Perry's peaceful writing life no longer a mystery

April 13, 1997
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@

British writer Anne Perry, who specializes in Victorian mysteries, currently writes two books a year featuring returning characters Thomas and Charlotte Pitt or Thomas Monk. After years of struggle, she's hit her stride.

"Ashworth Hall," her most recent book, is the 17th novel she has written featuring the Pitts. Her novels also focus on social problems of one kind or another - from home rule for Ireland to prostitution, from child abuse to backstreet abortions. She has written a total of 24 novels to date.

But it's impossible to write about Anne Perry without mentioning a murder in which she was apparently involved. In 1994, a newspaper in New Zealand revealed that Perry was one of two 15-year-old murderers portrayed in the movie "Heavenly Creatures." The film rekindled interest in the 1954 murder of Honora Parker by her daughter, Pauline, and her daughter's best friend, Anne. The two served prison time for their roles in the woman's death.

I can't imagine how Anne Perry could undertake a monthlong publicity tour in the United States - her second major tour since news of her involvement in the 40-year-old murder broke -- and not expect to be asked about the crime. My question to her in a recent telephone interview was this: Has she ever heard from Pauline Parker, particularly after becoming so successful and well-known?

"No," said Perry, shortly. "I just have nothing to say about that - everything has already been said." And what she said was, basically, that she can't remember the incident, that she was taking a potent medication at the time, a medication that was later taken off the market, and that today she has grave doubts about the legality of the trial at which she was not allowed to testify.

I can certainly understand that Perry might not want to discuss the incident, but it seems highly unrealistic to expect journalists not to ask.

However, there is much more to Perry than her past. She now lives quietly, happily in Scotland in a converted barn on two acres, with a yellow Labrador and four cats. She works six days a week writing her novels in longhand and on the seventh day she goes to church, of course. She is a devout Mormon. She was introduced to the Mormon religion in the 1960s when she lived in Northern California for a time.

Now she and her mother live in the same village of Portmahomack on the North Sea.

"We are friends. We have lunch every Saturday," Perry said about her mother.

Perry says she began to write historical fiction when she was in her 20s but it took her more than 10 years to sell her first story. She credits the decision to turn her historical fiction into mysteries as a means of providing the strong plot and framework that was previously missing.

"A mystery enforces a better plot structure," she says. And, as soon as she turned her fiction into mysteries, she began selling.

The question she is most frequently asked on publicity tours is this: When will your books be turned into movies?

"We're working on it," she laughs. "A pilot script has been written for the Pitts and a Monk series is already off the ground."

She is very, very happy with the success she is enjoying now after years of struggle. She has a collection of research books on Victorian history and plans to build a library to house them all. Many, she said, were bought on her trips to America. She also loves and plans to buy lots of American clothes.

She brought two books with her to read on quiet moments during the publicity tour. The first is a book about travel in Europe in the Victorian era and the second is a religious book that she reads every day.

At home, she has hired two gardeners to turn her land into a formal British garden with beds and a long lawn.

"I think that's quite a good thing to do with money - supply work for those who need it," she said.

She also is writing a book of a completely different stripe - an epic fantasy tentatively titled "Tathea" - and has finished a quarter of it.

"I need three lives: One to read, one to write and one to garden," she said.

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