PW: Do you see your new novel, Case Histories, as a cross-genre book?
Kate Atkinson: I'm not sure I even know what that means. I don't think of myself as writing in a particular genre. I don't know what genre you would say my first three novels belong to. I know people talk about Case Histories being "a literary crime novel," but I think of it as a novel that contains several crimes and mysteries. There is always a mystery to be solved at the heart of everything I write.
Did any true-life crimes inspire the events in Case Histories?
I didn't go looking for particular cases, or information about what happens if you put an axe in someone's head. If I come across something and need to know more about it, I run immediately to the Internet, so all my research is ad hoc. The sister of a close friend was murdered a couple of years ago—in quite banal circumstances (if such a thing can be called banal), and that set me thinking a lot about what it's like when something dreadful and irreparable happens out of the blue.
You've written a screenplay—did any contemporary actors pop into your head as you were imagining Jackson Brodie, the private detective in Case Histories?
A screenplay exists in limbo for Behind the Scenes at the Museum. There's an actor over here [in Britain] called Ken Stott who's very Jackson-like, although it's only since people have pointed that out to me that I realize it.
Were you very surprised to receive the Whitbread Book-of-the-Year award for Behind the Scenes at the Museum? How did it affect your writing?
Well, I had a one in five chance, so not that surprised. I doubt that I started writing differently because of the prize.
The protagonists in your past novels have mostly been women (and girls). What prompted you to create Jackson Brodie?
I thought it was time to try and write a man who wasn't a wimp or dead. I wanted to write a good man but with a darkness at his core, a world-weary kind of hero. I think it's difficult for writers to get into the psyche of the opposite gender.
You endow the lives of your characters with a rich variety of family dysfunction. Is there any resemblance to your own history?
Hah! Writers write fiction, by definition. All families are "dysfunctional" in that there is no standard or norm of "functional." Parenting is like writing, most people just make it up as they go along.
There is such a wonderful undercurrent of cynical humor in Case Histories, yet the finale has an upbeat, hopeful feel. Do you consider yourself an optimist?
Some days an optimist, some days a pessimist. Pretty much like everyone, I should think!
Are you a fan of any crime writers?
I love Lee Child and Harlen Coben. I like to read dynamic, page-turning books.
Can readers look forward to seeing more of Jackson Brodie in the future?
Well... I'm just finishing a book called Good Luck. After that there's a novel called 17 Billion Monkey, and after that, Jackson in Paris, which I think is a fairly self-explanatory title. Even after that I have a lot more plans for Jackson. A good man is hard to find.