Vale P.D. James – English crime writer, 3 August 1920 – 27 November 2014

P.D.James has died at her home in Oxford  aged 94. She was a very fine writer in her genre and a most delightful writer to interview. Here’s my last conversation with her,  conducted on the occasion of her ninetieth birthday, in August 2010.

Ramona Koval: PD James’s first novel, Cover Her Face, published in 1962 when she was 42, was written over a period of three years while she raised two children and worked as a civil servant in London. And throughout her writing career she has held several bureaucratic posts which have helped her to write much of the background to her novels.

Popular as well as critically acclaimed, her mysteries are usually of the ‘closed circle of suspects’ variety. She likes setting them in small towns or country manors, or in closed communities like a religious order, the setting of the book Death in Holy Orders, or The Murder Room set around a small private museum on Hampstead Heath with a room devoted to the most celebrated murders of the ’20s and ’30s, or Unnatural Causes, set around a remote country cottage on the Suffolk Coast.

Several of her books have been adapted for television and films, and she was named an officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1983, and she was named Baroness James of Holland Park in 1991. So on the occasion of her 90th birthday I was very pleased to speak to Phyllis James and welcome her to The Book Show.

PD James: Thank you, it’s lovely to be here, it’s lovely to be talking to you Ramona.

Ramona Koval: When you look at the books you’ve written and the two daughters and the five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren you have produced, what kind of thoughts do you have?

PD James: I suppose really, Ramona, it’s one of great gratitude because I think I’ve been so very fortunate, really blessed because I’ve been able to exercise a craft which I love and I have had wonderful children and, thank God, still have them. I have a very fortunate life, and I know there have been many difficult times in it but nearly of us have difficult times and somehow we get through them.

Ramona Koval: You told me in Edinburgh one year that you think probably it’s a good thing for a writer to have as much unhappiness as you can put up with when you’re young.

PD James: Yes, someone said that and I think to an extent it’s true. I think we need that in order to be great writers. I think nearly all great writers have had relatively unhappy lives. But I suppose it’s not strictly necessary, but I think it is, in a way, helpful. We use everything that happens to us.

Ramona Koval: When you think about your own early unhappiness, what comes to mind?

PD James: Well, I suppose the early death of my husband, basically, I think that was the greatest unhappiness, and his long illness before he died. And I don’t think childhood was a particularly happy time. I mean, I suppose I was fortunate really but it seemed to me at the time as rather a time of stress. But on the whole I’ve not had a great deal of unhappiness in life and I’m grateful for that.

Ramona Koval: When you were a student at the Cambridge High School for Girls in the 1930s, what kind of life did you imagine you were going to have?

PD James: Well, I hoped very much that I would be a writer because I knew from early childhood that’s what I wanted to be, but I hadn’t really any very clear plans. I wasn’t thinking in terms of marriage and children, I think, I was thinking in terms of a career, but I had to leave school at 16, my father hadn’t enough money to enable me to go on with education after 16, so a great many professions really weren’t open to me. I think I was pretty well aware that we had a war coming, it was fairly clearly signalled by what was happening in Europe, so it was a bit of an uncertain future and the only thing that seemed certain about it was that sooner or later I would be a novelist.

Ramona Koval: What were the books that you read when you were a child that made you think you’d like to do that too?

PD James: I’m not sure that I was as influenced by books as perhaps more fortunate children were because we didn’t have a lot of books at home. I looked at the public library for reading and certainly I went there every Saturday and got out books for the week. Later I think it was certainly the writers who I can see the influence of, principally Jane Austen, I think Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, a most wonderful craftsman of words.

Ramona Koval: And what made you think as a young girl that you wanted to be a writer? Were there stories that you heard or stories that you told?

PD James: I told stories, I think from a very early age I told stories. We had a very large nursery at night and I had a sister 18 months younger and then a brother 18 months younger than she was, and he had a little bed by the door and we slept in a big bed together, and they wanted a story every night before they went to sleep. I was a great storyteller. It seemed absolutely natural to me, story-telling, and I was intrigued by books, I loved them from a very early age, I just felt they were magical things, absolutely magical. I suppose it was born in me really, and what is surprising was that I was so very late in beginning.

Ramona Koval: And what were the stories you told your brother and sister? Did they have a main protagonist who kept appearing each night?

PD James: I hate to tell you, they were concerned with Percy Pig, and Percy Pig had a series of terrible adventures.

Ramona Koval: Were they funny stories?

