Husband and wife crime-writing team Nicci Gerrard and Sean French are more used to creating situations where their characters get a grilling. But today the tables are turned, and it’s Nicci and Sean’s turn under the spotlight as they answer our quickfire questions.
What was the first crime novel you ever read?Sean: ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ by Arthur Conan Doyle (although, if I’m being really honest, I should confess that it was really ‘Biggles Investigates’, in which, not altogether plausibly, Biggles leaves the air force and becomes a policeman.
Who is your favourite crime writer?Sean: Georges Simenon
Which crime novel do you wish you’d written?Sean: Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow. I think it has the cleverest story of any crime novel I’ve ever read. It’s well written as well.
Why did you choose to write crime fiction?Nicci French: We came across the idea for our first book, the controversy over recovered memory (or ‘false memory’) and it seemed a perfect idea for a psychological thriller. That was the start of it.
Has any thriller ever made you sleep with the lights on?Sean: No, but the ending of George Sluizer’s movie, The Vanishing, made me so frightened I thought I was having a heart attack.
When you begin – do you already know the end?Nicci French: Usually the ending of the book is our starting point. Then the problem is how to get there.
What is the most outlandish plot idea you’ve come up with – and did it become a book?Nicci French: We have quite a few outlandish plot ideas in our head just now.
First person or third person?First person.
US or UK?UK to write, US to read.
Marple or Morse?Or Arkady Renko? (Martin Cruz Smith’s Russian detective.)
Amateur sleuth or DCI?In our own work, neither.
Paperback or hardback?Paperback.
Past or present?Most of the best crime fiction is written in the present (but there are big, important exceptions: Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, Luther Blissett’s Q.)
Series or stand-alone?All series go off (even Sherlock Holmes).Stand-alone.
Chandler or Hammett?Hammett.
Who or what always puts a smile on your face?Sean – Laurel and Hardy attempting to deliver a piano or to fix the radio aerial on their roof.
Nicci – We have just given in to five years of pressure from the children and got a dog – a black Labrador puppy called Maisie, who gallops sideways with her ears flapping and her tail beating and her tongue hanging out. She’s ludicrous, clumsy, greedy, grubby, eager, unconditional, absolutely without dignity or guile. And it makes me feel cheerful, just to think of her.
What are you reading at the moment?Sean – One of my bad habits is reading lots of books at the same time. So, by my bed at the moment in a pile are: The Victorians by A.N. Wilson, the vast John Updike Early Stories 1953-1975, The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman, Rubicon by Tom Holland, Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller, a collection of the letters and poems of Keats, The Feeling of What Happens by Antonio Damasio, In Siberia by Colin Thubron, Antwerp by Nicholas Royle and a few others. This really is a form of psychological illness.
Nicci – Keats’ poetry with my eldest daughter, How to Paint with Watercolours with my youngest, and Fugitive Minds by Antonio Melechi.
Which author do you most admire?Sean – Just at the moment it’s Samuel Beckett (for me a funnier writer than P.G. Wodehouse – and with certain other qualities as well), but last month it was somebody different and next moment it will probably be someone different again.
Nicci – Charlotte Bronte because she wrote Jane Eyre which remains a shockingly passionate account of buried female desires and fears.
What’s your earliest memory?Sean – Snow on Hampstead Heath, forests and lakes in rural Sweden.
Nicci – A dream of a woodpecker attacking my thumb, and being driven in the car at night by my parents, being half asleep and entirely safe and watching the stars out of the window.
What is your greatest fear?Sean – Violence.
Nicci – Something happening to one of the children.
How would you like to be remembered?Sean – As someone who is still alive.
Nicci – Giggling.
Have you ever done something you’ve really regretted?Sean – Almost every day. But, funnily enough, my real regrets are for the things I didn’t do.
Nicci – Yes.
How do you spoil yourself?Sean – I always think it’s important to reward myself with alcohol for the achievement of having reached the end of the day.
Nicci – Lying in a hot bath with the door locked and not answering when someone shouts for me.
What’s your favourite word/book?Sean – I don’t have a favourite word any more than I have a favourite number. It all depends what they’re applied to. Three dry martinis: good. Three months to live: not good. If a gun were put to my head and I had to choose a favourite book, it would probably be Anna Karenina or In Search of Lost Time.
Nicci – Fizzgig (a police informer, a flirtatious young woman, a firework or spinning top that makes a spinning sound) and giggle (see above) for my word, and if I had to choose a book, Tove Jansson’s miraculous story for children and adults, Moominland in Midwinter.
Who do you turn to in a crisis?Sean – Nicci, poor thing.
Nicci – Sean or my mother or no one at all.
What makes you angry?Sean – People who don’t put CDs back in their cases.
Nicci – Bullying.
Have you ever had any other jobs apart from writing?Sean – I haven’t had many jobs. I was a stage hand in the first West End production of Jesus Christ Superstar (which caused a profound aversion to the works of Andrew Lloyd-Webber), I’ve been a cleaner in a Swedish hospital, and a few editing jobs but that’s about it. The last time I worked in an office, Margaret Thatcher was prime minister.
Nicci – As a student I picked strawberries and hops, worked in a library, was a waitress, sold jewellery on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, taught English to Italian children. Later, I worked with emotionally disturbed children, taught very briefly in an American university, was a freelance reviewer, a magazine editor, a literary editor, a feature write…But now, I just write, which was all I ever wanted to do anyway.
Are you in love?Sean – Yes.
Nicci – Certainly.
What’s your worst vice?Sean – In 1972, I bought Yessongs, the triple live album by Yes. And I still listen to it occasionally, when Nicci is o