Friday, 22 February 2019

A Thrilling Lunch with Goddard & Bradby

I was delighted to receive an invitation from Patsy Irwin and Becky Short of the Transworld Imprint from publishing conglomerate PenguinRandomHouse, for a lunch with two of their Thriller Writers, Tom Bradby and Robert Goddard. Both of these authors have penned what we could term ‘High Concept’ narratives, writing that provokes thought as the pages whip by, but more on their books Secret Service and One False Move, later.

I understood I’d be part of a journalistic cabal of bibliophiles, those who comment upon literature’s darkest avenue, the Crime and Thriller Genre, which now is one of the most important fiction sectors in Great Britain’s publishing world.

Like many, I find comfort in the vicarious thrills offered by reading works of dark fiction, be it Horror, Crime and Mystery and my favourite sector of Thriller Fiction, what is referred to as “The Weird”. When one has to manage the stresses and the mundane tasks of life, namely our work, and our personal / family lives, reading disturbing and thought-provoking fiction from the safety of your reading chair can be comforting for it provides entertainment as well as making us think. It also is helpful corralling the mind’s swirl of existential thoughts, for it calms. Sometimes we have to ‘fight fire, with fire’. It also provides distraction, a diversion from reality, and the most engrossing thriller-writing can put the reader into a trance, as they inform as well put our own problems into context.

I think Graham Greene was right when he noted in Ways to Escape –

“Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.”

The upcoming lunch generously organised by Patsy Irwin was a veritable who’s who, of thriller critics, as joining us in The Den, a private basement room in Black’s Club in Dean Street, Soho, London were, Marcel Berlins, Joe Haddow, John Williams, Barry Forshaw, Nic Clee, Mike Ripley, Jake Kerridge, Mark Sanderson and Adrian Muller (who had a taken on a John Malkovich / Hercule Poirot look). It is always a pleasure to meet up with my colleagues many who I have known for more years than it seems possible. This includes the surreal coincidence that writer and literary commentator Mark Sanderson and I attended the same primary school in Cheshire, back in the 1970s. Mark and I discovered this surreal twist of fate, of coincidence a decade ago, at a literary dinner hosted by HarperCollins, an event that still amuses me, and is recorded HERE.

On arrival at Blacks Club, Sanderson greeted me with a mischievous smile, pressing an envelope excitably into my palm. As I opened it, I laughed. It was a cast list of a musical play entitled “The Wraggle Taggle Gypsies” from our old school from 1974, when we would have been 11 years old. It was a photocopy that Mark had found lurking in his flat, a memory I had long since forgotten, a fragment of recollection of days now long since passed. Mark was keen to mention he was one of the main cast members, while I was lower down that cast list, in terms of pecking order (being an un-named gypsy musician). It appeared I played an instrument called a Psaltery, but my memory was blank. It would take the encyclopaedic knowledge of Barry Forshaw to explain that a Psaltery was an ancient stringed instrument, as none of us knew what it was, let alone how to pronounce it.

Many of us had gathered last month, as guests of Quercus Publishing’s Jon Riley, Hannah Robinson and Sophie Ransom to celebrate the launch of Peter May’s remarkable political thriller The Man with No Face by Peter May. As ever, this award-winning writer, Peter May had hit the UK top ten straight on release.

I was also delighted to learn that Barry Forshaw has a new work Crime Fiction: A Reader’s Guide coming out before year-end, as he shared the cover with us. And as this lunch was a celebration of Thriller Writing, it was apt to have the authority that is Mike Ripley on-hand with his witty commentary on the genre. For an amusing as well as an informative look at the history of the British Thriller, Ripley’s KISS KISS, BANG BANG is a beautiful book  a real labour of love from HarperCollins – more info HERE

So once the greetings were warmly exchanged, we took to our seats. I found myself sitting beside John Williams, and the radio and events broadcaster Joe Haddow. I always enjoy the company of Haddow, as he is a very funny guy, life enhancing with an uncommon wit. He made me laugh when he remarked that I have a great face for Radio.

