Looking recently at two photographs of myself was salutary. The first was taken in the Connecticut woods a long time ago, when I was aching to escape a job I disliked and dreamt of writing my way out of it. The second, taken in June 2012 at the excellent HeadRead festival in Tallinn, Estonia, shows me thirty published novels later and makes me wonder whether the young woman in the American countryside would recognise N J Cooper and what she’d think of me.
Shy and anxious as she was, she would be amazed at the pleasure I find in audiences, stages and microphones now. For her they were all engines of terror. I will never forget her first appearance at a literary event, gabbling faster than a panicked chicken in spite of helpful advice to slow down. The very idea that her voice would one day be described as being ‘like melted chocolate’ or that it would become recognised by listeners to Open Book, Front Row, or Woman’s Hour would have seemed impossible.
And I think she would be fairly surprised by some aspects of my crime novels. She hated all forms of violence and wrote historical fiction about good women trying to do their best during wars and other political storms over which they had no control.
My current heroine, forensic psychologist Dr Karen Taylor, deals directly with sadistic serial rapists, psychopaths with inadequate development of the pre-frontal cortex, and, in my new novel, Vengeance in Mind, those who carry out appalling post-mortem mutilation on their victim.
He is Sir Dan Blackwater, a giant of the high street, who has devoted large parts of his fortune to charities dealing with the protection of abused women and children. Karen Taylor is brought in by the SIO to help the woman who found the body overcome post-traumatic amnesia. This small commission involves Kare in the whole investigation and before it’s complete she comes nearer to death than any of my earlier characters.
But looking beneath the surface of my crime novels the anxious young writer I once was would recognise all the fundamentals in my work today because, in one way or another, I have always written about the subject that seems to me more important than anything else: how one individual relates to others. This informs everything from domestic happiness or distress via stuff like banking disasters to war itself, and it is certainly at the root of all crime.
N J Cooper’s latest novel, Vengeance in Mind, is published by Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster.
Tallinn photograph:copyright © Kärt Kukkur, Festival HeadRead.