Kate Atkinson, the “Born-Again” Writer

By Carmen Comment

Atkinson.jpgFirst, a note to would-be interviewers: it’s probably not the wisest idea to begin an interview by spilling tea all over your chosen subject. Fortunately, Kate Atkinson, in San Francisco last weekend while on tour for her newest novel, ONE GOOD TURN, was a good sport about it (possibly because, as it turned out, the tea in question was hardly drinkable) and proceeded to answer a few questions as the sun streamed down near a cafe on Market Street.

ONE GOOD TURN follows up on CASE HISTORIES, the bestselling book that introduced Edinburgh private investigator Jackson Brodie to readers, especially within the crime fiction community. But as Atkinson has pointed out many times before, she doesn’t view herself as a crime novelist – more a novelist who “happens to write about crime.” But because she’s seen to have “made a switch” from writing purely literary work to books that can be classified within crime fiction’s boundaries, does it affect how she’s perceived? “The difference is less in Britain, where my publisher has, at least until ONE GOOD TURN, really avoided getting the crime tag on the novels. So I’m seen as the same writer over there. But here in America, I’m kind of “born again.” I have lots of people come up to me and say how much they really enjoyed my first novel – and they mean CASE HISTORIES. So I just say thank you very much rather than correct them! And that’s been strange because America is the only country that’s happened in, and I don’t think [CASE HISTORIES] was necessarily promoted that way, it just happened.”

It’s not that Atkinson doesn’t want to be part of what she calls “the crime writing fraternity,” it’s just that she never viewed herself as a part of it. “What worries me a little is that since I’m may well write a third novel with Jackson Brodie, I’m not going to do a fourth – and if I’m viewed strictly as a crime writer and deliver something entirely different afterwards, people will turn around and say ‘well, that’s not a crime book!” She later described a story of getting into various taxis and having the driver ask what she does. When she explained she was a writer, most asked, “well, what kind of writer.” And most of the time, Atkinson confessed, she wished she could just say “I write books” and be done with it.

Perhaps it’s ironic, then, that the novel Atkinson put aside to write ONE GOOD TURN “has a lot of crime, even a murder in it!” But she views the work in progress, of which she’s written 120 pages, outside genre boundaries. “It’s called GOOD LUCK, and it’s about a guy who has a lot of bad luck and then inherits a child. He’s a character I’m very fond of but I haven’t quite got to the stage where he’s quite right – so every time I leave him, I think that when I come back he’ll be a bit more right. And while he is, I still can’t quite get the tone of the book. It’s changed a lot over time.” But Atkinson mused that even if she keeps on coming back to the project, she might not get the book ready to her satisfaction. “Maybe I’m doomed to keep writing the first hundred pages of this book for the rest of my life!”