Sunday, 26 December 2010

Round Robin: L C Tyler




We now seem to be on the home run for the round robin, having had some great discussions about our own writing and writing generally. Anyway thanks again, Brian, for my questions, which I have answered or evaded as follows:

Q: I think that all our characters are parts or versions of ourselves in some way (in the same way everyone in your dreams is a version of you). Which of your two protagonists is most like you and which of the two voices do you most enjoy writing in? I agree with your general premise. I’ve said before somewhere that I think all of my characters carry at least a small part of my DNA. Martin Edwards has recently explored the same theme on his excellent blog Do You Write Under your Own Name – see: http://doyouwriteunderyourownname.blogspot.com/2010/12/autobiographical-crime-fiction.html

Of course, the characteristics you give to your characters are not necessarily the ones you want to own up to. I’ve made Ethelred morose, self-pitying and (at the same time) a hopeless optimist. Elsie is small and stroppy and never misses the chance of a sarcastic remark. Not surprisingly, I’ve probably enjoyed writing Elsie more, and she quickly became an equal partner in the narration rather than just being a foil for Ethelred. It’s fun writing Ethelred too though. I think he is basically a lost character from A Dance to the Music of Time – certainly early on, when I was trying to work out what Ethelred sounded like, I re-read Anthony Powell to get the rhythm of his speech. My family would probably tell you which one I really resemble. As for me, I’m pleading the fifth ….

Q: Secondly, you’re working on an historical novel at the moment, is that right? Care to share some details about it? Yes, that’s right. Its provisional title is “1658” – or possibly “1658!” Anyway, it’s set in the dying days of the Commonwealth, just before the restoration of Charles II and, well, somebody gets murdered. I assume that tells you as much as you’d like to know? That’s all I’m saying anyway. Like most writers I find it difficult to talk in any detail about what I’m working on, because a) it may never happen and b) if it does, it may look very different from what it does now – it could even end up being called “1659”. This might look like a new departure for me, but my earliest published work of fiction was a short story set in the twelfth century. It won a well-endowed short story prize and hence, I think, it’s possibly earned me more per word than anything else I’ve ever written.

Q: Finally, comic crime is notoriously difficult to write well whilst maintaining the right balance between darkness and light – yet you manage it perfectly. What was the appeal of it? Would you ever write only the darker side, or do you find yourself naturally looking at events from a more humorous or satirical angle? Thank you. I think comic crime is difficult both from the point of view that people can rarely agree on what is funny and there is a danger of seeming to laugh at something (crime) which isn’t a joking matter. The answer to the second point is that I am making jokes about detection, not about crime. Sadly there is no real answer when somebody says that you just don’t make them laugh.

Strangely I hadn’t read a great deal of comic crime before I started to write my own, so (unlike a lot of authors) I can’t claim that I had always wanted to write exactly like X or Y. The Herring Seller’s Apprentice was something of a journey into the unknown – at the end of which I discovered I’d written a comic crime novel. I’ve often wondered whether I could write like Val McDermid (say) or RJ Ellory. I’m certainly keen to try lots of different things, so I wouldn’t rule out going over to the Dark Side – but I’d probably want to do it under a different name.

And now questions for Suroopa: You write not only fiction for adults, but also non-fiction and books for children. Your most recent work (I think) is a book describing the experiences of the survivors of the terrible tragedy at Bhopal. Which type of writing do you get most satisfaction from? Do you feel that your non-fiction work impacts on how you write fiction – and indeed vice versa? One further point that intrigues me is this: how does it feel to be writing in English in India today? Does English-language writing in India feel well-connected to the rest of the English-speaking world – and what is its place within contemporary Indian literature? And finally (of course) what are you working on at the moment and when can we buy it?

15 comments:

Alis said...

This is a great post Len, thank you! Just a quick question - who else writes comic crime? - I'd love to read more if it's as entertaining as the Herring series. Hope your Christmas is proving fun?

Frances Garrood said...

Yes - I'd second that. The Herrings Seller's Apprentice was the first comic crime novel I'd ever read.

Interesting asnwers, Len. And a happy new year!

Len Tyler said...

