The latest instalment in Christopher Fowlers brilliant Bryant & May series is out now. London’s Glory is a collection of eleven Bryant and May short stories, filling in gaps and covering cases mentioned in passing over the years.
In the spirit and brevity of a short story, when I got the chance to ask a few questions of Chris, I asked simply, about the genesis of Bryant & May, where in London fans could visit for a feel of the books, and what Bryant and May would think of book tours and blogging. Here’s what he had to say.
Many years ago I fell in love with the Golden Age classic mysteries I found in the library, with their academic eccentricities and timeless view of an England that never really existed. There was just one problem; they badly needed an update because of outmoded attitudes to sex and race. I thought; wouldn’t it be interesting if you took the structure of the Golden Age mysteries and put them into our recognisable modern world?
If you’re going to describe the investigation of a crime, you might as well have fun with it. How does a writer create a detective? 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. London would be the third character; not the tourist city of guidebooks but the city of invisible societies, hidden parks and drunken theatricals, the increasingly endangered species I eagerly show to friends when they visit.
Every night, my detectives walk across Waterloo Bridge and share ideas, because a city’s skyline is best sensed along the edges of its river, and London’s has changed dramatically in less than a decade, with the broken spire of the Shard and the great ferris wheel of the London Eye lending it a raffish fairground feel.
By making Bryant & May old I could have them simultaneously behave like experienced adults and immature children. Bryant, I knew, came from Whitechapel and was academic, esoteric, eccentric, bad-tempered and myopic. He would wear a hearing aid and false teeth, and use a walking stick. A proud Luddite, he was antisocial, rude, miserable, erudite, bookish, while his John May was born in Vauxhall, taller, fitter, more charming, friendlier, a little more modern, techno-literate, and a bit of a ladies’ man. Their inevitable clash of working methods often causes cases to take wrong turns.
Then I threw every modern subject I could think of at them, from refugees to banking scandals, and let them sort out the dramas using old-fashioned (and vaguely illegal) methods. The result is, well, unusual!
The easiest locations to visit in the books are Waterloo Bridge, where the detectives walk most nights, and King’s Cross, where their unit is based, but in ‘The Victoria Vanishes’ there’s a list of all the pubs they visit in the books at the back. And all of the locations I use are real, so everything can be looked up and explored on Google maps!
I think John May would like blogging but Arthur Bryant would probably crash entire systems because he has a warped understanding of the internet!
As part of his mini blog tour for Rise Of The Enemy, author Rob Sinclair talks to LifeOfCri.me about books and the big screen.
Thrillers: Film versus books
I’m a huge thriller fan, whether it be books or film, and it’s probably no surprise therefore that so many of my readers have commented how they think the Enemy Series would translate so naturally onto the big screen (any Hollywood producers reading this, just give me a call). So which is best and why?
I’m not sure I have an answer to that. I love both books and films for different reasons. Books are special to so many people. With a book you transport yourself into your own world. Ok, so it’s the writer’s words you’re reading, it’s his or her characters, but those characters come to life for each and every reader and they do so in a different way. The way every reader feels about the book and the characters, how they see the setting in their heads, how they view the characters and the emotions the characters feel, is an entirely personal experience. That’s what makes a book so powerful. And as a writer, the part that I get real satisfaction from is really exploring the psyche of my characters. I like getting into their heads and drilling down to the very core of who they are. On screen, and in writing a screenplay, you just can’t get to that same depth because such a large part of the unspoken elements of the plot are purely visual.
That said, on the flip side, it’s the visual potency of films which I love. In many ways they can be a lazy alternative to books, and films definitely engage the brain in a different way than books do. But I still love them. I love the sweeping visuals that you can get, and the painstaking and gritty detail that we get to see in action scenes which has so many more levels to it than you could ever write down on a page. And films can be incredibly emotional too. We don’t get to be inside the characters’ heads in the same way as in a book – as there simply isn’t the inner narrative – but when you get a top-notch script and top-notch actors in place, there’s no doubting that you can feel a wide range of emotions watching a good film. And we feel great connections to actors and actresses because of this. It’s why they are such big A-list celebrities.
As for my own books, in many ways I think they are perhaps something of a hybrid between traditional book and film. I love both formats and have been influenced greatly by both and even though the books I’ve written are very definitely novels and not screenplays, in my head they play out more like a movie, with a big emphasis on visuals. My writing evolved in many respects as a collection of scenes, much like you’d get in a screenplay. I think that’s just the way the plots are formed in my head and the way that I translate them onto the page. I think of a scene, I flesh out the scene as much as I can in my mind, and then I write it out.
So which is best: book or film? Well, the jury is still out as far as I’m concerned. But it’s on my to-do list to re-write each of the books of the Enemy series into screenplays. I think they’d all work in that format and I’m excited to see how they look and feel. And maybe one day, when the big screen version of the Enemy series hits your local cinema, you can come and tell me which version you liked best.