Interview with M M Kaye on 22 December, 1982
Part 3 of 4

Oh, Mollie, you said 1948. Did you mean 1958?

M M Kaye: No, 1948. Very soon after we got home from India in 1947 - almost like refugees - Goff was sent straight back to Palestine on the ship that we had come in on, and in 1948 he was in Palestine, where he had a hell of a time, and I was left behind in Suffolk. And then he and the regiment were moved to the Canal Zone in Egypt, and we went out there to join him. That was in August '49. I did a lot of painting for the army - had a marvellous time.

This was in the period between 1940 and 1952 when you did no writing?

M M Kaye: Yes, this was in the period when I hadn't done any writing at all.

Did you make any notes for stories at that time?

M M Kaye: Only when I was in Cyprus, because we got involved in a very odd incident which gave me a lovely idea for it. 

I want to get these dates straight in my mind. The two of you went to Berlin in 1954. Was Goff in Berlin prior to that?

M M Kaye: After we left India and the Indian Army in 1947, we both went back to England on leave. After a few months, Goff was ordered to join a British regiment in Palestine. I stayed in England, but joined Goff again in 1949, when the regiment moved down to the Suez Canal Zone, in Egypt. It was in '49 that I went to Kyrenia, in Cyprus, and then from there in '50 Goff was moved to Glasgow, where we stayed until 1952. And it was there, while we were in Glasgow, that I started to write a little - we really were broke, and so I hunted up the manuscript of Kashmir and finished it up. That was published in 1953 as Death Walked in Kashmir. Then in '53, just after it was published, Goff was sent to Gottingen in Germany, and was moved to Berlin in 1954. It was then I went to Berlin. (The Berlin crisis was much later - this was the first time - we went twice more to Berlin). After he’d been there a week he was suddenly rung up and told me that he'd been recalled to England, to be sent the Salisbury Plain district as a Staff Officer. It was only after I got home and joined him that I sat down and started the Berlin story. I'd got the whole thing in my head by that time, because I'd been wandering about Berlin by myself. Goff was then sent off to Korea. I wrote two books while I was alone; Death Walked in Berlin, which I sent off, and Death Walked in Cyprus. Cyprus was the only book I'd written in my life which wrote itself. I've always wanted to write like that, but Cyprus was the only story which was that way, and quickly - my hand couldn't keep up with what my brain was telling it to say. It took 23 days. I couldn’t write quickly enough - it was a very exciting experience.

When did you write Death in Kenya? When you were in Kenya?

M M Kaye: That came a good bit later. I'd written Cyprus, my agent already had Berlin. So I sat down and wrote Shadow of the Moon. I wrote Shadow day in and day out, and I only took two years to do it, writing two drafts in longhand. That was while Goff was in Korea and I was an abandoned wife.

I don't think he would ever have let me write it if he had been there , because it was dawn-to-dark writing. Cyprus was published in 1956. Goff took command of the regiment, and then was sent home from Korea - he was due for a leave - and then they were suddenly diverted to Kenya. I hadn't been allowed to go to Korea - families weren't allowed to go, as you can imagine - but I was allowed to go to Kenya. I went out and joined him in the Rift Valley, and it was while I was there that I was invited to visit Zanzibar.  I fell in love with the place and stayed on - I thought I might write a story about it, but not very seriously. In '57, we came back to England from Kenya. Goff became a brigadier and was placed into Ulster as Chief of Staff, Northern Ireland. And Shadow was published, and did pretty well.  And it was while I was in Ulster that I wrote Death in Kenya. And in August 1958 we were suddenly transferred to Berlin for the second time - Goff was to command the Berlin brigade. And I really didn't have time to write anything else then. My publishers were badgering me to have one more to fill up, as Shadow was doing rather well. But then they said, would I please stop writing these thrillers, because what they really wanted was another historical novel. How long did I need to do it? I said at least two years. They asked me for a stop-gap thriller. I said no, I couldn’t; I simply didn't have time - you've no idea how much the wife of somebody in a job like Goff's has to do. I said, now look, what I can do is rewrite the Andamans book, which had never been published outside India. So I did a very hasty rehash of it, putting it onto a imaginary island and changing some of the names, in order to fill in the gap. That was Night on the Island which was published in 1960. It only took about a month in 1959 to do it.  In 1961, I went on my first visit to America. Goff had been sent out there for a missile orientation course, and sent a telegram asking me if I could meet him in Las Vegas or some such place. I went out and joined him and we had a lovely time going around, and when I got back, I suddenly thought of all this enormous lot of notes I had taken and the history books I had read while I was in Zanzibar. I wrote Trade Wind while we were in Berlin, with the greatest difficulty (we had been sent again to Berlin after our trip to America). Interestingly enough, the first treaty Zanzibar made with any Western country was with America.

Mollie, you've left something out. You haven't told us when you wrote House of Shade, the murder story set on Zanzibar.

M M Kaye: I wrote House of Shade based on the notes I'd taken in Zanzibar. I wrote it in '58, when I was still in Ulster, about the time I wrote Kenya. And I did write another one, called Wound of Spring, which I wrote when I was in Berlin as the wall went up. My agent said, "You can't write a book like this, in which everybody has an unhappy ending." I said, "You try writing a book about Berlin when you see something like the wall go up."  He said it is a far too embittered book, but it will be a very good one if you’ll do some extra work on it. I've put it aside - it's the only unpublished book I've got. One of these days I’ll have another look at it.

Let me ask you about a couple of mechanical details. The characters, the mysteries: how often are they based on somebody real?

M M Kaye: Oh, they're always based on somebody. Sometimes by mistake, because I'd invented somebody for the Kenya book who I thought was quite impossible named Em and, my golly, about a week before I left I met her. Before they published Death in Berlin, they sent somebody down to see me, who told me they wanted me to sign a paper to say that none of the characters were real; that they were all imaginary. I said, "That's impossible." You can't write a book about army life or anything else and invent completely new characters. You include bits of people. Not all the same ones; but any character includes bits of people, you see. The only person who can invent an entirely original: character is the Almighty. I still believe that.

What about the female protagonists - the Dany Ashton figure in Zanzibar; the central young woman in each book. Do you picture her as yourself?

M M Kaye: No, not really. They are all people who do things that I've done, so I know more or less how they think. Generally, they are people I've met or seen. I don't think I've ever been at any time of my life so entirely naive as those girls are! After all, Dany, for instance, had lived a thoroughly sheltered life. I've met people out in the world who were really like that, and it's really like turning a blind baby out loose.

After you published any of your mysteries, did you hear from any other mystery writers?

M M Kaye: I don't think I did. I did get a lot of fan letters, and, oddly enough I still occasionally get a fan letter. I got the last one just a short time ago: somebody wrote to me and said, "You know, you once wrote a book a very very long time ago and I can't get it anywhere and it was a murder story about Zanzibar." So I wrote back and said, "Hold everything - it's coming out soon!"

After Night on the Island in '59, you stopped writing mysteries for a a time?

M M Kaye: I got done with Trade Wind in Berlin, in '63, and then I got down to really thinking seriously about The Far Pavilions, which had been sort of simmering around in my mind for ages. I went out to India for three and a half months and did a bit of research, and sort of got back the feeling of the frontier. Then I started writing it in '64, and then I got cancer, and well, you know the rest.

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