PD James: Well, I suppose they would be if an adult were listening to them. Anyway, there was plenty of action, Percy Pig got up to all sorts of things.

Ramona Koval: Did anyone ever get killed in those Percy Pig stories?

PD James: No, I don’t think they did. I can’t remember the stories now but I think it was a bit unlikely at that stage that they got killed, I don’t think I’d got particularly interested in death at that time, I was very young then.

Ramona Koval: Do you remember when death first started to seduce you?

PD James: I suppose when I was about 10 or 11 possibly. I certainly had a strong impression of how transitory life was, which is strange in a child. I suppose some of the deaths that took part…I know that two children drowned in the river where we used to bathe and paddle, and the sense that they had gone and gone forever was very strong, I think. I was always intrigued by death.

Ramona Koval: Did you read the reports of murders in the newspapers, or were they not available to you?

PD James: Well, they were available to me but I don’t think they’re particularly interesting to me as a novelist. You see, if you have a real life murder and it’s reported in the paper, you don’t know very much about the people, you can’t do in our system because before they’re tried you’re not allowed to start considering whether they’re guilty of innocent, that’s contempt of court. You don’t know many of the facts because the police keep them to themselves, so you just know what the police have fed the journalists. I’m much more interested in the old cases and I always was, the Victorian, Edwardian cases, particularly the women poisoners, and I have an almost complete set of the books of the notable British trials going right back to the trial of Guy Fawkes.

Ramona Koval: The women poisoners…is poison what a woman will reach for because she hasn’t got a gun?

PD James: I think before the Married Women’s Property Act, if you were married to an unkind, cruel or dreadful husband in every possible way you just had no possibility of being divorced, you were stuck by him, he got your money, and even if he divorced you, you would then be out of society and totally disgraced. So there was a bit of a temptation for women in those days, you know, to start buying the flypapers and soaking them for arsenic. It’s a terrible thing to do, but nowadays they would just get a quick divorce, and everything is so totally different, and really for a Victorian woman who wasn’t wealthy and hadn’t got money in her own right which was secured to her, they were totally at the mercy of their husbands.

Ramona Koval: Yes, you’ve been interested always in the kind of reasons for which people resort to murder and the times in which they’re committed, and that book The Murder Room where this museum was dedicated to the years between the wars, there was a sense that some of those murders were so typical of their time and they couldn’t really happen in any other age, just because of the fear of being shamed in public or something like that was so great that it outweighed any sense of fear about knocking somebody off to avoid shame.

PD James: Absolutely, things that nowadays would be no motive at all. For example, in those days if you were being unfaithful to your husband, that could be a motive, and if somebody was blackmailing you that could be a motive for murder. It wouldn’t be today because people don’t worry so much about this kind of thing. And I think you’re absolutely right, Ramona, I think that murder is very typical of the age in which it takes place, and so is the result of murder. Certainly in the 1930s, for example, there were executions where one feels people wouldn’t be executed today, particularly the Thompson and Bywaters case when Mrs Thompson was hanged for inciting her lover to murder her husband. In fact she had sent him very dangerous letters which unfortunately he hadn’t destroyed in which she described ways in which she had tried to kill her husband, but it was all total fantasy. She was trying to work her much younger lover up into a state of jealousy, and undoubtedly she did work him up and in the end he murdered her husband. But generally I think today people would have realised and psychiatrists would have reported to the court that she was an unstable woman and she was a fantasist and none of this was true. I’m sure she wouldn’t have been executed today, even if we still had the death penalty.

Ramona Koval: Let’s go back to when you were 16 and you left school because you had to. Is that when you got your first job in the public service?

PD James: Yes, it was. Well, before then the war had started and I got a job at the local theatre, the Festival Theatre in Cambridge. I was a sort of dogsbody really, I took the money for people going up in the gallery and just generally helped around the place. I thought then it might be rather good to be a dramatist and if I had some experience it would be helpful. And then I took an exam and went into the public service, and that wasn’t a very happy time because my father was an income tax official and he thought it would be good if I followed his footsteps which of course was the worst possible posting for me. I think I would have been much happier if I had gone to any government department other than the Inland Revenue.

Ramona Koval: How long were you there?

