When she was younger, Stella Duffy kept her options open. She was going to be a trapeze artist. An actor. Emma Peel. Or she was going to write.
Fast forward to today, and her options are still open. Stella is a writer who won’t be pinned down. She has eight stage plays to her name; she’s written twelve books. Some of them are “crime” novels, some of them are “literary.” What’s the difference? “Ask the publishers,” she says.
The way she figures it, she’s a writer, she tells stories. So she’s invented characters as diverse as Saz Martin, a lesbian private eye (Mouths of Babes); Princess Cushla, straight out of a fairy tale and determined to break up couples in love (Singling Out the Couples); and Robert and Akeel, dry-cleaners, one white and working class, the other a British-Pakistani Muslim (The Room of Lost Things).
As for the snobbery that values literary fiction above crime fiction—the suggestion that literary is “proper” and crime is not—she leaves that to the critics. And in 2002, they awarded her the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) Short Story Dagger Award for “Martha Grace” (in the Tart Noir anthology); and in 2008, Stonewall Writer of the Year for The Room of Lost Things.
But writing isn’t all Stella Duffy does. The girl who wanted to be an actor or a trapeze artist can often be found on stage. Which must take some nerve: Her specialty is improv, “a way of working that means being prepared to create work by the seat of your pants and the skin of your teeth.” At least, that’s the philosophy of Improbable, the company where she’s associate artist. She has also guested with the Comedy Store Players. Oh, and she directs and teaches writing too.