P.D. James talks to Omnivoracious
Recently, we had the pleasure of posing some questions to the distinguished crime writer P.D. James. James has won numerous awards and has been inducted into the International Crime Writing Hall of Fame. At ninety-two years old, she is beloved by so many, having written some twenty novels, many of which have been adapted to television (as well as to movies, including one of my all-time favorites "Children of Men"). Her most recent novel is Death Comes to Pemberley, in which a murder takes place in the world of Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice.
Omnivoracious: How long have you been thinking about setting a detective novel in world of Pride & Prejudice?
P.D. James: The idea of combining my two enthusiasms, writing detective stories and Jane Austen, in one book had been at the back of my mind for a few years but I did not seriously start to plot it until some months after the publication of The Private Patient.
Omni: What pitfalls were there in entering the world of another author? Did you feel you were playing in Austen's sandbox, or did it feel like your own?
P.D. James: As I re-read all Jane Austen’s novels at least once a year her world was not strange to me and I did not feel I was imposing on her creativity. I enjoyed introducing new characters and I think the magistrate, Sir Selwyn Hardcastle, made a particularly effective contribution to the plot.
Omni: You seemed to bring more of the real world into Austen's. For instance, there are mentions of women's rights and other modern changes. Was your intention to break the hermetic seal and flesh out Austen's world—or did these added details just follow logically?
P.D. James: I did not wish to break the hermetic seal of Jane Austen’s world. The added details were matters of concern to most educated people of Jane Austen’s time and I thought it right to introduce them.
Omni: Who was your favorite character to write in Death Come to Pemberley (and was this your favorite character from Pride & Prejudice)?
P.D. James: Darcy was my favorite character to write, and Elizabeth my favorite from Pride and Prejudice.
Omni: You have traced your literary influences to four writers - Jane Austen, Dorothy L. Sayers, Graham Greene, and Evelyn Waugh. Do you enjoy each of these authors for different reasons, or do they share one or two of the same qualities?
P.D. James: I enjoy them for different reasons, but all have a virtue in common: the ability to write brilliant dialogue.
Omni: Do you have favorite books by these authors that you could recommend to our readers?
P.D. James: I would recommend A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh, and any book by the other three.
Omni: You began writing in your late thirties. Before you wrote your first novel, Cover Her Face, how much writing were you doing? Did you write short stories, parts of novels? Or just letters and grocery lists?
P.D. James: I was busy earning a living so had little time, but I did write a short play for radio and received an invitation to submit another, but my first novel prevented this.