WHEN WILL THERE BE GOOD NEWS
Kate Atkinson – Doubleday –
When you read this latest novel from Kate Atkinson you realise it has such a brilliant and appropriate title. It was provided by her cousin who was actually talking about the Iraq War at the time.
I spent a happy hour chatting to Kate Atkinson over afternoon tea in Christchurch during the Festival and was surprised when she said that she always had the title for her next book before she wrote a word. When she said this to the large gathering the next day at her session, An Hour with Kate Atkinson, there was a collective gasp from the audience.
I was surprised because I recall from my publishing days that often the title was a major problem for an author and his/her publisher to the extent that occasionally the title was decided upon only at the very last minute when the button had to be pressed or printing.
There is much that is surprising about Atkinson and her writing techniques and procedures. She doesn’t have the plot firmly in mind when she begins writing and often characters develop into quite different people to what she had in mind initially. Quite major decisions on characters are made along the way as she is writing.. “Writing begets writing” she says and she goes along for the ride.
When I commented on her huge skill with dialogue, wonderfully illustrated in this new novel, she pointed out to me that her first novel, “Behind the Scenes at the Museum”, which won her the Whitbread Award, contains very little dialogue . Her skills with dialogue were developed and honed as a result of writing plays where of course dialogue is everything.
Although When Will There Be Good News is perhaps not crime fiction in the most traditional sense it, and it is certainly not an airport thriller, it does nevertheless start with a brutal murder scene and the cast of characters include a number of police officers and a private investigator and more deaths follow along with arson and bodily harm. There are mysteries, and unexpected twists and much drama throughout. I felt while reading the book a constant uneasy feeling that something appalling was going to happen to two of the major characters but to offset this the author does work in a lot of humour, much of it ironic and subtle and in the end it all proves rather life-affirming. When I mentioned my unease to the author she nodded with obvious pleasure..
Atkinson herself sees it as fiction involving crime, or if you like crime fiction with a small c. She doesn’t like genre classifications believing they are there primarily to assist booksellers and of course she is a literary writer and a very fine one at that.
Her latest novel is a fine work – gripping, insightful, funny in places, thoughtful, charming and in the end there is indeed good news.
An Hour with Kate Atkinson followed the next day and attracted a full house to the Limes Room at the Town Hall. In fact this was the first long queue to get into a session that I encountered.