EG: Tell us about your current novel.
RJ: It’s a breakaway from the noir crime stories for which I’m known – and it has by far the longest title! The Newly Discovered Diaries of Doctor Kristal (subtitled: whose Strange Obsessions caused him to Murder some annoying patients) is a wry psychological crime story set in 1963 through 64, told in diary form by a 35 year old virgin for whom sex – or rather, his 35 years without – sets him off on a line of murders.
This is my first crime novel for five years or so – not that I’ve been idle: in the interim I’ve produced two historical novels, a present-day and (would you believe?) four biographical picture books including, as you may remember, Great British Fictional Detectives.
EG: Can you say a little more about what you're working on now?
RJ: Well, among the curious doctor’s patients is attractive young Jane Quinney, grateful for some help he gave before but now saddled with an unwanted pregnancy. (This is 1963, remember.) Then there’s beautiful Eleanor Rouse, unhappily married to a sexually voracious and overweening actor more than a decade older than her. But it’s another woman, facing an altogether more unpleasant dilemma, who causes the doctor the greatest trouble of all. Plus there are two other doctors in the town, and they have plans for Doctor Kristal. So in a tumultuous year which sees the Profumo affair and the assassination of President Kennedy Doctor Kristal’s provincial life is all set to spiral out of control.
EG: What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?
RJ: Other writers! I shouldn’t say it but I like meeting and talking with other writers more than I do with readers. At least they don’t ask me, “Where do you get your ideas?” In truth though, the greatest pleasure for every writer must lie in finishing a book – that short period when you’re happy with it and think it the greatest thing you’ve ever written and the one that is finally going to make your name. The moment before reality sets in.
EG: What is the greatest DISpleasure?
RJ: Apart from that moment when reality sets in? The hardest time is when your latest is not immediately snapped up by a publisher overwhelmed by how great it is and desperate to tie you in before other publishers make a bigger offer. Or maybe it’s when, for whatever reason, the latest doesn’t get the usual number of reviews. I don’t know why it is but some books just seem to slip through the net and – you know? – being ignored is worse than being criticised. You ask, “Why did I bother?” and there’s no answer to that.
EG: If you have one piece of advice for the publishing world, what is it?
RJ: As if they’d listen to me! But I guess they should realize that the challenge today isn’t whether ebooks will replace print ones but how the two should live together. The market has been expanded! Increasingly it’ll be ebooks for an immediate read (cheaper, faster – like paperbacks back in the Thirties) and well-made print books to be cherished and kept.
EG: Are there two or three forgotten mystery writers you’d like to see in print again?
RJ: The truth is they’re all coming back – thanks partly to ebooks and partly to some of the smaller go-ahead new publishers – but it’s probably forgotten books rather than writers that I like to read again. A E W Mason’s At The Villa Rose, for example, was a great book but the follow-up Hanaud books kind of fell away. That often happens with series; the story has been told in the first book and after that it’s just more of the same. How many times do you want to meet the blind detective (Carrados) or The Old Man in the Corner, or Lady Molly of Scotland Yard? They’re amusing once but . . .
EG: Tell us about selling your first novel. Most writers never forget that moment.
RJ: No writer could forget it. If they say they did, they’re lying. Anyway, my true first novel wasn’t accepted, and while it went the rounds gathering encouraging refusals (is that an oxymoron?) I wrote another, sent it to Gollancz, and had it accepted within three weeks! They said it would come out in their famous yellow and black livery, and I was taken out to lunch by my young and attractive editor (still a great editor, by the way) and we ate outdoors in a little place off Haymarket in London’s West End, and the sun shone, and she said I should join the Crime Writers Association, and I said, “Would they have me?” and she said, “Of course they will. You’re a crime writer now,” and that, Ed, was as good as it gets for any writer anywhere, any time. You never forget a day like that.