Friday, 5 June 2015

Author Interview... Christopher Fowler... Heir To The Christie Throne...?

Those of you that regularly read the BLM blog will know I've recently become a fan of Christopher Fowler's Bryant & May series of detective novels.

Revolving around the Peculiar Crimes Unit based above Mornington Crescent tube station in one of London's coolest districts, (any of you who've been there will know what Camden is all about...) the Bryant & May series consists, to date, of a dozen novels. I've only read the first four myself, and, frankly, I'm hooked.

I took the liberty of dropping the author, Christopher Fowler, an email and within a very short time he replied! (One of the great things about being a fan of authors rather than film/tv stars, is that they return your emails...).

I've recently finished Seventy Seven Clocks, third, chronologically in the series and the fourth I've read myself. I'm not going to beat around the bush, this is the best crime/murder mystery/thriller fiction book I've read in recent years. Christopher Fowler demonstrates the skills that Agatha Christie did seventy years ago, only better for my money. He has a touch of comedic genius I've rarely found in a Christie novel and he has attention to local detail that makes anyone who has lived a London life, really feel London. 

As well as the famed detective pair, he has produced a large and varied body of work through his career, working in the film industry extensively, in radio and also prolifically in periodical and newspaper publications. 

So... having got Christopher Fowler's attention, I was able to ask him a few questions... 

BLM:  Hi Christopher, welcome to Book Lovers Melbourne, I'll start off with something obvious, what do you read for pleasure?

CF: A mix of new novels (crime, non-fiction, mainstream fiction) and forgotten authors. I run a weekly column called ‘Invisible Ink’, about missing writers, in the Independent on Sunday. Right now I’m enjoying Pamela Branch’s wonderful farcical crime novels, now forgotten.

BLM: Having found yourself producing a very successful series in Bryant & May, do you find them having an impact on your other work? 

CF: I try to keep my other work entirely separate, but stand-alone novels (which I always produced before B&M) fight for shelf-space whereas a well-reviewed series will get stocked. But the two are very different. I have a thriller out later this year called ‘The Sand Men’, set in the Middle East which is far, in every sense, from the London novels.

BLM: Do you take inspiration from any real people in your life for any of your main characters?

CF: I’m notorious for using my friends’ traits, but I combine them with characters I’ve seen in films or read about. I also add current villains or heroes from London’s news. I like topicality, although it tends to place a time limit on your books.

BLM: For a reader who’s yet to step outside of the world of Bryant & May, where would be the best place to start exploring your other work? 

CF: My personal favourites are first, ‘Paperboy’ and its sequel ‘Film Freak’, then ‘Calabash’, ‘Pyschoville’ and ‘Spanky’. 

BLM: You refer to yourself as a ‘movie obsessive’… Do you prefer movies over books?

CF: No, but I have very different agendas. I watch mostly world cinema, with only a very few Hollywood films thrown in. I love Spanish cinema right now, so I suppose my taste in films is as abstruse as my book choices.

BLM: Are you Bryant? Or May? Or both/neither? 

CF: I’m May. My deceased business partner is Bryant (so much so that I put a photograph of him in one of the novels, and he was the model for my graphic novel version ‘The Casebook of Bryant & May’). 

BLM: There has been some great cover art to the B&M novels. How much control do you have over the cover art? 

CF: Quite a bit. The first, ‘Full Dark House’, was glorious but the artist promptly retired, so the second one was a disaster. Then we were lucky enough to find David Frankland for the rest of the series, but now he’s just retired as well! I’m devastated, but I think we may have found someone to take on the style. The covers of the US editions are very different and not to my taste, but they sell well! Hopefully we’ll change them. Before the B&M books I used a barking mad German photographer called Jay Eff, who got us all arrested – but that’s another story.

BLM: Which book do you wish you’d written? ‘

CF: Gormenghast’ by Mervyn Peake. It’s a nightmarish novel for anyone who dislikes descriptive passages, but I learn from it all the time.

BLM: Your love of London comes across vividly in your novels. If you could only direct a tourist to three places in London, which would they be?

CF: Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the only part of London that isn’t being wrecked at the moment. The South Bank for its buzz and energy, although its past is being fast obliterated, and Regent’s Park, a prime example of the Englishness of London’s open spaces. London is still the greenest city in Europe. 

BLM: ‘Invisible Ink’ is one of your projects that I came across that sounds fascinating to a avid book fossicker. Can you tell our readers more about it? 

CF: It’s about the popular books that were influential and often hugely successful, but vanished from bookshelves. Adopting false identities, switching genders, losing fortunes, descending into alcoholism, discovering new careers, getting censored, going mad or reinventing themselves, the missing authors have stories to tell which are as surprising than anything they wrote. One dated a porn star, one became the subject of a sex scandal, one was involved with a murderer, and one turned out to be Winston Churchill. Some chose their own fates, some were simply unlucky, but most should be remembered and revered by book lovers. Now, thanks to dedicated publishers, collectors and new technology, many of the books which were lost for so long can be rediscovered.

BLM: Was there ever a moment in time when we might have ended up reading about the adventures of Tate & Lyle rather than Bryant & May?

CF: Good God no! The history of Tate is the story of sugar and therefore of the slave trade. The sugar company amassed a huge art collection from its trade and founded – you guessed it – the Tate Gallery. So Britain’s art owes its existence to slavery.

BLM: In an unlimited budget movie series version of Bryant & May who would play the leads? 

CF: My old pal Jude Law would make a suitably aged-up Mr May (it’s an energetic role, after all). Bryant was down for Derek Jacobi – now I’d probably go for Toby Jones.

BLM: What is your personal favourite bookshop in London? 

CL: Foyles, without question. I’ve been going there since I was five. Its staff are wonderful.

Thanks for your time Christopher, for the latest on Christopher's work, and for a great blog, click here!

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