Bryant & May: Your Comments Answered

Bryant and May

I’ve described the struggles of creating a long-term detective series, and you sent back some very interesting comments, so let me go through some of the main points.

The idea of favouring Bryant over May goes to the heart of the problem with a series. There has always been a weight toward Bryant because every double-act has a leader whether it intends to or not. To Wild Eric I would say persevere with ‘The Lonely Hour’ because the second half is more May than Bryant. I try to shift the balance from time to time.

I put the PCU under threat to destabilise it. You cannot have a lot of people sitting around in an endless series of rooms discussing problems. Novels need conflict, upset and opposition. Most mystery novels operate on a fairly small scale, unwrapping a puzzle and examining it from all sides. ‘The Lonely Hour’ appears to have split readers between those who like the chaotic pell-mell of all the characters on the loose (as in, say, ‘The Burning Man’) and those who want a single traditional problem to be gradually solved.

When I dropped Bryant & May into a country house mystery and set scenes in Camden in the sixties it was too big a jump for some readers – but they know that the next book will take them back to the elements they prefer. (See Keith Page’s drawing above – anyone else remember that giant chair? His one of Spitalfields is below.)

I’m aware that several crime writers are winding down their characters, but why? They’re not real. Fiction can do as it pleases. I don’t care if James Bond is a black woman so long as she exhibits all the characteristic of Bond. We want our heroes at full strength, not watered down. That’s why I’ve chosen to go back to full-on madness for ‘Oranges & Lemons’, the next novel, complete with notes, asides, a murderer’s confession running through the book and anything else I fancy (I’m still writing  it).

As a future idea I’m quite drawn to writing one from Bryant’s point of view in the first person, and have other narratives tricks up my sleeve. I don’t want to wind them down, make them ill or decrepit, and may tinker with making them a bit younger if I feel like it. I’ve laid the groundwork by establishing that Bryant’s memoirs are unreliable.

So long as the books still exhibit wit, energy and heart, why stop? I am not at all bored by my characters, and have plenty of ideas for fresh adventures. Besides, when authors abandon a series to write something new, they rarely take readers with them. My switch to thrillers hit a road-block with the debut novel because the editor reneged on a promise to produce a print edition after its appearance as an e-book. ‘Little Boy Found’ (a title not suggested by me) was meant to start a new line of thrillers.

But as I always say, consistency is as important as originality, and providing you have an outlet for the two you should keep going at full strength. Hell, let’s make that double strength. And Rebus should stop fading and bounce back to form. So there. Give readers the biggest, most pleasing selection of styles and stories possible, and let ’em choose their own favourites. Vivat Bryant!

29 comments on “Bryant & May: Your Comments Answered”

  1. Wild Edric says:

    Bless you Mr Fowler for taking the time to reply to my comment. I shall indeed persevere, thank you.

  2. Jo W says:

    Vivat Arthur!

  3. John Howard says:

    I’m so glad to hear that. From this readers point of view the variety is what makes life fun. I also agree on your assessment of Rebus. Thanks for all the fun reading so far.

  4. Brooke says:

    The idea of a black woman exhibiting all the characteristics of James Bond makes this black woman very ill.
    Oranges and Lemons…isn’t that the rhyme linking London’s bells, ending “chop off their heads?” If so, I do so look forward to publication.

    Are your comments about readers based on your chat room experience? Will you sharer what you think you learned –so we can argue about it?

  5. Liz Thompson says:

    Keep up the characters and the good and varied plots! Like Brooke, I am assuming that your earlier posts about nursery rhymes is connected to Oranges and Lemons. Do you know the Bells of Rhymney song? Recorded by Pete Seeger and lots of other, mainly folk, singers.

  6. Bernard says:

    For each B&M work to be able to stand alone I can see that it makes sense to have the PCU under threat each time. However, when read as a series this becomes hard to credit. But we’re not in the real world so…

    Keep up the great work!

  7. Jan says:

    Like the second picture is that the Hawksmoor church in Spitalfields?

