How Things Go (I.e. Never To Your Expectations)

Christopher Fowler
I suspect we try to tidy up our lives as we go along, and prove our mettle when that fails. One could call it 'rolling with the punches', but by God there have been a few too many punches of late. An Eeyorish friend of mine said, 'life becomes easier if you remember that everyone is lying to you', and on bad days I suspect he may be right. Hilary Mantel wrote on through her illness and I've tried to use her (much superior) example to do the same. Once you reach the conclusion that the pain will win, the little adventures of a group of fictional characters become very unimportant. The Bryant & May gang never really achieved popularity, except perhaps among the real aficionados. The public votes, and the public right now chooses very safe harbours indeed. The open secret here is that you don't have to be a very good writer to get into crime fiction. But I've always set out to maximise my small skills through originality. This ramble is by way of saying that there's unlikely to be any more Bryant & May, because the disease is (surprise) winning. I find it impossible to concentrate or construct plots, which is bad timing as I now have a killer ending to the entire series. What happened; I'd been working on 'The House That Jack Built' whenever I was up to it, but the plotting was too diffuse. Then my best friend Martin came to visit. He and I have worked together all our lives. To say that Martin does not fit in is to do him an injustice. He's an art director, a creator who produces something from nothing, one of a tiny handful of true originals. Any smart modern hair-banded AD would shun him; too loud and too wild, he looks like he designs his own clothes by tearing the buttons off. Well, let's just say that the more fashionable members of our creative community will never see or understand what he has to teach them, probably because it can't be taught. This being the burned-down remains of England, there's also a class issue attached; Martin is defiantly working class and innately understands how people think. This is a skill no longer needed by today's creatives. When he came over I pitched 'The House That Jack Built' to him and asked him what was wrong with it. Without thinking, he pinpointed the fault. 'It's not organic, it's like starting a new thread instead of sorting out the old one. It'll be harder to do it the right way, but much more work.' People don't like to sort out the messes they make. A classic case is the film director M Night Shyamalan, who sets up his stall with a terrific pitch (a beach that speeds up the ageing process!) but is then unable to work through the ensuing complications. Instead he glues on more stuff (crazy scientists!). But more is simply more. Now the much better director Jordan Peel may be set to follow him with his dismally open-ended 'Nope'. Tying up all the actions you've unleashed is the hardest part, so why bother? Let's jump to the next project! And that, Martin made me see, is what I just did to 'Jack'. All the tools I need were there - I was just overlooking them. In half an hour we cracked the 'Jack' conundrum and now I'm desperate to write the new version. The way ahead is clear - but it's also blocked. Palliative drugs have a terrible effect on me, knocking me out for days at a time. If I can find a way around the problem, the last Bryant & May novel will be written with an ingeniously tidy ending. If not, I'll at least try to publish the intention. I hate unsatisfying endings.


Mary Ann Atwood (not verified) Fri, 30/09/2022 - 00:06

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

How I wish I could somehow help you build Jack's house as thanks to the strength,, honesty and courage you have shared, I have found ways to assist my sister in what may just be the last months of her life. The words "thank you" just do not seem enough, however, thank you.
Wishing on a northern Minnesota star filled sky, that you "can find a way around the problem, (and) the last Bryant & May novel will be written with an ingeniously tidy ending."

Donna Jackson (not verified) Fri, 30/09/2022 - 02:47

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Really - the Bryant and May Gang never achieved popularity? Well, then those non- B&M readers missed out on one of the opportunities of a lifetime - interesting people, humor, sadness and grand history lessons.
Every minute of reading every Bryant and May novel has been a wonderful adventure. Thank you, Mr. Fowler.

Paul C (not verified) Fri, 30/09/2022 - 10:32

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Perhaps one of your crime writer friends could complete the novel in line with your detailed plans ?

Ian Rankin did a fine job of completing The Dark Remains by William McIlvanney and Lawrence Block stylishly finished Into the Night by Cornell Woolrich. I hope you don't mind the suggestion.

Totally agree with Donna's sentiments.

Peter T (not verified) Fri, 30/09/2022 - 11:40

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Popular or not, Bryant and May for me are the best of crime fiction. However things go, we appreciate you and your work. Years ago, I gave up on expectations and settled for bumbling along over planning. I am much happier as a consequence.

