Tag Archives: David Lodge

The Intel: James Cary

James CaryJames Cary’s day job is comedy writer for TV and radio. He’s the co-creator of BBC3 sitcom Bluestone 42, about a bomb disposal unit in Afghanistan, and three series of radio comedy Hut 33, about the Bletchley Park boffins. His work also includes Miranda and episodes of My Hero and My Family.

His comedy thriller Crossword Ends In Violence (5) follows the efforts of crossword compiler John Fellowes to clear the name of his grandfather, who was branded a spy when top-secret codewords Overload and Neptune, the latest in a series of words connected to the top-secret D-Day landings, appeared in a national newspaper in the run up to the invasion of Europe.

Crossword Ends In Violence (5) is published by new eBook publisher Piqwiq. You can get it from places like this.

So, you know where this is going – James gives us The Intel on codebreaking, his love of crosswords and, of course, his writing regime…

Tell us about Crossword Ends In Violence (5)…

It’s a comedy thriller about D-Day, crosswords and chess. With a Russian Gulag thrown in. I tend to say that it’s essentially Robert Harris meets Terry Pratchett.

Is it based on a true story?

It’s inspired by the story that just before D-Day, key codewords from the D-Day landings had found their way into the Daily Telegraph crossword – on a number of occasions, including the overall codename Overlord. Naturally this would be alarming if you’re about to land a million men in France in order to liberate Europe. So the book is about a crossword-setter called John Fellowes who discovers that the crossword-setter under scrutiny was his grandfather. So he tries to get to the bottom of it.

What’s the fastest you’ve ever completed a fiendishly hard crossword?

I used to do the Daily Telegraph Cryptic every morning while I was writing the book, and do my best with the Saturday Times large cryptic. I was never that fast, but really enjoyed it. But then I had kids, more paid work and eventually ran out of excuses to do cryptic crosswords during office hours. Pity.

Crossword ends In Violence (5)You’ve said you’re obsessed with Second World War code breakers — what’s the fascination?

The appeal is that their lateral, theoretical thinking made a huge difference to the war. Previously, wars were won by brute strength, tactics and the weather. But the employment of mathematicians, musicians, linguists and all manner of clever folk gave the Allies such an advantage when the most needed it. And I was so obsessed with all this that I wrote three series of a sitcom set in Bletchley Park for BBC Radio 4, called Hut 33.

Take us through a typical writing day for you.

For me, it’s mostly writing scripts for TV and radio which I tend to do during office hours so I get to see my family. I occasionally stay up into the small hours to get something finished, or enjoy the peace, quiet and lack of distracting emails and tweets. In general, I try to get the hard yards done by lunch, then after lunch do some exercise, then get back to the desk, or do something else. And if I feel totally uninspired, I’ll do my accounts, which usually triggers something to get me out of doing that particular chore.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

Rewriting and editing is never easy. Crossword Ends in Violence (5) was originally 80,000 words. I edited out a quarter of that. I essentially deleted about two dissertations-worth of writing. But it has to be done. You learn the lesson, but it’s always painful.

How do you deal with feedback?

The usual way. Resentment, denial, rage and defensiveness. Then self-doubt kicks in, followed by a desire for revenge, culminating in despair. And then you read the feedback, or notes, again and get on with your job. Ultimately, you know when a note or a comment is on the money. When I give notes or feedback to others, I always tell them to ignore the things I say that just sound stupid or ridiculous. But act on the notes that are vocalising something they secretly suspected all along.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

Growing up, I didn’t used to read much fiction, especially stuff that wasn’t out-and-out funny. (I read Terry Pratchett, obviously. Although I stopped after I’d read about ten of them. Like everyone else, I think Mort is the best, followed by Guards! Guards!) It was only in my mid-20s that I discovered half-decent books so I really got into David Lodge, Malcolm Bradbury, Tibor Fischer and Michael Frayn.

Give me some advice about writing

Writing is very very painful, time-consuming and unprofitable. Do it because you have to. Not because you like the idea of being a writer, or think you’ll make money.

What’s next for you?

I’m currently writing Series 3 of Bluestone 42 for BBC3, which is filming in October. And trying to develop new sitcoms for TV and Radio.

