It’s quite a responsibility taking over as chair of the CWA, given some of your illustrious predecessors. Do you find it a daunting prospect?
As the old saying goes, illustrious is as illustrious does. It is a responsibility, yes, but the opportunity to become Chair arose at a point in my life when I was remembering that I used to run a TV production company half a life-time ago and how much I enjoyed being bossy.
So, no, I’m not daunted, I’m really looking forward to it. (At this moment, anyone reading this who’s actually been Chair of the CWA is probably thinking, poor fool…)
How do you feel the CWA can help crime writers in the 21st century?
These are times of unprecedented challenges to writers, to publishers, to the printed page itself. There is an argument that there always have been challenges to those of us who have stories to tell, and that it’s not good for us writers to inhabit a world which provides us with too comfortable a life, as we’d end up creating novels about having an overdue library book and finding a lovely new shade of curtain material. However, having something new to say is one thing. Earning a decent living for selling books is quite another, and needs to be fought for, and I know that the CWA will continue to do so.
Will you be addressing in your new role all the new changes in technology and publishing which affect writers so much?
I think there are an inter-related group of serious challenges provided by the internet, not so much to do with whether we are read on paper or digitally, but to do with keeping hold of our rights within our work and being paid justly for them. I think the CWA must keep a watchful eye on these issues. In some ways these new models of publishing are opening up new markets, new readers and new opportunities for writers, some of whom perhaps wouldn’t easily find a public. But the real challenge is in making sure there remains a direct connection between a writer selling copies of his or her work, digitally or on paper, and having an income that comes from those sales.
Some people have turned down the prestigious job of Chair, worrying that the commitment might affect their own work as writers. Was this a consideration for you?
Over the years I have learnt to be ruthless with my time. The result of this is that on the rare occasions I agree to something, I do it wholeheartedly. As to my writing, I write all the time. It’s bad for me not to. My compulsion to write has survived family life. I am assuming it’ll survive being Chair too.
You already have a dual career as a writer for radio and novelist. How will you cope with yet another challenge?
I’ve never seen it as dual. I like sitting quietly in my room making things up, but I also absolutely love having the opportunity to work with actors, to see how a line of dialogue can be transformed by someone who knows what they’re doing. Also, I’ve long felt that crime writing and radio drama are very connected by the fact that they’re about what is spoken. In both, the narrative is revealed by what people say, or when they choose to lie, or when they are silent.
As for adding another challenge, I work at home, and as the children have gradually left over these last couple of years it has become increasingly quiet. So, it’s good for me to leave the silent madness of my garret from time to time.
Being chair of the CWA involves much pressing of the flesh and talking to people in different businesses, as well as a slew of radio interviews – will you be able to find time for this?
As I child, I was raised in an age when it was considered bad manners to draw attention to oneself. Discovering my inner show-off has been a long and fairly enjoyable process. Also, my first job after university was as a radio presenter for radio Aire in Leeds. Get me behind a mike and I’m raring to go. (Though you may find you just get the traffic update for the roadworks on the Kirkstall Interchange…)
Various controversies have affected the CWA over the last few years (involving such sticky issues as sock-puppetry and prizes for translated fiction) which have required a robust response. Are your teeth gritted for this part of the job?
My experiences of controversies is that it’s never the ones you’re expecting that come and bite you. I’m as prepared as I can be, I guess. What I do know is that I’m lucky enough to have a skilled and supportive committee, so whatever controversies we have to face, we can do so from a position of balance and commonsense.
Regarding your own writing – are you in the middle of a new book? What can you tell us about it
I have just finished my next book. It’s about particle physics. It has taken two years rather than my customary one year, because what started as a mere clever notion of a police procedural based in Kent, where some kind of revenge was being visited on physicists, gradually became a much more complex story woven round themes to do with evidence versus faith, and what happens when our certainties, religious or scientific, become dangerous. As part of it, I visited the Large Hadron Collider in CERN, which was one of the most interesting research trips I’ve ever made. I hope I do it all justice.