PD James: I suppose it was about two or three years before I just felt I’d had enough of it, so I retired, and worked…of course by then the war was on and I worked for the Ministry of Food distributing ration books and that was in Cambridge. I can remember one day going to the office, and outside on the great lawn were absolutely exhausted soldiers still in battle dress just lying there sleeping on the grass, and they were part of the British expeditionary force which had retreated, and I think they were all put in trains and distributed around places where they could go and some of them were taken to Cambridge and I suppose they were just waiting to be taken to where they were going to be looked after and given some food. But there they were, utterly exhausted.

Ramona Koval: You made your way from there to, I understand, the National Health Service and then through to the Police Department and the Criminal Policy Department.

PD James: I was first of all in the Health Service, and then I took an examination for the civil service and I passed it and I had a choice of department and I put the Home Office first because I thought it was interesting to work in a department which had to hold the balance between individual freedom and good public order, and of course it was concerned with the police and I was very lucky that they assigned me to the Police Department. And the job I had was looking after the forensic science laboratories, and so that was extremely useful experience. And in fact all the jobs I’ve done have afforded me very, very valuable experience, which I think I would have lost if I’d just been a writer sitting in a country cottage somewhere quietly.

Ramona Koval: When you were doing those good jobs, big jobs really, were you keeping an eye out for possible stories or did you just say to yourself ‘that might make a good murder method’ or ‘that’s interesting about that bit of forensic information, how hard it is or how easy it is to prove this person or that person was there’?

PD James: The original inspiration for my books is nearly always the place, and these jobs provided me with the place. When I was in the Health Service I had five psychiatric clinics to administer, so I wrote a book set in a psychiatric outpatient clinic. And then when I was in the Police Department I set a book, Death of an Expert Witness, in a forensic science laboratory. And when I later became a magistrate I didn’t set a book in a magistrate’s court but I did have scenes in a magistrate’s court. When I began to meet politicians and attend the House of Commons or the House of Lords to sit in the officials’ desk I really entered a different world with all sorts of new experiences and meeting new people. It was all incredibly valuable, I think, to me as a writer.

Ramona Koval: When did you begin writing full-time?

PD James: Not really until I retired, and I retired six months before my 60th birthday, but there wasn’t much of a change really because I was so active by then in public life, I was a magistrate and later I became a governor of the BBC and I was on the Arts Council and chaired the Arts Council literature panel, and was on the liturgical commission of the Church of England. Life was so very busy that it was very much like working, really, and again I had lots of interesting experiences, so I wouldn’t have missed it.

Ramona Koval: Phyllis, I was re-reading some of your work last week and I picked up Unfinished Business, which I think you wrote in the ’60s, set on the Suffolk coast with a dead writer as the corpse, and the way it opens with a dinghy floating along and in it is the corpse of a man who is very well dressed but he’s had both his hands hacked off. I’m laughing but it’s not very funny, especially not for him, but it was just a wonderful description of the boat and the sea and then the corpse and what the corpse was wearing. And then it’s such a gruesome picture you paint because one hand is hacked off cleanly and you describe the rounded bone of the wrist there, and the other hand isn’t so cleanly hacked off and you’ve got shards of bone sticking out. You seem such a nice woman, Phyllis…

PD James: [laughs] Well, I don’t hack hands off, myself, you see…

Ramona Koval: I know but you think about this, you take us inside these terrible scenes.

PD James: I think it’s rather important. You see, I don’t often…I think only in two books have I described the actual act of murder, but the finding of the body…but this is a case really where the reader is finding the body, the reader is seeing the body. And I think the reader should have the same shock as he or she would get if actually finding that boat. It must be a horrible experience to see a dead and murdered body and I think the reader wants to share that. I mean, it wouldn’t be so effective if you said, ‘There he was, a neatly dressed little man lying on his back in this boat without any oars and his hands had been cut off at the wrist,’ nothing very positive about that, is there.

Ramona Koval: Yes, but how positive is the one hand hacked off cleanly and the other with the shards of bone sticking out?

PD James: Well, I think it shows what a brutal act it is, it shows that it probably wasn’t done by anybody very expert, it’s a clue. Nearly everything is a clue. This wasn’t done by somebody who was a butcher or a surgeon, for example.

Ramona Koval: Have you had much to do with actual murder victims?

PD James: No, never. I don’t see how I could, frankly, really.

Ramona Koval: No, but I mean you were in charge of this forensic laboratory but the fact that it’s got funding and it works well and it’s got employees, is that right…you didn’t ever go down there and have a look at some of the photographs in the court that were presented to the court or anything like that?

