We now seem to be on the home run for the round robin, having had some great discussions about our own writing and writing generally. Anyway thanks again, Brian, for my questions, which I have answered or evaded as follows:
Q: I think that all our characters are parts or versions of ourselves in some way (in the same way everyone in your dreams is a version of you). Which of your two protagonists is most like you and which of the two voices do you most enjoy writing in? I agree with your general premise. I’ve said before somewhere that I think all of my characters carry at least a small part of my DNA. Martin Edwards has recently explored the same theme on his excellent blog Do You Write Under your Own Name – see: http://doyouwriteunderyourownname.blogspot.com/2010/12/autobiographical-crime-fiction.html
Of course, the characteristics you give to your characters are not necessarily the ones you want to own up to. I’ve made Ethelred morose, self-pitying and (at the same time) a hopeless optimist. Elsie is small and stroppy and never misses the chance of a sarcastic remark. Not surprisingly, I’ve probably enjoyed writing Elsie more, and she quickly became an equal partner in the narration rather than just being a foil for Ethelred. It’s fun writing Ethelred too though. I think he is basically a lost character from A Dance to the Music of Time – certainly early on, when I was trying to work out what Ethelred sounded like, I re-read Anthony Powell to get the rhythm of his speech. My family would probably tell you which one I really resemble. As for me, I’m pleading the fifth ….
Q: Secondly, you’re working on an historical novel at the moment, is that right? Care to share some details about it? Yes, that’s right. Its provisional title is “1658” – or possibly “1658!” Anyway, it’s set in the dying days of the Commonwealth, just before the restoration of Charles II and, well, somebody gets murdered. I assume that tells you as much as you’d like to know? That’s all I’m saying anyway. Like most writers I find it difficult to talk in any detail about what I’m working on, because a) it may never happen and b) if it does, it may look very different from what it does now – it could even end up being called “1659”. This might look like a new departure for me, but my earliest published work of fiction was a short story set in the twelfth century. It won a well-endowed short story prize and hence, I think, it’s possibly earned me more per word than anything else I’ve ever written.
Q: Finally, comic crime is notoriously difficult to write well whilst maintaining the right balance between darkness and light – yet you manage it perfectly. What was the appeal of it? Would you ever write only the darker side, or do you find yourself naturally looking at events from a more humorous or satirical angle? Thank you. I think comic crime is difficult both from the point of view that people can rarely agree on what is funny and there is a danger of seeming to laugh at something (crime) which isn’t a joking matter. The answer to the second point is that I am making jokes about detection, not about crime. Sadly there is no real answer when somebody says that you just don’t make them laugh.
Strangely I hadn’t read a great deal of comic crime before I started to write my own, so (unlike a lot of authors) I can’t claim that I had always wanted to write exactly like X or Y. The Herring Seller’s Apprentice was something of a journey into the unknown – at the end of which I discovered I’d written a comic crime novel. I’ve often wondered whether I could write like Val McDermid (say) or RJ Ellory. I’m certainly keen to try lots of different things, so I wouldn’t rule out going over to the Dark Side – but I’d probably want to do it under a different name.
And now questions for Suroopa: You write not only fiction for adults, but also non-fiction and books for children. Your most recent work (I think) is a book describing the experiences of the survivors of the terrible tragedy at Bhopal. Which type of writing do you get most satisfaction from? Do you feel that your non-fiction work impacts on how you write fiction – and indeed vice versa? One further point that intrigues me is this: how does it feel to be writing in English in India today? Does English-language writing in India feel well-connected to the rest of the English-speaking world – and what is its place within contemporary Indian literature? And finally (of course) what are you working on at the moment and when can we buy it?