This is a wonderful write-up of the Waterstones event with Julie Wassmer and Lisa Cutts which was chaired by Dan Harding.
A night with the Whitstable Queen of Crime…
Caveat: I should here reassure you, Gentle Reader, that this isn’t sadly going to be quite as scandalous as it sounds!
I refer, in less lascivious terms, to an evening spent in the company of Julie and the Maidstone-based crime writer, Lisa Cutts, as part of a Queens of Crime ‘In Conversation’ towards the end of 2018, when I found myself chairing a discussion about various aspect of a writer’s life, the tradition of crime-writing, and each writer’s various approaches to using the local region as part of their work.
The second time I had met Julie (the first, briefly at a short talk she (and Lisa) had given at The Beaney some months previously), the In Conversation discussion was due to start at 7.30pm on the second-floor of Canterbury’s branch of Waterstones. We had arranged to meet up beforehand, in order to talk about how the event would work over a pre-event cup of coffee. Slightly anxious at the prospect of publicly interviewing two established, popular local writers, who were bound to be far more articulate than I would be (they are professional wordsmiths, after all…), I arrived on the second-floor café area early – how impressed they would be, I thought! – edgily clutching some scribbled notes and desperate for a cup of coffee to steady the nerves, keen to make a good impression.
You’ve guessed it. Being consummate professionals, both Julie and Lisa were, of course, already there.
I made my way over to the table and endeavoured to make up for managing to arrive early-yet-still-late (surely impossible, you’d have thought…) by offering to buy them each a coffee. Approaching the café, I discovered, to my consternation, that the café had, OF COURSE, IT HAD just that second closed; there was no chance of settling the nerves with a shot of caffeine or three, then, or making up for coming early-late by being hospitable.
After such an auspicious start, I sat at the table with the Two Published Authors, having brushed up beforehand on their various novels – it felt slightly odd, to be interrogating them about their creations, which of course they would know better than I ever could, and I definitely didn’t want to appear to be imposing my own views on their work, with which they may or may not have agreed.
Suffice to say, the conversation flowed easily (unlike my non-existent coffee), and in fact, hardly touched on the looming subject of the night’s event; we each talked about the day we’d had, how much we loved animals (we enthused about our respective pets without resorting to showing endless photos on our phones – this time, anyway…) and how much prosecco we could feasibly quaff before the interview without stumbling onto the stage like The Three Stooges and giving a rather poor account of ourselves. (Ever the professional, the prosecco was left until after the event, of course).
I’ve met Julie and number of times since, and been struck by how wonderfully unassuming and down to earth she is. It can be easy for writers and those leading the Life of the Mind to sweep through life with their minds on Higher Things, endless gaze fixed on the Limitless Literary Horizon, with legions of loyal fans (of which both writers have many) thronging at their feet, eager for the merest glance of acknowledgement. Julie, with her film-star sunglasses and hair-do (well, pre-lockdown anyway; I don’t know how her hair has fared during the current period of imposed isolation, and it would be impolite to ask!) and ready laugh engages her legion of loyal readers – both in-person and online – with a warmth that makes them feel at ease, signing autographed copies with a balletic swirl of the pen and a cheerful grin.
So the evening passed in a fascinating, and free-flowing discussion as both writers reflected on the nature of their work; that year was, appropriately, the 150th anniversary of the publication of arguably the first police procedural novel, Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone. Julie talked about the nature of being pigeon-holed in the genre of Cosy Crime (although I’d argue, certainly in the light of her fourth novel, Murder on the Pilgrim’s Way, that she belongs firmly in the Golden Age of Crime tradition – the country house, the visiting party, the isolated community amongst whom a murderer lurks – of Agatha Christie), and the appeal of reading crime novels, the satisfying sense of resolution the successful solving of a case offers us when our lives often don’t provide closure. The Whitstable Pearl series of crime novels offer a beguiling peek into the local region, which will appeal both to local readers who are familiar with the locations mentioned as well as those literary travellers from further afield – especially during the current period of lockdown…
Thank you Dan for sharing a wonderful evening that I was sad to have missed. They are both true queens of the crime genre so I hope they continue to write wonderful stories for a long time to come.
Deputy Director of Music at the University of Kent, pianist, choral conductor and advocate for contemporary music, Dan Harding can usually be found railing about the lack of government support for the arts on Twitter.
Trailer for Murder on the Downs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_i2Y5eqC0ww