Writers are always readers. Or if not, they have no business writing. This interview asks authors about both their reading and writing, because I’m curious how one affects the other.
Which book most influenced you when growing up?
I loved Lewis Carroll’s Alice books from as soon as I could read them, for the extraordinary worlds he created into which a small girl might escape. Oh, how I longed to pass through the looking-glass that hung above my grandmother’s mantlepiece!
In my teens, I fell under the spell of George Orwell, reading his complete works, and Lord Peter Wimsey, Dorothy L Sayers’ detective hero – an odd combination, perhaps, but I loved and admired them both!
How far has your reading affected your writing?
I read widely and voraciously, and being exposed to numerous examples of other authors’ writing, good and bad, keeps me fresh. And George Orwell’s famous rules for writing are never far from my mind, especially the last one: “Break any of these rules sooner than saying anything outright barbarous.”
Tell us which books are your go-to comfort reads.
I still fall back on the Alice books and the Lord Peter Wimsey novels, of which my favourite is Busman’s Honeymoon, in which he finally marries the love of his life. (That one appealed to the teenage me too!) I also love timeless, classic British humour, such as Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat. The passage about Uncle Podger hanging a picture still makes me cry with laughter every time I read.
Which books did you expect to hate but had your expectations overturned?
For a long time I avoided historical fiction, although I love history, because I couldn’t quite see the point, and I have an irrational aversion to difficult names(!) Then I challenged my prejudice by joining a Historical Novel Society book group run by my historical novelist friend Lucienne Boyce, and I have enjoyed a great deal of it ever since.
How far do other media such as music, film or fine art influence your writing?
I’m the kind of culture vulture whose ideal holiday is spent in museums, art galleries and historic buildings, but the media that has the greatest impact on my writing is the humble sitcom. But it has to be the very best sitcom, such as John Finnemore’s sublime Cabin Pressure on BBC Radio 4, or the US TV show Parks and Recreation, in which the characters grow a little more with each episode, and the comedy flows naturally from the characterisation.
Why do you write in the genre you write?
I’ve always loved classic mystery stories from the Golden Age of Crime Writing (Sayers, Christie, Allingham et al) for their engaging plots, colourful characters and sense of place, and I also love gentle humour. Throw into that mix my natural optimism and love of a happy ending, and cozy mystery is made to measure for me.
What makes your storyworld special?
My Sophie Sayers books are inspired by the Cotswold village in which I’ve lived for nearly 30 years, and although the characters and stories are fictitious, they ring true because they’re based on my total immersion in and close observation of this type of community
Will you give us a hint about what you’re working on next?
I’m starting a new series, Staffroom at St Bride’s, about the staff of a traditional English girls’ boarding school – again inspired by real life, as I spent 13 years working in one!
Which other genre would tempt you to stray from cozy mystery fiction?
I am a reluctant murderer and really don’t like killing off even my nastiest characters, so I’m veering towards romantic comedy, but with elements of mystery and intrigue, and plenty of plot twists!
If your books were a dish on the menu, what would they be?
A light, fluffy soufflé, with a zingy blackcurrant filling, garnished with fresh Cotswold elderflowers and topped with a sprig of garden mint
Debbie Young is the author of the Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series, which runs the course of a Cotswold village year from one summer to the next. She lives and writes in a small village in rural Gloucestershire, where she runs the free Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, now in its fifth year. She also writes short stories and non-fiction, runs two writers’ groups, is a panellist on BBC Radio Gloucestershire’s monthly Book Club, and speaks at bookish events far and wide. Author website: www.authordebbieyoung.com Twitter handle: @DebbieYoungBN
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