Saturday, May 26, 2012

P.D. James at Crimefest

(P.D. James in conversation with Barry Forshaw at Crimefest 2012)

I've read very little of P.D. James' work, but I should only be that cheerful, alert, productive, and optimistic when I'm nearing 92 years of age.

"I'm trying to tell the truth about men and women," she said in a guest-of-honor interview at Crimefest 2012. "I try to write well with respect for what I think is the most beautiful and versatile language in the world."

If James' declaration that "The thing about (the Golden Age of crime fiction) is that everyone knew how to write English" sounds stodgy (though I find her sentiment admirable), consider her views on the liberalization of divorce laws in the United Kingdom to benefit women since James' writing career began: "Divorce happens, and it is necessary," she said, "but there is a price." I'd call that an admirably clear-headed, non-Utopian view. Changes in sexual mores can also make life difficult for mystery writers, the Baroness James said:

"In the Golden Age you could consider murder if you were having an affair with your secretary and wanted to avoid exposing it. Nowadays if you have an affair you write about it in the Sunday papers. Motive is very difficult for a modern crime writer."
*
Other revelations of the day included Anne Zouroudi's that the somber, grand, handsome appearance of her mysterious protagonist, Hermes Diaktoros, is based on that of a local bank manager and Peter James' that he was once Orson Welles' housekeeper.

 © Peter Rozovsky 2012

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17 Comments:

Blogger Fred said...

Peter,

P.D. James is in that small select group of writers whose novels I will purchase without the slightest idea of what the work is about. As far as I know, I have read all of her fiction, even the unsuccessful SF novel.

May 26, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

I try to write well with respect for what is the most beautiful and versatile language in the world

That's a deliberate misquote, Peter. I took out the weaselly, qualifying phrase 'I think'.

There are hundreds of languages in the world. Unless one has made the effort to examine all of them, a statement that one's own language is the most beautiful and versatile does not deserve to be taken seriously.

And if James is compos mentis, as she appears to be, then her age is as irrelevant as her sex or her ethnicity or any other goddamned thing. Isn't it ageist to mention it?

The Blogger verifiers for this comment ask me to identify the number 32. Even my lousy eyesight can figure that one out. I wish it was always that easy.

May 26, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

Even though I've only ever seen her interviewed on TV, I have always been impressed with her powers of speech, maybe even more than her fiction. Her fictional voice is a bit grimmer than her real life persona. You are lucky to have seen her live.

May 26, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Fred, I think I'll look for her book about detective fiction first. Having been impressed with what she had to say about a number of matters and by the manner in which she said it, I think I might like her non-fiction. She said some interesting things to say about Agatha Christie and Ruth Rendell, for instance.

May 26, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo: I hope I was not too patronizing in the matter of P.D. James' age. I meant simply that with all she has achieved in her life, it would be easy for her to coast. But she keeps writing, keeps talking about her writing, still takes part in the House of Lords.

She was asked whether she and Ruth Rendell sit in the back of the room and talk about crime during meetings of the House of Lords. The short answer was: No.

May 26, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana: I found her an impressive woman, as you may have guessed. I liked the matter-of-fact detail with which she related some of the circumstances of her life, for example.

May 26, 2012  
Anonymous Liz said...

Have enjoyed all of hers books and many of her interviews.

May 27, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'll look for some of those interviews. Thanks.

May 27, 2012  
Anonymous Liz said...

Peter, thanks for refraining from pointing out my need for a copy editor. Enjoy the holiday weekend.

May 28, 2012  
Blogger Fred said...

Peter,

I've read all of her fiction, but I haven't looked into her non-fictional works yet.

I was thinking about her latest work on writing detective stories. That might be interesting--reading her thinking on the genre.

May 28, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Liz, I need a copy editor as much as anyone else does. I did not notice your need for one until you pointed it out.

May 28, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Fred, you'll notice Seana's comment about P.D. James' impressive interviews. I might enjoy those and her book on detective fiction simply for the joy of reading the thoughts of an intelligent, observant, articulate person.

May 28, 2012  
Blogger Fred said...

Peter,

I did see an interview with her many years ago, probably in connection with a Mystery Theatre dramatization of one of her novels.

I fairly certain that she said Jane Austen was her favorite writer and that Austen, if she were alive today, would be writing mysteries!

An interesting speculation.

May 28, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Another author speculated during a panel that if Shakespeare were alive today, he'd be a novelist and his choice would by mysteries, if I recall correctly.

I can easily imagine Jane Austen writing Golden Age-style mysteries in which a clever protagonist makes witty, dispassionate observations

May 29, 2012  
Blogger Fred said...

Peter,

Yes, it's Austen's narrative voice that's her strength--those sly comments.

May 31, 2012  
Blogger Fred said...

Peter,

If comments have stopped, it's because of the verification process.
the first word is a number and the second is impossible to read.
This is my forth attempt to get a comment accepted. I hope this gets through--if not, I'm giving up.

I agree with you--it's Austen's narrative voice that I enjoy in her novels--those sly biting comments.

May 31, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Fred, it is a truth universally acknowledged that verification words are a pain in the ass and getting more so. It may be less well-known that one does not have to reproduce them exactly, especially the second of the two. The reason your comments did not appear immediately, though, is that I have comment moderation enabled for posts older than a few days.

Jane Austen might have found congenial spirits in some of our more acid-tongued crime writers. Amanda Cross and Colin Watson come to mind.

May 31, 2012  

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