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Written by Georgina Burns

‘They aren’t based on fact. Promise’

Gay Longworth, is very adamant that the z-rate celebrities who fall foul to a vicious killer in her new novel, Dead Alone, are in no way based on real people. ‘They’re an amalgamation of plausible media personalities,’ she says. 
But although Dead Alone a page-turning crime novel, with sassy DI Driver at the helm, it is on some level an indictment of today’s celebrity culture. As Jessie investigates each death she finds tragic and sad desperation at the heart of the victims’ ‘celebrity’ lives. The author has clear ideas on the nature and myth of stardom. ‘Celebrity has been hailed as more important then excellence. People are persuaded that the life they see in the papers is exciting and glamorous… Who can blame them for pursuing it?’ 


Dead Alone presents quite a desperate picture of fame and those who seek it. Individuals grasp fame and its trappings with the passion of the possessed, yet invariably it chews them up and spits them out. What's your own experience of people who live in the limelight?

I think some people find the limelight addictive. Once someone has experienced the flashing bulbs and the attention they are likely to do anything to keep them. Take I'm a Celebrity - Get Me Out of Here. Why are some people so desperate to resurrect their moment in the limelight despite having been publicly humiliated, or worse, reviled. It is as if their ego is split between paper-thin fragility, which manifests as a need for adoration and recognition, and a bullish confidence, which imbues them with the belief that they deserve the red carpet treatment and all the press interest.

I was told that many 'leaks' to the press come from the 'stars' themselves, the very same people who complain about being harassed. I think they make very interesting characters in a book, especially as I can get to do more than just vote them off a programme...

Do you think celebrity attracts a certain type of person? Do you see a distinction between those who pursue a talent to its logical conclusion and those who seek fame for its own sake?

Celebrity has been hailed as more important than excellence. People are persuaded that the life they see in the papers is exciting and glamorous and those that are enjoying it appear to be happy, rich and carefree. Who can blame them for pursuing it? But celebrity is very precarious if it is built on nothing and very few survive the long haul. You can usually tell the talented from the 'wannabees' because the former don't have to shout to get noticed. The distinction gets a little blurred when people are lacking in the talent that they believe they possess. How many people auditioned for Pop Idol but couldn't sing? If members of well-known girl/boy bands can't sing, why should they have to? And did you notice how, when asked why they were there, most of them uttered those depressing words 'I just want to be famous.

What was the nucleus for the idea behind Dead Alone and the z-rate celebrity killings? You weren't watching Big Brother were you?

Everyone was talking about how much they hated one celebrity or another (me included) - the actresses who couldn't act, the singers who couldn't sing, etc. I admit some of these feelings were tinged with envy, but I began to think about what would happen if you took that love/hate relationship with celebrity to its extreme. Killing celebrities in the manner of their chosen fame seemed like a way to marry glamour and gore. Think about the Blood Head (by Mark Quinn) at the Body Worlds exhibition in London and the use of formaldehyde and I don't think I'm so off the mark.

Jessie Driver is an ambitious, yet flawed, female officer, who comes across a lot of opposition from her male (and female!) colleagues. Her moments of body-shaking fear were great! Did you deliberately set out to create a character who sweated fear, made mistakes and stepped on people's toes?

Absolutely. I wanted Jessie to be an ordinary girl with an extraordinary job. She is part of a set of educated, reasonably successful women who just happens to be in the police force. She has all the same struggles as any of us, but instead of sitting at a desk in a lawyer’s office, or working for a newspaper, she is in the murder squad.

A lot of people are inevitably going to read Dead Alone and wonder if any of these characters are based on real people. So, here's your chance to set the record straight. Is the wanna-be actress with the silicone implants, the bisexual artist parading her useless odds and ends as art, and the pervy gameshow host with a secret wife and kids based in any way on real people?

Absolutely not. They are an amalgamation of plausible media personalities. We have all read about certain showbiz personalities falling from grace, revealing sordid addictions and habits, so what my characters get up to behind the scenes are not beyond the realms of possibility, but they aren't based on fact either. Promise.

I notice on your author biog that you worked for an oil trading company, but left to become a full-time writer. I'm sure you haven't looked back since, but how hard was it to take the plunge?

Most people thought I was mad, and I listened for a while. But Bimba, the eponymous heroine of my first novel, would not go away. What started as an antidote to horrendous bosses became a fully fledged adventure with Bimba falling in with (surprise surprise) corrupt oil traders, the Chinese mafia and American drug dealers. I loved writing that book.

You also mentioned you donned fishnets for Club Med. Intriguing? Want to tell us more?

I did a lot of things to make ends meet between writing Bimba and Wicked Peace. Club Med was a mistake. Because I was English I knew the words to most of the songs they performed to. They favour the leotards and fishnet approach to costume design. But hey, I learnt one thing; I could take on those girl bands and lip sync with the best of them!

You've recently had your first child. (Congratulations!) Has motherhood changed you, and do you think it will change how you write and what you write about?

Right now I am writing with one hand, so for the first time ever I may not meet my deadline for the second book in the Jessie Driver series. Then again, writing can get quite lonely and now I won't be alone. And as for changing what I write, the next book is about a teenage girl who disappears after messing with the occult - so no, I'll be as macabre as always.

What writers do you admire, and which do you see yourself following in the footsteps of? Why crime?

I have a list of favourite books rather than writers. I love John Irving's A Prayer For Owen Meany, Pat Conroy's A Prince of Tides and The Count of Monte Cristo. Authors I always read are Iain Banks, Jonathan Coe, Dominic Dunne and Lee Child. I suppose I edged towards crime because whenever I wrote, a rather dark side to my personality seemed to materialise. For my third book, crime seemed the way to go. Now I don't have to hold back when those sinister story lines emerge.

Now that Jessie Driver has arrived and we love her, are we going to see more of her?

The leather-clad, motorbike-driving, sassy DI Jessie Driver is here to stay. I love her, which is lucky, because we cohabit twenty-four hours a day.

© Harper Collins website 2002 http://www.fireandwater.com 


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Gay Longworth

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