A Bit Of A Race Against Time

Christopher Fowler

How Do I Write Now?

On one side - a head full of ideas. On the other - permanent pain and exhaustion. How on earth am I meant to balance them? This is hardly a new problem for writers, but once I could have written my way through difficult patches, and I now have to fight for every every joule of energy. Nothing can be planned or taken for granted anymore. Two days ago I felt virtually normal. Yesterday I could not walk across the room without collapsing. Today I'm somewhere between the two. To hell with pride at this point, bring on the indignities, especially if they help me to stay mobile. I now have added a folding stick (Kmina Pro Carbon Fibre) to the medication stash in my backpack. Why not? I've worn spectacles since I was three. I talked to a nurse about patient behaviour during this late stage and she said many give up and take to their beds. But, self-deludingly no doubt, I still have a book to write and research to conduct. One of my neighbours is Patricia Hewitt, the former Labour Health Secretary, born in the decade before mine, and I don't see her slowing down. She's chairing more committees in her 70s than ever. I certainly believe that those who have goals and a bit of willpower do better. But I've learned not to look on YouTube, which has channels of neophyte authors complaining in an unspecified manner about their mental health, and almost nothing about people with real disabilities that prevent them from working at normal speed. My rule of thumb? There's a cycle to be honoured; appetite = daytime energy = better sleep = sharper brain. I could be writing the script for Brooke's idea about teddy bears and unicorns, but instead I'm blankly staring out of the window at St Paul's. As usual, I've embarked upon something a tad too ambitious...

Where's The Body?

The new Bryant & May novel is complicated, and I have no short-term memory left after successive rounds of chemo. I need to make it simpler, cleaner, purer. A rug-pull of a tale, not out to make any big point, just to surprise and delight. An amuse-bouche.  I remember seeing Anthony Shaffer's  'Sleuth' in the theatre when I was young and how its late revelation floored me. I thought at time it was the simplest, purest murder mystery ever pulled off in the theatre. But time has not been kind to 'Sleuth' and its big twist can only work onstage, preferably at a distance. There were two films, the first camp and fun with Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine, the second dour and dreadful with Jude Law and Caine now in the older role, given the usual kiss of death from Kenneth Branagh's direction and Harold Pinter's plodding script. The big problem - apart from the only other character we see onscreen being called 'Inspector Doppler' - lies in its sexual politics. The woman they're fighting over, the unseen Marguerite, loves to spend and make love, and exists as a weird male fantasy without a voice or indeed anything more than a naff portrait. But the idea is right. If it's a murder mystery, where's the body? What happens when you unpick the key elements of the whodunnit? 'Sleuth' probably influenced the writing of 'Hot Water' (without its 'voiceless trophy wife/McGuffin' element). I'd like to pull it off again, but that will depend on how the race goes.

What's Going To Happen?

That's always the big question with mysteries, isn't it? We'll see how far I can get. The pages are mounting up but this is closing in. Two weeks ago I could walk unaided. As for the book, Bryant's back and already in a frightful mess, Raymond's tearing his hair out and there's a murderous plot with a missing corpse. (It's the little things like this that keep me going.) All books have a deadline and I've always delivered on time, but this may be the one appointment I finally can't keep.


Andrew Marshall (not verified) Sun, 23/10/2022 - 17:09

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Dear Christopher,
I've always felt, in some alchemical way, that writing is life. I'm struggling to express the existential concept of what I'm trying to say in concrete terms, but hope you know what I mean. Let Arthur and John guide you, and all best wishes.

Gary Locke (not verified) Sun, 23/10/2022 - 17:41

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

You are remarkable.

Hazel Jackson (not verified) Sun, 23/10/2022 - 18:10

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Keeping everything crossed for you.

Oskar from Sweden (not verified) Sun, 23/10/2022 - 19:20

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Regardless of how the race goes, as you say, you have given many people much joy over the years, and will still do many years ahead. The first I read from you was the short story "The Spider Kiss" in a Stephen Jones anthology - it was weird and funny and made me seek out your other stories and novels. I'm very glad I did.

Helen+Martin (not verified) Sun, 23/10/2022 - 19:53

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

It sounds as if you've got things the right way up.We're all fighting little things and watching you is so encouraging. My Mother had sleepers in her room twice while she lived in care. No one wants to be asleep 23 hours a day and not conscious in that one hour so do as much as you can as long as you can. Doing nothing doesn't help us and living is doing, no matter how little.
You know we're hoping all the best that's possible and some things that aren't possible, don't you?

