Why historical crime?
By mistake. I fell in love with the construction of subterranean London. The 1860s became my domain.
But in constructing my techno-thriller of the past, I discovered I could be blunter than I would be allowed to today. In a diseased society, if your friends went about cleansing it, how far would you support them?
Favourite fictional detectives?
I do like non-detectives detecting:
Oedipus the King, Sophocles
Porfyry Petrovich in Crime and Punishment (the original Columbo)
Inspector Cuff, Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone: “I own that I made a mess of it. Not the first mess which has distinguished my professional career!”
Utterson, the lawyer, in Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Joseph K in Kafka’s The Trial
Detective McDunn in Iain Banks’ Complicity
Diane Keaton in Manhattan Murder Mystery (first mystery: is there even a mystery?)
Woody Allen in The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (see Oedipus above)
Your writing process? I'd like to know about planning - were all the pieces in place before writing?
Every book is different, every story is different, as I scrabble to find new ways to annotate and organise the waves of ideas.
I take notes, write scenes on backs of envelopes, wake up in the night. Notebooks, pads. Now I’m using Evernote and Scrivener, which let me check and add to notes anywhere.
I write by hand in fountain pen in A4 notebooks at a desk with no computer. I just love turning the page, numbering the pages, the cartridges running out, the whole process. I’ve now started typing up on to typewriter (my mother’s, a 1958 Eaton). I know it sounds mad. But my last book I spent so long faffing around with computer files, it’s actually quicker to rewrite decisively, revising with care but without deleting and cut/pasting, then to type up finally on to computer.
I’ve used speech to text software to help me type up. I’ve used text to speech software to listen back to (a robotic reading of) what I’ve just written.
My acting teacher told me, “On n’est jamais trop aidé.” You can’t be helped too much: ie whatever helps, do it.
Could you give us a crash course in writing crime fiction?
1. Go with your instinct on what you want to happen and why it matters.
2. Gather ways it could have happened.
3. Split them up. Wilkie Colllins: “Make ’em laugh, make ‘em cry, make ‘em wait.”