I hope you enjoy my answers to these questions! Gwen
What was the first crime book you ever read?
At the age of 10, I found ‘Uncle and his Detective’ by J.P. Martin in the local library of my home town of Fishguard, Pembrokeshire. I was captivated by it, to the point that when I was 24 and newly married, living in Newport near Cardiff, I was overjoyed to rediscover it, again in the town library, together with all the other books in the Uncle series. It is easy to see why they have become cult reading but whether or not you can call them ‘crime novels’ is a moot point – there are certainly plenty of crimes committed by Beaver Hateman and the Badfort crowd, and a lot of rough justice meted out, mainly by the main character, Uncle, who is an elephant, a fabulously wealthy tycoon and a Justice of the Peace. His way of restoring order is basically to attack miscreants with stone clubs, and failing that, to ‘kick them up’. They invariably land with a satisfying splash in Gaby’s Marsh where the vicious scob fish bite them. Despite being wondrously funny, the Uncle books are very concerned with righting injustices, and using wealth and power for good.
Do you have a favourite crime character?
There have been many over the years, but at the moment it has to be Gunvald Larsson, from the ‘Martin Beck’ books (written in the 1960s by Per Wahlöö and Maj Sjövall) and superbly portrayed by Mikael Persbrandt in the BBC4 television series. The authors of the books can claim to be the originators of Scandi-noir. Wahlöö and Sjövall were a husband and wife team, journalists and Marxists, and I understand that the books were meant as an exposé of the authoritarian (and capitalist backed) police force. In this respect, their creation of Gunvald Larsson (who is a kind of early Dirty Harry, but from a wealthy background, and impeccably dressed despite his predilection for violence) was a way of underlining their dislike of the whole system. However, as often happens with characters in books, he took on a life of his own. Martin Beck, the eponymous hero is a modern, thoughtful, rather depressed policeman, and his anguished, frequently heard cry of ‘Gunvald! Stop it!’ makes us warm to him and his understandable frustration. However, whether or not it was the authors’ intention, it is Gunvald Larsson’s appearance in both the books and the TV series which makes this afficionado smile with anticipation and glee.
What are you currently reading?
At the moment I’m greatly enjoying the comedian David Mitchell’s ‘Thinking about it only makes it worse’ – a collection of his journalism. His authorial voice is recognisably him and, possibly because he gets annoyed about the same things that I do, I am relishing every page.
If you could only take one book with you on a desert island, which would it be?
If I can have a series (The Complete Works of Shakespeare are allowed on Desert Island Discs so why not?) it would be Anthony Powell’s ‘A Dance to the Music of Time’. It’s glorious and repays endless rereading. I love the world it portrays, the changes that happen over several decades and the dry sense of humour.
Where are you happiest?
Of an evening, when I’ve had a productive day, with the curtains closed and the fire roaring, my latest knitting project by my side, a cup of coffee and a piece of cake in front of me, and a new episode of NCIS on the TV.
What’s your favourite building and why?
Gaudi’s ‘La Pedrera’ in Barcelona – a modernist building which is now a bank. Like all Gaudi’s buildings it looks like it was left out in the rain and has slightly melted. But it is just so beguiling – I can’t resist those flowing lines and the paintings of flowers on the walls in random stair wells. Best of all, as it was originally a block of flats, they have preserved one of the flats and you can walk around it, covetously, imagining yourself living there.
Who would you like to star in the film of one of your books?
Frankly, I don’t think Angelina Jolie would do Della Arthur justice, so I would like Mali Harries (Hinterland) to play her. As she won a BAFTA Wales for her performance in that, I think she could take her on, and best of all, she’s bilingual so they could make two films, in English and in Welsh, back-to-back for the price of one. I’ve evidently missed my vocation as a Hollywood producer.
What’s the best thing about social media?
1. Finding people you haven’t seen for so many years that you have to look closely at their pictures to work out if it’s really them.
2. The occasionally truly witty remark or funny video (usually of cats) that make you snort with laughter.
3. Incredible (albeit rather spiteful) pictures of eye-popping prom/wedding/ badly fitting dresses that make you despair of the human race, while bolstering your own feelings of superiority.
And the worst…?!
People telling you what they’ve had for breakfast – with pictures.
People endlessly tweeting and retweeting some triumph (never disaster – now that would be interesting) until you can recite it from memory.
Total non-stories for which the teaser line always ends ‘His/her answer will take your breath away!’
What’s the best writing advice you have ever received?
Just sit down and write. Everything else is trimmings.