I've just finished another book by Nell Peters. I've got a great pile of worthy tomes that I ought to get round to reading, but (as I think I just mentioned) I've been reading Nell Peters.
I don't for the life of me know why. If I were writing an Amazon review I certainly wouldn't give them five stars. They're idiosyncratic, self-indulgent, break all the rules and hop about in a rather disconcerting way. Yet with all those piles of excellent novels waiting for my attention, I keep coming back to hers. Those idiosyncrasies create a wonderfully quirky approach to writing which doesn't so much defy genre categories as put them into a sack, pound them with a baseball bat, run over them with a steamroller and then drop them into a river encased in concrete. Much in the way that people seem to get disposed of in her books, come to think of it. For Ms Peters combines a ghoulish sense of humour with a disturbing enthusiasm for violence.
Nell Peters’ books are not for everybody. But those of us who enjoy them, enjoy them quite a lot. It all seems to depend if your mind is warped in quite the same way as hers is. So, to give you an idea of whether it is or not, here's Nell Peters (not her real name), psychologist, on the twisted mind of Nell Peters, author.
Nell Peters, psych (NPP): Why thank you, Tom. You say the sweetest things! Just not to me … I’m inviting Nell Peters, Author (NPA) to join in the fun – if she’s not too busy torturing little furry animals. Hello, Nell. Did you have any trouble parking you broomstick?
NPA: Hi Nell – very amusing. I can put Tom in my next book and create a truly gruesome end for him, if you like?
NPP: Thanks for the offer – I’ll certainly keep it in mind. Meanwhile, would you care to come and perch on my couch?
NPA: Thanks – how quaintly old-fashioned. Are you a Freudian?
NPP: Most definitely not. Will that be a problem?
NPA: Not for me.
NPP: Good. If you’re sitting comfortably, would you like to begin by telling me your earliest childhood memory?
NPA: Why do psychos always ask that?
NPP: It just provides background, acts as an icebreaker – take your pick.
NPA: I’ll probably need that to break the ice.
NPP: Funny. Do you have a memory to share?
NPA: I was two and my little brother had just been born at home, as was the norm back then. Stephen was very sick and I wasn’t allowed into my mother’s room. I’ve no idea who was meant to be looking after me, but I must have given them the slip and I recall climbing the stairs and crawling along the landing to the bedroom.
NPP: Why do you think you crawled, when presumably aged two you could walk?
NPA: I was an early walker, so perhaps I was trying to make myself as small and inconspicuous as possible, trying not to be noticed.
NPP: Interesting. Go on.
NPA: When I got to the bedroom door, I pushed it open – my mother was sitting in bed, resting on plumped-up pillows, and the nanny was there, holding my brother. She looked around and saw me, of course – told me off and said I had to leave. But my mother allowed me to stay, for some reason. That’s all I remember. My brother was admitted to hospital at some stage and died before he was a month old.
NPP: That’s very sad. Did you have any other siblings?
NPA: A sister, born when I was seven.
NPP: I see. Was yours a happy childhood generally?
NPP: Care to elucidate?
NPA: Not really, suffice to say I was a lonely child who spent extended periods in my room reading, hoping to be neither seen nor heard.
NPP: Not all bad then. The reading bit, I mean.
NPA: I would probably rather have had happy, family fun-type memories to look back upon, but I don’t. C’est la vie.
NPP: Tell me, what sort of books would you read in your room?
NPA: Almost anything I could get my hands on – there was a lot of Enid Blyton early on and I galloped through the complete works of Sherlock Holmes, thereby sewing the seeds of murder, mayhem and dastardly deeds in my imagination. These were reinforced by my enthusiasm for Agatha Christie and her convoluted plots, so the die was well and truly cast, to paraphrase Suetonius.
NPP: Tom describes your mind as both warped and twisted – any thoughts on that? You’d better keep on the right side of polite, as it is his blog.
NPA: Hah! I believe Tom read psychology as well – I wonder if he used warped and twisted as adjectives in his assignments. If so, did he actually walk away with a decent degree, in fact any degree at all?
