Dr Tel’s Magnificent Seven

Being asked to appear at a Literary Festival, especially a local one, is always a great honour. At the behest of my inspired interviewer Isabel Lloyd I delivered a ‘Magnificent 7’ of the fictional characters I love who have also inspired my writing. Here are some more words about these fabulous characters, who have meant so much to me.

Samwise Gamgee
There has to be some Tolkien of course. If it wasn’t for Tolkien I would never have wondered what did happen in Middle Earth when everything moved on a few thousand years, and they had an industrial revolution, and race relations and such like became important, and they even needed a dwarf detective in the first place.
But why Samwise, after all isn’t Frodo the main character of LOTR? Or maybe Aragorn, the proper heroic type? No, actually it’s Sam who is the protagonist of the book, because a protagonist is defined by change. Frodo and Aragorn are certainly heroes – but they don’t really change. Sam, bless him, goes off on his adventuring dreaming of the heroes of old, and to his amazement becomes one of those heroes.

He is the everyman and we need everymen and everywomen:

“That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.”

Philip Marlowe
Raymond Chandler introduced the mostly science fiction and fantasy reading me to a whole new world, that of crime. Some say Dashiell Hammett did crime better, but Chandler did it with more class. The world-weary knight in tarnished armour, treading those ‘mean streets’ was the main inspiration for my own dwarf detective Nicely Strongoak walking his ‘mean cobbled street’. Chandler also taught me that books weren’t just about storytelling – my main passion until then – but about the language to. And what language!

‘She had the kind of figure that would make a Bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window’.

I also loved the things I didn’t even recognise: ‘Chesterfields’ and ‘Davenports’ and the ephemera of a bygone age – which it was by then for me.

And if the past is a foreign country – why not make a few things up and put them in your books too! I know I did.

Arthur Dent
Douglas Adams – who I singularly failed to meet one day in the 1980s, but I got a nice pen from Apple – was a hero. His radio series of ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe’ was a huge inspiration and was responsible for the first version of Nicely being written for audio. Bit of a mistake that, looking back, as it took me twenty five years to get it into novel form as the Radio 4 producer suggested to me. Arthur Dent appeals to that part of all of us that never feels like it is completely in control of events. Even detectives are never completely in control, which is why they get hit a lot.

‘This must be Thursday. I could never get the hang of Thursdays.’

DEATH
And so we come to Terry Pratchett’s DEATH. This is not Terry Pratchett’s personal death – which sadly came far too early, but his character DEATH. Finding a favourite character from Terry Pratchett was actually quite difficult. He’s not really about the characters for me, although there are many great ones, like Rincewind, Nanny Ogg and The Luggage, but he’s more about attitude – a way of looking at things. I was pretty upset when Mr Pratchett made it into print before I did – by the odd twenty five years or so – because he did so well what I originally set out to do. He deconstructed fantasy ideas and used them to address many of the foibles of – well, ‘life the universe and everything’. Thanks to Mr Pratchett I had to tighten my focus and make sure that my books became proper crime books too. There had always been a murder or two and a mystery, but now that was really something to be solved. Nicely grew up a bit and became more of his own dwarf. DEATH stands out, because he TALKS IN CAPITALS and because he is really quite a decent chap. You wouldn’t mind having a drink with DEATH, as long as his bitter didn’t go everywhere.

Two death quotes:

“And what would humans be without love?”
“RARE, said Death.”

and given the subject matter, this one:

HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.

Howard the Duck
Iron Man is really so much scrap, Superman couldn’t have a sex life, Batman can’t talk properly, which makes Howard the Duck the greatest comic book ever, and one of the great film turkeys too. Certainly the worse crime against cinema committed by George Lucas.

Howard the Duck is a cynical, tough-talking, cigar champing duck, who ends up in a world of hairless apes. It wasn’t just the fish out of water aspect that appealed to me, but also that he was able to satirise and basically ‘take the piss’ out of all the Marvel comic book heroes, as well as other cultural norms, while still going along with their fun and games. An attitude I approve of and exploited in my 2005 play: ‘What do you do on the Night after you’ve Saved the Universe?’ This was a play that basically featured super-heroes sitting round and eating pizza. Had great fun with ‘C Thru Girl’ and ‘Minuscule Man’.

