Anläßlich der deutschen Premiere ihres neuesten Romans (Feuertanz) kam Frances Hegarty nach München, Hamburg und auch nach Berlin, wo wir sie im Kempinski trafen und uns mit ihr über ihr Doppelleben, das Krimigenre und einiges andere unterhielten.
BiN: One day – is it possible with the authorities?
H: Yes. Because what I do is very specialized. It is more sort of semi-academic reading of papers rather than practice.
BiN: But the day is fixed?
H: Yes, usually I work on Thursdays.
BiN: Was your job the original reason for choosing the pseudonym?
H: Well, it was in an odd kind of way. The pseudonym is my mother's maiden name. So it is not an artificial name. But when I work as a lawyer my name is Hegarty, that is my father's name. When I first started writing I didn't want my contemporary collegues to know what I was doing. So for all publications I used my mother's name so that my collegues wouldn't know I was writing romantic short stories or anything of that kind.
BiN: And when did you decide to choose your real name?
H: Most of my books are written under the name of Fyfield. It was when I wanted to do something a little bit different to what I've done so far...
BiN: This leads me to my next question. There is a TLS quote which I
have to translate back into English. It says something like: It is Fancis
Fyfield who writes thrilling crime novels and it's Fancis Hegarty who writes
novels of high literary quality. Do you think one should distinguish between
the good genre author and a good mainstream novelist?
BiN: And would you like to comment on the quote?
H: On that, yes. The style in both of my books is exactly the same. You know, I don't condescend because it's a novel of crime. The difference in writing as Hegarty is that I don't have to include any of the things that would go into a crime novel, like a murder, like policemen, like an investigation, things which commonly would go into it. But I don't think there is really an essential difference in the style between Hegarty and Fyfield. And I dislike the way that certainly in Britain it's assumed that as a genre novel it must be simple, it must be populous, it must be poor. That's not the case. The new wave of genre writers write easily as well, they are literary writers, they are first of all these good novelists, and that's what I think I have to be. You know, it's very snobbish. But it's always been that way, the ideas that as a genre novel it cannot be as good as the literary novel, which of course it can. It is often much better.
BiN: Concerning the genre you have been called – I don't know whether
the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has invented this name or whether
it was a British newspaper, but you were called the Countess of Crime and
in one article they wrote: Now she joined the rank of P.D. James and Ruth
Rendell. Do you feel you've got a position in a hierachy or do you compare
yourself with other authors?
H: No, it's pointless, because I'm going to do one thing and they are going to do other things. And the title 'Queen of Crime', 'Countess of Crime' etc is purely an invention of publicity people. It is a convenient tag. It means nothing to me one way or another. The first Queen of Crime was Agatha Christie and people are always making comparisions between other writers and her. I don't think it's a hierachy. If there's any hierachy between us, it based on sold copies. And if anybody was to be called 'Queen of Crime" in this day and age would be Minette Walters in terms of a new way of popularity. But it's so tatty, it's pretty meaningless. I don't think we have that one two three.
BiN: Talking about other authors also working in the genre, are there
any other crime authors alive or dead whom you admire?
H: Particularly, alive, I admire Ruth Rendell and obviously I admire P.D. James and obviously I admire Michael Dibdin enormously. And I love Minette Walters' books. But of the older genre, just say one the of the first to inspire me was Simenon, George Simenon, with both the psychological novels and Inspector Maigret. I like them. But otherwise, before I started writing in this genre which I did almost by accident I didn't really read it very much. You know I would rather go for the classics. I think in an odd kind of way when you are writing in the crime genre Jane Austen is as much an inspiration because it's all about observation. I admire anyone who writes with a fine sense of detail and atmosphere.
BiN: So can you think of any authors having an impact on your work?
H: No, I can't think of any particular author who I'm aware has had any impact on my work. I've got no one role model or no one person that I'd like to think I based myself on but if you read as much as I've always done I think there are influences which come on you which you don't know. You don't know that they happen... Just in the same way when I am writing... if I can't write and want to losen up a bit there are certain people that I would read who by reading certainly makes me start writing again. John LeCarré would be one to a point because I think his English is so beautiful, his writing is so beautiful. So I'm always influenced by anybody who would write beautiful English, that is very very good English. But I'm not aware of one person, I am probably influenced by many. I don't think I copy anyone but I think I am probably influenced by many.
