There can be few people who have never heard of the very entertaining TV programme, Murder, She Wrote, starring Angela Lansbury. For me, it was probably the second time I’d watched something about a writer. The first was The Waltons, with ‘John Boy’ writing the story of his family. While this first encounter had a certain fascination for me, it was too ‘domestic’ for my tastes. With Murder, She Wrote, however, the elements of fun and excitement entered into the equation, and it also appealed to my love of TV murder mysteries.
The fact that ‘J B Fletcher’ (the author played by Angela Lansbury) was already a success obviously skipped past the difficulties of actually finding a publisher and acquiring a large readership, but there was that writing aspect that helped draw me. There were references to certain things, like having to check ‘galley proofs’, that were a mystery to me but sounded intriguing. There was the typewriter and the manuscript (which always seemed to be well advanced but surprisingly slim for a whole novel!), and the plaintive but unrealised wish to be allowed to continue writing in the face of numerous inconveniences. And, eventually, there was the extensive travelling and frequent public appearances. As a young, struggling writer, it was all very fascinating.
Interestingly, perhaps, the one thing that became quite obvious to me from watching the show. I actually had no desire to find that kind of fame. The thought of making public appearances and travelling to foreign countries, or even to all kind of places in the UK, made me shudder. I would be content with very modest success, preserving my lifestyle and, to a large degree, my privacy. Yet were there things I could learn from a TV show of this kind? Well, yes. Writers turned out to be as varied as any other group of people. There were those who had found fame but spiralled down in a haze of booze. There were the vain and egotistical, who believed themselves superior to heir fellow authors, regardless of any evidence to the contrary. There were the successful authors who had crashed, unable to find anything more to write about, and the rare ones of these who stole from others, either by stealing the stories sent to them by desperate unpublished writers or by simple plagiarism. There were the intellectuals who write the kind of books I would find tedious, and those who wrote from hard experience of life, whose work might be just too grittily ‘real’ for comfort. And, of course, there were the good people, like ‘Jessica Fletcher’, who were not snobbish, or superior, or drunks, or just plain unapproachable. The whole spectrum of human types.
The earliest stories had the heroine as a very ‘homey’, gentle character, with a razor-sharp mind, who lived a reasonably quiet, unsophisticated life, for the most part. As time passed, so she began to be portrayed as something more. Her travels became more significant, together with the circle of extraordinary people she seemed to acquire, sometimes unexplained. Her life became very definitely sophisticated and less frequently something of a charmingly sedate, ‘backwater community based’ existence. Her friends began to be the wealthy, successful, but seldom happy, individuals and families. She lost, in fact, much of what had been a gentle, widowed ‘aunt’ type. There were now even times when she was not entirely likeable. It was an evolution that wasn’t particularly happy. It was, however, a device to enable the show’s writers to come up with new stories. It would have been far harder to continue the show by always murdering members of the small community of ‘Cabot Cove’ (where the heroine had her home). Nobody in their right mind would have wished to live in such a dangerous place! But did the writers have to make changes that would centre more and more around the wealthy element of American society? They had succeeded, in earlier tales, at having the heroine helping those of lesser stature. I see no great advantage in turning away from that. I can only assume that it reflected a trend of fascination with the rich, who are often regarded as celebrities, for some reason.
Thanks to the show, I now also knew that I would be happiest never associating with the shallow, self-serving types who so often occupied the upper tier of society. It all gave a new perspective to what I truly wanted to accomplish as a writer. All I really wanted was to tell my tales and have some others enjoy them. I would happily leave fame and fortune to others. That hasn’t changed.