Bryant & May author Christopher Fowler: “Writing the ending was so touching” | Polar

VSHristopher Fowler chooses a bowl of protein and healthy-looking vegetables. “I don’t have much of an appetite these days.” For the past two years, he has been undergoing cancer treatment, but remains optimistic. After lunch, we move to the other end of his penthouse at King’s Cross in London, where a floor-to-ceiling library houses a vast collection of esoteric London works. Outside on the patio, the tall, shiny model of Marvel superhero the Silver Surfer standing guard has disappeared. “He got frostbite and his fingers fell out. He couldn’t handle King’s Cross, let alone the depths of space. A wide sweep of the skyline stretches from the London Eye to the Shard, and far beyond.

This month London Bridge collapses, the 20th Bryant & May detective novel by Fowler, will be released, ending a much-loved series that began in 2003 with Full black house. The books feature the unconventional detective duo Arthur Bryant and John May of London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit, who solve mysterious murders whose occult significance baffles more mainstream detectives. Thriller fans will have fun spotting references to classics from the golden age, whose intrigues and twists Fowler ingeniously projects into the era of computers and mobile phones. Anyone can enjoy the endless and discursive dialogue between the two men as they break all the rules of procedure, and the particularly funny narrative voice with its piercing look at modern life.

In 2003, Fowler was established as a primarily horror writer, with forays into dark comedy and satire based on his day-to-day work in film marketing. Full black house was meant to be self-sufficient, which is why Fowler kills Bryant in the front pages with an explosion that destroys the PCU offices, some 60 years after his heroes first met during the blitz. This first novel is set primarily in a wartime flashback around the Palace Theater in Cambridge Circus, where a ghost-like murderer uses air raids as a signal to rampage among the porticoes.

“I think everyone enjoys walking around London in their head.” Photograph: Julian Nieman / Alamy

The duo’s other adventures involve site-specific elements such as the Punch and Judy shows, London’s Forgotten Rivers, Victorian spirits, the rhyme “Oranges and Lemons” and, in the latest book, models of London Bridge. Fowler is clearly obsessed with the capital – was he worried the show would appeal only to like-minded people?

“I think everyone enjoys walking around London in their heads, and because it has so many literary overtones London is already slightly confused with fiction. I expected to write in a very parochial way for a very limited audience, and it turned out that what I was doing was the other way around – the more abstract, weird, and esoteric I got, the more people liked it. I was going to end up in volume six, but there was a surge of very loyal fans – strangely loyal. “

At this point, sales also started to pick up in the United States. “I’ve had a few complaints over the years – one from a Republican senator who complained it was ‘too deep English’ for him. But I was fortunate to have a few editors in New York who were absolutely brilliant. Their attitude was, don’t change a word.

With some exceptions – Hall of Mirrors takes place in the 1960s – the detection duo has reached retirement age. Bryant in particular collapsed from book to book, wearing dentures and walking with a stick. Isn’t there a technical challenge to start with such aged characters?

“One of the plagues of having an old man is that you can only get by with so many health issues. But it only becomes difficult if you assume that the fictional characters are aging like human beings! Should Simpson get old? That’s a ridiculous idea!

Slightly younger and much more charming May makes up for Bryant’s more abrasive style. Cross-sectional, eccentric, erudite, he’s steeped in London lore and adept at making bizarre connections and mental leaps that would baffle anyone else. How much is Bryant like his creator?

“I am not Arthur Bryant.” At this point, Fowler’s husband Pete, a TV executive, appears in the background and says, “Oh yeah, he is! Fowler pauses. “A little bit of me is, but I don’t have this mite… fuck you!” He throws his thumb at Pete, laughing. “Someone who hasn’t read the last four books.

Over the past two years, poor health has forced Fowler to adopt different work practices. He worked on london bridge is falling while receiving chemotherapy at University College Hospital. “It was great, they set up an office for me. Yeah, yeah, I just carried on with one thing in my arm. We do not care? And then I decided to bring [the series] to a final shutdown. I can’t shoot another Bobby Ewing! ‘

I ask if the cancer diagnosis affected her decision to end it. “It’s unconscious, but from volume 18, I started to add details that would end up intersecting the 20th volume with the first, thus closing a circle. I couldn’t even see it, that’s the weird thing. When I delivered it, my agent said, “I think you’ve been talking about this for a long time. I had packed it with little things that were pointers to the first books. Towards the end, I didn’t quite have the last link in the story until I realized – it’s obvious. This is something that happened in the beginning.

It must have been strange saying goodbye after all these years. “People say, do your characters live with you all the time? No – they live with me when I sit down [to write]. I open the lid of the laptop, it’s the only time I think of them. So I really get lost in this world, I have to be dragged out. The rest of the time they don’t live with me. But the characters are so clear in my head that the writing at the end was very moving. I really felt like it was like losing family members, because my parents read the books and liked the characters and my parents both left, so … “

Bryant & Christopher Fowler;  May

After a while, he picks up again. “This is probably why I did two volumes of memoirs in the middle of the series [Paper Boy and Film Freak], because Bryant’s memories are so mixed with my parents’ memories of London. It sparked enough things to make me think I should do their history as well. They both lost their teenage years to the war: my mother joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and my father was a fire watcher at St Paul’s.

london bridge is falling isn’t the last we’ll hear from Bryant and May. In Bryant and May’s particular London, which will be released next year, the characters in the show are simply walking around the city discussing the places they love. “I wanted to make it into a series of really talkative, cheeky, irreverent and messy arguments about London. I delivered it thinking they would never agree to this, and the editors said, “Oh we love it, it’s like a Bryant & May book with no body in it!”

Of course, London has evolved inexorably since Fowler began his writing career and co-founded his film marketing company Creative Partnership at the age of 26. work on 15 films per month, including marketing campaigns for Reservoir dogs and Trainspotting. One of Fowler’s claim to fame at the time is mentioned in Cinephile. “Asked to provide slogans for posters Extraterrestrial, I wrote several pages, including “In space, no one can hear you scream”. I guess I wasn’t the only person thinking about this – it’s an obvious line, ”he writes.

“Someone else claimed it this month, I noticed,” he says now. “I love it! But we worked on it first because it was filming in the UK. Ridley Scott came to us and gave us a drawing of an egg and said, ‘That’s really all. that I can tell you – and it’s going to be very scary. We used to get paid £ 20 per page of copy lines and that’s what they went with. “

For years, he shuttled between the Cannes Film Festival and the Frankfurt Book Fair, two poles of its existence. Although the company still exists in a lean form, he retired 15 years ago. “The economic model has radically changed. Once everything went digital, America didn’t really need a London outpost. There are hardly any screening rooms left in Soho. All these places where I spent half of my life.

The question mark about his health means that by the time the London particular book will be released next July, it might, as he dryly put it, not be “available for tour”. Considering that during our interview he comes up with two new book ideas and is currently putting the finishing touches on a fantasy novel, the prognosis doesn’t slow him down. However, we end on a melancholy note, discussing how many short stories he has over the years describing a London that is now gone. His cinematic anecdotes also conjure up a world gone by, a world where you could take George Hamilton to Bruno’s Sandwich Bar in Soho or ask the concierge at the Athenaeum hotel to put you in touch with any visiting star. But Fowler’s voice grows hoarse and it’s time to stop for some coffee.

On the way back, I take a look at my copy of Bryant & May’s final mystery. He wrote it down with the characteristic words: “The Big Finish!

London Bridge Is Falling Down is published by Doubleday (£ 18.99) on July 22. To support the Guardian and Observer, order a copy from Delivery charges may apply.

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