And here is the second promised post on all things Christopher Fowler and his newest book, The Burning Man. Today I am over the moon to welcome Christopher Fowler himself to my blog. He was kind enough to answer some questions I had. So click for all things Bryant & May, his future plans, and how I took my life into my own hands….
I just finished reading The Burning Man – which I loved. One of the reasons I loved it was that you seem to have written a love letter to the city of London. You talk about it in all its filth, its glory, its deep history, and its incredible cultural diversity – as a person of colour I actually recognised the London you wrote about. What is it about this city that you love?
To start with, I live in King’s Cross, one of the world’s busiest crossing points, and as I want to know about other people’s lives it’s a great place to be. Everyone has stories to tell – everyone. Many are just waiting for a chance to be asked. I have no patience with the Little England mentality. Learning first requires listening, not telling others what you think, and London is an amazing place for listening.
The Burning Man is such a tightly plotted novel which left me as the reader guessing and speculating until the denouement. Did you plot your novel meticulously before you started or did vital elements of your story change as you wrote?
Interesting question. I have a shape with a definite start and end, but it fluctuates and grows during the second draft. They say writers are either map-makers or gardeners. The former write plots on grids, the latter throw the seeds of ideas in the air and harvest the results. I’m definitely the latter.
The plot centres on people rioting and protesting in the streets of London against the corrupt. What made you decide to have this as a backdrop to The Burning Man?
I grew up in the seventies, a time of riot and unrest, and London has always been associated with insurrection, King Mob, the right to protest. I worry that we’re losing interest in politics now that we wrongly assume the banks are in charge, and no longer protest about the loss of our rights. Plus, I do like a good explosion or two in a novel!
The Burning Man can be read as a standalone novel and the memo at the beginning had me grinning hugely whilst also introducing me to all the characters. It helped me to relate to Bryant & May with their wildly different styles – one is slightly younger, more charming, and more computer literate, while the other is brilliantly (and hilariously) rude, academic, and prone to not understanding how his smart phone works. How did you go about creating these two characters? And do you have a favourite?
Well, I’d have to say I love Arthur more, simply because he can get away with being so very rude. I loved writing the scene with Bryant and the little boy – it was something I’d wanted to do since the series began. Bryant was entirely based on my best friend, who died tragically. There’s even a photograph of him in one of the novels, and people who knew him often say, ‘Oh God, that was like talking to Jim.’ So I know I got it right.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading the relationship between Bryant & May, who in my head now always come as a pair rather than individuals. In The Burning Man their relationship seems to move to another level. How did you go about plotting their relationship for this book?
It sort of started a bit earlier, in The Memory of Blood, when I learned to back off the plot a little and trust the characters more. That book opens with the pair at a party, which I had fun with. I also enjoyed Bryant losing the urn containing his pathologist’s ashes in The Victoria Vanishes. If you define your characters clearly you can put them in any situation and know how they’ll react. Famously, Galton & Simpson wrote Tony Hancock’s character so clearly that all they had to do to get a half hour of comedy from him was say, ‘Hancock goes to hospital’ or even ‘Hancock sits on a sofa, bored.’
When the book ends it seems as though there will be no more Bryant & May yet on the very last page you promise us that they will return. How do you see their relationship developing in further books?
If I told you that, I’d have to kill you. Seriously, there will be another Bryant & May book later this year, but I’m sworn to a publishers’ embargo until April – check my website and I’ll let the cat out of the bag then.
Your supporting characters are extremely well thought out and rounded. Is it easier for you to create these secondary characters as opposed to the main protagonists?
I learned from Charles Dickens – as we all do – that your secondary characters need one or two main characteristics so as not to detract from your leads, but you can flesh these out as a series goes on without turning it into a soap opera.
As the riots and investigation reached a climax I was speed reading, wanting to desperately know who had done it and why. When I understood the reasons behind the murders, my mouth fell open! Did you enjoy writing these scenes?
There’s a great quote from Barnes Wallis, the inventor of the bouncing bomb that destroyed the Ruhr dams in WW2, who said, ‘There is nothing more satisfying than showing that something is impossible, then proving how it can be done.’ That was what interested me about mystery writing from an early age. So I do love doing those traditional scenes wherein Mr Bryant Explains It All For You. I think the trickiest ones I’ve tackled are the locked-room explanation in The Memory of Blood (it works, I’ve tried it) and the real jaw-dropper in Off The Rails because it’s there in plain sight and yet you still don’t see it coming.
You obviously did a lot of research for The Burning Man. Was there anything you discovered that you wanted to include but weren’t able to?
I usually end up throwing away 9/10ths of my research. I wrote a long scene in a cinema, so there was a lot of stuff about old movie-houses, and I explored the fire-proofing of London buildings, but my agent suggested cutting it all to pick up the pace. She was right.
I absolutely love the artwork for the books – it’s stunning and matches the tone of your books. Do you have any say on what your covers look like?
Very much so. I wanted something that looked like the old railway carriage paintings from the 1930s, and David Frankland absolutely nailed it first time. I love that he makes London a character, as I try to do, and also there’s a slightly sinister air about his paintings.
What are you working on next? Please be very, very detailed – we all love spoilers! (By this I mean me).
I just had a haunted house thriller out, set in Spain, called Nyctophobia, which was fun to do as I partly live in Barcelona. Next, The Sand Men is published in October, and is set in the Middle East. It’s about a high-tech resort called ‘Dream World’, and a family who live on a workers’ estate while it’s being built. It’s sort of my homage to a hero, JG Ballard. I wanted to write a book set in an Arabic country without demonising anyone. I love travelling in the Middle East, especially in Oman and Jordan, and have met some extraordinary people there.
A HUGE thank you to Christopher for taking the time to answer my questions.
The Burning Man is on sale now in all good and evil bookshops.