Elena Dedukhina: Starting as a romantic editor and a novelist, but eventually finding your own style in writing crime stories. 11 by now. What if one day you’ll display a different flow of your imagination and we discover Minette Walters under some nom de guerre (like Agatha Christie under the name of Mary Westmacott) writing, let’s say, historic novels or biography, documentary or something else – is it possible at all?
Minette Walters: I wrote romantic fiction in my twenties to help pay the mortgage on my flat. But it wasn’t a genre I wanted to stay with. I learnt a great deal from writing it – how to create believable characters and how to construct suspense within a plot – but my ambition was always to be a psychological thriller writer. I have no idea what the future holds! Life is not so different from a suspense novel.
Elena Dedukhina: You are used to setting your plots within British society. However, if I’m not mistaken, all the characters of your books mainly come from different backgrounds and social groups except aristocracy. Does it mean that you just don’t want to stir up feelings among that society, or it is because the crime itself has much deeper roots in the working/middle classes or among unemployed? Or there are some other reasons for that?
Minette Walters: I have no problem at all stirring up feelings amongst the aristocracy – I’m sure they deserve it! – but the UK is a much more equal society today. The aristocracy represents a tiny percentage of British society, and readers find stories about them rather quaint and old-fashioned. During 1930s and 1940s, most detective stories featured upper-class characters – e.g. Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Whimsy and Ngaio Marsh’s Roderick Alleyn – but the most popular writer, Agatha Christie, wrote about the middle class. I suggest that’s why she’s still widely read today and the others aren’t.
Elena Dedukhina: Why is (from your standpoint), the crime/detective genre along with melodrama (though I doubt about the latter) is the most popular among contemporary readers? Where does the interest to the murder and criminal investigation spring out?
Minette Walters: A good crime thriller must also be a good suspense novel. It makes it exciting to read. And everyone likes a bit of excitement in their lives.
Elena Dedukhina: Why do you think an interest to the British detective stories is rather more widely spread?
Minette Walters: That’s not true in America, of course, where American writers are preferred. But it does seem to be true in Europe. I think British writers tap into the many common roots and experiences that Europeans share, and it gives their books a framework that’s easily understood. I’m always sorry that non-Enlgish writers find it so hard to be translated. Writers like Henning Mankell and Peter Hoeg have contributed hugely to the genre.
Elena Dedukhina: You say that you’re not very keen on creating one main character like Agatha Christie’s Poirot or Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse who would move on from one book to another solving the mysteries. Is it because you’re afraid of getting bored one day with the same character/s but readers would certainly wish you to go on with them, or because it is rather difficult nowadays to contrive a character that wouldn’t resemble anyone already existed in literature?
Minette Walters: Yes, to both those questions. A series character would have tied me to time and place as well as to the character itself, and that would certainly have bored me. Arthur Conan Doyle killed Sherlock Holmes because he became tired of him, then had to bring him back to life by public demand. Agatha Christie wanted to kill Hercule Poirot but wasn’t allowed to by her publishers. I didn’t want to find myself in that position after 4 books. I also wanted the freedom to write about anything I liked. Certainly, it becomes harder and harder to invent a believable series character in the modern age of forensic science. There are no private detectives any more so most series characters are policemen to the long line that already exists!
Elena Dedukhina: Lots of people become easily obsessed with the crime/detective books and read only that kind of literature sweeping aside any suggestions to read anything else. Do you normally compliment such obsessions?
Minette Walters: I don’t think it matters what people read… as long as they read at all. A book is cheaper and easier to carry than a television, and just as entertaining!
Elena Dedukhina: Do you have any particular habits that accompany your writing process? What are they? Did they develope gradually or become an integral part of your work from the moment you started your writing career?
Minette Walters: Just putting in the hours. Nothing happens by chance. Like everything else in life, writing takes hard work and commitment.
Elena Dedukhina: Why do you think crime writers are not very welcomed to be nominated for the Man Booker Prize? Does it mean that this sort of literature are considered to be less serious, of low quality, too popular, or something else?
Minette Walters: The Man Booker was set up to promote general fiction which traditionally doesn’t sell as well as genre fiction. For that reason, best-selling genre authors tend to be excluded. I don’t have a problem with that. There are many fine authors writing general fiction who deserve a wider audience.
Elena Dedukhina: You were nominated 7 times for the most prestigious Crime Writer’s Awards and became the winner 5 times out of 7. Among the novels that have been nominated to those prizes are The Ice House, The Sculptress, The Scold’s Bridle (the most gripping one in my point of view as far as psychological aspect is concerned), The Dark Room, The Shape of Snakes, Acid Row, Fox Evil. Do you think that among 4 novels that have been left out of the nominations so far there are at least one of them that is worthy of notice and have been unfairly disregarded by judges?
Minette Walters: I started to worry about having a Gold Dagger in my back when the first three books won prizes and the fourth was shortlisted. There is a limit to what any one author can win before their colleagues start sharpening their knives! Nevertheless, I’m sorry that no one recognized that The Echo was a modern interpretation of the Oedipus trilogy. I felt it was an interesting departure from the ‘standard’ crime novel.
Elena Dedukhina: If you were set at the same table with 9 other crime writers, what would you all talk about through the dinner? Would you share your immediate ideas with each other?
Minette Walters: If you mean, would I share my plot ideas, then no. I never discuss my plots with anyone. In fact I often sit at table with other crime writers and the talk is usually about the hell of trying to reach our deadlines!
Elena Dedukhina: What are the main topics at your family table then?
Minette Walters: Anything and everything. As a family, we laugh a lot.
Elena Dedukhina: I have always thought that the dedication of a crime book to some special person or group of people looks a bit sinister. Don’t you think so?
Minette Walters: Not at all. My dedications are a way of thanking people for the generosity and love they’ve shown me during my life. To date, everyone’s been thrilled to have a mention...even if the books have frightened them. The only ones who haven’t read the book I dedicated to them are my two dogs, Benson and Hedges!
Elena Dedukhina: One of my English acquaintances, whose son had been serving in the Police Forces until he decided to retire and become a priest, told me that his son had seen so much horror at his work that would never even consider the possibility to buy and read crime novels...
Minette Walters: Everyone’s tastes are different. That’s the beauty of the world. There’s room for us all.
Elena Dedukhina: Is there any particular novel you would like Russian readers to read next (to be translated into Russian)?
Minette Walters: As many as possible! Then perhaps I’ll be invited to your country. I’ve never visited Russia... but would love to.
Copyright © Elena Dedukhina 2005
Copyright © Knizhnaya Vitrina 2005