On 16th November the Sheffield School of Architecture held an event to celebrate Peter’s life and work. It was an amazing evening, attended by around 200 people. Peter’s ex-students, some of them professors themselves now, came from places as far afield as Korea and Taiwan. It was intensely moving to hear what an influence he had had – and still has -not just as a writer, but as a teacher and thesis supervisor.
Among the speeches was one by Peter’s last Ph.D student, Xiang Ren, who ended by saying, ‘For me as a student, also as an international outsider, the time I spent with Peter is much less than most of the attendees here today. But he was really that person who influenced me so much – I would say, whole life – there is an old saying in traditional China – ‘one day teacher, whole life father’. Peter was such a person to me. He was also ‘the father of the house’ for the arts tower/SSoA, and I believe the flame will go on, for so many generations of younger students, scholars and practitioners not only coming from Sheffield, but also from all over the world.’
The photo is of Peter and me and Peter’s colleague, Jan Woudstra, with a group of Ph.D students and visiting scholars plus partners and children at our house in June 2013. I have taken it from a collection of photographs and tributes compiled by Peter’s South-east Asian students and which you can read here: http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/architecture/latest/pbj-phd-students-1.645114
I am finding it hard to find time to blog at the moment, but here is an article, ‘All in a Day’s Work,’ that I have just written for Barry Forshaw’s splendid website: crimetime.co.uk: http://www.crimetime.co.uk/mag/index.php/showarticle/4741
It’s about how I found out about the science in my new novel, Deep Water, and the benefits of getting out of the study and into the lab.
Frances Faviell wrote A Chelsea Concerto some years after living through the Blitz. She was a privileged young woman, earning a living as an artist, and sufficiently well off to have a housekeeper, the splendid Mrs Freeth. Simply as a social document of a slightly Bohemian, but respectable middle-class way of life it would be fascinating, but the background of the Blitz makes it as gripping and as poignant as any novel. She played her part in the war effort, joining the V.A.D as a nurse, helping to look after Belgian refugees, being on Fire Duty. One of her jobs is piecing together bodies blown apart in air raids. What makes this an exceptional account is her absolute frankness. She holds nothing back in her description of the terrible things she witnessed and her own reactions (not always admirable). One November night as she walks home from visiting a desperately sick friend, she comes across a group of people gathered round a bomb crater. At the bottom here is a man crushed, but still conscious and in agony. They need someone slim enough to be lowered down and inject the man with morphine and they seize on Frances:
“‘Take off your coat,’ said the doctor. I took it off. ‘And your dress,’ he said. ‘It’s too dangerous – the folds may catch in the debris and bring the whole thing down . . . . It’ll have to be head first. Can you grip the torch with your teeth?’ Two wardens gripped me by the thighs and lowered me down over the hole.” The reader is spared no detail of what she finds as she goes down, not once, but twice and finally manages to administer merciful chloroform.
Of course we know that she herself survives the war, but when she marries and becomes pregnant, we fear for those she loves – her husband, her unborn baby, her friends and neighbours. And indeed something unspeakably horrible does happen . . .
I have never read anything quite like this book, and I could not put it down. I have made it sound grim, and some of it is, but it’s also a story of everyday heroism and the triumph of the human spirit. I loved it.
There are many occasions in life – maybe you are in bed with flu, or the dog has died, or the sheer effort of keeping up with everyday life has defeated you – when a good murder is just what’s needed. Of the fictional variety, of course, perhaps the kind of thriller or crime novel that is so gripping that it picks you up by the scruff of the neck and doesn’t put you down until you have read the last page and closed the book with a sigh of satisfaction. But sometimes even that kind of novel is just too much effort, and that’s where the classic cosy comes in. The sheer comfort factor of this kind of novel lies in the fact that nothing too shocking will happen, and that you will be transported not only to another place, but to a simpler time, with no internet, no twitter, no 24 hour new feeds, no Brexit, no Donald Trump. It’s like sinking into a warm bath.
It’s no wonder then the British Library Crime Classics, featuring just this kind of novel have been such a runaway success. Informative introductions by Martin Edwards and attractive retro covers based on travel posters add to their appeal. I have a row of them on my shelves. So I was especially pleased to be ask if I would review The Methods of Sergeant Cluff by Gil North, published in September.
The Methods of Sergeant Cluff is not quite typical of the British Library Crime Classics, as it wasn’t published until 1961 and is rather darker than the Golden Age novels that are their usual fare. My interest was piqued by a reference in the introduction to Cluff as an English Maigret and this wasn’t far off the mark. Cluff, like Maigret, has an instinctive understanding of human nature, and solves crimes less by logical deduction than by his absorption in the lives of those involved. Like many a fictional detective Cluff is the despair of his more conventional superior, who feels – with some justification – that Cluff’s method is actually to have no method at all. The novel opens when he is called to the body of a young woman, a chemist’s assistant, in the fictional mill town of Gunnarshaw. As with the Maigret novels there’s a strong sense of place. This is a world where the cobbled streets gleam in the rain and sodden sheep huddle in the fields. I was also reminded of those gritty Northern novels of the fifties and sixties, like Room at the Top, in which the characters are determined to make good and don’t care how they do it. I enjoyed the distinctive flavour of The Methods of Sergeant Cluff and the evocation of a time and place a world away from the swinging sixties: it was well worth bringing back into print.