BEFORE THE BREAK
Scots-born crime author Philip Kerr. whose latest novel A Philosophical Investigation is published this month, talks to Sue Wilson about his somewhat chequered career-ladder belore he took the plunge into lull-time writing.
"I lived in Edinburgh until about 1971, when my parents, like many Scots parents. moved because my Dad got a good job down South. I read law at Birmingham, English law, obviously, more or less to please my lather, who wanted me to do something respectable. I didn’t really have much ol an aptitude lor it, but I couldn‘t make up my mind what to do alter I graduated, so I went back and did a postgraduate degree in law, then oddly enough ended up going into accountancy. I hated that, lasted about six months, then I went into advertising.
"My whole career, really. has been staying one step ahead at the pack. You've got to be a kind at schizophrenic it you're a writer, because you’ve got to pursue the illusion ol succeeding with writing, but at the same time pay lip service to the idea at having a proper career. So really, I had so many jobs— I worked lor several advertising agencies, and ended up working lor Thames TV- and each time I was quite good at getting the jobs, and lor about the lirst three months they’d think they'd done the right thing in hiring me. But when I thought I was well-established — I’d start work on the novel again, often when l was actually at work. The last job I had was at Thames-this all covers a period ol about ten years or so — and I resigned the day alter I was uttered a publication deal with Viking — much to their delight, I have to say.
"It was just as well, really. that I got published when I did, because I’d got to 30, and I‘d written about live or six novels by then, and l was beginning to think well, maybe I was kidding myself all along, and I’ve burned all these careers one alter the other while l've been chasing this mirage.
"I don’t think my background in law is the reason why I’ve tended towards crime tiction; possibly it’s something like the gamekeeper turned poacher— a lawyer always has a sneaking regard for criminals, maybe a secret desire to commit a crime, but the actual business or process at the law is dreadlully dull, it wouldn't inspire you in any way, unless it was to spur you on, stimulate you to escape lrom it.’
WHEE— LOVE IS . . .
I Written on the Body Jeanette Winterson (Jonathan Cape. £14.99) Continuing resolutely with her bold project to "push back the limits of what‘s possible in prose‘. Winterson has produced a densely layered. intense exploration of that most relentlessly probed yet endlessly fascinating of themes— human love. The narrator. an initially jaded Lothario. gender unspecified. falls unexpectedly. proverbially in love with a woman named Louise. Describing the shifts and seasons of their passion. through the subversive use of imagery appropriated from other genres. notably spiritual writing; through the knowing unpacking or subverting ofcliche’s— those in which love is expressed, those in which it is written about — and through the pursuit of the language which will capture some of
the elusive mystery as to why we keep going back for more. Winterson has turned the oldest of old, fictional chestnuts upside down and inside out. and presented it to us shining and new. (Sue Wilson)
V " ,2 «I‘M .
I Skating Round The Poppy M.S. Power (Mainstream £9.99) M.S. Power has always lived up to his name in his novels. but thus far has tended to use the bullet and the bomb of Northern Ireland for dramatic impact. Skating Round The Poppy is a very different book. suffused with the unease and tension of his others but. in a way. even more harrowing.
It tells the story ofJimmy Crichton.
aftermath of his first murder. at the age ofeighteen. As Crichton sits in his cell, Power lets us in on the boy’s darkest secret — the abuse he suffered at the hands of his father— and reveals the domino effect which that abuse set in motion. In spite of the novel having a predictable conclusion. the intensity which Power creates with his acute ear for dialogue and his unﬂinching exploration of taboo topics make this essential reading. (Philip Parr)
I The Virago Book ol Victorian Ghost Stories Edited by Richard Dalby (Virago £6.99) As full as you’d expect of things in the West Wing and redolent with the Gothic odour of over-writing. this is an excellent collection of some of the finest stories from the better exponents ofthe genre. Surprises include a Charlotte Bronte pastiche from 1833. To modern cars. used to the full gory details. the stories tendto wimp out. but it‘s definitely one to break open the candles for.
