Reviewer’s Diary: Barry Forshaw
Sitting in Soho with Simenon’s Son
There are definite perks to being a writer of books on crime fiction. Such as invitations to a meal at discreet Soho House (situated, coincidentally, in Soho) with George Simenon’s son, who bears the Anglo-Saxon first name ‘John’ rather than the expected ‘Jean’. The occasion was the inaugural dinner for the newly convened Simenon society — which was, in fact, the launch of Penguin Press’s ambitious programme of reissuing all 75 Maigret novels in spanking new translations (the first one was Pietr the Latvian, translated by David Bellos). In fact the appearance of this inaugural book — and the meal itself — was very timely, as I’d just written the Simenon chapter of the book I’m working on now, Euro Noir, and I’d just described that first novel as The Case of Peter the Left — which was how it was once translated in the UK. The editor of the new series (and host of the evening), Josephine Greywoode, said that Penguin were attempting to get closer to Maigret’s originals than in previous translations, which was certainly the case with this title. And translation was very much a theme of the evening, as one of the finest practitioners of that art in the country, Siân Reynolds, was present (she’s rendered into English a later book in the series). She told us about the challenges of working in French with such heirs of Simenon as Fred Vargas — although, apparently, the latter does not consider herself as such!
Guests included The Sunday Times’ Andrew Holgate and über-agent Caroline Michel, but the star of the evening was John Simenon, who turned out to be urbane, knowledgeable and highly agreeable company. What’s more, over the moules and bouef au vin rouge (Soho House, sadly, was not able to provide Belgian beer, Maigret’s sacred favourite), Simenon fils was more than happy to talk at length about his famous father — even though his own career as a film distributor was equally interesting (he mentioned how he had had some difficulty in selling in Europe two then-little-known films, Rocky and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest). We heard about Georges Simenon’s thoroughly practical view of his craft; his admiration for the great Russian writers such as Dostoevsky (and his immersion in the philosophy of Nietzsche), along with the latter’s views of actors who had played his pipe-smoking detective such as Rupert Davies — who Simenon described as his ‘perfect Maigret’ — and actors who had actually spoken the correct language such as Jean Gabin; Michael Gambon was not discussed.
How much Sex Does a Crime Writer Need?
We had all been tiptoeing around the subject of the prodigious number of women that Simenon claimed to have slept with, until his son actually brought up the subject, hinting that we were not perhaps to take Simenon at his word. ‘One of the things my father was particularly good at — avant Ia lettre — was publicity and promotion. Such as making provocative remarks about his prodigious number of sexual experiences. Well, it worked, didn’t it? Here we are still talking about it around a dinner table in 2013!’
But we were really there to celebrate the astonishing achievement of Georges Simenon, the favourite crime writers of so many crime writers. I pointed out to his son that I planned to read every one of the novels sequentially, which I’ve never done before – if, that is, I live long enough.
I am Spartacus… or Thomas Mogford
There is a ritual which I go through at least twice a year — it involves the removal of my dress suit from its plastic container to see if the moths have done their worse. And then I look at the dress shirt to see if it’s been yellowing through lack of use. This ritual precedes several of the more formal occasions on the crime fiction calendar — it’s not necessary for the Crime at the Court evenings at Goldsboro books in Cecil Court (a much more casual affair), but formal dress is generally encouraged at the CWA/SpecSavers/Cactus TV Dagger Awards. Anybody who’s watched these on television will not quite realise what curious affairs they are: by all appearances, the actors, directors and filmmakers are all happily rubbing shoulders with the writers and publishers present, but in fact the interaction is often fairly peripheral. When I was filming my section for the ITV3 Crime Thriller programs, I asked the presenter, actor Bradley Walsh, why there wasn’t more mingling. ‘Frankly, I think it’s because both groups are a little wary of each other,’ he said. ‘We actors would be perfectly happy to speak to the writers who produce the material we appear in, but a lot of us find the authors intimidating!’
I pointed out to Bradley (hardly a shrinking violet) that the reverse is also true; apart from a few luminaries, most crime writers think that the starry actors they see in hit TV shows won’t have time for the humble scribes they see themselves as. Perhaps it’s time for a little mingling — after all, what harm can it do?
The recent black-tie bash at the Grosvenor House hotel sported several popular wins (such as Derek Miller’s splendid Norwegian by Night), and the ubiquitous Olivia Colman (to be seen in virtually every TV show in contention) proved that she has the world’s best agent (Broadchurch swept several boards). My own moment of bemusement came (as I was blithely sipping my Sauvignon Blanc) during the announcing of Dagger contenders including the young crime novelist Thomas Mogford — and my startled face was flashed on the screen. It took me a minute to realise who the middle-aged man looking slightly confused was, until I heard people muttering ‘It’s Barry!’ — Thomas, sitting next to me, thankfully took it in good grace (but I bet heads rolled later at Cactus TV). Thomas was the one who picked up the award, though.