by Ian Sansom
GENRE: Mystery & Detective
Swanton Morley, the People's Professor, once again sets off in his Lagonda to continue his history of England, The County Guides.
Stranded in the market town of Appleby after a tragic rail crash, Morley, his daughter Miriam and his assistant, Stephen Sefton, find themselves drawn into a world of country fairs, gypsy lore and Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling. When a woman's body is discovered at an archaeological dig, for Morley there's only one possible question: could it be murder?
Join Morley, Miriam and Sefton as they journey along the Great North road and the Settle-Carlisle Line into the dark heart of 1930s England.
I’d started out drinking champagne with one of Delaney’s very friendly hostesses, a petite redhead with warm hands, cold blue eyes, sheer stockings and silk knickers, who seemed very keen for us to get to know one another better –but then they always do. She told me her name was Athena, which I rather doubted. Sitting on my lap, and several drinks in, she persuaded me into a card game where I soon found myself out of my depth and drinking a very particular kind of gin fizz, with a very particular kind of kick – a speciality of the house. My head was swimming, the room was thick with the scent of perfumes, smoke and powders, I had spent every penny of the money that Morley had paid me for our Devon adventure, I was in for money I didn’t have – and Athena, needless to say, had disappeared. My old Brigade chums Gleason and MacDonald were watching me closely.
Even through the haze I realised that if I didn’t act soon I was going to be in serious trouble: Delaney was renowned for calling in his debts with terrible persuasion. I excused myself and wandered through to the tiny courtyard out back. There were men and women in dark corners doing what men and women do in dark corners, while several of the hostesses stood around listlessly smoking and chatting, including Athena, who glanced coolly in my direction and ignored me. She was off-duty. Out here, there was no need to pretend.
He is a frequent contributor to, and critic for, The Guardian and the London Review of Books.
He studied at both Oxford and Cambridge, where he was a fellow of Emmanuel College. He is a professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies at the University of Warwick and teaches in its Writing Program.
In his Nobel Lecture, delivered in Stockholm on the 7th of December 1983, the novelist William Golding recalled that on the day after he learned he had been made Nobel Laureate he drove into town to do some errands. As he returned to his car he saw a traffic warden - ‘a lady of minatory aspect’ - writing him out a ticket. When Golding approached and began to remonstrate with her, the traffic warden wearily pointed to a No Parking sign prominently displayed on a wall nearby. ‘Can’t you read?’ she said. The humiliations never cease.
One of the burdens of being of writer - though ‘burden’ is obviously the wrong word, for in truth a writer’s yoke is light - is having people ask you what you do for a living. If you tell someone you’ve just met that you’re a writer then the question inevitably comes, ‘Have you written anything I’ve heard of?’ To which the inevitable answer - unless you happen to be J.K. Rowling or Paulo Coelho - is of course ‘No’. W.H.Auden, tired of explaining to strangers that he was a poet, would tell people instead that he was a medieval historian.
For writers to feel overlooked, discouraged, and misunderstood, marginalised and maligned is of course perfectly normal, as it is for many other people and professions: cooks; cleaners; journalists; politicians.
Fortunately, there is a simple trick to avoiding one of the greatest disappointments of being of writer, and it is this: don’t write if you what you really want is to be famous. Because you won’t be, unless you find yourself the proverbial right-person-in-the-right-place-at-the-right-time and the mysterious hydraulics of fame, or the Oprah Book Club, suddenly whirr into life beneath your feet and raise you up above the common herd. Also, don’t write if what you really want is for people to like you. Because they won’t. If you want people to like you, become a children’s entertainer.
The best advice I have for writers is this: be modest, be resilient. Don’t give up.