Good Reading : September 2010
SEPTEMBER 2010 ı goodreading 25 author profile 2 marvellous setting,' she says. 'But there are so many technical problems. Believe it or not, you're not allowed to die in the Palace of Westminster, which is where the House of Lords is, and if you do die, then you're put in an ambulance and everyone is told you died on the way to hospital.' When she sat down in the mid- 1950s to start writing what would become her Dalgliesh-introducing debut, Cover Her Face, it never occurred to her to write anything other than a detective story. 'I think we don't often choose our genre, the genre chooses us.' She'd enjoyed reading Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, Dorothy L Sayers and Ngaio Marsh and thought 'If I can do this, then it will stand a good chance of being accepted because it's a popular genre.' And so it proved. 'I was very lucky because it was accepted by the first publisher I sent it to,' she says with a chuckle. 'I've never had a rejection slip for a novel. I'm very admiring of people who do have rejection slips, and they just put the book away and revise it later, or start another book. I think that shows a lot of deter mination and a lot of courage.' P D James admits she initially thought crime writing might be 'an apprenticeship' to becoming 'regarded as a good and serious novelist', before realising there could be much more to the genre than mere whodunnits. 'As I continued in my craft, and got more and more fascinated with the construction of the detective story, I realised I could stay within the conventions of the genre -- you know, the central mysterious death, the closed circle of suspects, the detective who comes in like an avenging deity, the solution from logical deduction -- to stay within those and write a good novel. That has always been my ambition.' Not that she hasn't occasionally strayed; in 1992 she published the dystopian novel The Children of Men, which was later made into an acclaimed film starring Clive Owen. Although the basic storyline (the human race becomes infertile and begins to die out) and some dialogue remains from her novel, the film producers did make several alterations. Not that she minds. 'I thought the direction and acting were wonderful. Sometimes people say, "Do you mind what they did to your book?" and I say, "Well, they can't do anything to my book. They can't alter a single comma." What they've done is make a film from my story ...andIthinkitwasa very, very good film.' Twelve of the 14 Dalgliesh novels have been adapted into telemovies, the last few by the BBC. There has been no move yet to televise the last two novels, which P D James tells me she would love to see happen. In fact, when pressed, she admits The Private Patient may in fact be her favourite book of all. 'I so much enjoyed writing it,' she says. 'I was in a convalescent hospital for the last third of the book, having had a heart attack, and it was ideal really, because I had a room of my own, and I had no telephone, and my secretary came down twice a week and took the dictation of the novel. So I'd get up, get my overbed table, and get at it, working away in absolute peace. And it seemed to do very well.' Unfortunately for fans, it may be the last we see of Dalgliesh; P D James hasn't officially retired him, but is unsure whether she has the time and energy to dedicate to another tale. 'I would hate to produce one that was not of the same high standard,' she says, noting a full- length novel usually takes her about three years to research and write. The thought of rushing a Dalgliesh novel to get it out, or worse, dying with it unfinished, appals her. 'It would be terrible for me to have a reviewer say something like, "Considering that she was 95 when this book was finished, it is an astonishing achievement, but hardly up to vintage P D James." I'd hate that.' Not that she has retired. 'I'm now writing a much shorter book, one that's entirely different and not to do with crime at all, because of course every writer wants to keep on writing.' A real pleasure to interview, before we said goodbye, P D James asked me to share one last thing: 'Will you please extend my war mest wishes to all my fans in Australia. I've had very many happy visits, and I just want to say thank you for all the loyalty and support I've had from my fans there.' You're more than welcome. And really, we should be thanking you. 'I've never had a rejection slip for a novel. I'm very admiring of people who do have rejection slips, and they just put the book away and revise it later, or start another book. I think that shows a lot of determination and a lot of courage.'