When my old neighbour, Daphne Du Maurier, was suffering in the outlandish heat and dust of Egypt with her new husband, Boy Browning – the military moron who thought the Battle of Arnhem was 90 per cent successful – she longed for England. She dove into memories. Rebecca (1938) was the result.
I thought of Daffers when my latest action-packed crime novel, Invitation To A Few Murders, came out this month.
Where it is like Rebecca is that it was written in a totally different atmosphere. Many pages full of snow were actually written in longhand (all my books are written in longhand) either under a pear tree in my garden or by a bee-loud sedum in what I call (after Walt Whitman) my dooryard – as in “when lilacs last in dooryards bloomed”.
Where my weather differs from La Du Maurier’s is that I had no desire for ice, snow and Christmas. I was perfectly happy in those summer days.
Why did I write about a New England winter?
It was a mistake. I never should have started it, but once I had started I felt I must finish. The trouble was I kept finishing it and then starting all over again.
There were small errors – like most of the female characters having names beginning with M. I reduced it to two – Mimi and Margot. More serious errors were worked over and over. Much to my surprise when I at last received a copy from the publisher and I dipped at random into the book, it wasn’t half bad.
The point of this lecture, kiddies, is that novels turn out best that are worked over and over again.
I once rewrote one 21 times. It never got published. Then I did one in one week and it was published here and in America, Italy and Germany, and earned me the equivalent of two years’ salary as a Guardian reporter.
I guess that once again I don’t know what I’m talking about.
If someone is foolish enough to start writing novels (real ones and not like that serial killer rubbish that earns millions if done on TV) they are in for a hard, poverty-stricken time, that every once in a while pleases the author when he comes up with something good, like “long legs attached to an English accent” seated at a bar in Invitation To A Few Murders.