Go Mad Or Go Home

Bryant and May

Every time I sit down to write a novel I come up against the same question; how realistic should I make it? How fantastical? How believable should it be? How mad? How down to earth?

I’ve written here before about how so-called ‘gritty’ thrillers and crime procedurals are usually nothing of a kind. We see fly-on-the-wall documentaries on TV all the time, but is that what we want to read as well? Should we be taken out of ourselves, as in, say, the novels of Phillip Pullman, or have our noses rubbed in the real, as in Adam Kay’s ‘This Is Going To Hurt’?

Well, it depends on the kind of writer you are – and that’s where my problem kicks in. Being versatile makes you an oddity. Even genre-crossing oddballs like Nick Harkaway and Ned Beaumann have a consistency of style. When I write Bryant & May I go into a dense, fact-filled mode. I’m careful to avoid fantasy – there’s nothing fantastical in the books except perhaps Mr Bryant’s hallucinations, which lasted for two novels, and the oddest facts I pick up on are often the truest.

When I work on a thriller it becomes more emotion-based and realistic. And in the upcoming Bryant & May, ‘The Lonely Hour’, there’s a deliberate attempt on my part to develop the characters further and build a sense of pending tragedy.

But now, with the start-date of 2020’s novel looming, I feel as if I want to break out and go really big, bonkers and baroque. Show London at its most contradictory and peculiar. But of course that may not be what readers want, so yesterday I held a vote on Twitter – the question was what should the tone be? Gritty believable tragedy or epic baroque villainy? The result was six for gritty versus several hundred for baroque, plus one guy who wanted both.

And that, I guess, is what readers think I’m best at – so taking them at their word I’m going large on the nineteenth book, go utterly mad and have fun with putting the old boys through their paces. The book will be called ‘Oranges & Lemons’, and I start it appropriately on April 1st!

I’m on Twitter @Peculiar

11 comments on “Go Mad Or Go Home”

  1. Jo W says:

    Yes, I voted for the winner.
    Oranges and Lemons? hmm, ‘and here comes a chopper to chop off your head’ ………………..

  2. Brooke says:

    Is Oxford porn or “diary of a young (fill in blank) the only option? As a reader (w. cash and credit cards), I think I should have more choices. And that’s why I’m a Bryant & May fan. The stories are always just this side of totally bonkers–like reality but with alternative worlds impinging. Like London, underneath today’s city, lots of past lurking, waiting to get out.
    So carry on…just get the damned work to US market before I am wheeled to the nursing home’s dementia ward.

  3. Wild Edric says:

    You’re overthinking it imho, just write what you want to write and please yourself and I have no doubt you’ll please the majority of readers – after all it’s worked for the last however many years with the Bryant & May series. Even the stand-alone novels I’m sure found an audience if not mega-sales.

    I’d prefer not to know what to expect with the B&M books – I don’t even read the notes on the back cover / inside flap and just wade on in without preconceptions.

    I operate a similar approach visiting pubs – most offer a taste of an ale before you buy but I prefer to choose a pint (usually something local) and take my chances – it’s all part of the experience. For every Salopian Lemon Dream (eurgh) there’s an Everard’s Tiger (yum). Mr Fowler you’ve never served me a bad pint!

  4. Brooke says:

    Amen to Wild Eric.

  5. Lorraine says:

    I was too late for the vote. But would have excitedly voted for baroque and totally bonkers! You do it so well and personally speaking it’s the pure escapism I crave for the times we currently live in. Although I did enjoy Adam Kay’s ‘This Is Going To Hurt’ – as well as being startlingly true to life it was laugh out loud funny.

  6. S R Bacon says:

    Hmm. Where did you summon up the name, ‘Hugo Blake’ first mentioned on Page 11 of ‘Bryant & May – The Lonely Hour’, as it is the same exact name as one of my characters as pusblished in my first novel, ‘Drawn To Fear’ (published by Grosvenor House Publishing in 2016)? Co-incidence? Mere chance? I dunno. Bizarre though. Cold shivers ran up and down my spine when I came across that. P.S. Bill Nighy would make an ideal John May and Albert Finney (bit late now, I admit) would have made a brilliant Arthur Bryant.

  7. admin says:

    I fused William Blake with Victor Hugo to get the name – maybe you did too? I’ll have to look up your book now…

  8. ANDREA says:

    Just read your entire oeuvre of Bryant & May (in order, of course) and will be going on to your stand-alones. All I can say is . . . THANK YOU, Mr. Fowler. The bits about London’s lost geography, your philosophical statements, your characters’ personality developments, your use of language (the only books for which I’ve had to consult a dictionary) . . . I can’t say enough good things. Am looking forward to your newest!

  9. S R Bacon says:

    I could say that I got the name ‘Hugo Blake’ from a combination of the ventroliquist’s dummy in the old horror anthology film, ‘Dead of Night’ and Roj Blake from ‘Blake’s 7’, but then I might go down in your estimation if I confessed to that and besides which, it isn’t true.

  10. admin says:

    I get a lot of my names by combining friends’ names but 50 or so books down the line I can’t help wondering if I’m reusing any of them.

  11. Ian Luck says:

    Paul Merton used to have a routine about names – he said that he was amused by the claim that, in the war, there was a projectile with your name on. He said his dad told him this, but wasn’t really bothered. Their neighbours, Mr & Mrs Doodlebug, on the other hand, were shitting themselves.

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