Simon Brett OBE is the writer responsible for the Charles Paris, Mrs Pargeter, Fethering and Blotto & Twinks series of crime novels. His first published title was Cast, In Order Of Disappearance in 1975 and his latest book, Seriously Funny, and other oxymorons, is his 100th.
1. Who were your literary influences as you were growing up?
I’ve been a keen reader ever since I can remember. As a child, I read Enid Blyton, Anthony Buckeridge and Richmal Crompton, whose Just William stories are beautifully constructed and a lesson to any writer. I also enjoyed Down With Skool and the other very funny Nigel Molesworth books by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle.
As I approached my teens, I discovered Agatha Christie, and also got deeply into old-fashioned historical novels by writers like Charles Reade, Rafael Sabatini, Jeffery Farnol and Geoffrey Trease, and Baroness Orczy’s Scarlet Pimpernel books.
It was that interest that led to my specialising in history at school and university, but the study of the subject, with its constant questioning about what was actually true, completely destroyed my love for historical fiction. It was a good thirty years before I could again enjoy a historical novel.
2. You are a successful author now, but some readers will not be aware that you also had a stellar radio career producing the pilot episode of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the likes of I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue and Just a Minute. What are your memories of that time?
I loved my time in radio – and I still love the medium. For a writer, it’s the ultimate collaboration – every individual listener is creating slightly different images of the characters you’ve created.
As a light entertainment producer in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I met a wonderful range of showbiz characters, particularly comedians. I produced programmes with Ted Ray, Alfred Marks, Harry Worth, Kenneth Williams, Barry Cryer and Roy Hudd. It was a great education in the workings of comedy, which helped enormously when I started writing my own series like After Henry and No Commitments.
3. How did your actor turned amateur detective Charles Paris come about and did you ever think you would still be writing about him years later?
My actor detective Charles Paris was born directly out of my radio work. I was delegated to produce a series of adaptations of the Lord Peter Wimsey books by Dorothy L. Sayers. Ian Carmichael had just played the part on television and they wanted him to reprise the character on radio. Up until then, although I’d written four very proper unpublished novels, I’d been rather scared of crime fiction. I thought you had to have a computerised brain to work out the plots.
But working with Chris Miller, the writer who adapted the books, I made some very encouraging discoveries. First, we found some gaping holes in Sayers’ plots. And, also, although the plot was important, character and dialogue were at least as important. That realisation, together with the fact that on the Wimseys I was working with a lot of middle-aged actors, led to the birth of Charles Paris.
I little thought, back in 1974, that I would, in 2017, be writing his twentieth investigation.
4. Your latest book The Liar in the Library is set in Fethering Library. Is there anything you can tell us about it before we get the chance to read it?
The Liar in the Library is one of my Fethering Mysteries, set in a fictitious West Sussex seaside village, very close to where I actually live. The books feature two amateur sleuths in their fifties, Carole, retired from the civil service and rather strait-laced, and her more laid-back neighbour Jude. The setting of a library for the murder mystery gave me lots of opportunities to take pot shots at some of the pretensions of the literary world.
5. Is there anything you can share about your latest ‘work in progress’?
As I mentioned above, I am currently engaged in writing the twentieth Charles Paris book. The title is A Deadly Habit, which is rather more information than I usually give out about work in progress.
6. Do you have a message for your many readers in Suffolk Libraries?
My message to readers in Suffolk Libraries would be: keep reading. Yes, please read my books, but read other people’s as well. Each of us is restricted to living in one world, but books open up the possibility of inhabiting many others.
7. Can you tell us one thing that your readers may not know about you?
Two things my readers may not know about me:
- I’ve only got one A-Level.
- My first job after Oxford University was as Father Christmas in a department store.