I am delighted to welcome to Jaffareadstoo
Christopher Fowler is a Londoner born (in Greenwich) and bred. For many years he jointly owned and ran one of the UL’s top film marketing companies.
He is the author of many novels and short story collections, from the urban unease of cult fiction 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
Christopher ~ welcome to the blog and thanks for taking the time to answer questions about books and writing.
Which was the first book (of any kind) to make a strong impression on you – and why?
The first book I remember reading was ‘Treasure Island’, but I had a fondness for exotic adventures like ‘Swiss Family Robinson’ and ‘Coral Island’, probably because I came from a South London backstreet where nobody had travelled further than Brighton. What stood out then – and still draws me – is the richly coloured ‘otherness’ of far-flung lands. It’s probably why I graduated to the Gormenghast trilogy by Mervyn Peake. The dense descriptions of the castle that defeated so many readers entranced me, rather like the detailed textures in Pre-Raphaelite paintings.
At what point did you discover that you had some facility with the written word?
Very early on. My essays were always returned with a high score – in strict inverse to my maths scores – and my teacher encouraged me to write. I started a home magazine and filled it with stories from about the age of ten. I was given a great piece of advice by a terrific teacher: ‘Nobody needs a good all-rounder – excel at something.’
Major influences then – and now?
First, storytellers - I discovered a chain of seedy South London second-hand book stores called the Popular Book Centres. They stamped their smudged triangular logo inside all their books, and made enough money from top-shelf smut to keep racks of yellowing paperbacks going for real readers. In this way, they were every bit as useful as public libraries. The great thing about the shop was that I could always find something rare and wonderful lurking in the racks, and as everything was 1/6d I could afford to take a chance on the dodgiest-looking books.
Alfred Hitchcock had put his name to a series of dog-eared anthologies that were wonderful assorted literary ragbags, and from these I started making informed decisions about the writing I enjoyed most. I made a list of favourite short stories:
‘The Cone’ – HG Wells
‘Leningen Versus The Ants’ – Carl Stephenson
‘Camera Obscura’ – Basil Copper
‘Evening Primrose’ – John Collier
‘The Man Who Liked Dickens’ – Evelyn Waugh
‘The Fly’ – George Langelaan
The biggest single influence of any writer has been the ultimate ‘exotic’, JG Ballard, whose works I can virtually recite by heart. But Dickens had a huge impact because his writing contains everything you need to know, and I love the nasty home truths in Evelyn Waugh’s darkest books.
Was Roofworld (1988) your first completed novel? How was it received by publishers – then readers?
I had attempted two earlier novels, both of which I’ve locked in a drawer, never to be seen, so Roofworld was the first ‘proper’ novel. My publisher loved it, but could never decide where it fitted in the canon of fiction, or who I should be compared to. Then an American publication said ‘A Major new thriller writer takes his place halfway between JG Ballard and Stephen King’, so that decided things – for a while. The book didn’t sell well initially, but built by word of mouth. Readers said; ‘It’s made me look up and see London properly for the first time’, which is certainly a result. I still think it’s an original idea, but perhaps today I’d have developed the characters more.
Which normally comes first for you - an idea or theme, plot, place or characters. And why?
I have a habit of jumping over and between genres, and it confuses readers. I used to think like a traditional genre writer, coming up with what I felt was a killer plot and a good theme. I revised my thinking over time to aim for the creation of a good central character. The comedy writers Galton & Simpson taught me that you have nothing without character and tragedy. I’ve come across wonderful thriller plots that are horribly written and beautiful writing that goes nowhere – the trick is to marry elegance and surprise.
Visit Christopher on his website
Follow Christopher on Twitter @Peculiar
London is under siege. A banking scandal has filled the city with violent protests, and as the anger in the streets detonates, a young homeless man burns to death after being caught in the crossfire between rioters and the police.
But all is not as it seems; an opportunistic killer is using the chaos to exact revenge, but his intended victims are so mysteriously chosen that the Peculiar Crimes Unit is called in to find a way of stopping him.
The gentlemen detective duo , Arthur Bryant and John May, of the Peculiar Crime Unit, return in this, the twelfth book in the Bryant and May series. Drawn into an investigation into a series of random killings which seem to be focussed in the financial district of London, Bryant and May soon find that there is more to these killings than first appears. London is in chaos. Unrest and dissidence is rife and even though there is no apparent reason other than a growing discontent with the banking fraternity, Bryant and May need to track down those responsible, before brutal anarchy is allowed to spread throughout the city.
This is the first Bryant and May novel I have read and when I was invited to review The Burning Man, I thought at first that I would be at a disadvantage by not knowing anything of the back history of the series. However, the story is remarkably easy to get into, with more than enough information given for the established characters to soon make sense. The author has an easy style of story delivery which makes for interesting reading and there are more than enough twists and turns in the plot, all of which are delivered with a lightness of touch, and a fine eye for detail. There is light and shade within the novel and appropriate humour which helps to lighten what could have been a very heavy story. There are some marvellous descriptions of London, which help to set the scene quite perfectly. Overall, I enjoyed spending time in the company of Bryant and May. Their unique way of crime investigation works really well and their very eccentricity is highly entertaining.
I am sure that devotees of the Bryant and May series will devour this story with great gusto and for new fans it’s a good place to start, as there is the tantalising promise of so much back story to catch up on.
I really enjoyed it.
Huge thanks to Christopher for being our guest today and to Sophie at Transworld for the opportunity to read and review this book.