Saturday, May 18, 2013

Saturday Guest

 I'm delighted to be able to introduce you today to Alison Joseph, the newly-elected Chair of Britain's Crime Writers' Association.  She started her career as a television researcher and then later directed documentaries for the BBC.  She is now a full-time writer and radio dramatist and her very successful series featuring Sister Agnes, a nun based in contemporary South London, is also a BBC radio drama series.  She's just starting another series, with DI Berenice Killick, which sounds intriguing: it's about particle physics.  Respect!

So, this is how it came about that I, a born-and-bred Londoner, attended a performance of Agatha Christie's play, The Mousetrap, for the first time in my life.

After an extremely enjoyable Conference in Windermere in the Lake District, I found myself Chair of the Crime Writers' Association.  I have no recollection of ever voicing the ambition, 'One day I'll be Chair of the CWA,' but it somehow happened.It's probably the nearest I'm going to get to having greatness thrust upon me.  And, it's our Diamond Jubilee year - sixty years since John Creasey our founder created the CWA.

So, what happened was, that, in conversation with the Mousetrap producer a couple of months ago, I discovered it was their 60th too, and we hatched a plot for a group of crime writers to attend the play and have a backstage tour too.  Then the Romantic Novelists' Association heard about it, and so in the end we were a jolly party of both groups.

So there I was, at a theatre I've probably walked past hundreds if not thousands of times in all my decades as a Londoner, actually walking through the doors and into the auditorium.

And I loved it.  I didn't even foresee the twist.  Alone among my party, I was the one with my hands up to my face gasping with surprise at the denouement, along with all the American visitors, whereas my fellow-crime writers were nodding sagely, even if they didn't know the story.  (They are obviously more suited to our profession than I am.)

Afterwards we were shown the set.  The sound effects are all manual - the ancient wind machine is older than the play.  There we were, a group of people whose day job is to make things up, cooing over the tricks of the set, 'Ooh look, the wood panels are just painted on, they looked so real...'

It was interesting to see Christie's skill at work.  There is a view that crime fiction has moved on since her time, but the economy of her story-telling and the neatness of her characterisation was striking.  There was nothing lazy, no moment wasted.  It seemed to me that for all the apparent cosiness, she does in The Mousetrap what the best crime writing does today, which is to allow the motive for murder to be believable.  The story may appear to be no more than a crisply-engineered puzzle, but it still has its roots in real human suffering.

We came out into the London drizzle and drifted away to tube station and bus stop.  And I felt somehow more of a Londoner.

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