Tag Archives: Philip Marlowe

The Intel: Simon Mason

Simon MasonHolmesian deduction comes in all sizes and ages. Sir Ian is currently rocking his elderly Sherlock at your local picture house and now Simon Mason brings us the first of his Garvie Smith mysteries, Running Girl.

Garvie is a school boy hero, with a Sherlock-level IQ, and a charming, brilliant personality – unfortunately, he’s also a bit of a slacker. When his ex-girlfriend is pulled out of a pond, it’s up to Garvie – and young policeman DI Singh – to solve the crime.

Running Girl, which is out in paperback now, has been shortlisted for the 2014 Costa Children’s Book Award.

Simon is the author of five other novels for younger readers, as well as the author of three novels for adults. You have probably deduced correctly, using all you powers of observation and analytical reasoning,  that Simon is about to give us the lowdown on his new teenage sleuth, on writing for teenagers and how uninvited guests often crash his novels. Take it away, Simon…

Tell us about Garvie Smith.

Sixteen years old, super-bright – photographic memory, the whole bit – phenomenally lazy. He’s getting into bad habits: truanting from school, lying to his mother, smoking weed, getting into trouble with the police. So what? The world hasn’t done anything for him, why should he do anything for the world? Nothing gets his attention. Then the body of his ex-girlfriend Chloe is pulled from Pike Pond.

There’s obviously a strong dash of Sherlock in Garvie, but what were your other detective influences?

Yes, Sherlock. Garvie sees the signal in the noise, the detail everyone else misses. He keeps things to himself, goes at them his own way. He cares about justice, but couldn’t care less about the law; if it helps to solve a problem he doesn’t mind a bit of breaking and entering. Poirot too, perhaps. Like the egg-head Belgian, Garvie understands the way people behave; he’s empathetic. I think also he’s like Philip Marlowe, a cynic on the outside, a purist on the inside. He has a conscience and a tenderness – but likes to keep both well hidden.

What’s the trick to getting inside the teenage mind when you’re writing?

Living with a couple for several years helps. There were times I was desperately trying to get out of a teenager’s mind. But what fantastic creatures they are. They explode into the adult world like fireworks. Will life ever be so vivid again?

Running GirlWhy do you think young readers are so drawn to detectives and mysteries?

We lives our lives by stories. We’re story-telling animals. For us the seduction of a story’s mystery is deep and powerful. We have to know, to find out. Our curiosity drives us wild – particularly when we’re young – until it is satisfied. But the detective is also a figure of compelling fascination. Someone set slightly apart – as well all feel ourselves to be – a rogue figure risking all for the sake of the truth.

Running Girl had been shortlisted for the Costa Children’s Book Award — no pressure, then, for the next Garvie adventure?

Genuinely no pressure at all from Costa short-listing. Means nothing. Pressure instead from the characters – from Garvie, from Detective Inspector Raminder Singh, from Smudge, Felix and Alex, from Garvie’s mother. They demand to live. Also, in the new Garvie Smith book (three-quarters done, tell my publishers) the minor characters, those uninvited people who gate-crash my stories and won’t leave even when I ask them nicely: Vinnie the tramp, off his head out on the industrial estate; jittery Khalid running his corner shop; Blinkie the cartoon gangster with an eye patch and a big dog.

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

Do it again.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

Changes every week. At the moment: Saul Bellow (the great describer of people and their foibles); Italo Calvino (writer of fables shimmering with beauty and oddity); Elizabeth Taylor (sharp-minded comedian of the English middle-classes); William Golding (laureate of the strange); Geoffrey Hill (author of Mercian Hymns, a poem cycle about Offa, Anglo-Saxon king of England, a sort of cross between Stalin and Dennis the Menace)

Give me some advice about writing.

Write. Be patient (it takes time). Be yourself (this also takes time).

Running Girl by Simon Mason is out now, published by David Fickling Books, price £7.99 in paperback



Criminal Minds: Raymond Chandler

Raymond Chandler was one of the most influential American crime-writers of all time. His battered, moral, cynical detective Philip Marlowe has become an archetype of the genre, endlessly recycled and referenced. Here are ten facts about the writer.

images1/ A quintessentially American author, Chandler spent much of his early life in England. At the age of 12 he moved with his parents to South London, and was educated at Dulwich College, where he resided at, yes, Marlowe House. Becoming a British citizen, he worked in the civil service and as a journalist before moving back to the States in 1912.

2/ Chandler didn’t start writing till he was 44 when he was laid off as an oil company executive for his continual drunkenness. But writing success came slowly. His seven novels: The Big sleep, Farewell, My Lovely, The High Window, The Lady In The Lake, The Little Sister, The Long Goodbye, Playback and Poodle Springs are regarded as classics (well, the first five at least), but the early novels struggled to sell and it wasn’t until Hollywood started taking an interest that his fortunes changed.

3/ Philip Marlowe – named after the famous Elizabethan writer and secret agent – didn’t appear fully-formed. There were a number of prototypes of the character in Chandler’s many short stories, variously named Mallory, John Dalmas and Ted Carmady. When Chandler later compiled those early stories he simply changed the name of his various protagonists to Marlowe. He was a terrific recycler of his own material. Most of his novels were cannibalized from various short stories.

4/ His essay The Simple Art Of Murder from 1950 is one of the defining texts Unknownabout crime fiction. He extols the virtue of the Black Mask school of hard-boiled detective novels while putting the boot into what he saw as contrived and formulaic English countryhouse murder mysteries. He demands that detective fiction must have a strong moral vision:

Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor.

5/ Chandler’s adventures in Hollywood were unhappy. He was hired to work on the screenplay for Strangers On A Train – and is credited, although the script was largely rewritten– but Chandler and Alfred Hitchcock fell out big time. Chandler hated what he saw as endless script conferences – ‘god awful jabber sessions’ – and called Hitchcock a ‘fat bastard.’ He accused the director of being willing to sacrifice logic and coherence for dramatic effect, although this was the writer who also famously said: ‘When in doubt have a man with a gun in his hand come through the door.’

6/ Chandler also worked with Billy Wilder, with whom he also fell out. Chandler actually makes an uncredited cameo in Double Indemnity, sitting in a hallway reading a book as Fred MacMurray walks past. Astonishingly, this in-plain-sight cameo remained unnoticed by anyone for more than 60 years, until a French film historian spotted him.

7/ His only origjnal screenplay was The Blue Dahlia, starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake. Chandler struggled with alcoholism all his life and during this period was teetotal. He decided that the only way to cure his writer’s block was to start drinking again. Working in a stupor, with limousines parked outside his house to ferry pages of script to the studio and a battery of secretaries on hand, Chandler got it finished. The producer of the film, John Houseman, said of those eight days: “Chandler did not draw one sober breath, nor did one speck of solid food pass his lips.”

images-28/  Like all irascible, insomniac drunks, Chandler liked to write a letter, and they’ve been published. They are by turns acerbic, combative, defensive and highly-entertaining. “When I split an infinitive, God damn it, I intend that it should stay split.”

9/ Riddled by eczema, Chandler typed his novels wearing white gloves.

10/ His final novel Poodle Springs – in which Marlowe is married – was left unfinished when he died in 1959 and was later completed by crime writer Robert B. Parker. Emboldened by his encounter with Marlowe, Parker – brave man – wrote a sequel to The Big Sleep called Perchance To Dream.

And Marlowe, like other archetypes of the genre such as Holmes and Bond, continues to live on long after Chandler’s death. The Black Eyed Blonde by Benjamin Black – the crime-writing name of Booker winner John Banville – is published next year.