Some more answers to your questions, starting with one from yesterday’s comments (and another cheesy shot of me at some thing).
Where is the best place to steal ideas from and get away with it? Film, book, TV, radio or a particular source/place/author.
The answer may infuriate you. When I’m working on the main drafts I go into reading/ watching/ visiting places/ talking to people overdrive. Many of the influences are chosen and deliberate, but others are seemingly random. I say ‘seemingly’ because clearly they’re not; something in my subconscious gets triggered in much the same way that Arthur Bryant’s mind works. Recently I got an idea for a plot twist from reading a manual for fruit growers.
Tell us how Bryant and May started out. Are you surprised by how popular these have become?
I had the luxury of road-testing them first in ‘Rune’ and several other volumes, and they slowly crept into my consciousness as they fleshed out. I worked very hard to make them popular – it was never a sure thing. My first publisher turned them down, and there was some early resistance from critics. I think only my editor at Transworld, Simon Taylor, and my agent, really ever believed in them from the start.
Your books and your blog illustrate your fascination with London – can you tell us more about this?
I was born and formed in London. I love the way it has transmuted across the decades, although I sometimes find it oppressive now that every last quirk of the city has been quantified and measured and usually charged entrance for. And nobody talks about how overcrowded the city is, so that a reflective moment in a museum is almost impossible. But it continues to fascinate me even with its annoyances, because it’s defined by its people, who prove infinitely surprising.
You are a prolific writer – frequently having new books out and very busy on your blog: what are your other passions other than writing?
I’m addicted to travel and film. I’ve always been connected with film festivals, and love learning languages. I would like to take up graphic art again.
Is it easy for you to get published now that you are well-known, or is it still as competitive and difficult as it is for many new writers?
It’s still never easy, as any author will tell you. I have three books sitting in drawers which I can’t sell at the moment, two thrillers and a fantasy. My comedy-thriller ‘Plastic’ went through six versions in six years. Some books take a while to find their time.
Has your interaction with fans, for example, at conventions, affected your work?
I think so. I have a frighteningly loyal readership. There are a couple of superfans who apparently know where I’m going to be before I do, and whenever I’m stuck on a story I ask them for advice. I don’t always take it, of course, because they’re mad.
Is there any particular incident (a letter, a meeting, a comment) that stands out?
I have one fan whom I christened Stalky. The next time I saw him sitting in an audience, he opened his jacket to reveal his new T-shirt with the word ‘Stalky’ emblazoned across it. I totally forgot what I was saying.
Do you have a favourite author or book (or writer or film or series) that has influenced you or that you return to?
My tastes can get a bit esoteric. In no special order, JG Ballard, Mervyn Peake, Joe Haldeman, Muriel Spark, Harlan Ellison, John Cheever, Raymond Carver, Beryl Bainbridge, Dino Buzzati, Pamela Branch and Edmund Crispin. Movies like ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and ‘Witchfinder General’ used to influence me, but now many of the new Spanish gothic thrillers like ‘La Comunidad’ and ‘La Cara Oculta’ (with its two killer twists) have made me jealous. I always return to Dickens to learn new lessons.
Who is the person you would most like to be trapped in a lift with? or a spaceship?
Ballard in a spaceship. They say never meet your heroes. I used to write to Jim Ballard and he always wrote back. Then one day I had a chance to meet him after the premiere of CRASH. I thought Cronenberg’s film was a travesty of the book, and ducked out rather than lie to him. Wish I hadn’t swerved it now.
Who is the person you would most DISlike to be trapped in a lift with? Or a spaceship?
Boris Johnson. Actually I’d like to be in the lift with him because I could tell him exactly what I think of the policies which have hollowed London out and made a farce of UK democracy.
What would you pack for space? (Is there a food, beverage, book, teddy bear, etc that you couldn’t do without?)
Probably silly pocket-sized stuff given to me by friends before they died. A little armadillo, a toucan, an Egyptian puzzle box with a scarab beetle on it.
What is the most important thing you would like to get/achieve from your work?
I’d like to write one perfect short story that I was entirely satisfied with. Novels are never perfect, but I think you can get close to paradise with short fiction.
What is the special satisfaction of writing?
People always point out that it’s a lonely job. But the you get one letter from someone that drives you to do it all over again. I had one from a lady who told me that one of my books got her through the death of her mother. Those are letters you keep all your life.