to be entirely satisfying," she notes.

Once McDermid has a plot idea in mind she decides whether it fits with one of her series detectives or demands stand-alone treatment. A major impetus for launching the Kate Brannigan series was McDermid's realization that Dead Beat "wasn't a story that [Lindsay Gordon] could tell."

McDermid believes that characterization is of great importance in a detective novel. She points out that readers know that fictional crimes and their solutions do not accurately reflect what happens in real life, and so the mystery writer must create characters with whom readers will want to go "on a journey that can sometimes be emotionally and intellectually exhausting."

McDermid also feels that the contemporary "crime novel is no longer merely an intellectual puzzle" and that readers should enjoy "the unfolding of the story" and the way that the characters react within it. She emphasizes the need for a strong, well-developed plot in a mystery but says that "plot and character should operate as a kind of biofeedback system."

McDermid, like fellow Scottish mystery novelists Ian Rankin and Denise Mina, writes in a style that has been called "tartan noir." Part of the darkness in McDermid's books resides in the depiction of violence, from which she does not shrink. She feels that a writer of detective stories, although working in the realm of fiction and imagination, has "a moral responsibility not to minimize the suffering of real victims."

As for the perpetrators, McDermid has stated that she does not think that evil is "some abstract force" but rather that "such behavior is a product of individual experience and social conditions" and that the "same person exposed to a different set of circumstances would act in very different ways." She believes in "the possibility of personal redemption," which is among the reasons that she is "profoundly opposed to the death penalty."

Though out and proud, McDermid put a gay sexual predator in her 2004 novel The Torment of Others, drawing criticism from some glbtq readers. "There's good and bad in every community," she commented. "To pretend otherwise only gives ammunition to your enemies."

In 2000 McDermid added a new line to her résumé, that of "mum," which has brought great joy to her life. Her then partner, a solicitor, conceived their son, Cameron, through artificial insemination, and immediately after his birth McDermid obtained joint parenting rights through court order.

The couple eventually broke up, and Cameron now divides his time between his two mothers' homes. McDermid calls the arrangement "civilized" and emphasizes that the parents put their son's welfare first.

McDermid's new partner is an American publisher.

Over the course of her career McDermid has won many of the prestigious honors in the crime fiction field, including the Sherlock, Macavity, Barry, Anthony, and Dilys Awards.

The prolific writer will soon have two more books on her long list of publications. Stranded, a collection of short fiction, is scheduled to come out in spring 2005 in the United Kingdom and in autumn in the United States. Her next novel, The Grave Tattoo, a psychological thriller, is also slated for release in the fall.

Linda Rapp

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literature >> Overview:  Awards

The contemporary literary awards given specifically to honor glbtq books may be seen as an outgrowth of the modern American gay rights movement, so intertwined are they with the movement for equality.

literature >> Overview:  Mystery Fiction: Gay Male

In the decades since Stonewall, gay male mystery fiction has burgeoned in United States, both in quantity and in quality, and has increasingly been issued by mainstream presses.

literature >> Overview:  Mystery Fiction: Lesbian

Although most lesbian mystery fiction reflects a political stance, the most effective lesbian crime novels have been those that have most enthusiastically embraced the need to entertain the reader.

literature >> Overview:  Novel: Lesbian

From the great modernist writers of the 1920s and 1930s to the pulp writers of the 1950s to the lesbian writers of today, lesbian novelists have had a powerful impact on the lesbian community.

literature >> Forrest, Katherine V.

Writer and editor Katherine V. Forrest has played a major role in bringing lesbian fiction to the forefront of the mystery and science fiction genres.

literature >> Hart, Ellen

Prolific mystery writer Ellen Hart, winner of multiple Lambda Literary Awards, writes "whydunits" rather than "whodunits."

literature >> Redmann, J. M.

J. M. Redmann, the Lambda Award-winning creator of the New Orleans mystery series featuring Micky Knight, writes richly textured novels focused on issues of power and family.

literature >> Saints and Sinners Literary Festival

The Saints and Sinners Literary Festival, an annual glbtq-themed literary festival held each May in New Orleans, has become one of the world's most influential alternative literary festivals.


Flockhart, Susan. "Murder in Mind." The Sunday Herald (Scotland) (May 30, 2004): 3.

Hendry, Steve. "My Boy Will Know There's No Bogeymen." Scottish Daily Record & Sunday Mail (February 6, 2005): 41.

Jones, Louise. "PW Talks with Val McDermid." Publishers Weekly 249 (August 12, 2002): 280.

Laing, Allan. "Novelist Who Refuses to Be Typecast." The Herald (Glasgow) (June 1, 1996): 24.

"Val McDermid Interviewed by Ayo Onatade."


    Citation Information
    Author: Rapp, Linda  
    Entry Title: McDermid, Val  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2005  
    Date Last Updated November 28, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2005, glbtq, inc.  


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