Beloved characters never really die. Albert Campion appeared in 22 novels and short story collections, written by Margery Allingham. The aristocratic detective — Campion is a pseudonym used by the enigmatic gentleman — first popped up in 1929. When Allingham died in 1966, her husband Pip Youngman Carter took over the series, completing two further books. Now, many years later, Carter’s final unfinished Campion manuscript has itself been completed by Mike Ripley, with the tantalising prospect of more to come.
You know how we love crime writers in this tiny part of the internet. Ripley is a legend of the British crime scene — an award-winning writer, editor, reviewer, lecturer and publisher — so we’re delighted that he’s agreed to give us the Intel on Albert Campion, Marjery Allingham and his own writing regime.
How would you describe Albert Campion to modern crime readers?
The last of the great amateur sleuths of the ‘Golden Age’ of English crime writing, a gentleman adventurer with impeccable manners and of aristocratic background (it is hinted that he is of the royal family…) although as equally at home in high society as he is in the four-ale bar of an East End pub, drinking with professional thieves.
Unlike other series heroes of the Golden Age Albert Campion (which is not his real name!) was allowed to age and mature by his creator Margery Allingham. By 1966, when Margery died, he was a much more thoughtful, more responsible character than when he made his debut in 1929, where there was something of the Bertie Wooster about him. By 1969, when my book is set, Campion is seriously considering retirement, aware that the world has changed very rapidly and perhaps not always for the best, in his life time.
How did you go about immersing yourself in Margery Allingham’s world?
Having been a fan of her novels since I was a teenager and having lived ten miles from her country home in Essex for the last 35 years, I think I had a head start! I did get a lot of help (and support) from members of the Margery Allingham Society, including Julia Jones, Margery’s biographer. I also had the opportunity to be the editor of new editions, in 2013, of Pip Youngman Carter’s two Mr Campion novels for Ostara Publishing. I had the advantage that the novel I was completing had been written in the late 1960s which I’m afraid I’m old enough to remember!
Mr Campion’s Farewell is based on an unfinished manuscript by Allingham’s widower, Pip Youngman Carter – how closely have you followed his plans for the novel?
There weren’t any! Youngman Carter wrote the first four chapters establishing the setting and about a dozen characters, but left absolutely no indication of what would happen to the characters or which way the plot would go. In a way this gave me carte blanche and I was inspired by the setting he had created – a medieval wool town in Suffolk – which I recognised (or thought I did) as the picturesque town of Lavenham, which I knew well. Everything flowed from that sense of place, really.
Take us through a typical writing day for you
It has changed so radically over the years it is hard to say what’s typical any more. I wrote my first novel, back in 1987, on the train during my daily commute to London, and for twenty years I fitted writing in where I could around a day job and my family. Nowadays, I start around 8 a.m. by dealing with emails and general administrative footling about and usually get down to some concentrated fiction writing just after lunch, knocking off when my wife tells me dinner is ready.
Margery Allingham, of course, because of the great ‘Queens of Crime’ of the 1920s and 1930s (Allingham, Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie) she wrote with the most wit, charm and warmth. Several of her books (The Tiger in the Smoke for instance) rank among the best crime novels of the 20th century.
I am also a great fan (and proud to be a friend) of Len Deighton whose early spy novels certainly inspired me to write crime fiction. I love the style of Raymond Chandler, which was also an influence, and for atmosphere, an almost totally-forgotten crime writer called P.M. Hubbard. For picaresque story-telling, I adore the thrillers of Geoffrey Household and I will buy any Alan Furst novel ‘sight unseen’ for his descriptions of middle Europe just before WWII.
What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?
Knowing when to stop. Like a painter has to know when to stop dabbing paint on to a canvas, a writer has to know when a story has been concluded.
How do you deal with feedback?
I’m highly suspicious of anonymous ‘feedback’ via the internet, but I have always answered every letter or email I have ever received. As a reviewer myself (of over 950 crime novels) I think I’m aware of all the tricks of that particular trade, but it is always nice to be praised by people whose opinion you regard highly. (I don’t believe any writer who says they don’t read reviews.) I love feedback from fans at conventions and public events and much prefer it to feedback from other writers. In my experience, most crime writers are very poorly read – most fans are extremely well-read and knowledgeable.
How have your own experiences shaped your writing?
Mostly by accident, I’ve had the chance in life to meet a fantastic range of interesting people. I am the son of a Yorkshire miner who has been to parties in Buckingham Palace, often lunched in the House of Lords, been on the set of a Bond film, written for a highly successful TV show (‘Lovejoy’), behaved badly in the Groucho Club, had a mid-life crisis and became an archaeologist, had a stroke, wrote a book about it and sat on a Government committee which reorganised the treatment of stroke in hospitals. I’ve been very lucky and most of my experiences have found their way into my books.
Give me some advice about writing…
Don’t ask for advice until you’ve written what you want to write.
What’s your best advice for an author looking to get into the marketplace…
READ! If you don’t read you won’t make it as a writer. And know the particular marketplace you are trying to get into. If you don’t read (and love) crime fiction, don’t try writing it. Readers can smell a fake a mile off!
What’s next for you?
Another Campion story: the publisher wants one and the Margery Allingham Society seems quite keen and I’d love to do one. There’s still plenty of life left in a character as good as Albert Campion.
Mr Campion’s Farewell, completed by Mike Ripley, will be published on by Severn House on April 10 at £19.99. It will be available from all booksellers and Amazon here.