I was eagerly anticipating this thriller lunch as I wondered about Tom Bradby’s return to Publishing with his Novel Secret Service, an extraordinary Geopolitical Thriller which was due out on the 30th of May. It is a book I relished, as it provided me vicarious entertainment while it made me think deeply, as I noted in my review -

It’s been a decade since Tom Bradby published a novel. He’s been busy screenwriting and working as a broadcast journalist for the British news network ITN, but I am delighted to report that his latest novel SECRET SERVICE has been worth the wait, and the anticipation.
Secret Service is an international thriller that has urgency straited throughout its prescient fusion of geo-politics, and the personal lives of people caught in the shadows of those events, the geo-politics of the world stage. It also casts a compassionate eye, as it makes the reader think beyond what is presented, to uncover the reality beneath the veneer that masks our lives and the lives of others, namely the powerful, as well as those we love, and those we fear.

Read the full review of Tom Bradby’s Secret Service from Shots HERE

Many only know of Tom Bradby for his political journalism, as he is a familiar face on TV with the news network ITN, and that background is evident in the urgency of his prose in Secret Service. I first became aware of his work in 2005, when he was interviewed my friend, the editor of The Rap Sheet, Jeff Peirce featured at January Magazine, from the extraordinary writer and literary commentator Linda Richards. I would warn you, never play poker with Richards as I discovered during the 2014 Boucheron late night Poker Tournament in Long Beach. Linda Richards is very good, perhaps too good, even when playing poker blind-folded.

You can access Jeff Peirce’s interview with Tom Bradby, archived HERE

At one point, Mike Ripley and I found ourselves seated with Political Journalist / Broadcaster Tom Bradby. During our conversation we got talking about thriller writing and of thriller fiction. The conversation got around to who we read, and who we consider ‘the point men and women’ in thriller writing. I mentioned to Bradby that Mike Ripley and I attended Philip Kerr’s funeral last year [which I detailed HERE]. Bradby’s eyes grew animated as he told us that he was a huge, huge fan of Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther novels. He’d read them all, some, several times, and then the three of us talked, and we talked, and we talked until we could talk no more about those Philip Kerr novels, those treasures that featured a former German Soldier turned Detective, called Gunther.

Tom Bradby considers those Bernie Gunther novels, like many of us, as sitting at the high table, shoulder to shoulder with the masters of the crime and thriller genre.
I told Bradby that I was apprehensive as well as eager (as counter intuitive as that may appear), to crack the spine of METROPOLIS, that final novel from Philip Kerr, the one that sat at the edge of my office desk, the one I wrote about HERE

Later, I took particular delight in talking with Robert Goddard, a prolific novelist who’s work I have grown fond of, very fond. I was first introduced to his work by Patsy Irwin, many years ago, though it would take a chance encounter at Theakstons’ Crime Writing Festival 2017, that my enthusiasm reached the heights it has today. It was during that event I learned that Robert Goddard was penning what could be termed a ‘full-on’ high concept thriller entitled ‘Panic Room’. Of course, some would consider his earlier work ‘thrilling’, and is indeed just that, however there has been intense debate over the years as to what exactly a thriller novel is. Ian Fleming suggested “one simply has to turn the pages” for a novel to be considered a thriller. Last year the judges at Ian Fleming Publications selected Attica Locke’s extraordinary Bluebird Bluebird as the thriller novel of 2018, for the Crime Writers Association’s CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger – Click HERE for more information. David Morrell, one of the co-founders of International Thriller Writers inc, gave a more nuanced definition of what defines a novel as a thriller, and his essay can be downloaded as a .pdf HERE from Crimespree Magazine.  