Jo W (not verified) Sun, 23/10/2022 - 21:44

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Sending you our best wishes for the strength to carry on getting all that’s in your head, out there onto the page. That goal is good for you. Alan has a target of the age of ninety two (gawd ‘elp me). He’ll then have drawn more years pension than the years he worked for the firm. That’s the result he’s looking for. Love to you both.XX

Chris Adams (not verified) Sun, 23/10/2022 - 23:05

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Please do whatever you feel is best for you at all times.You are a wonder.Thank you for all the stories from the past and those of the future.My thoughts are with you both.

Amanda M (not verified) Sun, 23/10/2022 - 23:55

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I can’t tell you how much your writing has meant to me. I can only imagine how difficult it is to not be able to do what you were obviously made for, but your brilliance and spirit are so much more than what you’ve given to the world. I hurt for you, (obviously on an incomparably smaller scale), but I am so thankful for you and your gifts.

Bruce+Rockwood (not verified) Mon, 24/10/2022 - 00:06

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Know we hold you in the light, whatever light there is these days. The world is crazy, your books and ideas help make sense of it. Maybe talk into a tape when you have ideas that you can review later as the pieces of the story fall together. That might help short term memory. Thank you for your work.

H (not verified) Mon, 24/10/2022 - 00:41

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

You want to finish this new mystery and we want to read it. Go for it.
XO to both of you.

Joan (not verified) Mon, 24/10/2022 - 02:48

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I salute you Chris! Your writing gives you purpose and a goal to reach, illness be damned. Your resilience is amazing. I wish you both all the best, still wishing for a miracle at the same time.

Jade (not verified) Mon, 24/10/2022 - 07:50

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Your books give me the strongest sensation of putting a cassette into a tape deck and pressing play. Clicking into place. Letting the book play out.

I hope for peaceful times that allow Bryant and May to flow to the page.

Keith & Anna (not verified) Mon, 24/10/2022 - 08:29

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Hell... You will be missed..! So make this book your "Swan Song"....!!
We all love Bryant & May.! And for us older ones (born just a couple of months after you) we can naturally slide into their environment.
How you have managed to write so many books with these two characters and keep them all so fresh is amazing.!
This new book gives you purpose and can support your fight to carry on....

Like all your "followers" we pray for a miracle - Our thoughts are with you.!

Des Burkinshaw (not verified) Mon, 24/10/2022 - 08:49

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Get three of your best and closest writer buddies to work with you from this point. You'll get external stimulation and distraction, they can get a grip on your plans for the book to avoid Drood syndrome, and hopefully it will take some stress off you.
You're not serialising your illness in the Guardian, or detailing it on the sofas of breakfast telly, but the way you are handling this with wit and honesty is supremely inspiring, dear Chris.
I cannot say it too often, the characters you have created are right up there. It has been, and will remain, one of the great joys to have them in my life forever.

Janet Roger (not verified) Mon, 24/10/2022 - 09:34

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

You know something Chris, as things people are remembered for, your writing will certainly be right up there with the very best. Your kindness and support for authors like me trying to get into your leaugue is something I won't ever forget. An act of kindness, something that took your time when you didn't have much to spare. I think about it often and enjoy your generosity of spirit and friendship. My very best wishes, Janet

Sarah Doyle (not verified) Mon, 24/10/2022 - 09:57

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

First time posting here. I felt I had to say how much I enjoy spending time in the company of Bryant and May. I am very much a mood reader and often reread books for comfort. Your posts have inspired me to be bolder in my choice of literature and seek out some of the authors you have mentioned.. If we get the new Bryant and May book it will be a lovely bonus, but your comfort and health comes first. You've given us a wonderful legacy already.

Paul C (not verified) Mon, 24/10/2022 - 10:12

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Awed by your courage.

Agree with all of the sentiments above which are expressed far better than I could say

Debra (not verified) Mon, 24/10/2022 - 12:20

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

It's good that you're spending this time in the company of Bryant and May. Your readers, who love Bryant and May and you, are there with you and we are so grateful.

Cornelia Appleyard (not verified) Mon, 24/10/2022 - 12:38

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

You have done so much for all of us. I’m sure we all wish we could do something for you in return.
Thinking of you and wishing you the strength you need to do what you want to do.

Brooke (not verified) Mon, 24/10/2022 - 13:15

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Thank you, Mr. Fowler.
P.S. Listening to MR James stories and the few AJ Alan stories one can find are the only reasons to tune into YouBoob.

BarbaraBoucke (not verified) Mon, 24/10/2022 - 14:07

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

When my grandfather was 14 years old, he was left standing alone on the docks at Bremen with a steerage ticket in his hand for New York. It wasn't supposed to happen like that, but it did. He could have gone back home, but he didn't. He got on the ship and went forwards. You have a goal - stay with it - memory blips, protein drinks, the colllapsible cane and all. You have a lot of support here - spoken and unspoken. That's huge.

