Anne Perry, interviewed by Carole Nelson Douglas
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 Anne Perry, interviewed by Carole Nelson Douglas.
Anne Perry was born in Blackheath, London, England. "My schooling was very interrupted, both by frequent moves and by ill-health," writes Perry. "Due partially to this I read a great deal." Her favorites included Lewis Carroll and Charles Kingsley.
Although she worked several different jobs, including retail selling, air stewardess, limousine dispatcher in Beverly Hills and insurance underwriter, Perry always wanted to write. She started working on her first book when she was in her early 20s, but she didn't succeed in finding a publisher for her work until she was in her late 30s. "I began writing mysteries set in Victorian London on a suggestion from my stepfather as to who Jack the Ripper might have been. I found that I was totally absorbed by what happens to people under pressure of investigation, how old relationships and trusts are eroded, and new ones formed." The Cater Street Hangman, featuring London policeman Thomas Pitt, came out in 1979; there are now over 20 books in the series. Perry also writes another series about a London policeman in Victorian times; the latest volume to feature William Monk, The Shifting Tide, was published in the spring of 2004. In 2003, she inaugurated a third series set during World War I with No Graves As Yet.
Anne Perry has won the Edgar Award and has been nominated for the Macavity and Agatha Awards. Her newest book is Shoulder the Sky, the second in her World War I series, which came out in September. Booklist raved, "Her vivid evocations of the battlefield -- the pain, the fear, and the extraordinary courage of young men who persevered to 'shoulder the sky' -- are unforgettable."
Carole Nelson Douglas: What are the greatest pleasures and greatest pains to be found in writing historically set mysteries? How does using history affect the social themes and issues your books address?
Anne Perry: Greatest pleasures? They are fun! Free and painless travel to anywhere one wants. No jet-lag, no risk of injury or illness -- all the joy and none of the disadvantages
Greatest pain -- looking for details on small but very important things like fabric, food, travel, costs of daily items, domestic lighting -- one mistake and you have spoilt it, as I am sure you know too.
Historical social values are very important, as long as they reflect something today, and unfortunately if they are a problem connected with human nature, they usually do. We still have all the same greeds and sins as before, just wearing different clothes!
CND: What are the attractions of writing series novels? The problems?
AP: The attractions of writing series novels are the development of character (you will know that) and the ability to have relationships change, and grow slowly. Also you can bring back minor characters from earlier stories and see what has happened to them. You can make the whole thing much more layered and textured. The problems are that you can never have a grand finale, tying up all the loose ends. Also there is a slight challenge in having to take a new turn every now and again, but that is fun too.
CND: Your strong supporting characters could be leads in their own series. How do you create such strong secondary players, and have certain writers influenced this saga-style approach?
AP: Secondary players -- they just happen. I start with a few and if it works, they take off. Everyone has to have a personality, and a passion, and past good or bad... I am not sure who has influenced me -- it must be subconscious.
CND: You and I, and many mystery writers (and Joyce Carol Oates) are frequently described as "prolific." How do you answer people who might be critical of that? And just how do you manage to be so industrious,
currently juggling three series while also writing short stories and editing mystery anthologies?
AP: Critical of "prolific"? You'll never please everyone. I love writing -- life is too short. Who is ever going to do everything they want to? How do I manage? I have an excellent support team at home and in the agents and publishers etc. Writing is not a "one-man" job. Good constructive criticism is priceless, good friends and a little praise and a lot of faith and honest "that doesn't work" now and then. Also I have a fulltime researcher and office manager who finds all sorts of stuff for me.
CND: Is it difficult coming up with innovative types of crimes in such long-running series?
AP: Isn't it difficult coming up with innovative crimes? Yes! It is one of the hardest things of all There are very few believable reasons why anyone would kill, and I find simple greed very boring -- complicated greed for subtle reason can be OK. Simple insanity does not work for me either, so the answer is definitely yes!
CND: Remote and lovely Scotland is your home. How have you done your research before, and now after, the Internet?
AP: Yes, the Internet does help a lot, most particularly for specifics -- dates, recipes, biographies etc. It is still good to have books, and in the case of the WW1 videos, DVDs. For some things i.e. trenches in Flanders, it is best to go there as well.
CND: From having lived on this side of the "pond" years ago, and excepting political matters, what do you like the best about the United States? The least?
AP: What do I like best about America? Easy -- your enthusiasm. You are all genuinely warm-hearted and hospitable people, really ready to tackle almost anything and welcome the chance. I have been to 35 different states and never hit a bad place or felt unwelcome. Least? Lack of "rest of the world" news. I can be away from home for 6 weeks and never hear Europe mentioned once on TV or in the newspapers. But having said that, I have met a heart-warming number of anglophiles. I only hope we are as nice to you as you are to us!
CND: You've been edging toward your latest and most ambitious project, the multi-book World War I saga, since introducing Hester Latterly, the former Crimean War nurse, in your William Monk Victorian series in 1990. Your Edgar-award winning short story, "Heroes," was a war story. How has your grandfather's history moved you to to address such a major theme as war? Using your grandfather as a protagonist is a unique and lasting tribute. Did you have any qualms about portraying him?
AP: I have loads of qualms about tackling the whole subject of WW1 because it is recent history about which many people are very knowledgeable. Also of course I have never been to war as a soldier myself. I took only my grandfather's name and some of his characteristics. The plots are totally invented. I was very nervous about doing less than justice to the real men who fought and died in WW1, so I put everything I had into research and trying to portray it fairly, and enough pain, but not fortuitous.
CND: I've never forgotten your describing your passionate dream of publishing a fantasy novel about a woman's search for the book of truth when we first met at Malice Domestic in 1992. That became your Armageddon
duology, Tathea and Come Armageddon. Can you describe your journey to accomplishing the goal of writing and publishing these non-mystery-genre
novels whose publication dates bracketed the Millennium? I'd describe them as spiritual fantasy; what do you consider them?
AP: Tathea and Come Armageddon? Still the most difficult things I have ever written. I delved very far into my own beliefs, stripped naked, for the journey. Maybe I could not have written it any earlier in my life. But I do find on listening to them on tape (while exercising) that I still mean exactly what I wrote then. They are the only books that I do not say to myself -- "I wish I had written... instead!" Yes, I would say spiritual fantasy.
CND: Your Mormon faith is extremely important to you. How did you find this church (or it you)? How has it affected your writing and how is it reflected in your writing?
AP: I found the LDS church (Mormon). I was actually looking. How is the gospel as taught by the Church reflected in my writing? Not at all in the cultural sense, but very much in the basic doctrine, and most particularly the idea that we are all children of God with the responsibility to learn all the lessons of the spirit to become as like Him as we can. Knowledge and experience are here for our blessing and growth. Innocence is fine, but experience is necessary in order to know the good from the painful and destructive. It is wrong to dominate another person even if you are certain you know better than they do. And all the usual things about courage, kindness, hope forgiveness etc. I hope these things are implicit in what I write, not "in your face"?
CND: Would you ever write a stand-alone novel? Any more surprises for us, besides the ones to be found in new books of your current series?
AP: I haven't thought of a "stand alone" but my French Revolution novel looks as if it is going to be. Still, you never know! Any surprises? You bet -- wait and see!!
CND: Do you have any wild and crazy hobbies or interests that would surprise your readers?
AP: I'd love to say I have some crazy hobbies, but none so far! I will have to think of something. So far they are more or less as you would expect -- animals, the garden, friends, travel.
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