Jan (not verified) Fri, 30/09/2022 - 11:44

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Very nicely said Donna.

Don't be confusing the fact that these novels weren't bestsellers with them being unpopular.

You found your market Chris. Perhaps partly because of your own interests and the way they formed backdrops to the B+M mystery novels the books were always going to be niche market offerings. So be it - you wrote what you fancied. Nowt wrong with that.

Can yourself or you're sartorially challenged mate not sketch THTJB out into a novel plan that another ( I hesitate to say ghost writer!) can work up into publishable form?

Just so you can know that the story cycle is complete.

Bob Low (not verified) Fri, 30/09/2022 - 12:43

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

No fair minded person with any taste could ever describe your writing skills as "small", in any genre, or none. Those skills, combined with your originality and versatility, have made you an indispensable writer, particularly for smart people with a sense of humour.

Kimberly Molesworth (not verified) Fri, 30/09/2022 - 13:45

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Dear Chris,
I wanted to tell you much I’ve enjoyed your Bryant and May books.I’m fascinated by the many stories of London and the wonderful characters of the PCU. Their interaction is what I enjoy most. I’ve thought of you during these times of difficult health problems and hope you continue with your current project.
You are one of a kind

debby kowsoleea (not verified) Fri, 30/09/2022 - 17:25

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Christopher Fowler, we love you. Your Dutch readers, Debby Kowsoleea and Fried Mertens.

Helen+Martin (not verified) Fri, 30/09/2022 - 18:10

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We only hear what you write and that voice sounds as strong as ever. The truth is sad and we would hate to drive a person with all the personal concerns you must have to use up what strength you have in dealing with editors, publishers and so on. If it gives you satisfaction to continue writing and does not stop you from dealing with personal matters then fine but ifa suitable person offers to work from an outline for you then do not hesitate. We do not want to be a drag on you.
I know your beliefs do not run this way but it is my turn to offer the prayers of the people this week and rest assured that you will figure largely in that prayer, even if not actually named. I pray for you and Pete regularly.

Roger (not verified) Fri, 30/09/2022 - 18:57

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

You underestimate yourself.
I came across B&M years ago and picked up your other books desultorily since then - not out of indifference, but because I've got so many other books to read before I get rid of them, I've set out not to find new books to read. I am perfecting the technique of going round London without going near shops that might have books for sale, not going into those shops, and not buying books when I do go in them. I give way to temptation now and then and invariably do so if I find one of yours - and you have produced remarkably varied books and stories. I'd be delighted if you wrap it all up conclusively, but if you don't, it's like the Sagrada Famillia, we have enough already.

Brooke (not verified) Fri, 30/09/2022 - 19:44

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The third image--is it Diana Rigg in an Avenger episode?

"...the Bryant and May Gang never achieved popularity? I can only echo what others have said...Popularity is about industry marketing, not the quality of authorship (imagination, creative writing, etc.) If quality were the standard, bookshops would be comparatively empty. I give your books as gifts; recipients enjoy them and go on to buy others in the series.

Brit Ray (not verified) Fri, 30/09/2022 - 20:59

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

After reading and rereading all the Golden Age of Mystery writers over a period of many decades it was impossible to find anyone else up to that standard.. Except for you ( and one other ). You’ve given me so many Laugh-out loud moments in public places and many more enthralling hours at home. When I finished the last Bryant & May novel (in the plane from L. A. To Philadelphia) I cried at the realization it would the last. My husband over 50 years had just died and I felt as though I was suffering an almost comparable loss. Reading here that you are ill and in pain makes me even sadder. As much as I want to plead with you to keep on writing this series I can instead only hope that you will do whatever is best for you personally. And to thank you beyond measure for being you. We your readers love you (and your alter egos) dearly. Be well.

