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

When did Goff retire?

M M Kaye: Goff retired in '67. He read Pavilions six times, poor fellow, because he went through it and through it to check the details and check the military stuff and the things I didn't know, like "that order wouldn't have been given - things that the Indian army would know, odd customs and things - he kept an on the whole military side of it.

Did he read the mysteries?

M M Kaye: Oh yes, he read the mysteries, he loved those. He's read all my books.

What about the army community, the other people around you in these places. Did they know you were a writer?

M M Kaye: Oh yes, they all knew that. They all loved Shadow; I don't think I ever met anybody who didn't. That was the one they all really liked. That went pretty well; I always considered the mystery stories as a diversion as well as something to put butter on the bread. I knew jolly well I could do them, after the first one. They did become reasonably easier to write, because one met a lot of very entertaining types around the place. They're all based on something I've done myself or seen myself. I can't really give you the situation in Cyprus, because the chap involved is still around, but we got mixed up in something very odd in Cyprus while we were there.

Were you ever in a place where there actually was a murder?

M M Kaye: Well, the only story I've really wanted to write terribly was the famous murder in Kenya of Lord Errol in the '40s. I was always fascinated by that.

And if you had been sent to the Bahamas, you probably would have written a mystery about Sir Harry Oakes.

M M Kaye: I would indeed. I've often thought I'd like to write up one of those things, changing the characters if necessary. But the situations that came up were the things that were a help. Like one of the first ones I ever wrote, the Andaman one. I told you how the set-up in the book was made up. But the background of the whole thing, and the place, and the other things that happened, were just straight reporting. That was the only plot I cooked up with somebody else, because there we were sitting stranded on this tiny little island in a howling typhoon. It was ages later that I wrote it - I wrote it, of all places, sitting in Khorramshah, where there had been all that terrible fighting. There's nothing left there now.

Mollie, when were your children born?

M M Kaye: Carolyn was born in '43 and Nicky was born in '46.

How did you fit in the writing? After all, Nicky was only six years old when you started writing Kashmir.

M M Kaye: When we got back to England - I didn't do any writing you see, while I had the kids - and started Kashmir when I was in Glasgow, we had a perfectly charming girl who had a small daughter of her own and who came and lived in. She'd been with my brother-in-law, and went down to England with him, and when we arrived and went to stay with him she heard us talking, and heard Goff say we were going to Glasgow, so she asked my brother-in-law if she could go with us instead, since we were going to her home town. So we jumped at her. We all got on terribly well. She was a live-in girl and used to cook, so it gave me a bit of time. And then while I was writing Shadow and the others I had a tremendous stroke of luck, because when Goff went off to Korea - of course the whole regiment was sent off too - there was a German girl who had married one of Goff's sergeants, and when they all went tearing off to Korea, of course poor Betty, who had never been out of her own country in her life, was stranded with a very small baby right up in Cumberland, and I got a pathetic letter from her, saying, "Can I please come down and stay with you? I'll look after the house, I'll do everything. I'll look after the kids, but I can't bear it up here, I'm so lonely.''  I sent a telegram asking Goff to see if the Sergeant would mind, and he thought it would be marvellous, so I telephoned Betty and said yes, anytime you'd like, and she was down the next day. The children flung themselves into her arms and screamed with joy, and Betty looked after everything - and let me get on with Shadow. She stayed with us the whole time the regiment was in Korea.

Is there anything else you think we might incorporate into this history of the creation of a writer? Did you ever read books about how to write?

M M Kaye: No, never. I don't think you can learn how to write from a book; you can either do it or you can't.

Are there any books you would love to have written?

M M Kaye: Oh, yes. Well, I would have liked to have written Kim (Rudyard Kipling) for a start.  I'd like to have written A Candle for St. Jude (Rumer Godden). I never could have written something like that, because my mind doesn't work along those lines. But I can read it and think, "Oh, gosh, that's a book I'd like to have written." And I'd like to have written one or two of the Daphne du Mauriers.

Do you read any mystery writers today?

M M Kaye: I don't; I don't think that mystery writers today write what I'd call the classic mystery story. Ever since things like The Day of the Jackal and The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, everybody's copycats. Nobody's produced anything quite like Smiley's People, but. they all try. You're much too young to remember the impact that Hemingway had on us... on any reader. This was something quite new; this was a different type of writing - this sort of firing out of a machine gun. And it absolutely hit the young when the first one, A Farewell to Arms came out, and everybody started writing like Hemingway. You noticed it at the time; you don't now, because everybody writes like Hemingway anyway. He's gone into the mainstream. When people imitate like that, I think it's not because they really want to write, or because they know how to write, but because they want to make money. That book made a lot of money - right-o! we'll write like that. And what's really fiction is that they can do it. I don't think it's any good trying to copy the way somebody else writes. You're influenced by other people, I swear you are, because when I've just written down something that I think is rather nice, I never quite know at first if I've read it or not, because I read and read and read - I could read any newspaper you handed me at age 4, because I couldn't get enough people to tell me stories or read to me, and I had to get at it myself - so I taught myself to read. I don't consciously try to do what anybody else did - but I'm often a little doubtful about "is that me, or is that somebody I read a long time ago?" I read an awful lot. I don't know what to do with myself if I haven't got a book. I really don't.

End of interview