Anyway, I was intrigued and read Panic Room, agreeing with Keith Miles, who reviewed it for Shots Magazine, stating -

Clever plotting, meticulous detail, all too credible characters and a wry sense of humour make this another classic Goddard novel”

Read the full review HERE

Then after putting the book down, as it was a breathless read, and most assuredly fitted into both Ian Fleming, as well as David Morrell’s definition of what denotes a novel as being a thriller; the invitation to lunch arrived in my door. It was one that made me recall a thriller lunch from last year that Patsy Irwin and Alison Barrow had organised with writers Belinda Bauer, Joseph Knox and Robert Goddard.

It was an excellent lunch, which I recorded HERE

So we come to what Robert Goddard has in store for his readers later this coming month, a rather intriguing novel entitled ONE FALSE MOVE, which I read and closed my review with 

Robert Goddard’s affable and seemingly simplistic novel, like that game ‘Go’ (that forms the spine of this novel) is anything but simple. One False Move is literary Morphine, dangerously addictive but offering a distraction from the darkness of this world, by holding a black mirror to its surface, to reveal a darker truth.

Highly recommended, as Robert Goddard is what we term a ‘writer’s writer’, and for readers that translates into literary gold. He has produced a thought-provoking novel that thrills vicariously as the pages turn like the moves in a game of ‘Go’, played by a grandmaster at the height of his powers.

Read the full review at Shots Magazine HERE

Over coffee I was able to have a good talk with Robert, and one of the themes he explores in his work “Identity” - who we really are, and who are the people that interact with us, beneath their surface veneer, the faces and persona they show the world, with small talk.

I had told Robert an amusing story, relating to the last time I was with Patsy Irwin. It was on Tuesday 18th of September last year. I had driven into London to celebrate the launch of Martin Edwards’ extraordinary Gallows Court, a change in direction for this writer, a man also known for his remarkable knowledge of the Golden Age of Crime Fiction. Though many of us consider ourselves well-read, few can match Martin Edwards’ knowledge of Crime and Mystery novels of the past.

Anyway, the invitation for Martin Edwards’ Gallows Court came from the publishers Head of Zeus, but when I arrived at the venue, a basement in a North London Waterstones Bookshop, I was puzzled as I could not recognise any of the faces seated in the crowd. My confusion was relieved a tad, when from the corner of my eye I spotted Patsy Irwin, seated in the centre of the gathering. She was waving at me, indicating for me to come over and take the vacant seat next to her.

“Fancy seeing you here” Patsy said as I took my seat, a little confused as I could not recognise anyone else seated at the book launch, so I echoed Patsy’s sentiment.
“Yes, fancy seeing you here” I said and then we engaged in small talk, about the last time we met; a few weeks ago, with Lee Child during Theakstons’ crime-writing festival (Harrogate), and the early days when she worked in publicity with Lee, and how he had become one the world’s greatest thriller writers.  

And so, we continued our small talk, as I was still confused why none of my crime-fiction reviewing colleagues were present, and I noticed Patsy was also looking at me with a slightly confused eye.

“I didn’t think this launch would of interest to you” she said.

“Well I wasn’t aware that you were a fan of Martin Edwards’ writing either.” I said in reply, especially as it appeared peculiar to me why someone as senior as Patsy Irwin, in PenguinRandomHouse would be attending a book launch of a rival publisher, Head of Zeus.

But as we both deploy a British sensibility, and gentile manners, we just smiled and carried on talking, even if we were both a little confused. As Patsy talked to someone seated behind us, my confusion grew as I listened into the conversation. Patsy and this unknown stranger were talking about Barack Obama. Oh well I thought, at least I wasn’t seated among Trump supporters.

I picked up my cell-phone and called Martin Edwards. His phone went straight to voicemail. Glancing at my watch, I saw it was fifteen minutes before he would welcome everyone to the launch of Gallows Court, so it was unsurprising that his phone was off. I tried Ayo Onatade and then Mike Stotter, and again their phones went to Voicemail. I grew anxious and pulled out my invitation, a printed email from Suzanne Sangster of Head of Zeus, and checked, I was at the correct venue as well as on the right date. When Patsy turned back, I asked her about this book launch unfolding the email invitation. She furrowed her brow and said, this is the correct venue, Waterstones, and the date is right, but she was here for a book launch for Transworld’s publication of Becky Dorey-Stein’s ‘From the Corner of the Oval Office, The author was Barack Obama’s stenographer she added “I was wondering why you were here, as I didn’t think this book would interest you,” and she roared laughing.

