Sunday, 6 January 2008

Priscilla Masters

Many crime writers started their career in print by publishing something rather different from a mystery novel. Julian Symons began with poetry and Minette Walters with romantic fiction. Colin Dexter wrote texts for students (as N.C. Dexter) in the 1960s, and some of James Sallis' early work focused on the jazz guitar. Going back further in time, S.S. Van Dine (aka W.H.Wright) wrote well-regarded books of art criticism before creating the Golden Age sleuth Philo Vance (whose cases were best-sellers in their day, although to read them now, it's not entirely easy to believe.)

My own first published book was a racy little tome called Understanding Computer Contracts, and Priscilla Masters, a friend who also appears on the Allison & Busby list, started out with a little book called Mr Bateman’s Garden. It’s a children’s story, set in the extraordinary, long-forgotten but now restored, gardens of a Staffordshire National Trust property, Biddulph Grange (a must to visit if you are fascinated by unusual gardens, and a real favourite of mine.)

Some time after that, Cilla wrote her first detective novel, Winding Up the Serpent, published in 1995. It introduced her principal detective, DI Joanna Piercy, and earned much positive comment. It’s a book that has become highly collectible – a first edition in fine condition might cost as much as a thousand dollars. Since then, Cilla has produced a range of good stories, including mysteries with a strong medical theme (she works part-time as a nurse, and makes even better use of her expert medical knowledge than did Dame Agatha) and River Deep, a splendid book featuring a female coroner, Martha Gunn. Martha, a strong and appealing character, returns in Cilla’s latest, Slipknot. It's interesting to compare Cilla's modern day Shrewsbury with the town portrayed by Ellis Peters in the Brother Cadfael books.

I first got to know Cilla when we did a couple of library events together in Lancashire, the best part of a decade ago. She’s a witty and entertaining public speaker, and we’ve often talked of doing more gigs together, although so far work commitments have got in the way. But a couple of years ago she very ingeniously wove my novel Take My Breath Away into a Joanna Piercy book called Wings Over the Watcher. A unique and generous gesture that I much appreciated.


Jilly said...

Priscilla Masters looks like an author I might like to read - I will look out for her.

Xavier said...

So will I.