Saturday Sixers: Jane Finnis
Pondering the sixty-year anniversary of the Crime Writers’ Association, Jane finds herself wondering: what was I doing in 1953?
I’d like to say I don’t recall 1953, it was before my time. But I’d be lying. I remember it quite well, though it’s not always easy to sort out which are my own childhood recollections, and which are other people’s accounts that I’ve heard so often they’ve got mixed up with mine. Well, here goes: Memory Lane, here I come.
1953 was a great year for celebrating. No, not the founding of the Crime Writers’ Association – I’m ashamed to confess that passed me by. But there was the Queen’s coronation, and along with it the first successful ascent of Mount Everest, news of which reached Britain on Coronation Day itself. This seemed like a good omen for what the media had already started calling “the New Elizabethan Age”. Both events were certainly an excellent excuse for a party.
What was I doing apart from celebrating? Here the memories are more personal…I was reading. As an enthusiastic bookworm I devoured anything I could lay my hands on. Looking back, I realise how many of my favourites were mysteries.
Of course some classic crime and mystery books came out that year, such as Agatha Christie’s A POCKET FULL OF RYE and Ian Fleming’s CASINO ROYALE. These really don’t need a detailed introduction for readers of this blog: one, a classic Miss Marple investigation in which a rather unlikeable rich family get involved in (some would say) deserved violence, orchestrated by the words of the nursery rhyme “Sing a /Song of Sixpence”… the other the first appearance of Agent 007, who was soon to become even more popular than Miss Marple, not to mention a whole lot sexier!
I didn’t read either when they first came out, I was a shade too young, though I’d read both by the end of the 1950s. In 1953 I was in a sort of transition phase, trying out adult books while still following favourite children’s series. (The concept of Young Adult literature hadn’t been invented yet.) Many of the adventure stories written for young readers were mysteries, though they weren’t labelled as such. For instance Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series…the adventures of Julian, Dick, George, Anne, and Timmy the dog usually involved mystery and suspense. We kids loved the Five, and they gave me a taste for amateur sleuths battling for justice through thick and thin. (I also like picnics, which they had a lot of; but I prefer something stronger than their usual ginger beer.)
As I moved on to adult titles, I continued to be drawn to crime and mystery. I specially remember Ngaio Marsh; I was in love with her gorgeous policeman Roderick Alleyn (I probably still am, just a bit!) Agatha Christie’s plots were intriguing, but Poirot and Marple seemed very old. Mind you, the age I was, nearly everyone seemed very old.
I also remember some horror/mystery/thriller stories, like those about the fiendish arch-criminal Dr. Fu Manchu, created by Sax Rohmer. Anyone else recall them? There was one scary scene where Our Heroes ventured into a dark cave in pursuit of the Doctor, only to find that when they switched on their torches, a cloud of fungus spores descended from the roof, and the fungi started growing on their skins. Ugh…that one gave me nightmares for ages.
So, though I missed it at the time, the foundation of the CWA definitely ranks with the more famous national events of 1953 as important and worth celebrating. May it continue from strength to strength for another sixty years!
Jane Finnis writes the Aurelia Marcella mystery series set in Roman Britain, published by Head of Zeus in Britain and Poisoned Pen Press in the USA.
To win a copy of Jane’s novel “Danger in the Wind” – The Fourth Aurelia Marcella Roman Mystery please enter our competition. UK only please.