Walsall Library was the setting for two hours of entertainment last Sunday by top crime writers, Mark Billingham and Val McDermid. Both authors were on hand to give an interesting insight into the world of crime writing, explaining the processes involved and taking on questions from the audience.

Mark Billingham is the author of ten Tom Thorne novels plus one stand-alone with a further – Rush of Blood, due later this year. I have read Mark for a while, ever since a near-miss encounter at Hay-on Wye inspired me to write a short story – Stalking Hugo McIntyre. Hugo is about a fan hunting down his writing hero and was my first real success. Coincidentally, I received news of its publication the day I finally got to meet Mark in person in Birmingham 2010. I am happy to say that the character stalking Hugo, is not based on myself, so Mark is safe – and it wasn’t me mowing his lawn in the middle of the night, either.

Val McDermid is the author of the Lindsay Gordon, Kate Brannigan and Tony Hills series, the latter famously made into TV series, Wire in the Blood. She has also written numerous stand-alone novels and like Mark Billingham, Val’s books sit at the front of the shelf in terms of popularity in the world of crime fiction.

I have to admit to not reading any Val McDermid to date, but it is something I had been long keen to redress, even before this opportunity to see two of the UK’s top crime authors, came about. One signed copy later, I can now experience the world of psychologist, Tony Hills and if Val’s written words are as good as the ones she speaks, I know I will not be disappointed.

Talking to a packed room at Walsall Library, both authors told of the evolution of crime writing; how it has changed from the day of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers who would see a butler’s daughter murdered, then have the same butler serving drinks ten minutes later. It’s all about realism and the reader needs to be able to connect with the characters on the page, even minor ones. Characters evolve too. They change with each new experience and that reflects life. Who among us has the exact same circle of friends, the same routine, even the same jobs we had five years ago?

It was interesting to note I am not alone in the despair at the gulf between the accessible writer and the literary elite. In particular, the snobbery of that elite who appear determined to keep writing a minority as opposed to Billingham and McDermid, both keen to appeal to any reader in the land and beyond. There is an honesty about these two authors which is perhaps why they are so popular, as well as writing damn good fiction, that is.

The event was well organised and relaxed with friendly staff asking if you had enjoyed the experience. I had and there was also plenty of time to get my books signed by both Mark and Val, plus the obligatory photos (I have no shame).

An hour’s talk flew by and Mark and Val had to be cut short to allow questions and signings, otherwise I think we could have gone on all day.

If ever either appear in a town near you, I recommend you check them out. Well worth any time spent.