    You are being dumb leaving them churches be. Go and examine the “pyramid” structure the Masonic symbolism in each of Hawksmoors churches….Lousy St Lukes, the strange little church that lost part of its crypt ‘re the creation of “Bank” underground station (think it was Bank anyroad. Near Bank of England)that particular church is supposed to be haunted as is that part of the station where a WW1 bomb fell and killed a young woman. St.Ann’s Limehouse the Naval church where all births and deaths at sea were registered as if they were within St Ann’s parish. There’s so much to them.

    There’s a lot of interest in Hawksmoor -Wrens star pupil- Ackroyds only touched the surface.

  8. Helen Martin says:

    Chris, you were doing research for some sort of historical story at one point. What, if anything, came of that?
    I enjoy the tumble all over kind of story, but a variety of plot types is fine.

  9. Roger says:

    Jan: Leon Kossoff, who died last week, is the artist who really went OTT with Christ Church, Spitalfields.

  10. admin says:

    I’m not posting all reader comments here because they’re largely contradictory (readers like different books, dislike others, no agreement about positive and negative elements).
    This is actually a good thing. When the majority agrees on a weak element you heed the advice, but when it’s fragmented that’s just human nature, and I take it as a broad sign that it’s going OK.

  11. David Ronaldson says:

    “Character Assassins” on BBC Sounds is worth a listen: it examines how and why characters have been disposed of by the like of Conan Doyle, Christie, Rankin and Dexter.

  12. Jan says:

    Roger cheers I will try and find out about Leon Kossoff.

    I can clearly remember back in the 70s or 80s exploring round Spitalfields with a friend and we drove by this church early on a winter’s evening. Loads of tramps were stood round a sort of bonfire close to Christchurch Spitalfields and it all looked so bloody weird it was like a scene out of a horror film. Will never forget it.Think it looked so mad Bernie drove back for a 2nd look.

  13. Jennifer Hinojosa says:

    I think I’ve gotten through 11 books now and I’ve loved all of them so far. Thank you for writing. I appreciate it all. I do have a question. I’m from the United States and am planning a trip to London next year. I have been keeping track of all the “peculiar” places mentioned in the novels and hope to visit quite a few. They are real, yes, and not just part of the story?

  14. Glasgow1975 says:

    Rebus was a great character but for ‘real world’ police procedurals his insinuation into ongoing investigations is becoming increasingly unbelievable. Rankin should have just carried on with Siobhan as the focus instead of trying to establish the ‘anti-Rebus’ Malcolm Fox.

  15. snowy says:

    Jennifer, if you’d care to share your list, I’m sure people can put places to names.

    The rest of you, which locations from which books would you most like to visit?


    [If enough people are prepared to pitch in, I’ll put it on a map. BUT each place will need a full set of data, eg:

    Name of Location: The Palace Theatre

    Geographical Location: 51.513167, -0.129472

    Description/Event: “The Palace Theatre was commissioned by impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte in the late 1880s to be the home of English grand opera. It would be the scene for Bryant and May’s first case.”

    Book: Full Dark House

    Don’t go mad and list every single location, just the key ones.]

  16. Rupert says:

    Legal and free Leon Kossoff catalogue download from his gallery:

    http://www.annelyjudafineart.co.uk/downloads/files/London_Landscapes.pdf

  17. Helen Martin says:

    Oh ho! Snowy, now you’ve started something and given me another reason to go back and reread the canon. The street in The Water Room should be easy, Goldsmith’s Hall from Seventy-seven Clocks, also. Right, need to do the searches to get the geographical locations.

  18. snowy says:

    Er… Don’t go too mad, I’m trying to get a feel for what people want to see, rather than trying to capture every single location ever mentioned.

    The first place to start is what ‘lives on in your mind’. [If lots of people are willing to make simple lists of places from their memory it will help focus on the key locations. [Where locations get lots of repeat mentions.]]

