Christopher Fowler is a well-known name in British SFF and horror and well-known for his crime series featuring Detectives Bryant and May, paragons of the Peculiar Crimes Unit. It’s a series that has been on my radar for a while and one I’ve never yet gotten too. A long-running series –its twelfth instalment has just been published –it is also a series I’ll probably not catch up on quickly, so I’ve just jumped into it with The Burning Man. Check back this afternoon to see how that worked out in my review. For now I have an interesting Author Query with Christopher Fowler, in which he tells us about London’s shadowy nature and the weird and wonderful facts hiding around its every corner.
Let’s start with the basics. Who is Christopher Fowler?
A boy who always wrote, but didn’t have the confidence to think he could ever be published. I moved to the USA and suddenly had a lot of free time, so I began concentrating on short stories. Then I wrote a novel. Now I find myself with over forty published books behind me…how did that happen?
How would you introduce people to Detectives Bryant & May?
If you like Golden Age mysteries but prefer a modern setting, I’m your chap. I made Bryant & May old to dispense with the ageism that suggests only the young can do their jobs well. Older characters bring a lifetime of experience. I started with a matchbox label that read “Bryant & May – England’s Glory”. That gave me their names, their nationality, and something vague and appealing, the sense of an institution with roots in London’s sooty past.
Would you describe the Peculiar Crimes Unit books as straight crime stories or does the supernatural push its way into them at times?
Actually, there’s no supernatural in them at all. It’s sleight of hand; you think something must have a supernatural nature, and the stories are certainly macabre, but they play fair. You have to remember that London has only just been lit up. Before the mid-1980s it was a city steeped in shadow. We lost something when the lights were turned up, and I trey to recapture that sense.
With the exception of The White Corridor, the Bryan and May books are set in London. You seem to have found awesome weird facts about London to incorporate into your books. Have you ever encountered something or someone who was just too strange to fit into the books?
All the time, nearly every day – I find out things that no sane reader would believe, but they’re true. All the fantastical elements in the very first volume, ‘Full Dark House’, about what’s under the Palace Theatre, are 100% true – and I toned them down for public consumption!
How do you plot your novels? Do you have a clear idea of the how, why, and the who going in or do you discover these facts while writing Bryant and May’s investigation?
Good question; yes and no. The first draft has the plot. It’s the bare-bones structure. But then something tends to happen in the second draft that alters the story and may spin it into a different direction. This happened in ‘On The Loose’, when I discovered a little-mentioned event that happened in London involving a famous band and a photo shoot, and which fitted in perfectly with the story.
Bryant and May and The Burning Man is the twelfth novel in the series. Will you be returning to the world of Bryant and May? How long do you envision the series to be?
Well, there’s a definite end to Book 12. But Barnes Wallis, the inventor of the bouncing bomb, said ‘There is nothing more satisfying than showing that something is impossible, then proving how it can be done.’ So Bryant & May will be back later this year. I have many more stories to tell.
What’s next for you? Any appearances or conventions planned?
I’m at the Oxford Literary Festival being interviewed by Joanne Harris, then I’ll be in York, Brighton and Harrogate.
Is there something else you’re passionate about other than writing and books?
Movies and travel. I worked in film for a very long time, and still love good stories, especially world cinema. And I travel every chance I get. I’ve been visiting Baltic countries lately, but my big dream of spending time in Russia will have to wait until their human rights situation changes.
As a book reviewer, I’m all about the book enabling; I can’t help but want to make people read all the good books out there. But I can always use help. What are your top recommendations of books we should look out for in the coming months?
I’ve stopped reviewing so I don’t look ahead; it’s as much as I can do to keep up. Right now, though, all the Margery Allingham novels are finally being reprinted, along with Hans Fallada and JG Farrell. I’m enjoying Val McDermid’s ‘Forensics’, and tackling the most recent Christopher Priest.
Finally, I have to stay true to my roots and ask a librarian question to finish off with: Do you shelve your books alphabetically, by genre or do you have an ingenious system?
I have a living library, ie. Only books that I return to can stay. There are ‘rolling shelves’ of turnover books (and on my e-reader, home of the short-stay book) and there are ‘keeper shelves that run in themes. Plus, I have a special floor-to-ceiling bookcase that is built exclusively to hold mass-market paperbacks!
He is the author of many novels and short story collections, from the urban unease of cult fictions such as Roofworld and Spanky, the horror-pastiche of Hell Train to the much-praised and award-winning Bryant and May series of detective novels – and his two critically acclaimed autobiographies, Paperboy and Film Freak.
He lives in King’s Cross.