PD James: No, not when I was working at the Home Office, and of course things have changed so much since then, the forensic science service has now detached from government. It still exists but as a sort of organisation outside government. But I did come in touch with a real murder, in a sense, when I was doing some research for one of my books, and I went to the forensic science laboratory in Lambeth. The forensic scientists are unfailingly helpful to me, and I got some information I wanted…I forget what it was I particularly wanted, but anyway they were showing me a camera which they had and they could use it to identify blood stains on wallpaper where the wallpaper was perhaps full of red roses and you couldn’t see the blood stains at all with the naked eye.

This camera would just photograph blood stains and nothing else, and they were showing me this and they were showing me how they used it in a particular case, and this book was all the police photographs of the case, and I very just casually turned over the page, and on the second page there were the victims. It was a young couple who’d just set up home together and a psychopathic murderer had got into their flat. They were in bed naked and he’s pulled them out of bed and stabbed them to death, it was a terrible, terrible picture, and it was very stark because police photographs have to be very accurate and very stark. And I just realised then, although I think I had always realised, the difference between real life murder and fictional murder and the horror of murder. It always to me has been a particularly horrible crime.

Ramona Koval: The differences between real-life murder and fictional murder in that, well, partly, real-life murders are often committed within families rather than somebody having a complicated plot involving a whole lot of people at a country estate.

PD James: Absolutely, Ramona, you’ve just put your finger on the truth, this is absolutely so, particularly in England; 80% of women who are murdered are murdered by husband or lover or a man they know. We’ve had some recent cases of that, and they’re not particularly difficult crimes for the police to solve, because the motive, which is usually pathological jealousy, for example, is so obvious, and you wouldn’t have that kind of murder in fiction, the murder has to be very mysterious or a closed circle of suspects, each of whom could have done it. It’s a different scenario altogether from real-life murder.

Ramona Koval: So does that mean we’re using murder in fiction as a kind of game, a game of logic, to see whodunit?

PD James: One hates to think we’re using that crime…and it has been argued that have we any right to use a horrible crime as a way of providing fiction, which is basically meant as a relief from ordinary life, for entertainment really. And the puzzle part, yes, I think there’s probably something rather reassuring in making this terrible crime into a puzzle, intellectualising it, distancing its horror, making something that can be solved. I think that is one of the attractions of the genre really.

Ramona Koval: It’s nice to have some part of life which can be solved, which so rarely happens.

PD James: Exactly, that’s satisfaction, and that’s why this particular kind of crime novel, the classical detective story, is so popular in times of anxiety, in times of strife and times of war and danger from war and times of depression. That’s when its comfort is so necessary because at these times one can feel that there are problems facing communities, facing countries, facing the world generally which really are insoluble, however much money and however much effort you put into them. And here you have a form of popular fiction with a puzzle at its heart, and by the end of the book it will be solved, and it will be solved not by divine intervention or good luck but by a human being, by courage and perseverance and intelligence. So it rather confirms our belief, which I still think we have, that we live in a rational and moral universe.

Ramona Koval: Do you think we’re right, that we do live in a rational, moral universe? We may have that belief or like to think so.

PD James: I think we’re beginning to have doubts about it.

Ramona Koval: Are you beginning to have doubts, on this, your 90th birthday?

PD James: Well, it’s not a very good time to have doubts about whether we live in a rational universe. I suppose it possibly is the universe itself must obey certain rational laws, mustn’t it, but when we look at human beings and our lives there’s not a great deal that one would describe as rational about it, and sometimes not very much that’s moral.

Ramona Koval: I read one critic saying that in your work the victims are generally scheming and ruthless characters, always bringing about their own murder because of their sinful lives. Do you think that’s fair?

PD James: No, I don’t think it is, no, I don’t think so. I suppose there’s always something, there has to be something about them which makes them into a victim, there must be some reason why at least one other person wants them out of the way, and sometimes it is because they’ve been unpleasant but it can often mean that they know something which they may not even know they know. I don’t think my victims are all highly unpleasant, but they’re certainly greatly disliked if not hated by one other person.

Ramona Koval: And that’s all it takes, isn’t it. It’s like an auction of your house, they always say you only need one person who really wants to buy it and you’re okay.

