Between Genres At The Moment

Reading & Writing

I’m in hospital again today with a tube hanging out of my arm so I’m typing this with one hand. The nurse isn’t coming around for an hour so I’ve time to bang this out.

I’m writing a third volume of my award-winning memoirs (my agent insists on me adding that phrase). For those of you who had the misfortune to be born late, here’s a quick catch-up. I’m a writer of what’s known as popular fiction, ie. I’m not about to turn out ‘The Swimming Pool Library’ but I could easily have written ‘Goodbye to Berlin’. Here’s what you get when you read my books;

‘Choose one style of writing and stick with it,’ I was told many years ago by an editor. Naturally I ignored her and have ploughed a lonely furrow ever since, lurching between every possible known genre, starting with my first fiction novel ‘Roofworld’ (SF? Fantasy? Urban Drama? Thriller?) through ‘Spanky’ (Thriller? Satire? Bromance?) to ‘Plastic’ (Femme Noir? Empowerment? Adventure?) and ‘Calabash’ (Time Slip? Teen Drama? Fantasy?) and lately ‘Hot Water’ (Murder mystery? Satire? Black comedy?). The truth is, all of them have elements of horror, comedy and satire. With the Bryant & May series I knew what I wanted to try – Golden Age mysteries set in the modern urban world that I know and recognise. And that was it really, the strapline.

I read a lot of murder mysteries. I don’t do dumbed-down and I don’t like procedural crime unless it’s very very good. I very much admire the outrageous style of Lee Child, the atmospheric prose of Ann Cleeves and the balls-out gutsiness of Val McDermid, I’m very much enjoying the final book by Theo Clare (Mo Hader) called ‘The Book of Sand’ and there are also a couple of authors I hate, especially (REDACTED) and (REDACTED) so I know where I stand as regards to influences and tastes. I like historical crime too, like the thrillers by Robert J Lloyd, Lloyd Shepard and violinist/chemist Oscar de Muriel.

Whenever I’m put on a festival panel it’s often with the horror/SF writers because festivals simply don’t know where to place me. Which leads me to the realisation that the Bryant & May books exist in a non-existent genre, a sort of crime with-serious-stuff-and-funny-asides thing. I’d be happy to be filed under Crime: Mystery and have done with it.

It will come as no surprise to hear that TV executives have no idea at all what to do with the books. They want to film them but seem intent on making them similar to other series, but the Bryant & May mysteries aren’t like anything else. They’re not procedurals, not supernatural, not ultra-violent but they are quite fun. After all, why would cops choose their profession if on some level it wasn’t an enjoyable daily experience?

That brings you lag-behinds up to speed. The nurse is coming back to take out my cannula. I’m happy to write on any subject this week, so all suggestions will be welcomed.

28 comments on “Between Genres At The Moment”

  1. Stu-I-Am says:

    @admin Some off the top of my head blog fare for thought: (1) speaking of which, your thoughts on on food (and cooking— or do you just jot down recipes for Pete?); (2) the best (and worst) of London (mayhap including shopping these days); (3) rejected or discarded plot ideas for B&M novels (and why they were, if not obvious to us plebs); (4) how you would rewrite or change one or more of the ‘classics’ (any genre or medium), (5) if you were to introduce a new character to the PCU, what attributes would they have?; (6) people (other than Pete) who have significantly impacted or influenced your life (keeping them anon. if you like); (7) book promotion and marketing experiences; (8) which present screenwriters and directors do you think could do justice to B&M; (9) memorable reviews (the good the bad and the laughable); (10) and the suitably vague — your relationship with words. (11) all of the above.

  2. Joan says:

    Chris I love your comments on film, what did you think of the Last Duel and Belfast? Looking forward to the House of Gucci.

  3. Bernard says:

    It would be really helpful if you could provide clues about those two (REDACTED) authors.

  4. Jo W says:

    Well Christopher, whatever was being dripped into you through that cannula was certainly not stemming the flow of words coming out. What was it, liquidised OED with a soupçon of Roget’s?
    I shouldn’t think any suggestions of mine would match up to what you’ll be chatting about, so I’ll leave it to your excellent choice. Btw, any chance of having a NZ Sauvignon Blanc hooked up to that drip? That would be my kind of hospital. Cheers Chris. X

  5. admin says:

    No sauvignon in the drip sadly and having ordered lunch I was finished before it arrived. Thank God.

    Joan, I’m drowning in academy film nominations and watching them as fast as I can, so I’ll post some results here this week.

    Bernard, those [Redacted]s. A clue to one; horses. A clue to the other, Brighton. Beyond that my lips are sealed.

  6. Colin says:

    Be very interested in hearing what you thought of the original Twilight Zone, could imagine you short stories making great episodes. Sure Rod Serling would have loved your stories

  7. Stu-I-Am says:

    About this pigeonhole business… Now that I’ve read more of your non-B&M work, I think of you even more as the John Merrick of contemporary fiction (not physically, of course): ‘I am not an algorithm! I am a writer.’ And therein, no doubt, lies the ‘rub.’ You are a writer (caps would be unseemly here) as evident by being able to write with one hand ‘ tied behind your back’ (or arm attached to an IV) — and not an ‘author.’ in the strict and desirable trade sense. (Mutterings of ‘whatever is he on about now ?’ is heard in Blogland).

    In today’s wonderful world of publishing, you can no more be simply an ‘author’ than an otter could just be a ‘Lutra’ under the Linnaean classification system. You have to be an ‘author’ of (add genre). And yes of course, the B&M series fits into the ‘Crime:Mystery’ category but uncomfortably, in my view. Being adept at stating the obvious, allow me to also point out that your curse (and a blessing for the faithful) is that you’re a ‘low concept’ writer (plot and character complexities, subtleties, often leavened with humour, which don’t lend themselves to easy summarization) in a ‘high concept’ world.

