‘The end of the novel’: so ran a headline in the Times recently. Well, every few years one pundit or another predicts the death of the novel. They have done so throughout my lifetime and by now many of them may well be deceased themselves. But this article cogently pointed out the dangers of the new culture wars whereby writers are castigated for writing about ethnicities or events outside their own ‘lived experience’. Jeanine Cummins’s American Dirt was probably the most notorious example but even John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas attracted criticism. Could it be that my next murder mystery will have a killer, a victim, a list of suspects and even an amateur detective who are all middle-aged white Jewish London-based men? That seems to be the way we’re heading.
In fact, my last murder story contained a character who was Native American. I deliberately added him to provoke some sort of discussion about this very subject. As a result, my American and Canadian publishers sent the book for a sensitivity read; the first time this has happened to me. I was quite nervous but in the end I got off lightly, although I was asked to make a few cuts. For example, I had described my character as having a face ‘that could have been carved out of wood’. This was red-pencilled. Can you guess why?
I have been asked to become an ambassador for an organisation called Great School Libraries which, as its name suggests, is campaigning for more libraries in schools. This should be a blindingly obvious proposition, a bit like asking for schools to have teachers or, perhaps, fresh air in the classrooms. But it turns out that there is no statutory duty to provide school libraries in England, Scotland or Wales.