I New Worlds 2 Edited by David Garnett (VGSF £5.99) A joy ofthe sci-ft short story is that excellent ideas from old and new authors can be aired. unencumbered with preconceived notions of getting onto that best seller list. There are enough ideas in here to justify the cover price. but the cream on the cake comes from two new Philip K. Dick fragments; outlines for novels which never made it. but which provide a fascinating insight into his methods. Not just for P. K. D. completists.
I Maiden Voyage Pat Gerber ( Kailyards Press £6) With inspiration ranging from an Andy Goldsworthy exhibition at the Tramway to a house plant inherited from a former marriage, this is a sharply observed and highly entertaining book. full of unusual stories about usual events in usual women‘s lives. Gerber has the gift of being able to stop when enough has been said. even if it‘s only after a page.
I The Edinburgh Literary Guide Andrew Lownie (Canongate Press £8.95) This should elicit some debate among Edinburgh‘s literature lovers as to what should. or could. have been included. Lownie's personal selection. confined to the last two centuries. is as entertaining as you could want which is more than can be said for Richard Demarco‘s O-grade standard illustrations. (Thom Dibdin)
EVENTS ' Glasgow
I Book Market llillhead Library. 348 Byres Road. info 05606 349. Sat 12. 9.30am—4pm. Admission free. Second-hand and antiquarian books. maps and prints bought and sold. IAlasdalr Gray Dillons. 174—176 Argyll Street. 248 4814. Tue 15. 6pm. Free. The acclaimed Glaswegian author will be reading from and signing copies of his new novel Poor Things (Bloomsbury £14.99). I Dorothy Rowe Waterstone's. 132 Union Street. 221 0890. Wed 23. 7.30pm. Free. The popular psychologist and author will be talking about and signing copies ofher latest self-help guide Breaking the Bond: Understanding Depression. Finding Freedom (Fontana £5.99).
I Lisa Tuttle and Kim Stanley Robinson John Smith & Son. 57 Vincent Street. 221 7472. Thurs 24. 6.30pm. Free. An evening
for science-fiction fans with two ofthe genre‘s leading exponents. Robinson's Red Mars (HarperCollins £14.99) is published this month.
I Aromatherapy Demonstration Waterstone‘s. 83 George Street. 225 3436. Sun 13. 2pm. Free. in association with Lothian‘s Community Education Department. Catherine Strang talks you through the art of soothing with smells.
I Flight Lieutenants John Peters and John Nichol James Thin. 53-59 South Bridge, 556 6743. Tue 15. 7pm. Free. The two British pilots shot down and captured by the Iraqis during the Gulf War last year will read from and sign copies oftheir book Tornado Down (MichaelJoseph £15.99).
I Alasdair Gray James Thin. 53—59 South Bridge. 5566743. Wed 16. 7pm. Free. The acclaimed Glaswegian author will be reading from and signing copies of his new
novel Poor Things (Bloomsbury£l4.99). I Malcolm Bradbury Waterstone’s. 13 Princes Street. 556 3034. Thurs 17, 7pm. Free. The leading English author and creative writing guru will read from and sign copies of his latest opus Dr Criminale (Seeker & Warburg. £14.99).
I Bose Tremaln James Thin. 53—59 South Bridge. 5566743. Thurs 17. 7pm. Free. Reading and signing session, promoting her latest novel Sacred Country (Sinclair Stevenson £14.95). about a female-male transsexual.
I John Pllger Waterstone‘s, 13 Princes Street. 556 3034. Wed 23. 7pm. Free. The journalist. broadcaster and well-known thorn in the establishment‘s side will be discussing and signing copies of his new book Distant Voices (Vintage £6.99).
I Edna O’Brien Waterstone‘s. 83 George Street. 225 3436. Thurs 24. 7.30pm. Free. The leading lrish author will be reading from and signing copies of her new novel Time and Tide (Viking£14.99).
64The List 11 — 24 September 1992