This week’s Inheritance Books are from Penny Grubb, crime writer, lecturer and all round super busy lady.
Hi Penny, welcome to Inheritance Books. Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember, first feeling the satisfaction of completing a novel at the age of 4. It was two sentences long and covered half a page in laboriously crafted but wobbly letters. Over the years, the novels have become longer but the handwriting hasn’t improved much.
Soon after we moved to the area we live now, a neighbour excavating for a kitchen extension dug up a body. With that sort of introduction to a new place, how could I not write crime novels about it?
The day jobs have been varied: I’ve been a technician in hospital labs, a lecturer in academia starting in the world of hard science and drifting through social science to health care, chair of a multi-million pound company in the not-for-profit sector, and I’ve held a clutch of non-executive directorships. I currently have two day jobs a couple of hundred miles apart. It means plenty of time on trains which is where I’ve written a significant amount of the four novels I’ve had published so far. The fifth is nearing the end of its final draft.
Which book have you inherited from the generations above? Why is it special?
My grandmother had a full set of first edition William books by Richmal Crompton. I still have a full set though not first editions. I cut my reading teeth on them and I can still read them today. The stories are so layered that they offer something very different to the adult reader; subtleties that the young child never sees. And they give no concessions to young readers with small vocabularies, but they sweep you along into the story so that you absorb the meanings of those big words as you go. At junior school, I was often the only one who could define words like verisimilitude and incognito. My definitions were always flavoured with the context in which I’d learnt the word (‘if you want someone to believe that their mother has turned into a hen…’) but my definitions, once unravelled, were accepted.
I’ve picked William the Outlaw almost at random. It is an especially good collection but I could have picked any of them. They’re all good, and many have their own hidden stories. One collection was censored for many years and had two of its stories substituted in later editions. In Dickens style, Richmal Crompton wrote them first as episodes for a magazine, so it wasn’t always possible to go back and retrieve a story that ended up along the wrong path. I have both the censored and the uncensored versions. The publishers put the stories into books as their popularity grew – very carelessly publishing the first collection out of order.
I discovered a tape of Just William stories in a motorway service station a few years ago. We listen to it in the car sometimes and it still makes me laugh. (And yes, we do still have a cassette player in the car).
Which book would you leave for later generations? Why?
This is such a difficult one, so many to choose from, but I’ve ended up with Environmental Studies by Maureen Duffy. It’s a collection of poetry that centres on environments – a topic that can only grow in significance as new generations grow up. The poems are down-to-earth word pictures, strictly contemporary but drawing on her 1930s/1940s childhood and with a compelling flavour of support for progressive social and political movements.
Maureen Duffy, like Richmal Crompton, is also a novelist, and like Crompton a very good one, but it’s her poems that show her real genius as a writer, just as it’s the William stories that are Crompton’s literary gems.
I haven’t read any Maureen Duffy, but I shall have to look out for her books. Thanks for sharing your Inheritance Books with us, Penny. I hope Where There’s Smoke does wonderfully well.
Penny’s fourth novel Where There’s Smoke is published in paperback later this year. You can find out more about Penny at her website (pennygrubb.com) and blog (pennygrubb.blogspot.co.uk), Facebook and Twitter (@PennyGrubb).