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Online At-Home

Peter Lovesey, interviewed by Anne Perry
February 2004

 

Over the years, the NorCal East Bay chapter of Mystery Readers International has had many "At Homes" -- intimate evenings with favorite mystery writers. We've hosted Anne Perry, Lawrence Block, Sue Grafton, Elizabeth George, Janet LaPierre, Sharan Newman, Laurie King, Rochelle Krich, Carolyn Hart, James Ellroy, Steven Saylor, Janet Evanovich, Eddie Muller, Taffy Cannon, and many others.

These events are held in private homes, and they're similar to Literary Salons. Since so many of our cyber members and friends aren't able to attend these intimate evenings, I thought it would be fun to have a "visiting" author each month interviewed by another "visiting" author. This month we feature Peter Lovesey interviewed by Anne Perry.

[author photo]After a career in further education, Peter Lovesey became a full-time author and began his writing career with Wobble to Death in 1970, introducing Sergeant Cribb, the Victorian detective, who went on to be featured in seven more books and two television series. His recent novels have alternated between two contrasting protagonists: modern-day Bath detective Peter Diamond, and the Victorian sleuth Bertie, the Prince of Wales. He was Chairman of the Crime Writers Association in 1991-2. He now lives near Chichester.

Peter Lovesey's crime novels have been translated into 22 languages; his mysteries and short stories have won him awards all over the world. He won the CWA Gold Dagger in 1982 and has won the CWA Silver Dagger three times. He is the winner of the 2000 CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger Award. In France he has been awarded the Grand Prix de littérature Policiére and the Prix du Roman d'Adventures and in the USA he has received the Anthony Award, Macavity Award, Ellery Queen Readers' Award and the Mystery Writers of America Golden Mysteries Short Story Prize.

--Janet Rudolph

 

Anne Perry: What made you decide to be a crime writer?

Peter Lovesey: The lure of money. In 1969 I saw an advert offering a thousand pounds as first prize in a crime novel competition. Macmillan (UK) were starting a crime list. A grand! It was more than my salary as a lecturer in further education. People say you should write about what you know, so I wrote Wobble to Death, a whodunit using a Victorian long distance running race as the setting. The history of athletics had long been an interest of mine, and I'd published a non-fiction book on running the previous year. With much advice from my wife Jax, who was in hospital reading crime novels at the rate of one per day, I put the story together inside three months and just met the deadline. It was different, and it won, and started me on my own writing marathon.

AP: How many drafts do you do? How much planning ahead do you do before you start actually writing Chapter One, Page One?

PL: No drafts. When I start Chapter One, Page One I know this is what will be printed in the book. The reason is that my output of words is abysmally low, about 200 per day, so I can't afford to rewrite. If I had to work in drafts I'd never finish. It means I plan in detail before beginning. My story outline takes a couple of months. It will have all the major events, twists, surprises. I'll know the locations and the characters pretty well at this stage. With all those decisions made I can then get to the enjoyable part of putting down the words in ways that please me -- and please the reader, I hope.

AP: What do you think is your greatest strength, and why?

PL: A low boredom threshold. It means I want to keep trying new things. I hate being predictable. So I played games with the Victorian stories my first publisher wanted -- the Sergeant Cribb series -- telling them from various points of view. One was a skit on Three Men in a Boat; another was the James Bond plot of Goldfinger reworked as an 1880s thriller; and another used the trial of a lady poisoner as a basis. When I could afford to break out of the series I did, and tried other things, like Keystone, set in Hollywood in the great era of silent film comedy. More recently -- well, for the last twelve years -- I've gone contemporary with the Peter Diamond books set in Bath. And I still break off at times to do other things.

AP: What do you enjoy most about writing -- other than great reviews, ardent fans and being paid?

PL: Is there anything else? If pressed, I'll admit I get a lot of pleasure writing short stories. I've had five collections published.

AP: Do you have any bad habits, verbal tics, etc., that you are aware of?

PL: I waste too much time trying to think of le mot juste. And once I open the Thesaurus, I'm sunk. I might as well switch off the machine and make myself a coffee. I once had a crime writer friend who rewarded herself with a chocolate biscuit whenever she completed a paragraph. It speeded up the process. But my friend was very prolific and very large.

AP: What kind of scene do you find most difficult to write and why? And what is most fun and why?

PL: The difficult scenes are the links, when I've finished a key chapter with all its excitement and have to move on and explain what other characters were doing meanwhile. And what do I enjoy most? It's when my readers and I know what's going on and those poor benighted characters are unaware of what they're walking into. Sergeant Cribb, in the James Bond plot, Invitation to a Dynamite Party, climbs into a lady's bed "for Queen and country," as he believes; Baranov, the dentist in The False Inspector Dew, works on Alma's teeth without any notion of the romantic fantasies she has about him; Georgina, the Assistant Chief Constable in The House Sitter, goes on holiday blissfully unaware of Peter Diamond's plans for her house and cat.

AP: Do you find it difficult to write well-rounded and believable women? What is hardest about writing the other gender well?

PL: It's a strange thing, but as I get older and well-rounded myself, the women I meet tend to be well-rounded, so it's not a problem. I have always been fascinated by women and I love trying to encapsulate them as characters. The hardest thing, I discovered when I was writing On the Edge, about two women who murder their husbands in 1946, is knowing how they talk to each other when men aren't around. I needed a lot of help from Jax with the dialogue. My approach was far too decorous and timid. (Some readers will know this as Dead Gorgeous, the black comedy on TV last year.)

AP: Is there any sort of book or period of history you would love to write about, but feel your publishers or readers would not accept from you? (If you haven't, you are lucky! I would love to do French Revolution and Spanish Inquisition circa 1485.)

PL: No, I can truthfully say I'm not tempted by any other period. For me, the Victorian era had all I wanted: the hypocrisy, the die-hard institutions, the over-the-top characters, the brilliant entertainments and the sense that life inside was comfortable and warm while the streets seethed with criminality and vice.

AP: If you were asked -- and paid -- to write the fictional diaries of any figure in history, who would it be, and why? It could be male or female, hero or villain, any great events witnessed, or fascinating people met, loved, hated etc. I have a few in the French Revolution for example.

PL: Anne, my dear, you're going to have to write that French Revolution book and get it out of your system. I indulged myself to the limit with the three books I wrote as Bertie, King Edward VII. He was a fascinating personality with a very colourful life and he ordered that all his personal papers should be incinerated after his death. In the Bertie books, a box containing his secret memoirs has turned up, so they are written in the first person, and the reader is invited to read between the lines. Bertie and the Seven Bodies was enormous fun to do, a body each day of the week at a Victorian shooting party, all based on the rhyme beginning "Monday's child is fair of face." It was meant as a homage to Agatha Christie in her centenary year, but nobody noticed.

AP: Finally, what are you working on at the moment?

PL: I never like to say, because when you begin to talk about work in progress some of the magic goes away. It's another stand-alone, a change from Peter Diamond, but giving a bigger role to Chief-Inspector Hen Mallin, the woman detective who shared some of the sleuthing with Diamond in The House Sitter. I'm on the last chapter now, so if the publishers are happy you should see it in 2005.

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