On September 2nd, the literary website NewInBooks interviewed me, and asked me some searching questions. They kindly published my answers last week, and here they are!
Tell us a little bit about your new release, Click, Double-Click.
In Click, Double-Click, Dr Alastair Cameron-Strange, a bereaved and emotionally labile young doctor, solves an obscure cryptic crossword, and realises that, deeply embedded within the puzzle’s solution, lies a terrorist threat. His attempts to alert the authorities are met with derision. The more he struggles with the puzzle, the more unbalanced he becomes. The question is, is he mad, or is he the only sane person in a vast lunatic asylum?
I was intrigued by the idea of constructing a plot around a crossword puzzle. If you are not a cruciverbalist, never fear; Alastair does the solving for us. Mind you, there is one vital piece of information buried in the solution that he never divulges. To find it, you need to solve the puzzle. And even then you might not see it.
What draws you to the crime thriller genre? What about it makes you want to write?
Click, Double-Click is a bit subversive. I’ve tried to turn the crime thriller on its head. My protagonist, rather than discovering a crime and working through the clues towards a solution, discovers a solution that may or may not allow him to prevent a crime. I supposed I’ve hijacked elements of the crime thriller genre for my own nefarious purposes. I don’t think I quite knew what Click, Double-Click was about until I’d finished it. Somebody pulling it off the “Crime” section in the bookshop might justifiably feel he’d been tricked. Click, Double-Click is not about the detection of crime; it’s about the detection of humbug.
What are your favourite books to give – and get – as gifts?
Oddly enough, it’s my birthday today! I’ve been given A Stranger in My Country, the 1944 Prison Diary, by Hans Fallada, translated by Allan Blunden (Polity Press, 2015). I’d never heard of Fallada until this morning. He was a German novelist who on 4th September 1944 was committed to the Neustrelitz-Strelitz state facility, a prison for “mentally ill criminals” in Mecklenburg. At great personal risk, he kept a diary. I can’t put it down. It’s quite phenomenal. The description of life in Germany under the Third Reich is so vivid; I read it and think, yes, that must have been what it was like.
A gift, given or received, is something that comes out of the blue. It should surprise the recipient, perhaps send him down a road he had not thought to travel.
What are you currently reading?
I’m actually reading a textbook of Thermodynamics. Nerdish I know. Delta G = Delta H – T Delta S. I’m determined to get to the bottom of it!
C P Snow used to accost his literary friends at cocktail parties and ask them if they knew what the Second Law of Thermodynamics was. He told them that acquaintance of the Second Law was equivalent, in educational terms, to knowledge of a Shakespeare play. F R Leavis the distinguished Cambridge literary critic famously demolished Snow’s “Two Cultures” argument and wiped the floor with him. But I think Snow had a point. How can you read PPE at Oxford and not know a bit of Thermodynamics? I have this theory that economics is basically applied thermodynamics, and that every time the moguls of high finance land us all in deep trouble it is because they have tried to defy the First and Second Laws.
But what do I know?
Where is your happy place? Why does it bring you joy?
Is this a geographical location, or a region of the mind?
I’m sitting in Dunblane Cathedral, listening to a rendition, on the fine Flentrop organ, of the St Anne Prelude and Fugue in E flat major, BWV 552, by J S Bach.
What’s not to like?
What advice would you give your teenage self?
Don’t be so miserable. Stop trying so hard. Take it easy. Chill. Don’t be a fake. Just be yourself. Go out with Jennifer Marsden.
Who are your literary heroes?
Richard Hannay and James Bond.
They’re actually quite alike. Of course, Hannay would have found Bond’s womanizing unconscionable, but occasionally their dark worlds of espionage overlap. In Mr Standfast, Hannay endures the after dinner conversation of a Conscientious Objector for whom he doesn’t have much time. He stands with his back to the mantelpiece, smokes a cigarette, and looks steadily at the man’s face. That could be Bond. There’s something cold and steely about that.
Yet Bond himself continually surprises us with little acts of courtesy and chivalry, even in the amoral carnivorous world in which he moves. And he’s very funny. He seems to walk a tight-rope between extreme menace, and extreme farce.
It has been virtually a lifelong ambition of mine to create a character who might surface and resurface in a series of books. I hope he is Dr Alastair Cameron-Strange. He’s nothing like Hannay or Bond. Thank goodness.
What’s your favourite quote or scene from Click, Double-Click?
Favourite quote: I rather like, “The atmosphere was thick with sycophantic, meretricious concupiscence.” It’s way over the top. Favourite scene: Dr Alastair Cameron-Strange stands up at a medical meeting, loses his temper, and tells the group that the particular piece of managerial pseudo-science they are peddling is the biggest load of tosh he has ever heard. I once did that. It was very satisfying. Mind you, it didn’t do any good. And Dr Cameron-Strange gets hauled before the Patient Safety Committee and suspended from his hospital post because he appears to have gone off his rocker.
Do you have a motto, quote or philosophy you live by?
I can’t resist opting for the last four words of Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata. I’d better not quote them as Max Ehrmann died on September 9th 1945 so, at time of writing, he has one week of copyright left to run, and quoting Desiderata over the years has been a contentious copyright issue. So look it up. The words remind me of my late mother. She was completely indifferent to worldly success and she could never understand why I got exercised about academic examinations. Mind, she was a Queen’s Nurse and a midwife so she did sit a few in her time. She once came up against an intimidating and irascible consultant obstetrician who barked, “Give me a cause of early miscarriage and don’t say syphilis.” She said, “Syphilis!” I once asked her what she would have liked to be if she hadn’t been a midwife. She said she would have loved to mend roads.
What the hell. Let’s risk it. Strive to be happy.