Jo W (not verified) Sat, 01/10/2022 - 05:50

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Chris, if you can manage to “tidy it all up”, then please do it but do it for you, not for us. This is your time.
I’d read the unfinished book, after all it wouldn’t be a first - Dicken’s Mystery of Edwin Drood, Jane Austen’s Sanditon and The Watsons. Not forgetting many pieces of unfinished music.
Please Chris, look after yourself. x

George Penney (not verified) Sat, 01/10/2022 - 07:10

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Bryant and May were my sanity during the pandemic, I can't thank you enough. Through them, I discovered your other non-fiction writing--and a whole lot of excellent forgotten authors too. If it wasn't for your brilliant Bryant and May books I never would have changed track in my writing career in 2019, I wouldn't have written the best thing I've ever done. Your Bryant and May books were there the whole time I felt insecure or unsure of going off the beaten path. Quite honestly they've been my pilot light for how to write excellent, engaging, witty and suspenseful crime ever since I picked up that first book, and I think they still will be for many years to come.

Maybe it doesn't feel like your market is big, but your books aren't disposable like a lot of the really big titles that people buy just because of the buzz. Instead, they feel like old friends that come to stay--from the first read onwards--and they continue to visit, popping into our heads at odd times of day, making us smile.

Martin sounds like a goldmine of a friend. It would be wonderful if we get to read the big hurrah ending, but if you don't feel up to it, you've already given two characters (in addition to so many more!) your readers can revisit for a lifetime.

Vic (not verified) Sat, 01/10/2022 - 08:16

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

If necessary a published unfinished B&M would not be a failing. Keep the blog and there would be hours of discussions attempting to unravel the ending. On the anniversary of its publication your intended ending is revealed. Mmmm. Do it now and watch your students flounder!
Of course we all wish for a full story but wish more for you to enjoy time. Our enjoyment is simply hearing from you.

chazza (not verified) Sat, 01/10/2022 - 10:16

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I've never felt the need to comment on your B&M oeuvre. I've just got on with them quietly enjoying their eccentricity and knowledge. I am astonished by the number of friends who have also read some and never mentioned it to me! So your thoroughly enjoyable books have reached a wider audience than you can imagine...

Cornelia Appleyard (not verified) Sat, 01/10/2022 - 11:48

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

i buy all your books. There aren’t many authors I can say that about. Most produce some that don’t interest me.
B+M are certainly popular with me.
As the others have said, you must do whatever is best for you.
If that includes more books, finished or unfinished, we will be happy.
If it doesn’t, we will understand why.
All the best to both of you.

Roger (not verified) Sat, 01/10/2022 - 13:33

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

On the other hand, think of Tony Hancock and the Missing Page...

Stephen Groves (not verified) Sat, 01/10/2022 - 18:53

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I never really read crime fiction till I began to read the Bryant and May Mysteries.My house is now full of them,They are definitely popular in my house and if I were a gentleman I would strike you with my silken glove and offer you outside for a duel with uncooked Bratwurst at 10 paces.Stay strong.
All best

Karin (not verified) Sat, 01/10/2022 - 18:53

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Chris, thank you for all the B & M books. I have been a reader from the begining and will be sad if there are no more. They have been funny, eccentric and intriguing with a wonderful group of characters.
Please take care of yourself and know that we're all thinking of you.

keith page (not verified) Sun, 02/10/2022 - 11:50

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I remember the Avengers episode 'The House that Jack built' very well from its original broadcast.
One of the better ones certainly.And I really would like to find out what the 'killer ending' for Bryant and May is.

Andy Dwelly (not verified) Sun, 02/10/2022 - 13:43

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I should add that they are also delightfully funny. I hope to emulate Bryant one day soon and spend my final days vexing my younger colleagues. Following in the footsteps of a master.

Gareth (not verified) Sun, 02/10/2022 - 15:12

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Richard Osman is popular and look where that got him!

I’ve just completed my set of B&M audiobooks and listen to them as I walk around Cape Town and the Southern tip of Africa. Walk and listen and learn and love London even more than the time I spent there as a young man.

And unlike your celebrated Forgotten Authors your writing will never be forgotten and handed preciously on to fellow lovers of fiction and treasured greatly. Thank you Christopher Fowler for this gift.

Hazel Jackson (not verified) Sun, 02/10/2022 - 19:09

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Sad to hear you are struggling. I have so much enjoyed the adventures of B&M and their little band of irregulars. I have enjoyed the detailed plotting, the characterisation of your gallery of eccentrics (Janice is my personal favourite) and the love affair with London which shines out of every B&M adventure. I am so glad you wrote all those books.