BiN: I have read two of your novels, Shadow Play and Half
Light (Die falsche Madonna und NachtAngst, Anm. d. Red.)
There is one aspect in particular which reminded me of Charlotte Armstrong. Especially in Half Light. The first half of Half Light was, I have to admit, one of most frightening reading experiences I ever had and it was totally dark. I felt somehow that things went directly towards some kind of catastrophe, some kind of tragedy. But then something happened right in the middle of the book as Frances and Emily somehow raise their courage and decide to fight the menace and then the second half of the book for me was much lighter and much more optimistic, even though there is still a lot of tension. It ends much nicer than I'd ever had expected after having read the first half. So, are you optimistic in the end?
H: Yes. I think I'm often seen as quite a bleak writer, a sort of kind of dark writer, but essentially, yes, I am optimistic. I believe in people being able to make their lives better, being able to redeem themselves. But in order to redeem themselves, to make their lives better, they have to go down in order to come up. Just in the same way as in this current book (Feuertanz, Anm. d. Red.) the character of the daughter in the book is to go almost down to hell in order to learn and then come up.
BiN: Do you mean it as a desciption of the world or do you think it
is a wish: It would be nice if people grew morally by making experiences
H: It would be nice. Of course a lot of the time people don't grow morally at all and bad experiences simply make them worse or blind. But I certainly believe it's a large proportion of people who do grow because of bad experiences. And I want to portrait that. Suffering can be a cure, suffering can be something that takes the mask off your face. So in that sense I am optimistic.
BiN: Did you intend something like that when you started on the book?
H: We are talking about Half Light. I started Half Light myself in a very very bleak mood. My father had just died and it was very bleak. But there is a point: I quite enjoy the bleak, I like the darkness. Now you would say: life is not entirely like this. There is light as well. But at the beginning of Half Light I didn't know what was going to happen to Elisabeth. I never know what is going to happen to these people. I hope that in a sense they work it out themselves and let me know. And she had to come up as an isolated character who has to find out why she is the way she is by having this awful experience.
BiN: Do you never figure out the plot before?
BiN: You just have an idea about the characters?
H: Yes. I usually have a situation that I want to describe. I see what I am dying to describe but I don't know where it's going to go, maybe one or two scenes. And they cast the characters. And then I start, go up one bright alley and go another one. It's a very very torturous way of writing.
BiN: At which point do you know how the book is going to end?
H: About two thirds of the way through it I can usually see it. It is a sort of blinding flash of light of how it should end. And then to finish it I go back to the beginning and make the first half correspond to what is to come.
BiN: So it's more fun for you...?
H: I don't know whether it's more fun. It's very depressing because when I don't know what's happening I get terribly angry. And I have to go away and leave it and come back. I think it would be much easier if I could plot it. Sometimes I try. But if I made a plot I'd abandon it after twenty pages. So I say they are real novels of suspense because I don't know what's going to happen till they're nearly at the end. Sometimes I got right to the end and changed my mind about who would have committed the murder. Then I have to go back and do it again.
BiN: In terms of pages or sentences: which percentage did you change?
H: Probably about a quarter of it. But it is not a question of rewriting great big chunks, it's a question of going through and changing little bits. You have to do it very carefully rather like a surgeon without erupturing anything else, without causing injury to what's left. So I'd probably say a quarter of it or less.
BiN: Is this kind of rewriting harder than writing the first draft?
H: I think it's easier than writing the first. It's like you have the material there, it's got its shape. You can see the end in sight. But in the beginning when you're in the dark you can't see the end and you think you'll never be able to do it.
BiN: Do you write always at the same time of the day? Is there any kind
of regularity? Do you force yourself to go to the desk? Do you write by
hand or do you use a word processor?
