March 18, 2009 / 5:32 AM / 10 years ago

Seventy books on, Rendell depicts human psyche

NEW YORK (Reuters) - English mystery writer Ruth Rendell has written more than 70 books and insists she would stop if she felt she had lost her touch for the intricate workings of the human psyche.

Author Ruth Rendell is interviewed by a reporter in New York City September 28, 2005. REUTERS/Seth Wenig

The 79-year-old says she won’t be retiring soon. Her first novel was published in 1964 and her latest, “The Birthday Present,” was released in the United States last week to rave reviews.

“I still, after all these years, love writing and I don’t say I write well, but I write as well as I can,” Rendell told Reuters in a telephone interview from her home in London.

If Rendell ever began to write “on autopilot,” she said she would “hate it so much I would just stop.”

“I have to do my best and I would not see any point in it otherwise.”

Best known as the creator of English sleuth Chief Inspector Wexford, Rendell wrote her latest novel under her pen name Barbara Vine, indicating a work featuring more psychological suspense than the detective fiction of the Wexford series.

Her award-winning books, which include “A Demon in My View” in 1976 and “Live Flesh” 10 years later, have been published in some 30 countries and adapted for television and film. said “The Birthday Present,” unlike her detective novels, was a good example of Rendell’s ability to “deploy a sardonic moral calculus reminiscent of a certain dark vein in British literary fiction.”

The Washington Post said the veteran writer displayed her trademark “matronly, almost magisterial tone that lends unexpected dignity to the goriest, creepiest material.”

The novel tells a tale of sexual scandal and the price it extracts from those around it and explores some of her favorite themes of obsession and the impact of chance.

Rendell refused to classify the Vine novels into a genre, but said she based one of the main characters — a young, rich, handsome Tory member of parliament — on her own experiences as a Baroness and Labor member of the House of Lords for the past 12 years.

“I knew exactly where to do my research and I knew a lot of people who would help me,” she said, adding that members of parliament often commented on her books. “They all read my books, of course.”

Her daily routine includes walking or doing Pilates at 6 a.m. and then writing for three to four hours before noon.

“If I wasn’t disciplined I should be in a mess, wouldn’t I?” she said. “I hate the idea of getting up at any old time and going to bed at any old time and I am very tidy. Writers aren’t usually, but I am. And I am very regular in timings, very punctual.”

Rendell, whose parents were teachers, is unsure where her unending thirst for mystery fiction came from.

“Does anybody ever know? I just like doing it,” she said.

She has finished another untitled novel in the Wexford series but said she is still not sure if it is up to standard.

“I don’t know if I am pleased with it,” she said. “I am never that pleased.”

Editing by Daniel Trotta and Philip Barbara

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