Judge Turns Novelist, Citing Waugh

The Nottingham Post reports the story of a retiring judge who has published a novel. This is entitled Blackmail, which is about a robbery by a group of professional criminals, and is written by former judge of the Nottingham Crown Court, Michael Stokes. After listening to stories for many years, he now has the opportunity to write one. He describes his decision, with a nod to advice given potential writers by Evelyn Waugh:

“You may influence a decision but juries make the decision, other than sentencing. I can actually decide exactly what happens to all the characters . British writer Evelyn Waugh said ‘never kill your characters’, so you can use them again and again. I’m going to kill off a few. I haven’t decided who dies. No one dies in this novel, only from natural causes. No one gets murdered. But they do in the next one!”

Waugh made that statement in a TV interview on the BBC’s Monitor program in 1964. He was referring to the success of his fellow novelist Anthony Powell who wrote one novel after another based on the same cast of characters as they moved through their lives in A Dance to the Music of Time. Waugh, on the other hand, found death a convenient way to end a story, but then had to work up a whole new cast of characters each time he started another novel. A critic once remarked that one of the most dangerous professions one could choose was to be the hero in an Evelyn Waugh novel. To be fair, some of Waugh’s characters survived through several novels; think of Margot Beste-Chetwynde and Basil Seal. And his last novels were written in a series later published together as Sword of Honour

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