2012 LA Times Festival of Books: A Conversation with Anne Perry

by Mk

in Authors,Book Festivals,Events,Women

Suzy Beal wrote this panel article. She also contributes book reviews to PopcornReads.com from time to time.


International bestselling historical mystery author Anne Perry was interviewed by mystery author Denise Hamilton recently at the 2012 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, appearing before a large contingent of fans. Denise Hamilton is the bestselling author of the Los Angeles Noir series of anthologies. She has won the Edgar Award and the Southern California Independent Booksellers Award for her short stories and mystery novels.

(As with all of our author interviews: To get a book shown, just click on the book cover to go to an online bookseller.)

Because Anne Perry’s novels began being published in 1978, and are all still in publication, we are providing a link to a page where you can find them all instead of showing all of their book cover. Click here to find all of her novels. The book covers below are only novels just published in 2012 or to be published in 2012.

Anne Perry has had enormous success in her writing career: Since publishing her first book, The Cater Street Hangman, in 1979, her historical crime novels have sold 26 million copies and she has never been out of print. She is the author of over 73 books including the Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series and the William Monk series, as well as a historic Christmas series. Treason at Lisson Grove, the latest Pitt book, was a New York Times Bestseller, as was the most recent of the Monk series, Acceptable Loss. Her next Monk series novel, A Sunless Sea, is scheduled to be published in August, 2012. Anne won an Edgar award in 2000 with her short story Heroes. The main character in the story appears in a five-book series set during the First World War. Her most recent stand-alone title is The Sheen on the Silk, set in the dangerous world of the Byzantine Empire. “Tathea and Come Armagedddon are entire in themselves, and reflect more than anything else I have written, my religious and philosophical beliefs, and therefore I care about them in a unique way.”

Perry writes six days a week, eight to nine hours per day with an hour off for lunch. She writes by hand, producing multiple books every year, including at least one Pitt and Monk novel. Further novels are planned in the Pitt and Monk series, as is the possibility of something completely different. “I have lots of ideas ahead, but I am not ready to speak about them yet. My publisher has to be the first to know. But I shall continue the Pitts, Monks, and Christmas novellas as long as anyone is still interested in reading them.”

This formidable author turned out to be a soft-spoken woman full of warmth and wisdom, charming the audience with a self-deprecating British wit that drew appreciative chuckles throughout the conversation. It’s always interesting to hear major authors talk about their writing process and share tales of the publishing industry, and Perry didn’t disappoint. She has probably answered some of these questions dozens of times in previous interviews, but she gave thoughtful answers to every question and showed real pleasure in speaking about the creative process.

Starting off the talk, Hamilton asked Perry why she chose to set her stories in the Victorian era. She answered that she began writing mysteries set in late-19th-century London based on her stepfather’s theory as to who Jack the Ripper might have been. “I found that I was totally absorbed by what happens to people under the pressure of investigation, how old relationships and trusts are eroded, and new ones formed.”

She said a good story should have a moral dilemma, and that in life there are no easy answers. “Sometimes you just do the best you can. If you walk a few miles in another person’s shoes, you may discover things are not as easy for them as you might think…There are so many understandable motives for crime, social ills, injustices, many of which are with us today, albeit in transmuted form. I hope my stories reflect expressions, emotion, social comment and enjoyment.” Perry said criminals are typically viewed as monsters, but perhaps they are just “a human being who has made a horrible mistake. What if this person was someone you loved – would you still love them?…I see mysteries as stories of what happens to people and communities under the pressure of fear and suspicion, especially the violent changes in perceptions and relationships brought about by investigation.”

Perry is known for sketching vivid portrayals of relatively minor characters, and Hamilton asked her about that. “There is no such thing as an unimportant person,” she said. “Every person has a story…you just have to tighten the plot a bit,” she added with a smile. When The Cater Street Hangman was made into a movie, in which she appeared as an extra, she predictably spent a lot of time on the set waiting around. This allowed her to get to know other extras and, even though they weren’t the most important players, she said they were still interesting people who she enjoyed getting to know.

When asked about how she managed to imagine her stories with such evocative detail, Perry said she travels to the location she is writing about multiple times, “especially when they take place on the Mediterranean coast,” she laughed. Her process also involves getting completely absorbed in her research materials. “History books, letters, newspapers, photo archives – you learn so much just looking at the details. Street lighting, transport, horses, shop windows, what people are wearing, what they’re selling, domestic life, even the surface of the streets.” It all brings stories to life, she said. “You’re not writing a social history, of course, but a story.” That Perry invests a good deal of time gazing at photographs resonated with this writer. Creativity doesn’t come out of nowhere, but is informed and inspired by elements of real life, which gives the story its energy. Perry’s evident love for this part of the writing process was an extra delight, and made me want to sit down with a box full of pictures to see if a story would come out of it.

Later, Perry was asked if she believed people were inherently good or evil. She answered that she believes people are basically good but that we all make mistakes. “It’s possible for anyone to come back from their mistakes if they’re willing to pay the price…The great thing about writing is rewrites,” she added. “Wouldn’t it be nice if you could do that in real life when you’ve made a mess of things.” The pregnant pause that followed may have been heightened by her audience reflecting on Perry’s own involvement in a long-ago murder case. While an author’s experience surely informs the books they write, surely Perry’s staggering output and creative achievement transcend academic debates. In A Sudden and Fearful Death, Perry has a character say: “We all try to forget what hurts us, it is sometimes the only way we can continue.

If you love mystery, historical fiction, and “ripping good” English murder tales, pick up any one of Anne Perry’s books.  You’ll be hard-pressed to put it down.

A bit more about the author of this article: Suzy Beal is a longtime contributor to the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Magazine and the L.A. Weekly. She co-authored The Underground Guide to Los Angeles, which spent 12 weeks on the L.A. Times Bestseller List. Not surprisingly she works and lives in Los Angeles, California and loves biography, history and fantasy – preferably in books than combine all three.

Our thanks to Suzy for this LA Times Festival of Books coverage! Look for her next guest review on Saturday, May 5, 2012!

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