Schroedinger’s Dog and other parallel universes

Is the tale wagging the dog?

Don’t you just love quantum physics? All those possibilities, spinning endlessly until somebody bothers to look at them at which point they plump for their (positive) physical reality of choice – while somewhere out there in the universe exactly the (negative) opposite choice happens! Oh, the sheer entanglement of it all! Which may explain some of the character flips my main German detective has gone through in the past years.  Or maybe not. Depending on your positive or negative opinion of the whole shebang. Or Big Bang. Never mind.

BD06277_And while we’re on the subject of quantum physics, have you ever wondered why Schroedinger put a cat in a box to prove his point? Well, think about it. What dog would sit quietly in a box long enough for you to philosophise about the possibility at any given moment of it being dead or alive? You’d know the dog was damn well alive ‘cos he’d be whining and barking his head off in that ‘ok-this-box-is-cool-but-hey-guys-we’re-a-pack-here-and-I-wanna-be-out-there-with-yoouuuuu’ kinda way.  Cats, on the other hand, are simply Masters of the Universe.

Multiple character universes

Since I started this book, my German detective – like Bilbo Baggins – has been there and back again in terms of marital status changes so often he’ll be meeting himself coming back soon. Like the six wives of Henry VIII – died, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded survived – he’s been married, divorced, widowed and now he’s married again, but his wife’s in a coma.  I kid you not! Serious plot point here, people, so stop sniggering!

Harking back to my earlier post about PD James’s BBC4 interview with Mark Lawson, I note that the wonderful Baroness James of Holland Park decided – with some callousness, as she admitted herself (and it must be said, not without some obvious glee) – to ‘kill off’ detective Adam Dalgleish’s wife in her first novel because she might become too interested in his family and lose sight of the story. In fact, poor old Adam remains single (although not unattached) until the final novel in the series, A Private Patient, published in 2008. I think perhaps the good old lady felt she owed him after all that time (her first Dalgleish book was Cover Her Face published in 1962).

Avoiding stereotypes

The problem is that detective novels have changed since PD James started writing back in the 1960s. These days it can be tough avoiding those grieving  widow(er)/ alcoholic/ workaholic maverick cop tropes.

Mozart 008So how do you sort it so you don’t end up with a blindingly obvious stereotype? I have no definitive answer to that question – if anyone has, please let me know  – but I am a great believer in personal choices. Allowing my characters to make choices personal to them, whether it be their favourite colour, drink, wallpaper, or whatever, as well as reacting to events.  As PD James said: think about their cultural and creative life, their interests outside work. Thus Morse has his opera, Dalgliesh his poetry, Harry Bosch his jazz, and Kay Scarpetta her gourmet Italian food.

So what are my guy’s interests? Hmmm … let me think! Why, that’s easy! Quantum physics and football, of course!


Criminal Poetry

Interview with a late Crime Fiction great

I was delighted to catch the re-run of Mark Lawson’s 2006 interview with crime author PD James on BBC4 a few weeks’ ago.  What a wonderful woman! And a wonderful writer! Hard to believe she was 86 at the time of the interview and still had a few novels in her before she died in November last year aged 94. I hope I’m as active as her at that age (wouldn’t mind being that active at my present age!!).

I was particularly interested in her comments about the thorny problem of gruesome murder scenes: yes, they are gruesome, she acknowledged, and they should be realistic, but what was most important was that they conveyed the horror of murder to the reader. Which is why she chose mostly to describe the discovery of a body through the eyes of the person doing the discovering. The example used was from her novel A Taste for Death: a gentile lady arriving to do some church cleaning finds two bodies in the in vestry with their throats cut. Certainly a day less ordinary! And it is this incongruity that PD James found so fascinating: murder as a violent tear in the fabric of our ordered lives and the disorder and chaos it brings with it. A detective’s job therefore is all about bringing or restoring order. Intriguing stuff and Katie B. has to say that she concurs most heartily.

When ‘tecs get poetic

Baroness James also talked about creating her detective character, Adam Dalgleish, and how the downside of making him a published poet was that readers actually wanted to read some of his poetry. For all of you quaking in your boots at the thoughts that this author might be about to follow in her heroine’s footsteps and unleash some investigative verse on an unsuspecting public, you can all rest easy: none of Katie B.’s detectives will be writing poetry any time soon. I learned early on in my writing career that poetry is best left to the professionals, or at least to those with at least a modicum of talent for it.  My gifts – as I like to tell myself – lie elsewhere.

The sheer 30,000 feet drop from the sublime to the ridiculous…

And just to conclusively prove why there is definitely no place for one’s poetic output in one’s crime fiction , here’s a  short ditty I threw together earlier:

 There’s a green-eyed yellow idol to the North of Kathmandu; /He was on his way to Birmingham, but forgot to change at Crewe. /And so he sat on Platform Four, dejected and forlorn, /With misty eyes and deep regret that ever he was born./ ‘Alas, says he, I am a-Freud, oh, woe is me, oh woe! /No longer Jung, my id I see subsumed by my e-go!’

Don’t say I didn’t warn you!