I don’t know whether it’s a reflection on me or on the present state of the world, but year by year I find myself increasingly whinging "Pity the poor satirist". My twelfth crime novel, Murdering Americans, which was about nonsensical political correctness on an American campus, kept being overtaken by events in unversities that were so ridiculous I couldn’t believe them, let alone make up anything worse. And then I decided to write about the conceptual art that is feted by the art establishment, changes hands for fortunes and is self-evidently talentless, pointless rubbish.
I would visit exhibitions with friends, we would rail at the nakedness of emperors, realise that everything was beyond parody and take to drink.
Eventually I realised I should write about the real live art, artists, dealers, curators, art historians and the rest of the wretched bunch who allege that art is what they say it is and any notions about talent or skill are so day-before-yesterday.
So it is that although I had to invent characters I could kill, real people like Damien Hirst (plagiarist purveyor of dead animals), Tracey Emin (known for her disgusting bed and poor drawings of her lady parts), Charles Saatchi (who gave them their first break) and Sir Nicholas Serota (great panjandrum of the Tate empire which has been known to spend money, literally, on shit), are among those savaged in Killing the Emperors. My heroine, Jack Troutbeck, takes such a dim view of all of them and many more, that I had to have the book read by a lawyer. I was relieved to be reassured that vulgar abuse isn’t libel.
Where I was able to be inventive was in throwing the fictional characters into a particularly ghastly Big-Brother environment, putting them through unusual tests and finding novel ways of displaying the corpses of those who failed. I have to admit that I hug myself sometimes walking around London when I look at a location where I placed and arranged tastelessly the body of someone who deserved to die because of services to really dreadful art.
Ridiculing institutions assuages my anger, so I can now take friends to Tate (or ‘Tat’, as the baroness calls it) Modern, look at what the baroness calls "pretention, specious, nihilistic" garbage and just laugh.
The book was going through the publication process when the Hayward Gallery in London announced that it was having an exhibition of invisible art. Well, not completely invisible, it turned out. There was a piece of blank paper at which some so-called artist said he had gazed for 1,000 hours. There was a small pedestal on which Andy Warhol was alleged to have stood once for a few seconds. I didn’t go to it. I didn’t want to test my new equilibrium too far. I don’t mind life imitating art, but it’s indecent when it trumps satire.
I want the next novel to be about human rights lawyers, but every day I read about the likes of Abu Qatada thumbing his nose at the UK government, and I wonder what I can make up.
Killing the Emperors is published by Alison & Busby