Following my review of Christopher Fowler’s latest Bryant & May novel The Burning Man, I’ve been lucky enough to secure a coveted spot on the blog tour for the detective duo’s latest outing with London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit. Keep reading to find out what Christopher Fowler had to say when I had the opportunity to ask the author a few questions about his new book…
[FB] This is the 12th book in the Bryant & May series but in a recent blog post you revealed that the series actually started out as a one-off novel. Have you had a grand plan in place for the crime-solving duo or does it evolve with each novel?
[CF] I’ve always loved grand plans, and started to develop a story arc that covered the first six books. This worked very nicely, so I did the same with the next six. The good thing is that you don’t have to read them in order, but loyal readers get a reward points for seeing the bigger picture.
[FB] It’s been over a decade since you published your first Bryant & May novel. What is it about the pair that sees you continue to return to them? Do you ever struggle to come up with new adventures for the two?
[CF] I never, ever have a problem with them because they act as a kind of conduit for all the ideas I want to explore. It took me a while to dig deep into their characters, but now I feel I can use them for anything.
[FB] On your blog you’re very transparent about the use of contemporary real incidents as inspiration for the books. Did the idea for The Burning Man strike during the London riots or is it something that occurred to you later on?
[CF] Watching riots on TV (and later getting caught up in one) I suddenly thought, ‘This would be a good opportunity to get rid of someone’. Having a devious mind helps – I’m always on the lookout for things like this.
[FB] Bryant’s attacks are very vivid. Did you carry out much research into Alzheimer’s for this novel?
[CF] Both my mother and my best friend underwent similar attacks for a very long time, so I’m well-versed in dealing with such things. What interests me is the unpredictability of the human mind.
[FB] Arthur Bryant seems inherently dead set against technology but you’re a prolific tweeter and blogger. Is it hard for you to get into his mindset?
[CF] Ha! Not really, because you’d be shocked how many authors won’t use technology or are still frightened by it. I was dealing with one very famous writer who said sneeringly ‘I suppose you’re one of these people who do The Twitter.’ She made it sound like a dance.
[FB] Some of the historical and mythological references that fascinate Bryant are quite obscure! How do you go about researching these aspects of your novels?
[CF] First, I have a pretty big library of rare London books that spark me off. I tend to pick a few strands that interest me and trace them back. I often end up using less than a tenth of what I’ve uncovered.
[FB] Your writing feels very cinematic – The Burning Man in particular evokes crime TV shows like New Tricks and Whitechapel. Do you think your previous experience in film marketing influences the way you write now?
[CF] I think I’ve always written cinematically – I went to art college for a while and always think in pictures. I do have to go to specific spots and just feel what they’re like – I’ve just written a thriller called ‘The Sand Men’ set in the Middle East, and went and stood in the desert for a long time, getting all the details right.
[FB] You published a lot of horror writing before Bryant & May. How did you fall into writing crime fiction?
[CF] ‘Fall’ is the right word really. I write across genres – horror and the supernatural was great because it’s a popular form for short fiction (or rather it was – it’s fallen out of fashion now), but most of my work has involved an element of criminality. I think I just brought those parts to the fore – although police work per se doesn’t interest me at all.
[FB] Why do you think the friendship between Bryant & May has proved so popular among fans?
[CF] I think they sense it’s real – and it really is based on my lifelong friendship with my late business partner Jim. I can still imagine what he’d say in certain situations. He was very charismatic and friends still quote him – they’re known as ‘Jimisms’.
[FB] The Guardian recently published an article on the lack of substantial friendships in contemporary fiction. One line in particular resonated with my experience of Bryant & May: “Shared experiences accumulate, all that crying and fighting, such that the men become repositories of each other’s pasts“. This seems to sum up the friendship between the two detectives – do you agree?
[CF] Very much so. We used to have a great mindreading act which relies on a code you can only work out if you really know how the other person thinks. But even in my non-Bryant & May work I’ve often placed opposing views into two characters; it’s more fun for the reader to take sides in an argument.
[FB] The Burning Man ended on an ominous note yet you revealed at the end of March that you’ll be releasing a second Bryant & May book this year – can we have any hints as to what we can expect to see next for the crime-fighting pair?
[CF] Go on then. In November there’ll be a book of all the missing cases the duo tackled. But beyond that there will be further books. How do I get out of the Reichenbach Falls moment I’ve created? Wait and see – the clues are all there…
And that’s it! I can’t wait to see how he picks up the story again from where he left off at the end of The Burning Man.
I want to say thank you again to Transworld Books for the opportunity and a huge extra special thanks to Christopher Fowler for taking the time out to do this and answering my questions so eloquently.
But I’m not done with Bryant & May yet…keep an eye out for a review of The Bleeding Heart in the near future!