PD James: And how often is it a long time before that person comes along. Well, I think actually the form of course has always been somewhat artificial, but then all fiction is an artificial form because what we have in fiction is the writer using her own experience, her own view of life to provide a compelling story which she hopes will attract other people. And with the crime fiction, with the detective story, there is a structure, which you’ve mentioned really, of the central mysterious death and the closed circle of suspects and then the detective coming in like a avenging deity and then the final solution at the end. And real life and murder in real life is not really structured like that, and of course it does mean that there has to be more than one person who could have done it, there has to be more than one motive, and that’s quite difficult with a modern crime novel because, as we’ve touched on earlier really, things that would be motives in the ’20s or ’30s in Victorian England are no longer motives today.

Ramona Koval: But there’s always money, isn’t there.

PD James: You’re so right, there’s always money, and I think great wealth is always a huge temptation. And I think too that people can kill, and I’m certain they do in my books, out of compassion for someone else, wanting to help someone else, wanting to save someone else from disgrace or poverty or trouble, and I think that Dalgliesh when he first became a detective, as a very young detective, an older wise sergeant said to him that all motives for murder could be described under the letter ‘L’; love, lust, lucre and loathing. And they will tell you, he said, that the most dangerous is loathing, but no, the most dangerous is love.

Ramona Koval: Talking of your avenging deity Adam Dalgliesh, how’s he going these days? Is he still in love with his Emma?

PD James: Oh yes, indeed he is, yes.

Ramona Koval: Because you made him wait a long time, didn’t you, you made him wait to find romance again after the death of his wife in childbirth, almost before you even met him.

PD James: Yes, I was rather cruel really, in a sense. I thought I don’t want him to be happily married or unhappily married. I think it’s very difficult to deal with the great emotion of human love at the same time you’re dealing with one other great absolute which is death. So it’s always comforting, in a way, to feel he’s got no ties. On the other hand I wanted him to be a heterosexual male with the usual instincts, so I callously killed off his wife and baby and left him solitary.

Ramona Koval: But he had these unsatisfactory relationships with ladies who wanted to change him, didn’t want him to be a detective, that sort of nonsense.

PD James: I think he had women friends, women lovers, but I think in one book they’re descried very much as very successful women who’ve got their own careers, their own homes, their own money, and they do like a very attractive and intelligent male…

Ramona Koval: And a poet, my goodness.

PD James: And a poet, all very nice, but they don’t want anything more, they’re not going to demand marriage and children. They’ve either had all that or they don’t really want it. So they were rather civilised relationships but nevertheless a bit sterile because they weren’t based on commitment on either side.

Ramona Koval: But now he’s married.

PD James: Yes, indeed, and very much in love, yes…

Ramona Koval: And what’s that going to do to his murder-solving abilities if he’s in love now?

PD James: Well, that’s a point, I haven’t started a new Dalgliesh and I think I’ll have to see how my heath is because I couldn’t bear to get halfway through a book and leave it, it would have to be finished, and if I haven’t time to finish it I’d rather not start it. But that’s going to be quite a problem, yes…where were they going to live? One of them is based in London and the other is based in Cambridge. Do they want children and what kind of child were they going to have? It’s all got to be faced, you see.

Ramona Koval: When you’re 90, do you still care about the world like you used to? You’re always called upon, as you mentioned, to be involved with all kinds of public sector things. You were a BBC governor of course and recently you had a go at the director-general Mark Thompson on Radio 4 for the high number of middle managers earning large salaries on the public account while program makers were in quite a dire situation. And The Sunday Times reported it as ‘A magnificent filleting job, it was much as you would fillet a flatfish; first clean the insides and then cut down the middle and prise away the backbone, if you can find it.’

PD James: I didn’t read that.

Ramona Koval: What do you think about that? That’s fantastic.

PD James: I think it’s rather clever. I didn’t intend to accost or humiliate the poor man, I think unfortunately he came to the interview rather ill prepared and perhaps he thought he was going to interview this nice benign great-grandmother who would tell him how much she liked the classic serial and how much she enjoyed radio, which indeed I do, I’m a huge supporter of the BBC, but what was going on and is going on is not defensible. I think we all have a right to keep our salaries secret but not if they’re paid from public funds. When I was a civil servant everyone could find out what I earned, and there was a scale, and if you were paid…all your money comes from this tax which every household has to pay, the licence fee, then I think the people who pay this have a right to know what the scales are, and they are pretty horrific.

Ramona Koval: So this is just an example of your passion and your intelligence and your engagement with the world. I suppose what the question really is is do you have to select your fights carefully, or can you just go for broke when you’re 90?

