Today is a busy day here in Harrogate at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival. There’s a whole bunch of panels I’ll be reporting from a little bit later, but I had the chance to sit down with one of the pre-eminent crime writers of our generation, Laura Lippman, who was in town to promote her stunning new novel, Wilde Lake.
Even without the crime writing, Laura is such an interesting and thought-provoking person to talk to and has lived a life: she was journalist on the Baltimore Sun, following in the footsteps of her late father.
Wilde Lake – an actual place – is an almost Utopian enclave in the middle of Columbia, Maryland and was founded on a the concept of planned community and ideas of racial and economic equality.
The central character is Lu Brant, a state attorney who goes back to her childhood home, where 20 or so years earlier her brother was involved in a case involving an African-American gang. Now she’s back taking on another case, but the past and present are about to collide, and perceptions of who people really were are about to be seriously challenged. It has echoes of To Kill A Mocking Bird in the way it tackles convenient truths, generational and shifting social mores and how we view the people we love.
So I sat down with Laura (you’ll be able to listen to the interview somewhere else later in the year), but I wanted to blog about the meeting because she’s so interesting to talk to, especially during these volatile and divisive times.
The big thing I took away from our chat was the notion of privilege and how we (and I count myself as one) – white, middle-class liberals – often look for reassurances of status while things are happening in the world (to black people, to migrants, to victims of heinous regimes) that we are almost turning a blind eye to.
Laura spoke about checking yourself – why do we react to people the way we do? – about being vigilante against the forces that shape our perceptions and prejudices and about being aware. Being aware of people, and what they’re going through.
Wilde Lake is out to buy now.