Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A New Friend

One of the best thing about writing crime fiction is meeting other writers. Crime writers are an unusually convivial lot and at conferences I always find myself chatting to interesting people as well as meeting old friends. At Crimefest in May I shared a table at the Gala Dinner with Danish writer, Dorte Jacobsen, and her husband. Ever since I've been following her blog at djskrimiblog.wordpress. com. As she's recently published a novel, THE COSY KNAVE, I asked her for an interview.

Dorte, how would you describe your new novel?

I write in different subgenres, but I believe the title and cover indicate that "The Cosy Knave", the first volume in a planned series about Rhapsody Gershwin and Archibald Penrose, is totally cosy. There are murders and assault aplenty, but not the kind that give you nightmares.Besides, it is full of humour and people with funny names (Cadbury ought to sponsor it as it tends to make British readers yearn for candy or biscuits). I have done my best to write the kind of cosy mystery I like to read: credible characters, an idyllic village setting and a proper puzzle which leaves the reader guessing who did it and why all the way through.

WHat are the three things you like best about writing novels?

I enjoy the process of plotting and coming up with new characters thoroughly, but perhaps the best thing of all is that I can! A couple of years ago I got the diagnosis Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and while I was a very busy mother, wife, politician and career woman before, there are quite a lot of things that are just not realistic now. But I can write crime fiction, and I love it!

What are the three things you like least about it?

I absolutely loathe sending off queries to agents, and I don´t like all the extra-curricular activities you have to engage in to sell your books. Besides, my chronic fatigue causes concentration problems which make it difficult for me to get back into the manuscript when I have had to abandon it for days or even weeks.

How important is a sense of place for you?

It depends on the subgenre. For thrillers or police procedurals the plot may matter more to me, but I don´t think a cosy would work without a fairly close-knit, small-scale community. "The Cosy Knave" takes place in ´Knavesborough´, a village which is loosely inspired by a real town in Yorkshire, and it seems to me that most of the cosy series are firmly based in those ´good old days´ we always talk about but which never really existed.

Who is your ideal reader?

Someone who appreciates a well-written story, a traditional mystery rather than a fast-paced thriller. And sharing my silly sense of humour or being a bit curious might not hurt either.

Who are your writing heroes? Whose books do you like to read, and why?

Again, I will limit myself to writers of cosy mysteries. Three women writers have inspired me a lot; American Elizabeth Spann Craig (who is also a much appreciated blog friend), plus Caroline Graham and M.C. Beaton from Britain. They all write stories which offer proper plots and the kind of characters you want to meet again and again.

What are your future writing plans?

I hope to be able to finish "Crystal Nights", a somewhat darker mystery which takes place in Denmark in 2012, but after that I have ideas for the second and third volumes in my cosy series. I have never been short of ideas, all I need is time to write all those plots that addle my brain.

The series "The Killing" has been hugely popular here, but we don't know much about Danish crime-writing. Can you recommend anyone whose work has been translated into English?

I am really glad to get this question now and not a year or two ago. Two of my favourite series have been translated recently. First, "The Boy in the Suitcase", written by Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis, was published in the US this year. It is a brilliant story about a protagonists who struggles far too hard to save the world so I am sure it will also reach Britain before long.
Second, Jussi Adler-Olsen's "Mercy" was published in Britain a couple of months ago, and it seems that English readers enjoy Carl Mørck and his oddball sidekick as much as we do. Both series are strongly recommended, every bit as good as the best Swedish and Norwegian crime novels.

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Friday, August 19, 2011

What I Did on My Holidays

Or, rather, what I read on my holidays. I really enjoyed Kate Ellis's PLAYING WITH BONES, one of her Joe Plantagenet series, let in a lightly fictionalised York. There is an element of the supernatural in these and it was satisfyingly creepy! And as we were in northern France I took with me Adrian Magson's DEATH ON THE MARAIS, set in Picardy, which turned out to be a thoroughly good read.
We visited Tunbridge Wells first and I picked up a copy of Richard Cobb's STILL LIFE in Hall's, one of my favourite second-hand book-shops. Richard Cobb is best known as a historian of modern France, but this is an account of his childhood in Tunbridge Wells between the wars and is a fascinating piece of social history. I read it when it first came out twenty years ago and enjoyed it all over again.
The other books I've been revisiting are Molly Hughes's four autobiographical books, beginning with A LONDON CHILD OF THE 1870S and ending with A LONDON FAMILY BETWEEN THE WARS. They are hugely enjoyable, a window on a world very different from today, and though I really wouldn't want to have been a woman then, I couldn't help feeling a bit envious - mostly perhaps of the writer's optimism and high spirits.
Oh, and I mustn't forget CRANFORD, and the Father Brown stories, re-readings both. Chesterton's stories are certainly ingenious puzzles, but at their best they are much more than that. 'The Queer Feet' and 'The Strange Crime of John Boulnois' are among my favourites.

A Coda: I got home to find an email from Ra Page at Comma Press telling me that LITMUS (the short story collection that I blogged about a while ago) had got a rave review from THE INDEPENDENT ('Works brilliantly... ingenious... unfailingly interesting') and had been chosen as a BOOK OF THE WEEK. The NEW SCIENTIST liked it too: 'Exquisite... delectable.' Wow!

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