    I have a very vague idea/fantasy of ending up with a sort of edited down travel-able route that starts at PCU HQ [Original] and ends somewhere like PCU HQ [New] or Waterloo Bridge, [going via: Giles’ workplace – Prof Raymond’s lair – Coven of St James the Lesser? etc.] With at least a couple of key locations from each book on the way, [not possible for every book, ‘Lonely Hour’ might be a struggle unless we include at the canal?]

    It’s all a bit fluid at the mo, what seems important to me are openings and closings, but they might not be what people want to see?

    I did a couple at lunchtime:

    Location: St George’s Gardens

    Geographical Location: 51.526061, -0.121087

    Description/Event: Once the burial ground for two nearby churches: St George’s Bloomsbury and St George the Martyr in Queen’s Square. The Gardens remain consecrated ground. It provides the opening location for ‘Bryant & May – The Bleeding Heart’

    Book: Bryant & May – The Bleeding Heart

    Which is a bit light on description, but does link into the book.

    But the other has a problem:

    Location: Bleeding Heart Yard

    Geographical Location: 51.519273, -0.106769

    Description/Event: Legend has it that on 27 January 1646 the body of Lady Elizabeth Hatton was found here, “torn limb from limb, but with her heart still pumping blood.” ?????????????????????????????????????

    Book: Bryant & May – The Bleeding Heart

    I can’t link that to an event! [Don’t have a copy of the text to hand, anybody with a copy on an e-reader fancy a quick search about?]


    [PS. I did recover the links to the super-duper maps that Ian produced, to plunder for data.]

  19. Richard says:

    Ha ha, the big rocking chair! Depressingly, I remember it going up.
    Just so long as the Catford cat stays put (I’m biased towards landmarks south of the river). If that ever comes down then London is dead to me.
    The Keith Page illustrations are gorgeous and remind me of the Deadline magazines I read in my youth.
    As to the post itself, I’m not sure any author has perfected the long term character arc. Either the author gets bored, or the audience do. Experimentation seems to work, although Cargo of Eagles might be a warning against dumping your characters into something totally alien to them. Have you thought of doing another crime series, with millennials?

  20. admin says:

    Richard, I’ve been planning a book about a millennial for ages, but the old codgers keep getting in the way (rather like real life).

  21. Helen Martin says:

    Snowy, obviously nothing put on line ever disappears completely. I’m glad those maps still exist as they were the first thing that popped into my mind.

  22. snowy says:

    Location: Mornington Crescent Underground station

    Geographical Location: 51.534378, -0.138902

    Description/Event: Opened as part of the Charing Cross, Euston & Hampstead Railway 22 June 1907. Designed by architect Leslie Green. After it has been painstakingly established as the Headquarters of the Peculiar Crimes Unit in the opening paragraphs of the first book of the series, it then promptly explodes.

    Book: Full Dark House

    [Just about bearable.]

    Location: Waterloo Bridge

    Geographical Location: 51.508611, -0.116944

    Description/Event: This is the second bridge to span the river at this point, the original 1817 bridge having started to sink. It was demolished in the 1930s and replaced with a new bridge designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, he of Telephone Box fame. It recurs in many of the books as a place to go and think when everything seems impossible.

    Book: Several titles

    [Very week description, needs work.]

    The garden in Wild Chamber is fictional. Based on Royal Crescent Gardens a non-public space so that’s out.

    Giles’ hangouts are not publicly accessible, but there is a nice park close at hand instead.

    Location: St Pancras Gardens

    Geographical Location: 51.535511 -0.131386

    Description/Event: Originally the churchyard of St Pancras Old Church, home to the ‘Hardy Tree’ and the resting place of a cross-dressing spy and a noted ‘thief-taker’, it was opened as a public garden in 1877. Those that stray out toward the NE edge of the park can find the haunts of Giles Kershaw.

    Book: Bryant and May – On the Loose

    [Another very week descripton/link There is a Mr Fox somewhere attached but I can’t remember how?.]

    Anybody that would like to jump into this madness but is daunted by the idea of finding strange strings of numbers can just supply an address instead.

