Christopher Fowler’s most recent book in the Bryant and May series, The Burning Man, was released on the 26th March. Now, I’ll be honest (oh no! This never precedes good news!) I’m a new-comer to Fowler’s writing, prior to receiving this book I hadn’t read any Bryant and May, nor any of his other books. I was approached by Transworld to read and review the book and I’ve got to say my first thought was “jump in and review the 12th in a series? No way!”
However, (Aha! It’s not all doom and gloom! There needed to be a conjunction that changed the direction of this narrative- because otherwise it would have seemed weird that I was hosting a Q&A with him) there was something about the books that sounded amazingly appealing to me. I mean, it’s not set in a usual department of the Met- this is the Peculiar Crimes Division. Also I couldn’t resist a story where a pair of elderly detectives were the focus- skewing the norms of a genre, that’s what I like.
So, I gave it a go and was hooked! I won’t say too much more until my review goes live except “SQUEE! So good!”
In celebration (and ahead of my review of the book) here is an exclusive Q&A with Christopher himself!
Tell us how Bryant and May started out. Are you surprised by how popular these have become?
I had the luxury of road-testing them first in ‘Rune’ and other volumes, and they slowly crept into my consciousness as they fleshed out. I worked very hard indeed to make them popular – it was never a sure thing. My first publisher turned them down, and there was always resistance from critics in the beginning. I think only my editor at Transworld, Simon Taylor, and my agent, really ever believed in them from the start.
Your books and your blog illustrate your fascination with London – can you tell us more about this?
Simple. I was born and formed in London. I love the way it has transmuted across the decades, although I sometimes find it oppressive now that every last quirk of the city has been quantified and measured and usually charged entrance for! And nobody talks about how overcrowded the city is, so that a reflective moment in a museum is almost impossible. But it continues to fascinate me even with its annoyances, because it’s defined by its people.
You are a prolific writer – frequently having new books out and very busy on your blog: what are your other passions other than writing?
I’m addicted to travel and film. I’m connected with several film festival juries, and partly live in Barcelona. I went to art college and would like to take up graphic art again.
Is it always easy for you to get published now that you are so well-known, or is it still as competitive and difficult as it is for many new writers?
It’s still never easy, as any author will tell you. I have three books sitting in drawers which I can’t sell at the moment, two thrillers and a fantasy. What happens is that I rewrite for the present, as I did in ‘Plastic’ which went through six versions in six years. Some books take a while to find their time.
What will be your next book that we can look forward to?
The latest Bryant & May is ‘The Burning Man’, set against the British Guy Fawkes festivals. There’s also a thriller out in the summer called ‘The Sand Men’.
Has your interaction with fans, for example, at conventions, affected your work?
I think so. I seem to have a vociferous and frighteningly loyal readership; I run a daily blog, and they interact heavily with me (probably because I answer personally). I have a couple of superfans who apparently know where I’m going to be before I do, and whenever I’m stuck on a story I ask them for advice. I don’t always take it, of course.
Is there any particular incident (a letter, a meeting, a comment that stands out?
I have one fan whom I christened Stalky. The next time I saw him sitting in an audience, he opened his jacket to reveal his new T-shirt with the word ‘Stalky’ emblazoned across it. I totally forgot what I was saying.
Do you have a favourite author or book (or writer or film or series) that has influenced you or that you return to?
Too many, too often. I run a weekly column called ‘Invisible Ink’ in a national newspaper, the Independent, about forgotten authors, so my tastes can be a bit esoteric. I love JG Ballard, Mervyn Peake, Joe Haldeman, Harlan Ellison, John Cheever, Raymond Carver, but also overlooked writers like Dino Buzzati, Pamela Branch and Edmund Crispin. Movies like ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and ‘Witchfinder General’ used to influence me, but now many of the new Spanish gothic thrillers like ‘The Valdemar Inheritance’ and ‘The Hidden Face’ have affected me. I loved ‘True Detective’. But standing astride them all, Dickens. I return to his books again and again to learn new lessons.
Who is the person you would most like to be trapped in a lift with? or a spaceship?
Ballard in a spaceship. They say never meet your heroes. I used to write to Jim Ballard and he always wrote back. Then one day I had a chance to meet him after the premiere of CRASH. I thought Cronenberg’s film was a travesty of the book, and ducked out. Wish I hadn’t done that now.
Who is the person you would most DISlike to be trapped in a lift with? Or a spaceship?
Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London. Actually I’d like to be in the lift with him because I could tell him exactly what I think of the policies which have hollowed London out and left our heritage to Russian gangsters.
What would you pack for space? (Is there a food, beverage, book, teddy bear, etc that you couldn’t do without?)
Probably silly pocket-sized stuff given to me by friends before they died. A little armadillo, a toucan, an Egypian box with a scarab beetle on it.
What is the most important thing you would like to get/achieve from your work?
I’d like to write one perfect short story that I was entirely satisfied with. Novels are never perfect, but I think you can get close to paradise with short fiction.
What is the special satisfaction of your work?
People always point out that it’s a lonely job. But the you get one letter from someone that drives you to do it all over again. I had one from a lady who told me that one of my books got her through the death of her mother. Those are letters you keep all your life.
Thanks so much, Christopher! Also many thanks to Transworld Publishers for giving me the opportunity to host this Q&A. Check out the blog next week for my review of The Burning Man.