Maxim Jakubowski is a widely published author who has written in numerous genres, among them science fiction and erotica. He has also edited many classic anthologies, including the annual Mammoth Books of Best New Erotica and Best British Crime. He opened the Murder One bookshop, the UK’s first specialist crime and mystery bookstore. A contributor to a variety of newspapers and magazines, he was for eight years the crime columnist for Time Out. He is also the literary director of London’s Crime Scene Festival and a consultant for the International Mystery Film Festival, Noir in Fest, held annually in Courmayeur, Italy. He is a regular broadcaster on British TV and radio, and a past winner of the Karel and the Anthony awards. His novels include “It’s You That I Want To Kiss”, and “Ekaterina and the Night”.
Maxim met me at The Slaughterhouse, where we talked about the publishing industry and Donald Westlake.
How do you think the publishing industry has changed?
Publishing has changed enormously over the last decade and seen a sea change of incredible proportions.
Whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, I find it difficult to say.
I was brought up and lived with print from my early childhood and a book will always be something special, an object for me, and even though my books now also appear simultaneously as ebooks and I have even allowed a few short story collections to appear as ebook originals, it just doesn’t have the same magic.
In addition, you must remember that I’ve worked for decades in traditional publishing so I’m a ‘paper man’ through and through.
Call me a Luddite, but at heart the changes worry me intensely and I would hate to be a beginning writer (or publisher) now, and cherish the fact I’ve been involved in the trade for so many years already and have carved a niche. If I were starting off now, I’m not sure I could do so as easily.
The power of bookshops is fading, to be replaced by supermarkets, chains run by algorithms and not people, and the Internet.
In addition, the resources for self-publishing are now so vast that it encourages a glut of crap which the few successes that attract attention tend to obscure. As much as I applaud those who have made it through the self-publishing route, there is a desperate lack of quality control involved which in the long run will be harmful to all: writers and readers alike.
How would you elevator pitch Donald Westlake to a disinterested party?
Already done it:
Of the various fiction genres you have written which would you say is the survivor in today’s market and why?
As a lover of all forms of popular fiction, I’ve written in many diverse areas. Beginning with science fiction & fantasy when I was younger, a genre I adore with a vengeance but found after a time that I somehow didn’t have enough imagination for or a talent for big concepts, although I have sworn to myself that one day soon, before I hang up my keyboards, I will pen one final SF novel, the theme of which has been haunting me for ages.
As a crime writer, again I am no great innovator plotwise as my preference is for noir, and its attendant emotions and landscapes. Give me a doomed love story and a road movie anytime! But over the progress of my writing career (as apart from the publishing, editing and film curating) I’ve found that the reality I was injecting into my stories in terms of treatment of sexuality was not always most welcome by publishers or readers, so one day I wrote a book with erotic elements in which the thriller factor had been left out, and ironically it became my biggest success.
As a result, although I now alternate between erotic thrillers and purely erotic books, I find that sales of the latter are becoming disproportionately high ( I have had a book under a somewhat transparent pen name) on the Sunday Times top 10 fiction bestseller list for the past 6 weeks, and its sequel appears next week. Because of the 50 SHADES OF GREY tsunami, I’m finding that my erotic romance is now in hot demand so it’s highly likely I will stick around in those wonderfully murky waters for the next few years. 175,000 copies sold and 15 foreign country slaes are not to be messed with.
But in my heart, I still love all three genres I am involved in the same.
Is there a particular event or incident that has changed you and influenced your writing?
A teacher when I was 12 or 13 encouraged me to use my imagination when I wrote essays and papers and not necessarily stick to the truth or the ‘what we did on our holidays’ model, and I’ve never looked back. And as far as influences are concerned how can I not evoke Bob Dylan when he declared that we ‘are what we eat…’, ie everything we’ve seen or done, every person we’ve met, kissed, touched and every landscape we’ve travelled through affect us and changes us and eventually finds a way back into the lines we write.
How much sexual pathology do you think is tied up in murder?
Frankly, it’s a question I’ve never preoccupied myself with.
Sex can be at the root of certain crimes, and certain perversions can sadly lead to murder but essentially sex is as much a part of life as it is of crime, and better people than me have attempted to analyse this.
Let me just say that I can understand crimes of passion and fail to grasp the twisted pathology of sexual crimes, if that makes sense. My sympathy does go out to those who mistakenly commit a crime because of love and passion, and I have total disregard for serial killers and murderers of all ilk whose twisted view of sex leads to their atrocities.
When you write erotica to what extent do you still need to observe the constraints of gender conditioning?
It’s not something I even think about.
I just write by instinct, whether erotica or in other genres, and let others analyse afterwards!
I often write from a female character’s perspective, and even do do in first person and no one has ever highlighted this is a fault. You try to immerse yourself inside the character’s mind and just hope for the best. It seems to have worked so far.
What was it like working for Time Out?
Writing a monthly column was blissful. I was initially contacted by the then lit editor Maria Lexton, and was given total editorial freedom to review whichever crime books I wanted, and not once was I forced to cover a title I had no interest in. Then after her departure, Brian Case took over and he was equally relaxed about it.
How would you like to be remembered?
It’s now how, but the fact I would be remembered at all.
Or at any rate by my children and grandchildren and not just as a romantic pornographer….
How have your cultural roots influenced your writing and your perceptions of literature?
Absolutely. Being born in London of Polish father and English mother (albeit with immigrant Russian parents herself) and then been taken to France at the age of 3 and having been educated there (have never been to school in the UK, with the exception of my final secondary school year at the French Lycee in London’s South Kensington, I have strong European roots and background and I know it has had a major influence on what I write. And then to complicate matters even more, I married a Russian and then lived several years in Italy. But rock music is also a major influence on what I write as it never ceases to inspire me, and my tastes there veer significantly to US music.
Aerosmith or Led Zeppelin, how does US rock cross pollinate with the UK?
Am a fan of neither really… I feel it’s a symbiotic relationship, where both musics counter-influence each other, breed, mix, diverge and meet again. For once, it makes me approve of incest…..
Maxim thank you for an insightful and great interview.
Links: Find everything Maxim Jakubowski at his website here.
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