FESTIVAL OF CHICHESTER: Husband and wife crime writers visit Chichester

Judith Cutler
Judith Cutler

Husband-and-wife team Edward Marston and Judith Cutler have written more than 80 crime novels between them, though never one together.

They will share the platform and the secrets of their trade when they visit Chichester Library on July 2 at 7.30pm for Murder Ancient and Modern as part of the Festival of Chichester.

Edward’s speciality is historical crime while Judith’s focus is on the contemporary scene. Linking them is their passion for writing.

“We always read each other’s work before it is published,” says Judith, “but we have never worked together – yet. He started when he was in his teens or 20s and became chairman of the Crime Writers’ Association.

“I started in my teens and then got horrible writer’s block. I didn’t get published until I was nearly 50.”

Perhaps surprisingly, she feels that the cause of that blockage was the fact that she had done a degree in English.

“Whenever anyone asks me for advice in becoming a writer, I just say ‘Do any degree except English!”

For Judith, the point is that an English degree teaches you to become over-critical. Hence the block – a block cured in the most unlikely of ways.

“I was about 35. I had not been published properly for 15 or 17 years. I had a son that had picked up chickenpox, and very graciously he gave it to his mum. I was lying in bed feeling really quite ill, and I just thought that I could either scratch myself silly or write a novel.

“I suppose I had probably given up by then. By then I was an English teacher. I was working in a big inner-city college in Birmingham teaching English and creative writing and not writing anything.”

But – though she certainly wouldn’t recommend the chicken pox – somehow it unlocked the block; and in Edward, she has the perfect partner: “We both know when not to approach each other! We have been together now about 15 years. It’s a lovely second marriage.

“When we do talks, I wind my husband up by saying that he is ancient and I am modern, but he writes the historical books wonderfully. He is the historian. His knowledge of history is encyclopaedic. He has written books set in the Norman Conquest; he has written a lovely Elizabethan series; he has done Restoration... He is doing another railway detective set in the Victorian era. He is very prolific.

“I just do two a year. I can’t do more than two a year. I have done little forays into history, but seriously I don’t have the depth of knowledge that Edward has. But I am possibly more au fait with what is going on in the modern crime world. In the last book but one, Burying The Past, I have got what I thought was a lovely parody of a chief constable who has this idea to triage crimes. At the time, I thought it was a very clever parody, but now I see that the police really are talking about triaging crimes!”

Meanwhile, the public simply lap it up.

Judith believes there is a sense of justice behind the huge public appetite for crime writing: “People don’t like to see people getting away with it. That’s the one thing. But also life is shapeless and chaotic, and a crime writer can impose a solution on that.”

You do have to be true to your readers, though. Judith is strong on writing about women mid-life with all the pressures, elderly parents, children going through university, career, home life etc etc.

“If I suddenly went all nasty with entrails all over the kitchen floor, I think my readers would be aghast!”

Tickets £3.