I first met John Baker through the Northern Chapter of the Crime
Writers' Association, and he and I were later invited by Margaret Murphy
to form the seven-strong collective of northern crime writers called
Murder Squad. I was in on John's crime writing career
from the outset, when I read and enjoyed his first book, Poet in the Gutter, introducing Sam Turner
John has become a noted blogger, but it's been some time since he last published a novel. Now, he's back with something rather different, a notable novel published by
Flambard Press and called Winged with Death. We talked though cyberspace: here's the conversation - which continues tomorow.
Martin: I'm not sure you would describe Winged with Death as a crime
novel, though I tend to think the genre is elastic enough to accommodate
it. Not that it matters - the important point is that it's a really good
book. And very different from those of your other books that I've read.
Was it a deliberate choice to write 'something completely different'?
John: I don't think Winged with Death is a crime novel. There is a crime
in it, probably several, but it isn't a crime novel because it makes no
nods to the conventions of the genre. One of the inspirations for the
novel came from looking at the works of people like JB Priestley and HG
Wells, Orwell as well, those writers who were concerned with the nature
of time. The initial idea was to write a novel about time and it was
that that gave me the impetus to internalise the process, to take it to
bed with me and to begin mulling over the ways that I might approach it,
consciously and sub consciously. Many of the elements of the novel first
came to me in dreams, the location for instance, and the idea of using
the narrative like a dance, moving the reader this way and that, setting
her spinning for a while and then bringing her to a kind of stasis. I
use the word dance with some insight, meaning its ability to communicate
rather than manipulate.
I was also determined to write a novel in the first-person. All of my
previous novels were written in the third person (one partially in the
second-person) and, as a writer, I needed to come to grips with a
first-person narrative for my own satisfaction.
So the answer to your question is yes. Winged with Death is something
completely different to anything I have attempted before, and it was
always going to be that.
Martin; You'd probably agree that we are very different writers (in
fact, you may be very glad about that!) Yet I like to think that there
are some points of similarity between us. One is that our latest books
represent a significant departure from our previous work - although
writing up the life of Dr Crippen is a temporary departure from
contemporary crime in my case. Winged with Death, like Dancing for the
Hangman, is published by Flambard. How did you find the experience of
working with a smaller publisher after years with Orion?
John: I only ever had one good editor at Orion, and that was Mike Petty,
so it was good to work again with someone who actually liked my work. My
later editors at Orion were people who inherited me and we didn't work
together over a project for which we shared a passion. We worked around
something which actually divided us rather than united us, and I was
asked more than once if I could write like (this months popular author)
or (the current projection for next year's breakthrough darling).
I suppose there must be people who are prepared to prostitute themselves
in this way; but it was never going to be a possibility for me.
Working with Flambard was good because the general attitude was 'how can
we make a good manuscript better', and that is something I've always been
happy to go along with.