Helen+Martin (not verified) Mon, 24/10/2022 - 17:44

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Des Burkinshaw phrased that suggestion well but it might be more tiring than just plugging on alone. Consider it all but do what's best for you.

Phil Lord (not verified) Mon, 24/10/2022 - 18:03

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Peace and love, Christopher, but keep going if you can. You have already given so many fellow human beings such joy with your B&M family. I wonder what advice Meera would give to you you now – her bedtime manner might need work.
But seriously, I work with Simon Sartorious on your books for Transworld. We are so proud of what you have created – and that is quite apart from all your other writing. The most important thing is for you and your husband to know that you have all our love and support.

WhiskeyJack (not verified) Mon, 24/10/2022 - 20:23

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

It's heartbreaking to be reading through your blog updates about your failing health.
And while it's admirable that you won't give up in the face of such inevitability. There's a selfishness in me already mourning the loss of your unwritten books.
You don't know me, nor I you. But, your books have been a pleasure to read for the past twenty odd years.
And the rediscovery of your works with the two old codgers, got me out of a reading slump that has never returned.
Thank you for stories. Thank you for giving the crime fiction scene possibly the most criminally overlooked series and lead characters, which have been a constant source of pleasure for me, and possibly tedium for people near me as I've rabbited and ranted about Bryant and May for years.
Now, if you don't mind, I'm going to start again at the beginning and see what I may have missed.
"ON THE STREETS of London, nobody notices a running man.
This one, however, was different. He was old, in his late sixties at least, and he was frightened. He had run across the width of Soho, and now stood panting against the construction-site scaffolding which bristled over the buildings above Carnaby Street......."

Warmest regards and thanks.

roxanne g reynolds (not verified) Tue, 25/10/2022 - 00:19

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

i discovered Bryant & May early in 2014, after reading a review in the ny times of whatever was the latest release. i decided i'd best start at the beginning and i've been hopelessly devoted ever since. chris, you and your motley crew have given me immeasurable pleasure over the past 8+ years. i could never thank you enough. may we all meet up at the restaurant at the end of the universe.

Anthony Foley (not verified) Tue, 25/10/2022 - 02:01

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

You are in my prayers

Jo W (not verified) Tue, 25/10/2022 - 07:06

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

# roxanne g reynolds
Excellent suggestion of yours, would you mind booking a table? I’ve lost the ‘phone number.
P.s. I won’t be ordering the cow that recommends which are its best bits!

Christopher Fowler Tue, 25/10/2022 - 10:40

In reply to by Phil Lord (not verified)

I'm impressed that you work with a fictitious character, Phil! I'm trying for one last hurrah...

steve (not verified) Tue, 25/10/2022 - 12:27

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Hi, I love your books though I'm a casual fan rather than one of your 'queue through the night' die-hards. That said, I've made a point of collecting a set of Bryant & May first editions. I confess I did not know you were ill & it obviously saddens me. Just thank you: for carrying on, for allowing us in, for writing books that we love, for not stopping. Words are cheap unless they're crafted & I appreciate your workmanship. I choose to tell you, before the silver cord is severed

Taknee (not verified) Tue, 25/10/2022 - 12:59

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Your Bryant and May novels have supported my sense of well being for the longest time. Thank you so much far giving me a glimpse of your mind's eye. What a gift it is in this world of today. Thank you for always giving of your best self.

Christopher Fowler Tue, 25/10/2022 - 14:47

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Thank you Steve, for assuming I might have readers who are 'queue through the night' diehard fans. It assumes there are bookshops out there who might arrange a special opening for my books, which is a sweet if inaccurate thought. I've got a couple of readers who queue to explain in great detail why I've got something wrong, though.

BarbaraBoucke (not verified) Tue, 25/10/2022 - 16:22

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Once, a couple of years ago, I wrote a comment mumbling about who sang a particular song in Pinafore that you referenced in Bryant and May. Then I came across another G&S point in another of the books, and light suddenly dawned. I'm a slow learner. I now call it literary license, although that's probably not the correct term. What you wrote about Pinafore made perfectly good sense within that story, and again in the other one I read after it. Thank you again for your writing and for furthering my education. Take care.

David Prestidge (not verified) Tue, 25/10/2022 - 18:26

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

You know what I think about you and your books, but I don't think my words reach many people. I just want to say, on this different forum, that your writing has brought me such joy over the years. As crime fiction, the B&M books are unique, but I put your humour up there with the best, alongside JB Morton, the Grossmiths, Israel Zangwill and Wodehouse. The only crime writer who (for me) has produced such a brilliant blend of mystery and comedy was Colin Watson. He is sadly forgotten now, and even in his retirement he gave up writing to concentrate on silversmithing.