PD James: I think you’ve always got to select your fights very carefully and, quite frankly, I don’t want to be a kind of public figure, I never really wanted to be. I think even in the House of Lords I don’t take the part that I should play. I think basically I still see myself as a writer, but I am passionately interested in life and in people. I’m not very much committed politically, although I sit on the Tory benches, but I am absolutely fascinated by politics and by politicians. So I do read newspapers and I love newspapers and listen to news and I am genuinely interested in what is happening in the world. But I think you do, to an extent, feel that you can’t influence things really, and probably shouldn’t try to, at least I feel that.

Ramona Koval: But you must know things now that you didn’t know when you were 40, and you must know things that we don’t know yet and I think you should tell us what they are.

PD James: You know, Ramona, I think people always are wanting…I’m like this, I always feel that people can give me the truth about life, some fundamental truth that will make a great difference to me, but I don’t think that that’s possible. We all have our own experiences and by the time you’ve lived for 90 years you’ve had far more experiences of one kind or another than other people, but whether I’ve learned more about life I’m not really sure. Sometimes it’s the sort of platitudes that tell us the greatest truth. One feels that the great truth must be something perhaps difficult to grasp, some lesson, some remark by some brilliant person, but I’m not sure that little rhyme I learnt as a child:

Life is mostly froth and bubble,
Two things stand like stone,
Kindness in another’s trouble,
Courage in your own.

It’s not a bad rule for life, but it’s hardly new, is it really.

Ramona Koval: Sometimes things have to be repeated though, even if they’re not new. What do you think are the biggest social differences now compared to the England and the world you grew up in?

PD James: They are absolutely extraordinary, Ramona. Sometimes when I look at my childhood it seems much more like a story I’ve made up than something I’ve actually experienced, it is so utterly and completely different, and I think that a Victorian child would have felt perfectly at home if she’d come to spend a weekend in our house in Ludlow in Shropshire when I was, say, 10 or 11; there’d be no car, there’d be no television, we had gaslight and lamps, food was just food in season, no frozen food. If you wanted to wash clothes you sort of grated a great slab of soap, you didn’t have any detergents.

It was an England which was pretty homogenous. I didn’t see a black face at all until when I was 11 we moved to Cambridge and I saw some of the students who were the sons of Indian rajas and so on, very wealthy young men at Cambridge for their education. It was in some ways a much kinder and gentler England, but in other ways there was pretty appalling poverty which wasn’t relieved by the welfare state. My mother suffered the agonies of renal colic with gallstones because of difficulty finding the half a crown to go and see the doctor, things like that happened. And I did see at my primary school a child, I remember his name, he was called George, who literally came to work in something very like rags.

So it was an entirely different world and it was a world…I was born two years after WWI so it was like being born into an England which was grieving. There was a great mass grieving of absolutely the wiping-out of a generation, and a really brilliant generation too. And then as life began to get a little better and righted itself of course it was overshadowed by the coming of WWII. So, absolutely different.

Ramona Koval: Do you think the lives of women these days…I mean, that must be so different.

PD James: Absolutely. When I was at school there was not a single child who came from a home where the parents were either divorced or separated. Well, of course lots of those marriages for the women must have been deeply unhappy, but divorce just wasn’t an option. It’s incredible the difference really for lives for women. But nearly all great reforms have their adverse side. It is good now that divorce is so easy and that women aren’t trapped into deeply unhappy marriages, and nor of course are men, but we haven’t paid for them, the children have paid for them. So there’s always the other side, isn’t there.

I’m a feminist in the sense that I think women should have rights to choose what sort of life they want to lead, whether they want to stay at home with their babies, and that’s an incredibly important job to do, or whether they want to combine that with a career or whether they want a career, it is up to them. But I think that results in a great many women having very stressful and very over-busy lives with very little time to themselves, and it’s not easy, I think, to have a very happy marriage if both partners come home utterly exhausted and have then to cope with children who’ve been in care of some kind or other during the day. I don’t think we’ve really learned how we can solve that. Maybe it’s not possible to solve it, maybe we have to make more choices.

Ramona Koval: Well, you know what, if somebody is going to solve it, I can hear that you could. Phyllis James, Baroness James of Holland Park, at 90 I think you’re fantastic, and thank you so much for talking to us on The Book Show today.

PD James: It’s been so interesting, it’s been a privilege to take part, and I would like to send my very best wishes to all the people who listen to your wonderful program.

Ramona Koval: Baroness James of Holland Park and queen of crime fiction, PD James speaking to me from the BBC studios in London on her 90th birthday.

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