The Love of Storytelling: Anne Perry’s Writing Inspirations
by Myfanwy Cook
Anne Perry, who has sold over 26 million novels worldwide since 1979, talks about the inspiration for her novels and her series of Christmas novellas.
MC: Victorian Britain obviously fascinates you. Would you have liked to live during that period?
AP: It fascinates me for its dramatic contrasts of wealth and poverty side by side. I like the ebullience and optimism. The inventions are fascinating, sometimes ludicrous, always imaginative. At that time London thought itself the centre of the world, and for good reason. You can have almost anyone live there or pass through. The entire world is on the door-step at one time or another. The responsibilities and the burdens and delusions of power open up infinite possibilities. No, I would definitely not like to have lived then; the plumbing, the medicine and the dentistry in particular, would put anyone off.
MC: Your series featuring the Victorian policeman Thomas Pitt and his well-born wife, Charlotte, which started with The Cater Street Hangman, has been described as “the longest sustained crime series by a living writer.” The main character in your Monk novels, which appeared first in 1990, has a much darker protagonist than this first series. What inspired you to write your William Monk series and to create the character of Oliver Rathbone?
AP: Monk wakens in hospital with absolutely no memory of himself, even his own face in the mirror is unrecognisable to him. That is an extreme and dramatic version of the questions most of us have, ‘who am I’? How much of your identity do you still have without your memory of your experiences, your successes and mistakes? Who did you love and who loved you and why? Imagine having no knowledge of who your friends or enemies are. Oliver Rathbone was necessary as a foil to Pitt, of equal intelligence and determination but totally different background. As I worked with him, I came to like him more and more.
MC: Which of the novels that you have written stand out for you and why?
AP: Always the best one is going to be the next one. It offers the chance to do a little better than last time. My personal favourites will always be Tathea and Come Armageddon because they state my philosophy of life and my beliefs of eternity. Also, I was able to describe places of the imagination both beautiful and terrible. I gave myself license to do whatever I wanted. Those were written for me.
MC: What impels you to continue writing?
AP: Apart from needing to earn a living, I simply love doing it. Who doesn’t enjoy telling a story? It is work, at times hard work, but then don’t we all try to do something the very best way we can? Not many people get paid to enjoy themselves. I have ideas crowding my mind for at least a dozen more stories, and then a dozen after that.
MC: Why did you decide to write a series of Christmas mystery novellas?
AP: I wanted to write the first one because the idea was burning a hole in my mind. I was advised it would be difficult to sell and the best length would be novella. It worked surprisingly well and Random House asked for a second. I am now working on the thirteenth. They seem to me to be lots of interesting and relevant stories that could well be based on Christmas and something where a really happy ending, with a moral to it, was totally acceptable. It was a temptation I did not even try to resist.
Anne Perry was selected by The Times as one of the twentieth century’s top 100 “masters of crime” fiction. See www.anneperry.co.uk
About the contributor: MYFANWY COOK is an avid reader of historical crime fiction and a member of the HNR editorial team.
Published in Historical Novels Review | Issue 66, November 2013