Show 042: June 2011
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NewsI recently appeared at the Scarborough literature festival, where I was interviewing, amongst others, Sarah Waters. We had a lovely conversation at breakfast about what we were reading. She was in the middle of the Diaries of Virginia Woolf; there’s something something about the power of people’s reading suggestions which makes you want to read what they are reading. I have subsequently gone on to read the diaries and enjoyed them very much.
Later in the festival I was talking to Margaret Drabble about writers and landscape in Britain. Her book A Writer’s Britain has just been re-issued and I mentioned to her that I had bought myself a copy of Philip Larkin’s poetry collection The Less Deceived, as I had been spending a lot of time in Bridlington, not too far from Hull where Larkin had been university librarian. Landscape and literature say a lot to us. We stooped off in Rudston on our way back from Bridlington where novelist Winifred Holtby is buried, and looking out from the elevated churchyard could see the landscape of the East Riding which is of course the landscape of her novel South Riding.
I was a teacher for many years, I taught maths and computing. I used to write when I was younger, but then I went to University and studied maths. I was always aware that I wanted to write, but then decided that if I don’t do this now I would never do it. I started off with plays and short stories. I never admitted to anybody that I was writing. My original short stories came out of living in Nigeria where I was living in a very remote place. I also got a story in New Writing Scotland. That was the first one I saw in print. It was so exciting to see my writing in a book.
Then I began the first Rhona book. My father was detective inspector in the CID in Greenock, and when I came round to thinking of an idea for a novel, I envisaged what it might be like turning up to the scene of a crime and realise that the dead person was connected to you. This was how my first novel Driftnet came about.
I like the thriller crime aspect and I created the little gang of characters and they did work and people liked them. I wanted to have a woman as my central character, and one of my favourite pupils works as a forensic scientist, so I made her a forensic scientist. I found that it was so interesting, and I took a course in forensic science at university.
My latest novel is The Reborn. It’s fascinating how ideas come to your head. I thought of having a guy in a prison hospital who makes reborn dolls for families who have lost children.
When something bad happens in the opening scene I leave it up to Rhona to find out what’s been going on. If the opening scene sticks in my head, I know its got legs and there’s a story there.. When a forensic scientist walks into a crime scene it’s all to do with asking questions.
I was, and am, a huge fan of Daphne du Maurier, you can’t pin her down as a particular type of writer. I read all the Agatha Christie novels as a young person, loving the puzzle element of them, and then Patricia Cornwell broke the mould of crime-writing with her female character Kay Scarpetta.
I’m working on something different, set in Cannes in the South of France. It’s sort of a crimey thing, but quite different. He’s a sleuth for people who don’t really don’t want to go to the police.