Your present struggles are heartbreaking to read about, but your courage is inspiring. Whatever happens, you and the two old gents will never ever be forgotten.

roxanne g reynolds (not verified) Tue, 25/10/2022 - 20:28

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

admin - who is in posession of the original cover artwork for B & M? just curious.

Gabi Coatsworth (not verified) Tue, 25/10/2022 - 23:12

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Time to thank you for so many years of wonderful company in the form of the Peculiar Crimes Unit. They feel like friends to me now, as do you, especially since I read Paperboy. You've become even more inspiring since this journey of yours began, demonstrating that it's the journey that's important, not the destination.
With all good thoughts for you and Pete...

Glasgow1975 (not verified) Wed, 26/10/2022 - 02:12

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

My goodness, I'm amazed you're still beavering away and still bothering to check in with us weirdos. Please don't over exert yourself on our account, you've already done more than enough and for that we're all thankful.

Helen+Martin (not verified) Wed, 26/10/2022 - 04:48

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I'm about to start the B&M cycle again and I was going to start with The Water Room because I've read Full Dark House a number of times but I remember what a beautiful and perfect thing it is so I'll go back to that haunted theatre yet again. Thank you for it.
My husband isn't waiting for me to tell him what is on the site any more - he's reading it for himself. He says he's glad he met you when he did.

Paul+Waller (not verified) Wed, 26/10/2022 - 09:46

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Best wishes Chris.

Peter T (not verified) Wed, 26/10/2022 - 11:53

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

My mother-in-law, or better the mother of the Love of my Life, is in the same race. She's 93 and has had long life, one that at times has been desperately hard. But the final race remains much the same. It's difficult to help. We try to make these days as happy and painless as possible. Still, those dearly held, unfinished projects weigh heavily, especially for a person whose existence has revolved around their creative work. All any of us can do is to keep buggering on and try to enjoy it, in spite of everything.

Liz+Thompson (not verified) Wed, 26/10/2022 - 17:52

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I'm not going to make idle/unrealistic/unwelcome comments. Or religious ones. But just do what you can, when you can. All of us could drop dead tomorrow without warning, according to media speculation on Putin and Ukraine. Then where would my intention to live to 104 and read all the xxxx number of books on my shelves be?
Write what you want, or are able to do. Or don't. It's your life, it'll be your death, and I'll be as sad as everyone else on this page when you reach the end. Dylan Thomas any good: rage, rage against the dying of the light?

Mike (not verified) Wed, 26/10/2022 - 19:21

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I've enjoyed and loved your books for 20 years. Make your remaing time as happy as you can. I'll miss you and your creations

Christopher Fowler Wed, 26/10/2022 - 19:35

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I'm currently reading the first Flaxborough novel by Colin Watson and enjoying it.
I've no idea who owns the artwork for 'Full Dark House' but usually the rights revert to the artist as the publisher just has the right to reproduce it.
Liz, I have no rage, but I'd quite like to finish this novel!

BarbaraBoucke (not verified) Wed, 26/10/2022 - 19:52

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Coffin Scarcely Used, Bump in the Night, Six Nuns and a Shotgun......I'm glad you are enjoying Colin Watson, I have read his books over and over again and enjoyed them every time.

Jan (not verified) Wed, 26/10/2022 - 19:58

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Hope you get there with this. Best of luck

A Holme (not verified) Wed, 26/10/2022 - 20:49

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

There's always another story to read. I gave 'The Memory of Blood' to the cover manager at my school and she loved it. Another convert. She's now searching out the rest of B&M. You will be read for a long time. I think for all of us, the conversations you have started on this site will live long in the memory. It's just a very long sleep...

RooBoo (not verified) Wed, 26/10/2022 - 20:54

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Bryant & May have been good friends since I was a tween.
When I couldn't find a real-life Bryant I was very happy to marry his exact opposite.

Thank you for so many book-friends who have meant so much.

SteveB (not verified) Wed, 26/10/2022 - 21:32

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Hi Chris
I‘m so full of respect for you. I hope so much to see that final B&M novel properly finished.
Although there are many other great books, B&M and their whole cast of characters will be your legacy.
You‘ve brought so much to my life for decades now. Thanks.

Granny (not verified) Thu, 27/10/2022 - 03:26

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Thank you for keeping blog entries, it has been good to be encouraged to think and read. Opening paths to toddle down, read around, make notes, share with friends, you have enriched my life, Chris, and will continue to do so as I continue to share your writing with my friends and granddaughter

Richenda (not verified) Thu, 27/10/2022 - 09:43

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

First-time commenter, long-time reader (as you know) and huge admirer of B & M. Just wanted to send heartfelt good wishes to you.