Sunday, January 14, 2007

small comforts

Vicki, I just wanted to say that I am so very sorry about your friend's son, sometimes real life is just too cruel. All best wishes at this sad time.
I think the role of cosies (or should that be cozies?) is not so much to make light of sudden death, as to make it bearable when the reader has just had too much of real life and they want to read something where nobody is horribly raped, murdered or tortured. Personally, I think all crime fiction is an attempt to make order out of chaos, whether it's the hardboiled sort or the cozy sort. Anyone dying in my books nearly always dies of natural causes, or it is accidental, and the crimes are more your everyday sort, like arson, theft etc. But then, I fall into the category of having suffered so much bereavement, that I read crime fiction, including cozies, because I want the order out of chaos thing.
I think it's often the random nature of death that is so hard to bear. That's why doctors, undertakers, police persons, soldiers, forensic scientists and the like always seem to have such a fine line in graveyard humour - it makes their work tolerable and does allow them to distance themselves from the awful reality of it - thus enabling them to do such vital work. In a way, all crime fiction is exploitative if you look at it in a certain way. I wonder if people whose lives have actually been touched by sadistic, psychopathic serial killers really want to read fiction that uses such dreadful crimes as plot devices. I suspect not - although I don’t know that for a fact. The rest of us crime readers, though, quite enjoy them now and then, and I’m pretty sure that that is something to do with making the fear of such terrifying crimes manageable.
On a much happier note, I am reading a book that has been compiled from something called The Mass Observation Project, where, starting in 1937, right up until today, ordinary people were invited to keep diaries and send off regular entries to the M.O.P. Occasionally, contributors were asked to fill in questionnaires on specific topics, – wartime attitudes to sex, for example. The book I’m reading is called Nella Last’s War. It is the testimony of an ordinary, middle-aged housewife and it’s absolutely fascinating, and what’s more, Mrs Last was a bloody good writer, bless her cotton socks. (Oops! No cotton socks; they were virtually impossible to get between 1939 and 1945).
As far as work goes, I am working on the 2nd draft of the memoir, a section that deals with people from my childhood in Soho, who glory in such names as Legionnaire Jim, allegedly slung out of the Foreign Legion for being too vicious and also, rumour had it, a real-life murderer, ‘Mad’ Frankie (he was accused, but I think, never convicted, of at least one murder), Iron Foot Jack, a drinking acquaintance of my father, and Dylan Thomas, ditto, although Father always thought Mr Thomas was a lightweight in the boozing department. All I can remember about him is that his wife had to bribe him to have a bath by placing little sweets called Dolly Mixtures around the edge. He had a very sweet tooth.

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