H: Both, the word processor and also if I'm stuck I go back to the manual and then back to the word processor. I'm not very good at discipline. When I am in the middle of a book or beginning a book I set a target of how much do per week. Quite often at the end of the week I haven't done that. So the next week you set yourself a bit more and fail to do it yet again and then suddenly the guilt is so bad. But in an ideal world what I like to do is get up very early in the morning and work a good solid three hours before there's any chance that I have a temptation to go to my telephone and phone somebody up and make them speak to me There's no chance at six o'clock in the morning that I can phone my friends and suggest that we have a cup of coffee. The shops are closed so I can't go out and do that. So that's ideal when I come very close to do it. And that's when my mind is very clear.
BiN: When do you get up in real life, when would you get up in the ideal
H: In real life, in ordinary life, I start by eight o'clock in the morning.
BiN: That is pretty early.
H: That's pretty ordinary. But in the writing phase I get up at six, especially in the summer when there it's lighter and then I begin two or three hours before I can be distracted because there is nobody to talk to, they are all asleep.
BiN: I would like to talk a bit more about the genre. The genre boomed
particularly in the last decade. Do you think there are any special reasons
for this boom?
H: I think there are posivite and negative reasons for this boom. One of the negative reasons which caused the crime genre to grow is, I think, a disaffection with those who read novels, a growing impatience with the literary novel which has gone away from the first tradition of the novel, the first rule of the novel that it must tell a good strong story. The literary novel certainly in England and elsewhere has become more self-engulfed, more about anxiety and more removed from mainstream experience which leaves the field open for someone who writes a good strong story to gain more of the leadership. And it has always been the rule of genre fiction, of crime genre fiction, that above anything else you must have a good story which the reader will begin at the beginning and is able to follow to the end. That's basically the rule of the novel, the rule of the novel which has been ignored. The literary novel becomes more like a long essay and more difficult to read. The real storyteller is the person who makes people listen and the crime genre writer is going to do that, always has to do that. The other thing that makes the genre boom is the fascination with extremes of human behaviour. We love to read about extremes of human behaviour, of trying to identify with those extremes of human behaviour for safety. And a thing which encourages the genre to grow is the fascination with violence. Because we all understand it to a certain extent. We are writing in a murder story about violence. Everybody has some understanding of violence. Anybody who has had a hand lifted against them at school understands violence, and also they understand dishonesty to a certain extent. We have all seen a thing we want to take. So crime novel writes about things which people can understand, extremes of what people can understand, and it writes about life and death. And in these days it is expanded to write about its own society, always at some selection of its own society which people want.
BiN: Up to these days there have always been some trends and fashions
starting with the golden rules and locked-room mysteries and going on to
the spy novels. Do you think there is a trend one can identify today?
H: I think there's no single one, there seem to be several trends because there is the locked-room story which still goes on and the trend more towards the psychological story which is such a wide trend you can't even give it a name. But there is also a trend toward a much more sociological novel. But I think one of the trends that I see emerging now which is fascinating is a trend towards a different type of hero, a different type of central character. In the earlier days the hero in a crime novel or a spy novel would be a sort of champion, the enemy would be the enemy of the states or an enemy of society, and now the enemy is seen as something different, often the enemy is seen as the state, or as society. The hero becomes increasingly fighting against authorities, against society, against the state, against the powers of big industry, and I think this is a trend you see very much in American literature. Just think of Carl Hiaasen or Elmore Leonard. The hero being the ordinary man, the little person who is going to become a lion which is I think a marvellous trend. The hero is no longer larger than life. That's the trend I see.
BiN: Do you think that nowadays also the motives for crimes have changed
in the crime genre?
H: Well, the motive for the bad person in the crime novel is always something quite clear-cut. I know in my other life a lawyer dealing with murder cases. He who would always say to you there are really only ever three motives. One is sex, one is money, one is power. And we have probably the most terrific merge of the whole which is boredom or frustration. But power, sex, money – that's it.
The interview took place on September, 17, at the Kempinski Hotel
in Berlin. The interviewer was Steffen Huck. The
transcript was edited by Christine Mühlbach.