Clutter Queen encounter sparks new crime series

A visit from The Clutter Queen has led to the start of a new series of crime novels for Simon Brett.

Monday, 27th April 2020, 10:37 am
Simon Brett and Nicky Sawkins
Simon Brett and Nicky Sawkins

Simon, who lives at Burpham, near Arundel, is in print with The Clutter Corpse, published by Severn House, and expects to be starting work on number two in the series later this year.

And all because of clutter. And a leaking roof.

As Simon says: “It’s one of those rare books where I can tell exactly where the idea came from. A couple of years ago, the chaos of my study, the work space in which I had worked for 37 years, needed sorting.

“I had accumulated more and more books as I published more books and I had put up more and more shelves in my own idiosyncratic way.

“It had got to the point where I could not actually open the door of my study because of the shelves around it… and really my filing was… well… the floor.

“I didn’t particularly notice but then last year we had a leak in the roof of my study and it was coming through onto some of my precious books.

“I started moving books and spent a couple of days filling boxes with books and I started to get very dispirited.

“And that’s when Lucy, my wife, found online a wonderful person in the Chichester area called Nicky Sawkins, who works under the name of The Clutter Queen.

“She came and had a recce, and she started work. She was very constructive… and destructive. She started taking down shelves. She was with us for two or three full days, and she was very quick at assembling cardboard boxes.

“We had to have repairs to the roof and then we had to have the ceiling replaced. But we must have got rid of 30 quite substantial boxes of books.

“Nicky was very logical and very charming and very easy to talk to, and I got rid of a huge amount of books.

“And I had a desk that I was very wedded to, but which took up half the space in my little office. I got rid of that too.”

While observing strict confidentiality, Nicky started to tell remarkable stories of her work. Simon counts himself “fairly bonkers” but found himself by comparison to be “at the saner end of the spectrum.” One of Nicky’s clients was apparently keeping his bodily fluids in little bottles…

“And I found the whole thing fascinating. I said to her ‘Have you ever found a dead body?’ And she said ‘Oh yes.’ It was someone she went to visit regularly, and one day that person was no longer alive.

“And the crime writer within me thought ‘Whoa!’ I started thinking about a character that has carte blanche to go into other people homes with their keys, someone who does lots of work for the local authorities… and the idea stuck with me and I started to write a book which became The Clutter Corpse.

“I have written it in the first person as someone who does this job, as Ellen. It is me ventriloquising a woman in her 50s which is something I have never done before, and it seemed to work very well. Talking to Nicky, she is working with lots of different clients at any one stage, and I can have three or four storylines running; one can be lighter, another can be darker. It was a good format for me.

“I have stolen Nicky’s job, but I don’t know her private life, so I have created a back story for my character. Lucy and I took Nicky to lunch and picked her brains about the mechanical side of her job, what she keeps in her car and so on, And I sent her the book when I sent it to my agent. I wanted her to be happy.

“By my standards, it is quite a dark book. There is quite a lot about depression and mental illness and suicide…”

As for the decluttering, Simon admits he is delighted. Six months after Nicky’s visit, there is still nothing on his office floor…

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