Why did you choose the career of writer?
- I decided I wanted to be a writer when I was about ten, partly because I thought it would be an easy road to wealth and fame (I was innocent then). I wanted to tell stories - it could have been through screenplays as easily as novels, and in fact I wrote several plays in my teens.
But finally, in my late 20s, my wife encouraged me to take it seriously and really give it a go.
I had a moment of truth when I realised that if I didn’t start now, right that moment, I never would. So I started in my lunchbreak and wrote what turned into the first six pages of my first novel, “Caroline Minuscule”. The An Air That Kills is the first of your books and first Lydmouth series crime story. How does is begin?
- Lydmouth began with a mystery, if not with a crime. It started one Sunday when we were driving near my home. A friend said, staring out of the car window at the blue hills, "Wouldn't this be a great location for a crime novel?"
"Yes," I said - and then came another mystery, because I added with inexplicable certainty, "but it would have to be set in the 1950s."
That fragment of conversation was the trigger. The question collided with my own long-held desire to write about the border country, the enigmatic and very beautiful strip of land which isn't quite England and isn't quite Wales. At the time I was actively casting around for a new series and there, suddenly, it appeared. It had been under my nose all the time.
Why the 1950s? One reason was that I felt it would be refreshing to write not just about a different time but also about a different moral climate from our own. The 1950s are so relatively recent that we tend to assume that they are part of the present, that people were not so very different from ourselves in 2001. But they were different. That generation sits uncomfortably on the fence between past and present.
Britain had won the war, more or less, and was in the slow and inexorable process of losing the peace. We were discarding an empire and acquiring a welfare state. The political, social and economic certainties of the past were dissolving.
I wanted the plots of the novels to turn as far as possible on how people thought and lived in that extraordinary decade just after World War II.
The place - Lydmouth, a town and its hinterland - emerged simultaneously from the creative mulch. The town belongs in the geography of the mind, but its nearest approximations in reality are eastern Monmouthshire, the Lower Wye Valley and the Forest of Dean. The setting is important. Crimes don't occur in a vacuum. Even now, my fictional area's real life equivalent has a strong sense of its own regional identity. Fifty years ago, of course, this was much more pronounced.