The Intel: Elly Griffiths

Elly Griffiths

Photo: Jerry Bauer

We love a bit of synchronicity around here. No sooner had Crime Thriller Fella interviewed Elly Griffiths than the news broke that she’s been long listed for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2014, for her Ruth Galloway novel Dying Fall. This week we were more concerned with her new Galloway novel The Outcast Dead, which we reviewed on Wednesday.

Scroll down a bit and you’ll see that – but not before you get The Intel from Elly on The Outcast Dead, Ruth Galloway and, of course, her writing regime. You will not be disappointed.

In The Outcast Dead you very much explore the anxiety mothers feel when they allow childminders to look after their children – is it important to you that your novels have a theme to power the drama?

In a funny way the theme comes last. I usually start with an archaeological or historical idea, in this case nineteenth century prisoners held under the so-called separate system. Then the prisoner became a woman and a childminder, partly based on the real-life case of Amelia Dyer. This seemed to tie in with the theme of motherhood. Many of my characters seem to be becoming parents. I didn’t plan it this way but it’s one of the benefits of a long series. You can watch the children grow up in real time.

The characters – Ruth, Nelson, Judy and Cathbad among them – have very entangled emotional lives. What comes first character or plot?

As I say, probably the historical idea comes first, then all the other factors come into play. Character, plot and setting are all intermingled in my books. You can’t really separate them.

Norfolk is very much a character in the book – what is it about the county that you find so evocative and mysterious?

So many things! I spent a lot of my childhood in Norfolk and I think there is something magical about places you visited as a child. They retain their sense of awe and wonder. Norfolk also seems very big to me, possibly because I’m still seeing it on a child’s scale. But it’s also because it’s such a rich and varied landscape – and also slightly spooky.

But the main reason I set the books there is because there is such a wealth of archaeology in Norfolk. You have Neolithic flint mines, Bronze and Iron Age relics, Roman remains and a host of other historical sites, right up to the Second World War.

The Outcast DeadYour protagonist Ruth Galloway is both headstrong and insecure – what is it about her that your readers love, do you think?

I’m not really sure but I’m so happy that people love her because I do too! I think people like the fact that Ruth isn’t perfect. She’s shy, overweight and slightly grumpy. She’s insecure about her personal life but very confident in her professional sphere. I think people can relate to that.

Take us through a typical writing day for you?

My children catch the school bus at seven-thirty. Then I make a pot of strong coffee and start work. I try to work from eight to eleven with no interruptions. My mum is housebound and I visit her every day at eleven-thirty so my writing time is quite limited. Having a set time to write works well for me. I’m not easily distracted (certainly not by housework!) and I try to write at least a thousand words a day.

Who are the authors or you love, and why?

My favourite author is Wilkie Collins. I love his sense of place, his humour and his characterization. I think Count Fosco in The Woman in White is the best villain of all time and Marian Halcombe the best heroine. When I was writing The Crossing Places I was very influenced by the description of the Shivering Sands in The Moonstone. I also like David Lodge, Anne Tyler and Alison Lurie.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

That not everyone is pleased for you when you write a book.

How do you deal with feedback?

I honestly think feedback doesn’t help with the creative process. I never show my work to anyone until it’s finished. Then, of course, I get wonderful help and advice from my editor and agent. But they are professionals and it’s their job. Having said that, I love hearing from people who have enjoyed my books. For me that is one of the joys of social media, being able to speak so directly to readers.

How have your own experiences shaped your writing?

I’m sure my life has shaped my writing but, the more I write, the better that is hidden. My early books (published under my real name, Domenica de Rosa) are very raw with personal experience. I’ve learnt to disguise myself now.

Give me some advice about writing…

Write every day and try not to go back on what you’ve written. Press on until you’ve got a final draft. And don’t ask friends and family for feedback!

Dying FallWhat’s your best advice for an author looking to get into the marketplace…

Write to lots of agents and tell them that you’re doing this. The one thing agents can’t stand is the thought that one of their rivals might get their hands on a hot new writer.

What’s next for you?

I’ve got a new book out in the autumn. It’s a crime novel but not about Ruth. It’s called The Zig Zag Girl and is set in the theatrical world of the 1950s. The next Ruth book is called The Ghost Fields and will be out early next year.