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P.D. James

Women's Impact Report: Grande Dames

It’s a bit of a mystery to acclaimed crime novelist P.D. James just how she’s managed to keep poetry-loving Scotland Yard detective Commander Adam Dalgliesh on the case in her books since 1962.

“Somehow I’ve been very lucky that after each book the next idea just comes popping along,” says James of her detective series. “But I’m 88, so they’ll have to stop sooner or later. If so, I think I’ll do some other form of writing.”

For now, James — and Dalgliesh — show no signs of tiring from tackling the most complex of whodunits. Britain’s reigning queen of crime’s 20th book (the 14th of the Dalgliesh series), “The Private Patient” (Knopf), is due out in November. This time, the typically dark and gripping plot revolves around the Baker Street sleuth’s investigation of the brutal murders of the patients of a renowned plastic surgeon.

Most of James’ novels have been turned into television miniseries broadcast on ITV and BBC in Britain and on PBS in the States. Her 1992 sci-fi novel “Children of Men” was the inspiration for Alfonso Cuaron’s 2006 film.

“In many ways, it was drastically different from the book,” James says. “I did think it was very, very good. My own view is I’d rather have a first-class film made of one of my books than a meretricious and trivial film which kept more closely to the book and the characters.”

She is working on a nonfiction book for the Bodleian Library at Oxford on writing the detective story. “It will be a brief history of detective fiction and chapters on settings, characterization and quite a lot woven in about how I write,” James says.

“I don’t think you learn to write by sitting in a country cottage,” she adds. “We need to experience life. Even when terrible things happen to us, tragic things, nothing is ever lost that happens to a writer. It’s all part of the fabric of life.”

Role model: “I take courage from the example of all sorts of individuals — not necessarily famous ones — who seem to live their lives with courage and unselfishness.”

What I’m reading now: “I’m rereading ‘Smiley’s People’ by John le Carre. I appreciate the quality of the writing, the construction and the prose.”

Fave leisure activity: “I love antique shops — not very expensive ones — but the ones you find in the country all jumbled together. I like making ‘discoveries.'”

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