“Classic American crime fiction,” Robert Potts of the Times Literary Supplement, obviously a towering genius, wrote of my first modest effort. He added that it also had many features of “English village-based crime fiction of the 1920s and 30s.”
The trouble is my part of New England is English-village quaint and cozy. The writers we produced were Emily Dickinson, the Belle of Amherst, Massachusetts, and Robert Frost from even further north of Boston. T.S.Eliot also had a look in:
Miss Nancy Ellicott
Strode across the hills and broke them
Riding to hounds
Over the cow pasture.
Miss Nancy Ellicott smoked
And danced all the modern dances;
And her aunts were not quite sure how they felt about it,
But they knew that it was modern.
There is also a racy one about the footman sitting on the dining-room table with the housemaid on his knee.
I didn’t start out writing Classic American Crime Fiction. I wanted to write like Eliot and James Joyce. There is nothing new about that. P.D.James wanted to write “real” novels but thought she’d write a murder mystery because she’d have a way of finishing it – i.e the crime is solved.
Writers of non-crime actually want to sit down and never finish what they’re writing – James Joyce and Marcel Proust spring to mind.
My life in crime started writing obituaries for the Daily Telegraph under Hugh Massingberd and Lewis Jones. The only necessary background for the job seemed to be belonging to the Travellers’ Club and non-stop reading of P.G.Wodehouse. Obviously this kept the riff-raff away.
I later did obits of crime writers and Punch bores for the Guardian. I was the literary editor of the late Punch.
I decided to write whodunits. I didn’t think they’d be better but I knew they’d be different. I live in a 17th Century cottage in the West Country and that seemed even more quaint and cozy than New England. Had I known the trouble I’d be in I would have made sure I was born South of the Mason Dixon line. Then I could have produced Death And The Steel Magnolias endlessly. Instead I was stuck with Murder In A Cold Climate; buy it and keep buying.
Next, Constant Reader, I shall write about tough-guy soldiers, like Ernest Hemingway who was handing out candy bars to Italian soldiers in the First World War when he was wounded; and James Jones of From Here To Eternity (a new uncut version out this week), who was mowing the army’s lawns at Pearl Harbour when the Japs attacked. He later killed his first Jap with a knife. Hemingway, with his own private army, later liberated the Ritz in Paris in the Second World War.
I gave my Company Commander tennis lessons but I failed to see how I could work that up into From Here To Eternity or A Farewell to Arms.
I was given a Commission but that was a clerical error. Clerical Error may be the title of my autobiography.