Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Ruth Rendell: the peer who never stops plotting

At 82, Ruth Rendell rises at 6am, exercises daily and writes a crime novel a year. But despite her Swedish background, she’s no fan of Nordic noir

Ruth Rendell: the peer who never stops plotting
Baroness Rendell at home. She has changed her mind about Lords reform: 'I’ve thought about it and I don’t think it’s going to work’ Photo: Andrew Crowley
Some time ago, Ruth Rendell described herself as “an old lady who lives alone with two cats”, a statement nearly as absurd as saying that Alan Ayckbourn is a balding man who lives in Scarborough. Now she is an even older lady with one cat. But where is the evidence?

At 82, she looks about 59 and is still writing a crime novel a year, as well as walking two miles to the House of Lords every afternoon. Her cat is nowhere to be seen. Archie, the illicit offspring of a prize-winning Persian and a predatory ginger tom, has declined to be interviewed. “He’s beautiful and nice but he doesn’t want to meet you,” she says. “I’m sorry about that. I feel it’s a bit rude.” No offence taken. I’m not sure I could submit to the cat’s psychometric examination as well as the scrutiny of his mistress.
For Baroness Rendell of Babergh is never off guard, not for a second. It is her business to observe and her habit not to relax. At one point I apologise if, on behalf of her millions of readers, I am asking questions she has heard before. “You’re doing all right so far,” is her verdict.Discipline and order are deeply ingrained. You can see it in the symmetry of box hedges and a monkey puzzle tree in her front garden; in her trim figure, tapered black trousers and sharply cut hair. No surprise, then, that her day starts before 6am, with an ascetic breakfast and vigorous workout. “I am very fit and I take great care to remain that way. I have several [exercise] machines in the house.” For three hours, if there are no irritating interruptions from people wanting to mend things or deliver things, she writes, always knowing what she is going to say when she sits down – and always obsessively storing the day’s words on a computer memory stick which she carries in her handbag. “I love memory sticks. They seem to me to be magic.”

When Rendell became a Labour peer 15 years ago, she vowed to put in the hours. It takes her 40 minutes to walk half-way to Westminster from her imposing home in Little Venice – travelling by one of 15 different routes – and then she catches the Tube. Walking frees her mind for plotting. Sometimes she writes as Ruth Rendell and sometimes as Barbara Vine – more than 60 novels in all, which have sold millions and made her very rich. It is alarming to think what her output might have been if she had not become a life peer.

Read the full story at The Telegraph

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