Mark Billingham here, sending greetings from unseasonably sunny London. I’m hugely grateful to Sarah for the invitation to guest blog, and full of admiration that she has been able to dig up so many skeletons from my comedy closet. Where does she FIND this stuff? Anyway, glad I left all that behind…

It’s an honour to be stepping into the shoes of a number of great writers and good friends: my old mucker Martyn Waites, the wonderful Denise Mina and of course the Shoedog himself. I’ve always been a bit confused about that expression, you know, the one about how you can’t judge a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes? I mean, fine, go ahead, but at the end of the day who cares if you’ve misjudged them or not? You’ve still got their shoes.

On the subject of which, I was thinking about the extent to which most writers are following in another’s footsteps, standing on the shoulders of giants, or however else you’d care to describe it. Which of us can honestly claim that our stuff is not a bit like someone else’s? How many can hold up a hand and say that our books could not reasonably come plastered with marketing blurb describing it as “a must for anyone who’s a fan of A.N. Other”? This was in my mind when I put together a panel for the Harrogate Crime-Writing Festival recently called “Unique Voices”, with a number of writers who, it seemed to me, were breaking new-ish ground; who were not like anyone else I could think of, and would be hard to pigeonhole. The panel gave the marvellous John Connolly a platform to rant splendidly about how few crime-writers seemed willing to take risks and how little experimentation there was within the genre. Now John was of course playing Devil’s Avocado to an extent, and I know this has been discussed before, but what do we think?

Who are the writers whose voices you would consider to be genuinely unique? Is the book that takes risks and falls on its arse worth any more than the one which plays safe and does not? Is a reluctance to step outside one’s comfort zone understandable in the light of commercial pressures?

Mark (currently sporting brown, corduroy Converse All-Stars. Like a teacher who cant quite decide if he’s doing PE or geography…)