I’m not usually a crime reader. In fact, I’ve had two books written by mistresses of the genre sitting on my shelves for years waiting for me to read them. They were mistakes from the days when I belonged to one of those book clubs which sent you the choice of the month if you were not quick enough to tell them not to. I’m useless at admin – ask my accountant – so they arrived and I stuck them on my “to read when I’m desperate” pile. Truth be told, I’ve long felt there was enough crime going on in the real world without fictional tales adding to the body count. But those of you who are kind enough to follow my blog will have noticed the summer brought me an annoying, nagging, idea which refused to go away. And so I started writing Fallen.
Set in my home county of Norfolk (I’m an exile, who has pangs of homesickness), it features a former journalist who has fallen from grace, (not me) married to a school teacher (not my husband) who finds a dead body (apparently fallen from nowhere) on Holkham beach (that’s never happened to me and I hope it never does). Urged on by a few friends who were kind enough to let me know they were enjoying the instalments, I’ve kept adding to it, though I have only a vague idea where it’s going.
In the run-up to Christmas and nursing an almighty cold (call it ‘flu it you like) I found myself looking for something unchallenging to read in bed. Bed is where most of my reading is done. It’s been a habit as long as I can remember. Because I was a sleepless and tiresome child, as soon as I was old enough my parents left me books and a nightlight to read by – sleeping draughts, cajoling and other efforts having failed. The last thing you want, if you’re reading in the hope you’ll get back to sleep, is a book that gives you nightmares.
I started my crime-quest with a return to Fingersmith. A crime story if you like, it’s more an historical literary novel in my eyes, but it did win the CWA Ellis Peters Dagger for historical crime fiction. Which reminds me, I had a bit of a soft spot for Ellis Peters in the Eighties, but then I was brought up in the shadow of an abbey in a Norfolk market town and could always imagine the monks going about their daily business whenever I passed it or saw its twin towers across the valley.
Thinking I could put my enforced period of inaction to good use I proceeded (not in a westerly direction – I haven’t taken up police speak as well as crime fiction) on to Ruth Rendell’s Chief Inspector Wexford novel, The Babes in the Wood, and then Fox Evil, Minette Walters. Both were un-gory enough for my tastes and just as I was wondering what to move on to next, my husband presented me with Philippa Gregory’s The Red Queen and Started Early, Took My Dog, by Kate Atkinson for Christmas. I last read Kate Atkinson around 10 years ago – I’d loved Behind the Scenes at the Museum, but didn’t get Emotionally Weird. Perhaps I was emotionally weird at the time, I had three small children to look after by then and so I didn’t bother reading anything more of hers. More recently, I’d seen that she’d mixed her literary writing abilities in with crime fiction, but I doubt I would have bought Started Early, Took My Dog, for myself, even though I love the title. I wish those editors or agents who change long book titles because they think something punchy and brief works better would think again. I bought Everything is Illuminated based on its title, not its content – other favourites include The God of Small Things; The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam; Astonishing Splashes of Colour; The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
I received many lovely Christmas presents. An antique jewellery box, a chicken-shaped stapler, a wine bottle holder that counterbalances itself – don’t ask me how – it just does. But I think my favourite present this year was Started Early, Took My Dog. Perhaps it just hit the right spot at the right time. My only gripe is – how can I possibly go back to writing Fallen now? Honestly, I am trying, but Kate does it so much better.