Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Stranded with Phyllis, Julian and Minette

Julian Symons
We've been talking about the influence still exerted, in varying degrees, by English crime writers Julian Symons and P. D. James--authors of respectively, the crime genre studies Bloody Murder and Talking About Detective Fiction--on people's conceptions of Golden Age crime fiction, so I thought you might find these radio interviews they gave for the BBC Desert Island Discs program interesting (the conceit of the program, for those who are not familiar with it, is that guests choose the eight records/discs they would take with them to a desert island).

Symons' interview dates back to May 15, 1982.

He gets into it a little bit, in that polite British way, with the presenter when the latter seems to speak slightingly of crime fiction.  Symons' great literary cause was the have crime fiction taken more seriously.

When I listened to this, I realized that I had never heard Symons' voice before!  I love his accent.

Julian Symons (1912-1994) 15 May 1982

P. D. James' interview dates back to October 27, 2002.

There is quite a bit about James' difficult personal life.  Whatever my disagreements with James' pronouncements on crime fiction, I must say I find her such an impressive person. She overcame considerable adversity, ultimately utterly triumphing in life's battles.  I think this surely explains her pronounced need for structure and order in her books.

Her musical selections are almost entirely classical music, by the way, which I did not find surprising. When the Baroness really cuts loose, she listen to Vivaldi.

P. D. James (b. 1920) 27 October 2002

P. D. James

And here's one with Minette Walters, author of some amazing crime novels back in the 1990s, that I have only just started listening to.  Here are a few bits from the write-up on the page that I found interesting.

From the bio on Walters:

After Minette Walter' father died of injuries sustained in World War II she won a scholarship to Godolphin School, and eventually became Head Girl.  From a young age she shunned girls' story books, preferring the more gripping Biggles and later, Agatha Christie.  Her ambition was to be a writer.

Note how WW2 greatly impacted, in the most personal ways, both her life and that of P D. James.

She says of her then fairly recent book The Dark Room:

"There is virtually no comparison with Agatha Christie--it's much deeper and darker and more naturalistic, realistic, gritty.  That's why I put 'fart' in the first paragraph, because, I thought, whoever reads the first page of this book is not going to think they are reading an Agatha Christie!"

Minette Walters
A bit dismissive of Dame Agatha, I think!  But here's another definition, I suppose of "cozy" (at least according to Walters): No references to flatulence!

She calls her "claustrophobic" first crime novel The Ice House a "clash" between Agatha Christie and Patricia Highsmith (her favorite crime writer).  I do think she's underrating the dark elements in Agatha Christie (again, you can't get much more claustrophobic and grim than And Then There Were None--how do people like Walters so routinely ignore this book, the bestselling crime novel in history?).

Her first disc selection is Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody", which rather sets her apart from P. D. James, to be sure!*

*(Walters was born three years after the late Queen front man, Freddie Mercury).

Minette Walters (b. 1949) 30 June 2002

There are also interviews with Ngaio Marsh (1968, sadly not available), Patricia Cornwell, James Ellroy, and I am sure other crime writers!  Check 'em out.


  1. Just a quick note about Desert Island Discs in case its helps you.It started in 1942 and was hosted till 1985 (I think) by Roy Plomley. Following Plomleys death Michael Parkinson ran it for 3 years, Sue Lawley for 8 years and Kirsty Young has hosted it since 2006. a 70th anniversary book listed 697 writers as former castaways, but no idea how many wrote crime novels. I have a catalogue so may be able to find out.

    1. Thanks, grimwig. I really enjoyed listening to these, I hope others do too.

  2. Looking around the site, Ed McBain, Colin Dexter, Patricia Cornwell, Val McDermid and Alexander McCall Smith are there. There were interviews with Cecil Day Lewis, Eric Ambler, Clemence Dane and Francis Durbridge.

    1. Sir Nigel! Thanks for the additional authors, I will want to hear a number of those.