  23. Tim Beaton says:

    Re the continuing series… Personally, I have read all of the full length novels, as well as London’s Glory… and have little criticism apart from agreeing with some, (I presume) who find the perpetual “OMIGOD… The PCU will be closed unless somehow saved at the 59th minute of the 11th hour!” a little repetitive. However, I do understand the need to keep an undercurrent of hazard (Fowles!?) to maintain tension. And, I’m guessing that unlike some, I thoroughly enjoyed the change of pace with The Hall Of Mirrors. The mental picture of May in bell bottoms, and the genesis of Arthur the Mini were nicely done.
    My only real gripe, is your regular mention of “nicotine stained fingers/walls/etc.
    As you must know nicotine is a white crystalline substance, so the brown stains are due to the tars in tobacco, rather than the nicotine.
    So there.

  24. Helen Martin says:

    Snowy, Mr. Fox turned up in St. Pancras gardens posing as a sexton or some such and it is just a passing incident. No, I don’t remember which book. So far you’ve got every one of my first thoughts of places except the Savoy Hotel and Theatre. (I took a really nice pair of shots of the Morningside Station to make a wide angle.)

    Tim Beaton, you’re going to fit in here perfectly.

  25. snowy says:

    I’m whipping through Ian’s maps that go up to ‘The Victoria Vanishes’, wonderful adjuncts to the books they are, [much too detailed for what I’m after, ie. glorified pub crawl around KX and environs with some interesting diversions] , but a brilliant place to start.

    Mr Fox, OK.

    Any readers with a e-book copy of On the Loose fancy filling in a few details of the encounter with Mr Fox?

    Add another one while I’m here:

    Location: The Victoria

    Geographical Location: 51.528488, -0.123399

    Description/Event: It’s gone or perhaps it never existed? The fictional ‘The Victoria Cross’ was based on a real pub now called McGlynns. It is where the story of The Victoria Vanishes begins.

    Book: The Victoria Vanishes

    [Let’s spell weak correctly for a change!

    Description a bit/very weak, Who was there? Why were they there?

    Will I run out of steam, before the end of the weekend?]

    [Currently puzzled by the Coven of St. James the Elder, it moves around a bit. Kentish Town in one book and then hitches it’s skirts up and runs off to Camden High Street.]

  26. snowy says:

    Location: Hope Chapel

    Geographical Location: 51.546528, -0.143556

    Description/Event: The Hope Chapel, at the time of The Water Room this was the home of Maggie’s Coven. While you are here look over your shoulder to see the St Pancras Public Baths, opened in 1903, with first and second class entrances. Ladies were only admitted through a separate discreet door in Grafton Road.

    Book: The Water Room

    Location: The Worlds End

    Geographical Location: 51.539222, -0.142275

    Description/Event: In Seventy Seven Clocks, The Camden Town Coven of St. James the Elder meet in a flat above the World’s End Pub. 174 Camden High St, Camden Town, London NW1 0NE. You have probably earned yourself a pint if you have got this far.

    Book: Seventy Seven Clocks

    [Description still a bit weak, what this job needs is a proper writer!]

  27. Jennifer Hinojosa says:

    Thank you all for the various locations. I sincerely hope to be able to visit the majority!

  28. snowy says:

    Jennifer, if you have anything on your list not covered above, please feel very welcome to put up a ‘laundry list’ of places.

  29. snowy says:

    Location: St Brides Church
    Fleet Street
    London
    EC4Y 8AU

    Geographical Location: 51.513889, -0.105833

    Description/Event: St Bride’s Church is in the old City of London, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, though Wren’s original interior was largely destroyed by a fire during the London Blitz in 1940. It had a number of notable parishioners, including John Milton, John Dryden and Samuel Pepys, who was baptized in the church. Contained in the crypt is The Museum of Fleet Street. There is an folk-story that the spire was the inspiration for the traditional tiered wedding cake.

    The churchyard is where two bored children decide to go witch-hunting in The Invisible Code.

    Book: Bryant & May and the Invisible Code

    [That desc. is truly woeful, but it’ll do as a placeholder for now.]

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