Christopher Fowler is an English thriller writer, born and bred in London. Amongst many, many other things, he is the author of the Bryant and May mysteries in which the two octogenarian detectives, Arthur Bryant and John May, are members of the fictional Peculiar Crimes Unit. You can see my review of the latest instalment (the Burning Man – #12) here.
I was lucky enough to be given the chance to ask Christopher Fowler a few questions…
There is an incredible sense of place in The Burning Man. In fact, London could arguably be considered a character in its own right. What, to you, is the great appeal of using London as the setting?
CF: I’ve got over two thousand years of history to draw on. I’m a born Londoner and spent my childhood charging around the West End, but each discovery I made revealed the tip of something else. There’s a lot of lazy writing about London, but if you poke about and talk to people you discover incredible riches. ‘The Bleeding Heart’ started from watching office workers on lunch breaks sitting on gravestones without any idea of who was buried beneath them. ‘The Burning Man’ began after watching footage of anti-capitalist protests around the Bank of England and thinking, ‘Now there’s a good place to get away with a murder.’
Prior to your weekly ‘Invisible Ink’ column for the Independent, you wrote a column for them called ‘Forgotten Authors’. Can you tell us about your most inspiring ‘Forgotten Authors’?
CF: Actually it’s still going. I kept finding popular (I mean really popular) authors whose works were vanishing from shelves, and wanted to discover why. The stories behind the bestsellers are often more extraordinary than the books themselves.
What did you want to be when you were growing up? Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
CF: I discovered I had a facility for the written word very early on, and only ever wanted to be a writer. My essays were always returned with a high score – in strict inverse to my maths scores – and my teacher encouraged me to write. I started a home-published magazine and filled it with stories from about the age of ten. I was given a great piece of advice by a terrific teacher: ‘Nobody needs a good all-rounder – excel at something.’
What does your writing day look like?
CF: They’re the same as when I had a full-time job in the film industry (except when you had to be on set at 4:00am!) I start at 6:00am, blog for the first two hours, go out for breakfast, take an hour for lunch and write until 7:00pm. The worst thing about working from home is forgetting that weekends exist.
What was the last novel you read?
CF: A very popular current crime novel which I really hated; we’re living in fairly mundane times, and it shows in a lot of crime novels. Before that, ‘The Siege of Krishnapoor’ by JG Farrell – an amazing novel.
This novel is incredibly cinematic and I know that you describe yourself as ‘movie-obsessed’. Is there a chance that Bryant and May will find their way onto our screens at some point in the future? And if so, how involved would you want to be in the process?
CF: Well the rights are sold (they always seem to be sold!) And while I’d be happy to act as a consultant I’d rather trust a good writer with expertise in the cinema/TV field. It would have to be someone who ‘gets’ the books, in much the same way that the readers who come back to Bryant & May do so because they’re on my wavelength.
In addition to novels you have also, rather incredibly, written a dozen short story collections, stage shows, a play and a graphic novel. Do you have a favourite form? Is one more challenging than the others?
CF: I think all ‘all-rounder’ writers tackle other forms but I loved doing the play, although I hated the hours! Getting home at 1:00am every night of the production nearly killed me. I liked doing the two graphic novels, but love short stories because I think you’re always trying to write one perfect tale.
Is it true that you once worked as a male model? How did that come about?
CF: Yes, embarrassingly. I was working for an ad agency and was asked to model for travel catalogues – those ‘bloke sitting by pool drinking cocktail’ shots, then I stood in for various film stars (including James Bond) during my film industry career.
And finally, what one piece of advice do you wish someone had given you before you embarked on your writing career?
CF: God, where to start? Probably these three;
- Be prepared to think the unthinkable.
- You don’t always need to explain why people do things.
- Dialogue is not conversation.
Huge thanks to Christopher and his Publisher for the interview opportunity. I can’t wait for #13 in the series!
If you have yet to discover Bryant & May, you can get the first installment – Full Dark House – on kindle: Full Dark House: (Bryant & May Book 1)
Or paperback: Full Dark House: (Bryant & May Book 1)