4 June 1955 |
Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland
The condition of rage is one in which I find myself starting my day – once I see the news headlines.
Back in the day, when I started, you were still allowed to make mistakes. You got to make your mistakes in public, in a way. I think the world was a more forgiving place when I started my career, in the sense that we got time and space to develop as a writer.
One of the reasons we all still read Jane Austen is because her books are about universal things which still matter today – love, money, family. They haven't gone out of fashion, so it's not throwing the baby out with the bathwater to rework her in a contemporary style.
Growing up in Fife, you were aware that there were these creatures called lesbians, but it was in the realms of complete freakishness. And I didn't feel like a freak.
I was always writing the books that I wanted to write, books that demanded to be written at the time. But, like most writers, you start off feeling your way.
We all present versions of ourselves. The person you are at work is not the same person you are at home. The face we present in our most intimate relationships is not the face we present to the world.
The thing is that quite a few of my books have ended up as they are because of conversations I've had over the years with forensic scientists.
I think Jane Austen builds suspense well in a couple of places, but she squanders it, and she gets to the endgame too quickly. So I will be working on those things.
I think that crime is a good vehicle for looking at society in general because the nature of the crime novel means that you draw on a wide group of social possibilities.
A lot of reality TV is repellent, but that doesn't diminish the qualities of some of the people who take part. There are decent people in there who have no alternatives.
If you don't make the best-seller list, if you don't get shortlisted for any prizes, it's goodbye.
I came from a working-class family, but I was supported by a grant system and had my fees paid, so I came out of Oxford with a debt of something like £200.
Walking by water frees your creativity. I don't know how it works – there's something about it that's liberating.
I said to Ruth Rendell, 'When you've written as many books as you have, it's easier.' She said, 'No dear, it gets harder'.
We weren't dirt poor, but there was no spare money kicking around. While it was very much understood that the way to a better life was through education, books were a luxury we couldn't afford. But when I was six, we actually moved opposite the central library, and that became my home from home.
I was thinking things had changed: that the next generation of men weren't as institutionally misogynist as the previous were. And then, suddenly, the Internet came along and gave them a platform to voice their feelings anonymously. And boy, did the bile come out.
I don't think many of us launched ourselves into the world of writing books fully formed.
It was a bit unimaginable when I began that I'd ever get to 25 books. But it was also unimaginable how much crime-writing would have changed.
I won't be attempting to write Jane Austen-style prose – that would be suicidal. But I will attempt to bring the highest level of my own prose, and to make it sparkle.
The contemporary crime novel is, at its best, a novel of character. That's where the suspense comes from.
I spent a lot of time at my grandparents in the school holidays, and the only books in the house were a copy of the Bible and Agatha Christie's 'Murder at the Vicarage.' I developed a taste for murder mysteries and then later discovered libraries, second-hand bookshops, and jumble sales.
I have a vernacular house on the seaside in Northumberland and an Edwardian semi in south Manchester. They're both exactly as big as they need to be. I can't be doing with an ostentatious, big house – you can only be in one room at a time.
I've never wanted to live in a ghetto or write in a ghetto. I want to write about a world that reflects the one most people live in. Gay people are just one aspect of that.
On one hand, you've got 'decent' men, and on the other you've got neanderthal misogynist bawbags – and the middle ground is what's disappearing.
It seems to me that one of the things that happened with a lot of literary fiction in the 1980s and 1990s was that it became very concerned with the academy and less with how people live their lives. We got to a point where the crime novel stepped into the breach. It was also a time when the crime novel stopped being so metropolitan.
Why do the police need to know where I am? In the hands of a benevolent government, they could be looking after your interests, but what if the next government isn't so benevolent?
I don't think of myself as Scottish or lesbian when I sit down and write. I am glad I have broken out of that limited audience.