Je Suis Arthur Bryant

Bryant and May

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?


19 comments on “Je Suis Arthur Bryant”

  1. Brooke says:

    So you finally decided to ‘fess up. We knew it all along.

  2. Kenwen says:

    What’s the wrong side of Leicester Square? I remember buying Roofworld from Murder One!

  3. Roger says:

    “I have trouble dealing with really traditional 2.4 families, mainly because I don’t know any.”

    That’s odd. I have no trouble dealing with really traditional 2.4 families, entirely because I don’t know any.

  4. Jeanette says:

    Do beetroot sandwiches count?

  5. Debra Matheney says:

    Loving the latest novel and, of course, Arthur. I hope we all have a bit of him in each in of us, a quirky or an esoteric interest, an insatiable curiosity about something, an eccentric sense of dressing perhaps. It is only his loneliness which causes me sadness, but then as we age we lose our contemporaries. You don’t appear sad in these posts, but your marvelous esoteric take of the world is right in keeping with dear Bryant. Thanks for the hours of pleasure your books have brought to so many of us.

  6. Ian Luck says:

    I’m a bit younger than you, but It still gives me a perverse thrill of pleasure to have ‘Today’s big thing’ appear on television or in conversation, and to say: “I have no idea who that is. What are they famous for?” On being told the name of that day’s non-entity, I usually take the Sherlock Holmes tack, and say: “Thank you for telling me that. I shall now do my best to forget it.” Things that are important to me, however, are remembered with clarity. Odd that. I also have found the ‘Convenient Deafness’ control. Invitations to, say, put the rods down the drain sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher, but someone putting the lid on the teapot, is deafeningly loud, even when heard from the far end of the garden. I used to be amused by the ‘Grumpy Old Men’ TV show, narrated by the still sadly missed John Peel. I always used to think: “It’ll never happen to me.” Oh, but it has. And it’s wonderful.

  7. Peter Tromans says:

    Who is Billie whatever? Please don’t tell me. I see that Daimler again that I’m not supposed to know about. Does it belong to Billie what’s his name? It would be right for Mr May, much more appropriate than the Bavarian motor.

    Ian, I totally understand the deafness thing. You may be lucky that you still remember things that are important. Another few years and it reduces to the very important. Must be the cannabis oil that I’m using for my skin.

  8. admin says:

    Billie is a lady singer. There’s a terrifying poster of her impersonating Regan in ‘The Exorcist’ on billboards that is probably traumatising children. What else do I know about the modern world? Er, Coldplay are still shite.’Fleabag’ was fun. That’s about it.

  9. Brooke says:

    Arthur fans in U.S. Does your local library use Hoopla as its ebook service? If so you may be able to access The Lonely Hour audiobook through your library–for free. You can use almost any format with Hoopla.

  10. Rob C says:

    Kenwen, you are not alone, I spent too many hours in Murder One, and Roofworld, my favourite of all London novels!

    One day a ‘period drama ‘TV show, I hope,

  11. Roger says:

    The wonderful thing about the modern world is that you can happily and politely ignore it until it stops being modern.

  12. Richard Burton says:

    I’d always thought that May and Bryant were two sides of the author’s personality; sort of tech-savvy scandi austere, but fond of the smell of mouldering old books and pipe-tobacco at the same time. Probably reading too much into the characters

  13. admin says:

    Richard, you’ve hit on something I discovered a while back; almost all of my novels feature two halves of one personality, most explicitly in ‘Spanky’ and ‘Nyctophobia’.

  14. Patrick Kilgallon says:

    I suspect most of us are far more conventional than we would like, a little too May, and would like to be more like Arthur in my case bar the sherbet lemons. My 3 year old grandson, however, clearly already sees me as something like Arthur and describes me as his grumpy grandad. Is it less about how we see ourselves and more about how others see us?

  15. gkbowood says:

    I don’t even live in London and I hate No.1 Poultry and Boris Johnson!

  16. Helen Martin says:

    I can blame Mr Bryant for the fact that there are currently fruit drops, humbugs, AND sherbet lemons in our kitchen.
    That’s a great swashy coat Mr May is wearing up there – and it would go well with that period motor.
    I’ve just finished a Georges Simenon to stretch The Lonely Hour out a bit.

  17. Craig says:

    A question from my (very enjoyable) reading of The Lonely Hour – what is the vessel of countless sorrows? You mentioned it back in Water Room, but I can’t track it down.

  18. admin says:

    Do you know what, I can’t find it now either. It was in my original research notes from the British Library, a votive vessel used to bless rivers, but I think (for some odd reason) the original text was in French. I tried to look for it again a little while ago and couldn’t find it.

  19. Ian Luck says:

    On your recommendation, Chris, I just read Natasha Pulley’s brilliant ‘The Watchmaker Of Filigree Street.’ A fantastic and absorbing read. I followed that up with Robert Dinsdale’s ‘The Toy Makers’. 468 pages, consumed in an afternoon. What a beautiful, sad, but uplifting book. The last few pages caused me to ‘get something in my eye’, if you catch my drift. Another book I’ve enjoyed recently, is ‘Behind You’, by Brian Coldrick. It’s unusual, as it is a collection of, as it says, ‘One-shot horror stories’. A beautiful illustration, usually of a blissfully unaware person, with something unpleasant behind them. A few lines of text… And the rest is up to your imagination. Most of the pictures are also available as deliciously unpleasant gifs. The illustrations are very reminiscent of the work of Charles Addams – only far more ‘Nope’ in nature.

Comments are closed.