I live in a big, draughty, Vctorian, London townhouse and, as gas bills rise, I have taken to retiring to the upstairs spare bedroom, (the only place to catch the sun at this time of year), to reread some of my favourite B&M adventures. There, in the quiet and the dusty sunlight, the stories resonate more than ever.

I do hope you are able to get down some basic outline of your "killer ending" to share with us.

John Griffin (not verified) Mon, 03/10/2022 - 12:16

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Mate, your B & M eclipses almost all modern crime fiction (especial, and certainly a great deal of navel-gazing/neurotic 'modern' stuff as well. A great achievement. Thank you for many happy hours of entertainment, great laughs, pathos, and not a little deep thought on the themes raised.

Dianne (not verified) Mon, 03/10/2022 - 14:24

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I've been reading mysteries for over half a century. The Bryant and May series is the best series to come along, ever. Well, at least in a league with Poirot. You have created real characters, truly original, and it breaks my heart to see the series coming to an end. Your books have brightened many a long dark Canadian winter evening here. Please know that they will continue to be reread for as long as I am still reading mysteries. Love and appreciation from Saskatchewan.

Liz+Thompson (not verified) Tue, 04/10/2022 - 10:53

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Agree with all the others - you are neither a minor writer nor do you have few fans. But write if you can, and if you can't, consider some of the suggestions above. Unfinished, completed by someone else, bitty. None of that matters. Live your remaining life as well as you can, that's all.

Gabi Coatsworth (not verified) Tue, 04/10/2022 - 12:51

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

There’s kindness as well as wit and intellect in your books - not to mention London. That’s why we’ll be re-reading them for as long as we can. And thank you for Paperboy too. My friends and I love being taken from our lives in 2020s America back to our childhoods. Thanks for all the books and blogs…

Wayne Mook (not verified) Tue, 04/10/2022 - 17:05

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I think Shyamalan has become obsessed with needing a twist ending and it is having a detrimental effect on him as a film maker. I was watching Unbreakable, didn’t see the ending sadly, I mean I haven’t finished watching the film not about the twist, it wasn’t the gung-ho film it was shown in the adverts and to be honest I was enjoying it, Willis and Jackson are excellent, I must get round to seeing the end.

Usually, I agree most films need an end, but there are exceptions, Picnic at Hanging Rock, the book gives a pat ending but if anything, it diminishes the power of the story. There is a 70’s horror film, Scream and Scream Again, the film is quite ambiguous and if anything has a better twist, the book gives more reason to what is happening but for me it makes no difference, I have them on par with each other.

As to The House that Jack Built, Peculiar London was a bonus so as far as I’m concerned, you’ve already done more than enough and more than expected. If you find the strength to finish it, I’ll be happy but not at the expense to yourself. You and Pete come first.


Sheila McInerney (not verified) Thu, 06/10/2022 - 12:46

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Thank you, thank you for all of the great stories that you have already given to us. I hope that you find yourself able to share your “killer ending “ with us. But Bryant and May have already given me so much enjoyment, that if you’re not able finish, please know that I appreciate all you have provided to your readers. And as others have said, you are not a minor writer and you have many fans!

Anna-Maria Covich (not verified) Thu, 06/10/2022 - 15:41

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

What everyone else said!

I laughed so hard at the idea that anyone can be a crime writer. My ex is one, and i dislike his writing and narrative style, so I am inclined to agree with you. (She laughs, synically)

I think you sell yourself short though, you're not just a crime writer; you're a world builder and storyteller who likes to (I assume) tell those stories relative to a crime or mystery. The mystery is fun, but your people are the real stories.

Cora (not verified) Fri, 07/10/2022 - 20:50

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I want to echo the other comments about the popularity of the PCU books. Years ago I read a review of one of them (can't remember which) in the Seattle Times. I'm always on the lookout for a good mystery series, so I bought the first one and never looked back. I don't keep all the books I read, just my favorites. Bryant and May will be on my bookshelves as long as I'm around. It's been hard to read about your illness, but your humor and determination are nothing short of inspirational. Thank you.

Cora McCoy (not verified) Sat, 08/10/2022 - 00:53

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I left a comment earlier, but it wasn't posted. To sum up: thank you for the books. I love them all. Your humor and determination are a wonder and an inspiration. Thank you.