    It’s not that your plots or premises can’t be stated succinctly in a sentence or two, it’s just that they undoubtedly don’t do justice to what they actually encapsulate. Put another way, your books are not of the ‘Snakes on a Plane’ variety. Without knowing for certain, I would guess that your American agent’s reaction to ‘Hot Water’ would be a telling example of the ‘genre dysfunction’ I’m banging on about.

  8. Roberta says:

    I just finished watching Only Murders in the Building on Hulu. I thought the series itself didn’t quite come together, but that’s not my point. Every time I watched the credits, I thought how much the (drawn) silhouettes of Steve Martin and Martin Short reminded me of Bryant and May. The tall, thin, elegant Martin, and the bantam, ebullient, slightly random Short. Has anyone else watched it?

  9. Stu-I-Am says:

    @admin Several more suggested possible blog topics: Britishisms (in a broad sense) you like/dislike. pet hates, books read that would make good films, your favourite characters of other authors and inside look at, or ‘diary’ of, the life of a novel.

  10. Stu-I-Am says:

    @admin My guesses for those expurgated authors are: Dick Francis and Peter James.

  11. Colin says:

    Exactly what I thought Stu!

  12. Jan says:

    Hello petal I have sent you a few e mail’s further to your “Fountains + Tulips” thread. Very interesting thread that. Sent mainly single photos cos the ancient Kindle is playing up.( Can’t send lots of photos on 1 msg.)

    Hopefully won’t get caught in your Spam/anti Jan traps! Hope all’s good

  13. Stu-I-Am says:

    @Colin What that about great minds thinking alike ?

  14. Colin says:

    Thank you Stu!

  15. Phil says:

    Apropos films, London and so forth Admin, you may be interested in the Indiewire Film article from October 29th in which Edgar Wright breaks down 29 films from the 1960s that inspired ‘Last Night in Soho’.
    Kind regards.

  16. Martin Tolley says:

    Stu & Colin – methinks “son of Dick”.

  17. I would love to read something a long the lines of your Forgotten Authors but about films and film makers.

  18. Stu-I-Am says:

    @ Martin Tolley You are welcome join us in the (provisional) winner’s circle. That way we cover all bets — on the Francis ‘dynasty,’ at least. However, assuming CF read at least some of Dick’s books and stopped, I have to wonder if he would then be motivated to pick up one of Felix’s, knowing it was also about horse racing ? Perhaps out of curiosity (?) I guess we’ll never know. Let me write that louder — AHEM, I GUESS WE’LL NEVER KNOW.

  19. Pip’s mum says:

    I’d like to know what your favourite Margery Allingham book is and why. I love the Campion books although I freely confess that I’m not clever enough to get all the nuances.

  20. Liz+Thompson says:

    There are several authors fixated on Brighton.

  21. admin says:

    Pip’s Mum – ‘Tiger in the Smoke’, because it has a wonderfully atmospheric feel, even though (like most of her books) it doesn’t entirely make sense to me.

  22. Stu-I-Am says:

    @admin I second your choice of ‘Tiger in the Smoke’ as a favourite Allingham but would also put ‘More Work for the Undertaker’ up there as well. Your ‘making sense’ problem may stem from reading her mysteries/thrillers for her ‘hows’ as opposed to what she is really all about, the ‘whys.’ Her plots are really artifices for her characterizations which I think sets her apart from the other ‘Queens of Crime,’ along with her wonderful sense of place.

  23. Pip’s mum says:

    I could never get to grips with Tiger in the Smoke and didn’t like the film at all. Police at the Funeral and Sweet Danger top my list.

    Stu-I-am – I think you’ve nailed why I struggle to understand the books at times – need to think about why rather than how. Maybe that’s the problem with Sayers (for me) too.

    I concur that Bryant and May could be filed under crime mystery AND are terrific fun. I can’t wait until international travel is possible again to get back to London and explore the locations in more detail. Your books are wonderfully atmospheric too 🙂

  24. Jan says:

    That’s a good idea from Anna Marie Covitch

  25. Martin Tolley says:

    Agree with Jan and AMC.

  26. Stu-I-Am says:

    Talking about Margery Allingham playing a bit fast and loose with her plots in favour of characterization, I’m reminded of Raymond Chandler, the American-British founder of the hard-boiled school of detective fiction. Those of us who know his work, understand that he too was never big on tying up loose ends in his plots.

    One telling example was with the pretzel-like plot of the great Warner Bros. film noir classic, ‘The Big Sleep, which starred Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall and had three screenwriters, including William Faulkner. Keeping track of who’s doing what to, or with, whom — in just about every sense — is a 114-minute mind game, if you may remember.

    It seems that the writers couldn’t figure out who killed a character even after rechecking the eponymous novel, so they phoned Chandler. He angrily told them the answer was right there in the book and hung up. Chandler soon called back to say that he looked at the book himself and couldn’t figure it out either.  Plot anomalies notwithstanding, both the novel and film are great fun.

  27. Helen+Martin says:

    I’m glad it’s not entirely my fault that I had problems with The Big Sleep when I read it as a teenager and my problem with MS Allingham *is* her characters.

  28. Jane Callaghan says:

    Why Margery Allingham still cheers me up after all these years is the delighted gusto she brings to the story-telling and the fact that no character, however minor, however mechanical, is ever faceless or voiceless.

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