My cell-phone chirped. It was Mike Stotter, asking where I was, as the Martin Edwards’ book launch was about to start. I told him I was in a basement room, in a Waterstones bookshop in North London.

He replied laughing “no you idiot, did you not get the email?”

“What email?”

“The email from Head of Zeus on the change of venue. It’s at Hatchards in Piccadilly.”

“Cack. I’m in the wrong place” I said to Patsy, and passed my apologies as I discreetly left the throng of guests who wanted to listen to Barack Obama’s stenographer.

I said farewell to Patsy and briskly headed off to Hatchards in the Westend.

I managed to catch the close of Martin Edwards’ launch, and get my copy of Gallows Court signed. My surreal tale of being at Barack Obama’s stenographer’s book launch in error, brought much amusement to Martin Edwards, Mike Stotter, Ayo Onatade and many others present, especially Simon Brett, who roared laughing.

I later learned that Suzanne Sangster had sent an email to everyone regarding the change in venue, but I must have assumed it was purely a reminder email, and not read it.
Robert Goddard was amused, and said he also had a case of being in the wrong place, however how his tale ended somewhat differently, somewhat perplexingly.

Robert recalled going to a house party a little while ago. He and his wife had arrived a little late, and it was dark as they made their way to the house. At the door a teenage girl let them in, and then went back upstairs leaving Robert and his wife downstairs with a clutch of other guests. They soon found themselves exchanging small talk and banter, as they sipped their wine glasses. Robert mentioned to his wife that he didn’t seem to recognise anyone at the party. She told him they should mingle, and so they did. After a lengthy conversation with another couple, where the weather was discussed in inordinate detail (as only the English can, making conversations about the weather into an art form), a older woman appeared and started chatting to them, and after more discussion on the temperate climate in Cornwall, she inquired as to how they had met. At first Robert explained how he had meet his wife, and the context of their meeting, all those years ago. Robert noticed (as novelists do) that there appeared a slight air of confusion in the woman’s eyes.

“No.” She said quietly, and with a hint of impatience. “No, I meant how WE met.” Her eyes pointed to her husband (who came over to join his wife), and then to Robert’s wife.

“I’m not sure?” Robert replied.

“In fact, I don’t think we’ve ever met before.” Robert’s wife added.

The woman looked at her husband, who now had the same confused expression as she did.

“So exactly who are you?” She asked, her irritation now unrestrained.

Robert introduced himself and his wife, at which point the woman reached over and took their wine glasses and asked them to leave.

It appeared that by genuine error, Robert and his wife had got the address wrong for the party they were attending. And by sheer fluke, had knocked on a door of a house that had a party, occurring at the same time, but further down the street from the Goddard’s intended destination.

We laughed, and Robert said though amusing, he found the woman reaching for their wine glasses somewhat perplexing. He had told her that he had made a genuine mistake, and assumed she’d laugh with him, but instead she took back the wine, but did so in a somewhat angry manner, showing them the door.

“It’s as if the woman assumed, we were professional gate-crashers” Robert said, as we both laughed at the anecdote, and I thought of my own mix-up at the Barack Obama’s stenographer’s book launch.  

Soon it was time to pass my thanks to Patsy Irwin and Becky Short of Transworld Publishing for their excellent lunch discussing thriller fiction.

And we would indicate that it is well worth uncovering Tom Bradby’s return to thriller novels with SECRET SERVICE – more information HERE; Robert Goddard’s thought provoking ONE FALSE MOVE and for the Thriller Reader, I’d heartily steer you toward Mike Ripley’s wonderful labour of love, KISS KISS BANG BANG, more information HERE or the equally insightful work AMERICAN NOIR from Barry Forshaw HERE.

Photos © 2019 Ali Karim

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