The great affection felt for Howard in the comic book community can be seen by the fact that he has a cameo in both ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ films.

“Hey, if I had some place to go I certainly wouldn’t be in Cleveland” – insert your least loved location.

Harry Dresden
A detective and a wizard – isn’t that a little close to comfort, Terry?

No actually – Jim Bishop’s modern day Chicago based PI shows how much fun you can have with the tropes and ideas of fantasy in a modern setting – yet be very different. This was a great relief to me when I was trying to get ‘Nicely’ published. A very different cauldron of spells.

For a start, being a wizard, Jim actually uses magic. Nicely Strongoak isn’t too sure about magic. He prefers his racing green, ’57 Dragonette convertible steam wagon, the model with the air trims and the longer foils, and a shooter instead of a staff. Nicely wears good hats. Harry doesn’t wear a hat – whatever the covers may show!

Bernie Gunther
The late Philip Kerr’s WWII German detective Bernie Gunther is one of the great creations. He narrowly beat another German, Gunther Grass’s ‘Oskar Matzerath’ to my list. Like Oskar, Bernie Gunther holds up a powerful light to shine on the atrocities of WWII and the circumstances that make an essentially decent policeman do what he has to, and makes us wonder what we might do in similar circumstances.

And in Berlin of the war period Kerr also provides another world with its own furniture and slang as interesting and varied as any fantasy world can be.

Bernie quotes:

“When you get a cat to catch the mice in your kitchen, you can’t expect it to ignore the rats in the cellar.”

and:

“Looking round the room I found there were so many false eyelashes flapping at me that I was beginning to feel a draught.”

Please note: I could have cheated for the sake of political correctness and included references to private investigators ‘Kinsey Malone’, and ‘VI Paretsky’ – who I love – or female action heroes like Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor – but they are mostly film and this was for a literary festival after all. And I haven’t mentioned ‘intertextuality’ at all! At the end of the day it’s all about what influenced my writing the most and these are the main people, outside of Roxy Music, David Bowie, August Darnell and Bugs Bunny.

That’s all folks!

* With thanks to Jane Triton and The Robertsbridge Arts Partnership and, of course, my intrepid interviewer, the writer and journalist, Isabel Lloyd.

Continue reading Dr Tel’s Magnificent Seven

Ten Reasons why I Love Books for World Book Day

Ten Reasons why I Love Books … and one extra

1) Easy travel without buying a ticket
2) Legal voyeurism
3) You can fall in love but behave outrageous and see other people too
4) A novel of the proper length enables you to support your head when lying on the floor to straighten your spine
5) Turning pages is good exercise for turning pages

COMMERCIAL BREAK:

Three books I wrote (the last one with David)

6) You don’t need to share a book and you don’t get told off for it
7) You can meet such nice people
8) You don’t have to put up with the company of people you don’t like (for long)
9) Words in books help you to understand more about the world
10) I’ve never been stood up by a book

Bonus 1:

Continue reading Ten Reasons why I Love Books for World Book Day

The King of Elfland’s Little Sister – the whole cover!

It seems only fair to now give you the full effect of the glorious cover for the new Detective Strongoak adventure: The King of Elfland’s Little Sister.
It’s already receiving very positive feedback I’m delighted to say and I should have the publication date very soon.

Continue reading The King of Elfland’s Little Sister – the whole cover!

President of the Rings – politics and fantasy

Just so you know: there’s politics in my fantasy world, because there’s politics everywhere.

To which you might well reply:
“We’re overrun with politics now; can’t we have a break please? I like my fantasy to make me feel better not worse!”

Sorry, fantasy is the real world now. However, politics doesn’t have to be all bad – honest

The politics in Widergard (Wider-earth, gedit?) is different, not just because it was the elves that introduced democracy when they returned from Overseas, but because Widergard is a modern(ish) world with many different races. You know, the usual suspects: men, elves, dwarfs, goblin, trolls etc, who all now have to get on together.

