Stella Duffy is extremely multi-talented author:
playwright, comedienne, teacher, an occasional radio presenter,
actor and improviser and a member of the BBC Radio sitcom Losers.
She has had published feature articles for Elle, Marie
Claire, The Independent and The Guardian. She also
writes for the radio and theatre. Her work has been published in
Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Japan, and Russia.
Born in London, she grew up in New Zealand and
is the youngest of seven children. She currently lives south of
the river with her partner, the playwright Shelley Silas. As well
as being a member of Tart Noir, Stella Duffy has recently
joined a group of ad hoc crime writers who have also worked, or
continue to work as performers. The group is collectively known as
Rogues and Vagabonds.
Ayo: What was the very first crime
fiction book that you read and who introduced you to the genre?
Stella: I read Trixie Belden and the
Mystery of the Missing Emeralds when I was about 7. Feisty
heroine not saved by boys, doing big strong and often naughty
things. I think maybe it was a second hand book from my cousin!
Ayo: What made you decide to write crime
Having nothing else to do, being a not much employed actor and
having had an argument with my partner, I wrote the first chapter
of Calendar Girl. Though it contained a dead body I NEVER thought
the book was a crime novel. I thought it was a love story gone
wrong. Of course it was a crime novel and was sold as such!
Ayo: Who were your influences when you
decided to start writing and what books also influenced you?
Stella: Very little crime, as Id
read hardly any. Most of the main women writers of the last 40
years though Margaret Atwood, Marge Piercy, Janet Frame,
Jeanette Winterson. Plus some great men Russell Hoban,
Anthony Burgess. And poets Elliot, William Carlos Williams,
Wallace Stevens. And Shakespeare!!
Ayo: Many of your books tackle tough and
contentious issues. Do you do this deliberately or is it just part
of you rebelling?
Stella: Hah! I dont think any of
the issues are tough or contentious. Theyre just the things
Im interested in, so they get into the books.
Ayo: Is there another Saz Martin in the
Stella: Theres the possibility of
another Saz. But it may not have Saz in it
Ayo: Is there any chance that we might
see any of the Saz Martin books on television or made into films?
Stella: Your guess is as good as mine
is. Id be very happy for it to happen. Singling Out The
Couples has been movie-optioned and Immaculate Conceit
is being made into a play by the National Youth Theatre, but no
Saz as yet. Nearly often, but that lesbian thing (where she just
is and it isnt a big deal) seems to be a sticking point for
Ayo: You have written three standalone
books Eating Cake, Immaculate Conceit, and
Singling Out the Couples where did the ideas for these
books come from?
Stella: Thoughts, desires, and any old
thing that struck my fancy, just as with the Saz books. I really
dont think theres any difference between crime and non
crime for me. Just the next thing I want to do. Though the
idea for Immaculate Conceit came from me being a 14 year
old Catholic girl and being told that Mary was 14 when she had
Jesus and me thinking if I came to school and told you I was
pregnant with the messiah theyd 1) call me a lying slut and
2) lock me away in a madhouse!!
Ayo: Relationships are a main theme that
runs through all your books. Why do they interest you so much?
Stella: I dont think theres
anything else that matters in the world. All life is based on
relationship. With friends, with lovers, with people we hate.
Though, actually I think all Im really writing about
in all the book s is truth and lies. Truth interests me hugely.
Ayo: What do you consider the most
important element for you when you are writing your novels?
Stella: In order: character, story (what
happens), plot (how it happens).
Ayo: When writing, do you have an
outline in your mind?
Stella: I generally know how it starts
and how it ends and then fill in the rest. But by the time Ive
done the middle, how it ends is often very different from my first
Ayo: How do you feel about your books
being mainly shelved in the lesbian section of bookshops?
Stella: Theyre not! Not since I
made a fuss years ago anyway. Now I find Im really lucky and
the crime books are in the crime and often in the fiction section
too. The non-crime are in the fiction and there are a smattering
of books in the gay shelves too. I get to be lots of places, which
is really useful.
Ayo: You belong to a group called Tart
Noir. How was the group set up and what exactly do you do?
Stella: You need to ask Lauren Henderson
or look at the intro to Tart Noir or the website http://www.tartcity.comfor
this, as I wasnt there! Lauren and Sparkle started it, Katy
Munger joined in and Beth as webmistress, several others, Lauren
asked me to be part of it too.
The Tart Noir Anthology has recently been published for
which you are co-editor along with fellow Tart Noir member
Lauren Henderson and it contains some of the best stories written
by women for ages. Who thought up the idea for Tart Noir
Anthology and did you enjoy editing it?
Stella: Lauren and I, at a launch party
for another crime anthology (which had the usual crime anthology
ratio of 15 men to 5 women and no-one even seemed to notice
that but us!!!) thought it might be worth trying to collect
stories by women. Maybe an anthology that had 15 women and 5 men
(rightly assuming that would be noticed!! Hell, thats
considered a feminist statement!!) or an anthology of just women.
Then there were so many women that we didnt need any men. We
might do another one though with a few men too!!
And yes, editing it was in one way
(administratively) way harder work than Id ever imagined, in
another way (because Lauren and I agree on almost every point all
the time!!) ever so easy. And enjoyable too.
Ayo: I know that Modesty Blaise and Emma
Peel are the heroines for Tart Noir, which one would you,
pick out of the two of them that you feel you most associate with?
Stella: Emma Peel. Best clothes. Good
period for a woman to be so strong. And at the age of five I was
in love with Steed!!
Ayo: What were the last five books that
Stella: Birmingham Noir (sort stories,
Tindall Street Press, yet to be published); I, Lucifer (Glenn
Duncan); White Mice (Nicholas Blincoe); Walking The Lions (Stephen
Burgen); Mr Clive and Mr Page (Neil Bartlett) fancy that,
mostly men!! Not usual for me but an honest answer!
Ayo: Do you still do work with the
comedy company Spontaneous Combustion and when next may we
next expect to see you in a show in London?
Stella: Yes I still work with SC. We do
bits of corporate work and writing work. Ill be recording a
second series of the radio sitcom Losers (written by two other
members of SC) later this year, tickets available from BBC!! And Ill
be performing in Improbable Theatres Lifegame at the
Brisbane Festival in September
if anyones there
Ayo: How did you become involved in the
writers/comedian group, Rogues and Vagabonds
Stella: Martyn Waites and I have
performed several times together at various crime and publishing
events. I know Mark Billingham from years ago on the comedy
circuit I wasnt there but I gather the others, or
some of them, thought it might be a good idea to do something more
formal and I was asked to be part of it. (See above
I said yes!)
Ayo: If you were hosting a dinner party
and you could invite five-crime, fiction characters whom would
they be and why?
Stella: Trixie Belden because she was my
first. Lady Macbeth clearly a brilliant crime fiction
character and I reckon shed be a great storyteller. Judas
(as above). Phillip Marlowe to see if Bogart got it right.
Actually I think thats plenty and anyone else would
unbalance the table!! But there are two others Id like to
have so we can all tell them where to go: Kay Scarpetta so we can
tell her to stop being such an anally retentive, mad, right wing
fascist and whoever that posh bloke Ngaio Marsh wrote cant
remember his name have wiped it from my memory who
for his patronizing, rude, arrogant manner towards Maori (and
anyone else not middle class) in her books deserves a good
kicking. And I dont care if he was a product of his time,
plenty of other people at that time knew better.
Ayo: Finally, what are you working on
Stella: Editing a new novel, which Ive
been writing for two years. Virago is publishing it as part of a
Further information about Stella Duffy and what
she is doing can be found on the excellent Tart Noir website
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