Following his appearance at this year’s Festival, You’re Booked caught up with Simon Lelic, author of Rupture, The Facility, and, brand new title The Child Who.
Hello, Simon. We know who you are, but for readers who have yet to discover your books can you introduce yourself in just 10 words?
I’m a husband, father, writer, Hitchcock fiend and sandwich obsessive.
Your latest book The Child Who centres on a highly emotive and sensitive subject; a child murderer. It’s a brave topic to tackle. What drew you towards the issue?
It’s an issue I’ve long wanted to tackle in a novel, precisely because it is so highly emotive. I struggle to remain engaged when I’m writing if a subject doesn’t have a taxing moral issue or two at its core, and I can think of few topics as challenging (for the reader; for the writer) as that of a child killing another child. Before The Child Who, however, I struggled to find a satisfactory ‘way in’. That is, until I heard an interview with Jon Venables’s former solicitor talking about the James Bulger case more than 15 years after the event, and something – the solicitor’s tone? The fact that his life had obviously been so profoundly affected? – just clicked.
Was one of the things you wanted to explore with this book the creation of ‘hate figures’ in our society and impact of the media and public reactions to such individuals?
Absolutely. It seems to me that society’s first instinct when something terrible occurs is to demonise; to point fingers. There is invariably a reluctance, too, to explore issues of broader culpability. The great thing about fiction, for both writer and reader, is that you can venture into emotionally charged terrain and consider its scars from every angle. You can raise questions that might otherwise remain unasked, and consider answers that might in normal circumstances be too painful to acknowledge.
Your novels to date all explore difficult moral questions. Are you asking questions of the reader, society in general, or of yourself through your writing?
All of the above. As I say, I will quickly lose interest when I’m writing if a subject doesn’t challenge my moral preconceptions, and the same thing holds true for me as a reader. The best novels, I feel, are those that force us to reconsider what we feel, what we believe. Which is not to say a novel should not above all be entertaining…
At the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival this July you took part in a panel discussion called ‘A Donkey In The Grand National’, which was the phrase critic John Sutherland used to describe the prospect of a crime novel on the 2011 Booker Prize shortlist. As an author with a reputation for being on the ‘literary’ side of the crime and thriller genre, do you think we will see the day when a crime or thriller novel wins the Booker?
I’d be very surprised. We’ll see a ‘thriller’ reach the shortlist once in a while, perhaps, but I can’t see one ever winning. Which is not to say the crime community should feel hard done by. We have the Daggers and the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year award, and crime/thriller writing more than holds its own in terms of public attention. And connecting with readers, in my opinion, should be every writer’s over-riding aspiration.
Which writers working today do you most admire and why?
Although I hold a number of contemporary authors in particularly high regard (Don DeLillo, Hilary Mantel and David Mitchell, for example), Cormac McCarthy is a constant in my mind in the number-one spot. He writes in such a compelling, lyrical, relentlessly engaging way. I love, too, that he writes with such fluidity, sparsely but with enormous emotional depth. Coming from a journalistic background, where writing is often, by necessity, formulaic, it is always refreshing to read prose that creates its own rules. Few, if any, do it as well today as McCarthy does.
If there was one book you wish you had written, which would it be?
The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It is devastatingly simple, but dazzling in so many ways.
And lastly, a lot of aspiring writers visit ‘You’re Booked’. If there was one thing you wish you had known before you became a published novelist, what would it be?
Tricky one. I’ve had some fabulous experiences since my first novel was published, but part of the fun has been that most have been so unexpected. On the flipside, a lot of what I’ve discovered about the business of writing might actually have put me off writing in the first place! So I suppose all I would suggest to any writer – aspiring or otherwise – is not to allow yourself to become overly distracted. Focus on the craft.
To find out more, visit Simon’s website at www.simonlelic.com