First Writes: Julia Keller

The author of A Killing in the Hills talks about her favourite books

First Writes

Give us five words to describe A Killing in the Hills?
Mountains, mayhem, monsters, mothers, memory.

Name one author who should be more famous than they are now?
Irish author Peter Cunningham. The Sea and the Silence is astonishingly good. The prose shimmers. The plot breaks your heart. The craftsmanship is exquisite. I so admire his beautiful restraint.

What was the first book you read?
If memory serves, it was The Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss, which, by the way, I recall that I found profoundly disturbing. Still do. Why do they let the cat in the house? DO NOT LET THAT CAT IN THE HOUSE. He clearly is up to no good. Perhaps a crime novel in disguise?

What was the last book you read?
I’m hopelessly promiscuous when it comes to reading; no serial literary monogamy for me. So: Broken Harbour by Tana French, Where the Bodies Are Buried by Christopher Brookmyre, and Italian Shoes by Henning Mankell. Finished simultaneously.

Which book makes you cry?
Zoe Heller’s novel Everything You Know. The diary of the protagonist's daughter -- scattered throughout the narrative -- is a wrenchingly detailed description of a thoroughly miserable life, but it never becomes maudlin. I wept at the young woman's horrific experiences. The book is also quite funny in spots. I almost saved it for the next question.

Which book makes you laugh?
Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel. A tale of a psychic and her sidekick that is hilarious and gruesome, all at once. Everyone is rushing to praise Wolf Hall and its sequel, as Mantel is now hot, hot, hot, but her earlier novels (Beyond Black and Fludd) are, to me, still her masterpieces. LOL, indeed.

Which dead author do you wish was still alive today?
I’d love to see what Virginia Woolf would make of the contemporary world, not only its gadgets, which I believe she would describe with gorgeous rhetorical aplomb, but also the deep visceral feel of being alive at this complicated moment.

What one thing would you change about the publishing world?
I wish there were less emphasis on genre, on breaking everything up into categories, eg crime novels, historical fiction, science fiction, romance, young adult novels, etc. I know why this is necessary – it’s a convenience for readers, and booksellers as well -- but authors do get typecast by genre. Dorothy Parker used to divide her books into only two categories: good and crap. Works for me.

What plans do you have for book number two?
I am just finishing it, as it happens, and as I endlessly revise, I have been going through my usual spasms of abject self-loathing that alternate with unbecoming sprees of megalomania (the self-loathing always wins out). It is another mystery, and I love the challenge of creating a narrative about a puzzle, the solution to which must seem utterly surprising and completely inevitable.

A Killing in the Hills is published by Headline on Thu 30 Aug.

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