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Digital Subscriptions > Writing Magazine > January 2018 > The style & technique of WILKIE COLLINS

The style & technique of WILKIE COLLINS

Tony Rossiter takes a look at the first full-length English detective novel

Look in any bookshop or library – chances are, you’ll find more shelves devoted to crime than to any other genre. Today there are scores of bestselling crime novels, with countless subgenres, but 150 years ago it was a new phenomenon. For TS Eliot, The Moonstone was ‘the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels…a genre invented by Collins’. Dorothy L Sayers described it as ‘probably the very finest detective story ever written’.


The son of an artist, Collins had a bohemian background. At boarding school in Highbury he was bullied by a boy who forced him to tell him a story every night before allowing him to go to sleep: ‘It was this brute who first awakened in me, his poor little victim, a power of which but for him I might never have been aware…When I left school I continued storytelling for my own pleasure’. On leaving school he spent five years as clerk to a firm of tea merchants before studying law at Lincoln’s Inn. Called to the bar in 1851 he never formally practised law, but he drew on his legal knowledge in many of his novels.

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About Writing Magazine

In this month's issue, we show you ten ways to improve your writing right now, and look at how to impress an editor and get your feature articles accepted. This month's star interview is crime bestseller and Rizzoli and Isles creator Tess Gerritsen, who opens her casebook to discuss murder, medicine and false memory. When you've polished your work and got it ready to submit, check out the Writers' News pages – packed with opportunities to get into print and competitions to enter, with £54,762 in writing prizes to be won.

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