That’s what politics is all about after all, isn’t it? Getting on together – or at least it should be.

You think we have problems here? Just imagine trying to draft a Race Relations Act when there are six different races? Well, seven if you count the Pix, but nobody really does – which is strange as they are some of the oldest inhabitants of all these fantasy worlds.

They don’t get a lot of press the Pix – I think writers worry about them bringing down the tone.

Continue reading President of the Rings – politics and fantasy

The Natural History of Elves, Dwarfs, Men, Goblins, Gnomes and Trolls

The Paleoanthropological Relationships That Exist in the Hominini Lines of Middle-earth like Fairylands

The current resurgence of interest in the more recent history of worlds like Middle-earth, (often classified as Fairylands) in books such as ‘Detective Strongoak and the Case of the Dead Elf’, has come at a time when academic research into the field has also never been more fertile. Perhaps the productive area of investigation has been in the understanding of the Paleoanthropological relationships that exist in the Hominini lines of ‘Fairyland’ and how they relate to what is known about our own (Homo sapiens) developmental history. This article will give a necessarily brief review of thinking in the field and highlight some of the more interesting ramifications especially as they relate to Widergard.

No Fairies in Fairyland
The name of Fairyland is of course a misnomer and harks back to a period when our limited level of understanding of the Realm lead to several suspect classifications of the Hominini species present, including the rather nebulous class referred to as ‘fairies’ – a rag-bag group which could include elves, ‘pixies’ and even gnomes. It is interesting that although current revisions have excluded this division, the name ‘Fairyland’ still remains a useful reminder that there does exist a large body of study of the realm that predates the admittedly revelational works of modern authors. Whether it’s called Fairyland, or indeed other names, places such as Widergard continue to fascinate.

The family tree of the Hominini of Fairyland is given in Figure 1. Although some parts of the relationships are perhaps more controversial and speculative than others, particularly in the dating of the divergence of the dwarf/elf branch from that of gnomes, goblins and men, in general it provides a useful framework for further discussion.

fairy1

Continue reading The Natural History of Elves, Dwarfs, Men, Goblins, Gnomes and Trolls

Happy Hogswatch! The problem with Fantasy Holidays.

Happy Hogswatch – the problem with Fantasy Holidays.

Fantasy holidays, by which I don’t mean a month in the Seychelles, but a holiday set in a fantasyland, can be quite trick. Actually I had a month in the Seychelles once and it was a lovely place, but I could never get over the fact that they had ‘Bus Stop’s written on the road. Not randomly, at actual bus stops, but it made the Seychelles just slightly like a tropical Croydon.

Holidays in fantasylands then, as I realised recently, are difficult to set up. Except for Hogswatch of course. Hogswatch, and the scary Santa that is the Hogfather, are fantastically realised by Sir Terry because they are actually what the story is about (mostly). If, as a writer, you just want to slip a holiday into your story – along the way as it were – then it’s harder. The reason is that holidays are events with long histories that are steeped in a society or culture’s history. Christmas didn’t happen overnight after all, and neither did Hanukkah or Diwali.Detective with snow

As a writer you need to embed your holidays in your world’s culture. You are generally OK handling a ‘mid-summer’ or even a ‘mid-winter’ festival, but New Years can be tricky. I’m, still rather in favour with a new year starting on the first day of spring myself. Such seasonal events are relatively straightforward although they can appear a bit ‘weak’ and unimaginative. Other events need careful thinking about because they might bring up the dreaded subject of religion and religion in your fantasy books is something you may not want to get into.

In Narnia, famously, it was always winter but never Christmas. But as the Witch’s hold is weakened along comes Father Christmas, but shouldn’t he actually be Father Aslanmas?

You might not want to go there. Just think how ‘Game of Thrones’ would have suffered with a tagline of ‘Christmas is Coming.’ Not the same is it?

So, I think I might be writing a ‘Winterfest’, unless inspiration strikes. Until then: Continue reading Happy Hogswatch! The problem with Fantasy Holidays.