Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Judith Cutler

From Even Tan Gee's interview with Judith Cutler for Crime Time:

Who's your literary muse?

Where do I start? When I was a child, I was very sickly. I didn't go to school till I was ten, so you can imagine how lonely and isolated I was. But there were always books at home, and the library was a constant oasis. In those days, remember, you weren't allowed to borrow fiction without borrowing non-fiction. (And, my God, you were silent while you were choosing it!) There was a big hoo-ha when I wanted to read adult books when in theory I was too young. But I'd already read everything, fiction and non-fiction, in the junior section. God knows how racist and sexist some of the stuff was - Arthur Ransome, and so on. In the Adult Section I got on to the great classics of crime fiction. (I gather this still happens today: there's a great up-take of Agatha Christie by teenagers whose parents are happy that there's no sex or violence. OK, racism, sexism - but no sex or violence...) What they make of the class attitudes, I don't know. I was horrified when I re-read a wonderful Ngaio Marsh the other day - how could she be so snobbish? I also fell in love with all Georgette Heyer's handsome heroes at about that time: I wasn't keen on Heyer's crime fiction but loved (still love) the historical fiction - pace, characterisation, humour. But there was more "literary" stuff as well: Richardson, Fielding, Austen, Eliot, Hardy, James, Lawrence... And I ended up reading English at university, though I'd say that was one of the worst mistakes I ever made. It gave me fifteen years of writer's block. Yes, honestly.

When I was still in my teens, you see, I had started to get published. I won, among other things, the Critical Quarterly short story prize. So I must have been quite good. I even had an agent approach me, though it was thirty years before I gave his agency a novel that was publishable Thank you, Murray Pollinger, for being so patient and so loyal to me. But I lost it completely when I was an undergraduate. Since my style was by then heavily influenced by the late Henry James novels, perhaps it's fortunate.

So, a ragbag of influences in the past. But a major one more recently. Sara Paretsky. What magic. A tough investigator with a private life, inner-city poverty - yes! I wanted to write like Sara Paretsky. I wish I could say I'd managed it....

Read the entire interview.

Visit Judith Cutler's website.

--Marshal Zeringue