NPP: Perhaps we’ll ask him later. I specialised in serial killers, terrorists and everyday psychopaths – now they really do have a screw loose.
NPA: Is that a bona fide term found in the DSM – any number you like?
NPP: Ah, I was forgetting you sat in on the psych lectures too.
NPA: Like I had a choice!
NPP: Go on …
NPA: When I read fiction, I want to be entertained, surprised and challenged – what is the point of being able to work out whodunit before chapter two? (I tend to read mostly crime, as I have very little leisure reading time.) There is nothing worse than a pedestrian and predictable plot – I like to get to know fully-fleshed characters (whether I like or loathe them) who don’t do what’s expected of them, and to live in their world for a short time.
NPP: Mmm … Any book – or indeed TV programme, play or film that hits one over the head with too many signposts tends not to be a satisfying experience.
NPA: Agreed. I feel it’s the writer’s duty to come up with a sequence of events for the reader, without their being able to anticipate what comes next – even worse, what the denouement will be. I see the crime reader as a detective, analysing clues and discounting red herrings – there should be no formulaic content, even in a series using the same core cast of characters. Fiction is just that, depicting situations and events that most of us will never encounter, except vicariously.
NPP: If an author is not firing on all cylinders mentally, it’s evident in their writing, don’t you think?
NPA: Absolutely – for example, the Mervyn Peake trilogy, Gormenghast. It was many years ago I read all three in quick succession, but I recall noticing an increasing decline in structure and fluidity toward the end, suggesting the author’s descent into early on-set dementia.
NPP: I wrote a dissertation on Jean-Jacques Rousseau and obviously read a lot of his work …
NPA: I remember. Some of it was extremely hard to follow, as he started to lose his grip on reality, his cognitive function failing.
NPP: That’s my line!
NPA: Shall we move on – it must almost be wine time?
NPP: Sure. Do you do a lot of planning or plotting, before you start writing?
NPA: No, I’m more of a panster, though I do usually have an idea of likely scenarios that will trigger the action, plus some ghostly apparitions of potential characters floating through my head. But things change all the time and characters don’t always obey my instructions, so that plots perform somersaults whilst they evolve. And as for genre-hopping, most of us lead lives that aren’t genre-specific – stories should reflect that. How boring a fictional read would be without the mingling of relationships and incidents on every level to be found between the pages.
NPP: Where do you get your ideas from?
NPA: Sometimes I develop a thread picked up from an overheard conversation, a scene witnessed, a news item, or similar, but nine times out of ten an embryonic plot will develop in my head. After all, I spent my formative years living in my imagination.
NPP: Quite a few of your reviews mention the humour in your writing, yet Tom refers to your
NPA: I have a very basic (some might say pathetic) sense of humour – my OH frequently despairs of what amuses me. I don’t actually mean to be funny when I write – it just slips out, and my editor (whom I share with Tom) has to get out his red pen and obliterate ninety per cent. As for ghoulish, gallows is perhaps a better term.
NPP: Mentioning no names, a review for one of your books included the phrase ‘Peters has a taste for the grotesque and a tendency to Grand Guignol that can be disturbing.’
NPA: It did; presumably the inference being that if Grand Guignol was good enough for Shakespeare, it’s good enough for me. I’m happy with a recent comment; ‘James Ellroy over-super-embellishes everything but it works well, and so does yours!’
NPP: Shall we leave Tom to it?
NPA: Suits me, I’m hungry. But before we go, any thoughts on our host?
NPP: I don’t know him well enough to make an informed judgement, but the words patronising, deluded and egocentric are strolling through my mind – and although he’s not quite a sociopath, his social awareness is severely stunted.
NPA: I’ll go with that – and after all, let he who sits atop the best seller list cast the first withering critique.
NPP: Toodles, Tom!
NPA: Don’t forget to write!
Nell Peters' books are available on Amazon: CLICK HERE for her author page – if you dare.