The Crime Story Seminars 2015

The Crime Story Seminars, a series of talks by Northumbria University experts, ran from March to May 2015. The sessions were relevant to crime writers and readers alike:

“If you are wondering how to make your plot true to life, or you have ever shaken your head in disbelief at a particularly contrived storyline, these seminars are for you. And just sometimes, the truth will be stranger than fiction.”

The culture of police investigation with Prof. Mike Rowe, professor of criminology

How do the realities of police investigations contrast with our fictional versions? The heroes in our crime dramas continue to be informed by those intuitive genius detectives created by Wilkie Collins, Arthur Conan Doyle et al. But does life imitate art in real police work, enticing those into the police force who imagine a life of hard-hitting crime fighting in the dark corners of society? The tensions between reality and fiction and the consequences these have for both citizens and police officers are brought under the microscope in this session.

How textile fibres help solve forensic investigations with Dr. Kelly Sheridan, senior lecturer in forensic science

DNA evidence might often provide the ‘who’ in forensic investigations but it can’t answer the often crucial questions of ‘when’ or ‘how’. Increasingly, trace evidence—and in particular textile fibre evidence—is called upon to provide these answers. Textile fibres are readily transferred between people or between a person and an object, and the number and location of fibres can provide a timeframe for when contact took place. As such, textile fibre evidence is commonly encountered in crimes ranging from homicide to road traffic collisions. This seminar will look at the reliability of such evidence and how it can be maximised in forensic investigations.

Expert evidence and miscarriages of justice with Adam Jackson, senior lecturer in Law

Expert evidence has now become commonplace in court proceedings in a wide range of sometimes controversial areas. From facial mapping to sexsomnia, from fingerprints to post mortem examinations, this seminar will consider the way in which expert evidence is constructed for and presented to a criminal court, and in particular to a jury. The seminar will be interactive and will invite participants to play the role of jurors, exploring how jury members are directed to consider the weight and veracity of different types of expert evidence. A Q&A opportunity will also be provided.

Crime with a Northern Edge with Jacky Collins, senior lecturer in Hispanic Studies

The North East has produced a number of significant crime writers in recent times, notably Ann Cleeves and Mari Hannah. The success of their Vera and Kate Daniels series suggests that Crime with a Northern Edge has a certain draw for contemporary crime readers. This seminar, in conversation with local author Valerie Laws and publisher Sheila Wakefield, will look at what it’s like to be producing crime fiction in this region, what support is available for those wanting to develop their own writing and what it might be that sets crime stories from the North East apart from those coming from other UK regions.

A Thrilling Ride: From the Detective Story to Crime Fiction with Prof. Michael Green, professor in English and creative writing

How has the detective story changed over time? Tracing the figure of the detective in fiction from the innately conservative ‘Golden Age’ of Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie to a contemporary, more ambiguous form, this seminar will explore how crime writing – and our reading of it – has changed over time. What are the key features of the crime story, and how have these been developed and challenged by some of the more innovative writers in the field? Discussion will include suggestions from participants for possible new ideas for the crime thriller.

Debunking the myths: why prisoners offend and how prisons respond with Louise Ridley and Dr Wendy Dyer, senior lecturers in criminology

There are many myths about why people offend and just as many around how the justice system, and in particular the prison, responds to offenders.  Using case examples, this session will explore the myriad of problems that can contribute to a persons’ offending behaviour, paying particular attention to the area of mental health and examining how the prison system tries to manage and treat those offenders who present with often undiagnosed conditions.

Crime Stories, Victim Narratives and Victimology with Professor Peter Francis, Pro-Vice Chancellor (Learning and Teaching)

Who are the victims in your story? Be prepared to change your ideas at this illuminating seminar, which will look at what is known about victimisation, and of victim narratives, and how this contrasts with the way victims are commonly represented in fiction.

Victimology developed out of early academic research into the role individual victims play in their own victimisation, often citing causes such as victim ‘precipitation’, ‘lifestyle’ and ‘culpability’. Such thinking can still be found in the framing of victim narratives today, both in fact and fiction.

But more recently many victimologists have refocused the question ‘who is the victim?’, which has allowed for a greater understanding of what victim narratives involve. The impact has been considerable in making visible hitherto hidden forms of victimisation.

These changes in thinking provide a starting point to contrast what we now know about victims with the way they are often represented in fiction.

Professor Peter Francis