“People say ‘I like your book’, and I feel like saying ‘which book?’, but I don’t want to be rude. After all, it’s difficult to resent something that’s been so good to you.”
I’m having a coffee in a Kemp Town café with Lynne Truss, author of ten novels, countless radio plays and six non-fiction titles, the most famous of which – the bestselling 2003 grammar and punctuation bible Eats, Shoots and Leaves – turned her into a household name.
But we’re not here to talk about that. She’s appearing at the Shoreham Wordfest in September to promote the hardback release of her latest novel, The Man That Got Away, the second of her ‘Constable Twitten’ series. Both titles are set in Brighton, in the summer of 1957; both are adaptations of a successful run of Radio 4 plays.
Lynne describes the books with great relish. Constable Twitten is a 22-year-old policeman, a keen rookie in a station run by Inspector Steine, who believes there is no crime in Brighton, as he’s already cleared it all up. Steine is aided by Sergeant Brunswick, a WW2 veteran who enjoys dressing up for undercover operations, unaware everyone knows exactly who he is. And then there’s Mrs Groynes: “She’s the station’s char lady, but actually she’s a criminal mastermind.”
The first in the series, A Shot in The Dark, was positively received. “I won an award!”, she tells me, with evident excitement. “The ‘Best Humorous Crime Novel’ of 2018. Yes, there is such a category. And there was some stiff competition: I’m very, very proud of it.” The book has just been released in paperback “so we’ll soon see how well it really does.”
“I’ve been living in 1957,” she tells me, of the research she’s been doing. This has involved reading novels, watching movies and documentaries, and binge-reading copies of The Evening Argus, from 1955 to 1960.
“It seems a lot of writers set their books in the decade they were born,” she says. “1957 was voted the post-war year in which people were happiest: memories of the war were fading, rationing and National Service were over, we were drinking coffee from Pyrex cups. We’d never had it so good. Also, it’s nice to think of a period in which my parents were walking around, still young.”
And the Brighton area, where she’s lived for 25 years, was an ‘obvious’ setting for the series. “It’s such a great place for getting an atmosphere,” she says. “I can’t imagine why anyone sets stuff anywhere else.”
She’s been careful, of course, to get all the period details correct, including linguistic conventions of the era. And, I imagine, her proof-readers won’t have had too much work to do, correcting her grammar and punctuation. Though she doesn’t consider herself a zero tolerance ‘stickler’: “I do put relevant apostrophes in text messages,” she admits, “but predictive text often takes them out again.”
Lynne’s speaking at Shoreham Wordfest, September 28th. The Festival runs from 7 Sep to 13 Oct. shorehamwordfest.com