Thanks, Alis. Thanks, Frances. And a good question concerning who else is writing comic crime. Just for starters then … I really like Chris Ewan’s “Good Thief’s Guide” books. The very talented Mr Simon Brett, whose Charles Paris novels have recently been on Radio 4, has just started a new series featuring Blotto and Twinks. Colin Bateman writes quirky and enjoyable novels based in Northern Ireland, starring The Small Bookseller With No Name. Malcolm Pryce has a very funny series set in Aberystwyth, with the added benefit of Welsh jokes. I admire Ruth Dudley Edwards’ prize-winning fiction and non-fiction – self confessedly intent on slaying the forces of political correctness. Colin Cotterill’s series featuring the coroner Dr Siri threatens to do for Laos what McCall-Smith has done for Botswana. Suzette Hill, Christopher Brookmyre, Donna Moore and Christopher Fowler have also been recommended to me recently and are on my list to read. Oh, and there’s Kate Atkinson, of course. From an earlier era, Colin Watson is widely respected. (It seems to help being called Colin in this particular field – I missed a trick there.) I’m bound to have forgotten somebody important of course. Does anyone else have any favourites to add to the list?

Len Tyler said...

oh ... and MC Beaton's excellent Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth series (not sure how I forgot those).

Alis said...

Thanks for those recommendations, Len. I've heard of the Aberystwyth books but haven't yet got my hands on one. Must make that a priority.

Tim Stretton said...

Good stuff, Len!

I haven't read any of the other comic crime novels, although it seems to me that humour is so personal that liking one writer in the genre need not imply affinity with the others. Len's comedy is highly verbal while--to stretch things a bit--the "comic crime" of the Keystone Cops tends to revolve around people falling over each other. That leaves me pretty cold...

I don't know if Donald Westlake's Dortmunder novels count as comic crime, but I certainly enjoyed those.

Doug Worgul said...

Thanks, Len. My opinion is that comedy and even subtle humor are harder to write than anything else, including sex scenes. And doing it successfully is a sign of superior ability and intelligence.

Len Tyler said...

Thanks, everyone. Tim - you raise some very good points here. I couldn't agree more that liking one writer in a genre (any genre) doesn't mean you'll like others. Even within the list I've given, there's enormous variety. Second, your mention of Westlake make me realise that my list is really restricted to the UK and Ireland. There's plenty of comic crime in the US and no list would be complete without, say, Carl Hiaasen. I'm never sure about Westlake as "comic" - but his books certainly are witty, entertaining and very well-written. Doug - many thanks for your comments - with sex scenes, as with humour, I suspect less is usually more!

Brian McGilloway said...

Hi Len

Great answers - thanks.

Regarding comic crime, in addition to Ruth Dudley Edwards and Bateman, Ireland also claims Declan Burke to the comic crime stable - his Big O is a cracking read. The early Elvis Cole novels by Robert Crais are also very witty, though probably not comic crime as such...

Happy New Year to you and yours.

Len Tyler said...

Thanks, Brian - and thanks again for the great questions. Yes, of course, Declan Burke certainly needs to be added. Which reminds me that I should have mentioned Allan Guthrie - really noir rather than comic, I'd have said, but with a good line in twisted humour and hence somebody who has been nominated for the Last Laugh award (in addition to many other prizes). Which in turn reminds me to mention Mike Ripley, whose widely-respected Angel series was a multiple winner of the Last Laugh award when it was run by the CWA. We still don't have a complete inventory of comic crime by any means, but anyone dipping into the list we've put together would hopefully not be disappointed.

Deborah Swift said...

Wow, what a reading list! I hope 1658 is going well because I'm dying to read it. It will probably show up all the holes in my research though... I'm glad I took time out of my Hist Fic diet to get to "The Herring in the Library" because I just loved it. Got the others to read now!

auroopa said...

I am next in line...will wait a fortnight before I peg in with my wise comments on writing. I think each of us should be visible for a while...is that fine?

Aliya Whiteley said...

Of course, Suroopa. Looking forward to your replies.

Good one, Len!

Matt Curran said...

Great answers to some great questions, Len. I've got a lot to wade through on the blog at the moment (I've been away for so long!) but it's good to see the quality of the blog entries are still high. Good luck with the historical novel, btw, and don't get lost in the research (which is too damned easy to do!).

C. N. Nevets said...

Of course, the characteristics you give to your characters are not necessarily the ones you want to own up to.

I think, for my part, it's precisely the ones I don't want to own up to that are always the genesis of my characters. And then I put my characters through psychological torment.

I hope Frances doesn't read this comment or she might start analyzing me.

At any rate, good luck with the historical. As Matt says, it's easy to get lost in the research and I wish you the best at staying on the surface!

Also, I wanted to add that the Black Widowers stories by Asimov are typically gently comic mysteries.