Je Suis Arthur Bryant
When I started the Bryant & May series, somewhat by accident, I was still a ‘cult’ author (ie. popular in a tiny number of bookshops near universities or within a three mile radius of the wrong side of Leicester Square) known for my dark and saucy ‘edge’, whatever that is. I was photographed against gothic windows or brutalist architectural slabs looking mean, or in white boxes. A lot of white boxes.
I switched from zeitgeist novels like ‘Psychoville’ and ‘Disturbia’ (which usually had a shelf-life of 3 months) and was drawn to a life of crime. It felt a bit naughty writing about elderly people when I was still relatively young, so for purposes of identification I considered myself a version of John May.
Now, twenty years later, I’m Arthur Bryant.
I think I’ve adopted his persona. Okay, I don’t smoke dope or a pipe or wear my pyjamas under my trousers but I do eat weird sweets and have no patience and read really strange books and hang out at strange events in pubs with outsider-academic-nutters. I have trouble dealing with really traditional 2.4 families, mainly because I don’t know any. I feel simultaneously in the know and out of touch (Do I know who Billie Eilish is? Do I care?). I hate nostalgia but love the idea of a London that never was in my head.
So do many others, it seems. It’s a London where you take all the elements you love in books and films and art and music and squash them all together, leaving out all the bad parts of London like No.1 Poultry and the Philishave and Boris Johnson. Remaking the city in my imagination is what keeps me sane.
It suits me because I’ve never had any impulse control and misread social cues and offer no trigger warnings. I’m no good at playing the game, schmoozing, working the room or whatever else you want to call it, and neither is Mr B. Nor am I embarrassed about having unfashionable and deeply peculiar tastes – in fact I find it liberating.
So perhaps we all need to liberate our inner Mr Bryant and admit all the crazy things we really like – who knows what strangeness we’ll find within ourselves?