Sunday, 6 April 2014

Christopher Fowler's Bryant & May's Bleeding Heart

Christopher Fowler is the award-winning author of the Golden Age Bryant and May series of novels which see them investigating impossible crimes in London. 

He has a weekly column in the Independent on Sunday called "Invisible Ink".  In 2013 he was nominated for 9 national book awards. He is the winner of the Edge Hill prize for ‘Old Devil Moon’, the Last Laugh prize for ‘The Victoria Vanishes’, the Green Carnation Award for ‘Paperboy’ and the E-Dunnit Award for ‘Bryant & May and the Invisible Code

As my detectives Bryant & May embarked on their eleventh full-length mystery, I was amazed it had taken them so long to settle on Clerkenwell for a location.  The London neighbourhood had never taken centre-stage in the novels before.  It should have done; the Clerkenwell House of Detention is one of the most disturbing underground buildings I’ve ever entered, and it’s impossible to live nearby and not be aware of what lies below the streets.  You can see the Fleet tributaries through drain covers, and follow the chain of wells from King’s Cross down through Farringdon to the river.  It’s a perfect setting for a murder mystery.

But for me there were other connections.  My parents met in The Griffin pub on Clerkenwell Road, having worked at the nearby engineering firm of Griffin & Tatlock together.  My father bought his wedding ring from a friend in Hatton Garden, and my mother always took me to the circus in the basement of Gamages department store at Christmas.  My first fountain pen came from one of the local suppliers, as did my first typewriter.  Today I still live just a short walk away in King’s Cross.

At the London Metropolitan Archive, I read the story of the party-loving Lady Hatton whose dance with the Devil became a London myth.  After lunching with my publisher in Bleeding Heart Yard, I realized I could start with the legend (after Milady’s heart was torn from her by the Devil and thrown onto the cobbles she continued to lurk about the place, dressed in white, naturally).  But as always with the Bryant & May novels this tale will be just a jumping-off point for me, because the more I dig into any part of London, the more I end up including it in the finished book.

Dickens pointed out that even the snowflakes were covered in soot, ‘gone into mourning for the death of the sun’, and there’s something about the low level of light that mutes the shades of brick and concrete, and depresses those of us who suffer through the purgatorial month of February.  The geography of Farringdon and Clerkenwell matches its weather, being perverse, wilful, confusing, and unsettling.  The roads are always atmospheric, so they make fertile ground for the creation of dark tales.  Add to that mix the stories of murders and hangings associated with Smithfield, the animal bones washed down from the butcheries on the riverbanks, and half the job was done for me.

All this makes writing (and reading) my crime novels sound depressing, but I have a lot of fun mixing fact and fiction, sending my elderly detectives around the backstreets in search of murderers.  Fans write from around the world asking about the different London areas I use.  I can’t see myself ever running out of ideas, because London provides them.  One day I’ll have to start my own guided tour!

The latest Bryant & May novel is Bryant & May and the Bleeding Heart. It is out now and published by Transworld.

You can find out more about Christopher Fowler and his work on his website and also his blog. You can also follow him on Twitter @Peculiar and on Facebook.

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