“Increase your word power. Words are the raw material of our craft. The greater your vocabulary, the more effective your writing. We who write in English are fortunate to have the richest and most versatile language in the world. Respect it.” – P.D. James
Phyllis Dorothy James had a long and illustrious life as a writer, editor, forensic scientist and leading voice of women’s rights in the mid-20th century. Unofficially known as “The Queen of Crime” for her writings in that genre, she won dozens of major awards, received 7 honorary doctorate degrees and a dozen leading writing fellowships, led the Royal Society of Authors, and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth for her contributions to literature.
Not bad for a high school dropout (who left school to help earn money for her impoverished parents) and who later was the sole breadwinner for her own two daughters when her husband was incapacitated in World War II. It was after the war that she first got interested in what went into solving crimes – the focal point of her writing – by working for the police and then writing about it.
While many writers create a private library of works that they personally enjoy, James had what I would term a "unique" addition to hers – the complete bound volume of Notable British Trials, which she termed “a fascinating read” and went to almost daily for both relaxation and inspiration.
Her insights from both her work and her reading led to great creations, which to date have sold more than 15 million copies worldwide. James died 3 years ago this month at the age of 94. “I don't think writers choose the genre, the genre chooses us,” she said about the writing that she did. “I wrote out of the wish to create order out of disorder, the liking of a pattern.”
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