Interview with Richard James
Author of The Phantom In The Fog
I've been telling stories all my life. As an actor I've spent a career telling other people's, from William Shakespeare to Charles Dickens. As I writer, I get to create my own!
I have written almost thirty plays which are produced the world over; from USA to New Zealand and just about everywhere in between. They're mostly comedies and frequently win awards in competitions and festivals.
In 2014 I wrote a memoir, Space Precinct Unmasked, detailing my experiences working as an actor on Gerry Anderson’s last live action sci-fi series. This was followed by an adaptation of the unscreened pilot episode, Demeter City, and four new short stories featuring the officers of Precinct 88, Space Precinct: Revisited.
As to my own series, I decided I wanted to write a sequence of books set in a world I would want to spend time in and featuring characters I would want to be with. Most importantly, it would have to feature a grisly murder or two! I love the Victorian era. It seems such a rich period of history, populated by some hugely colourful characters, so that is where we first meet Detective Inspector George Bowman.
The Head In The Ice is the first in the Bowman Of The Yard series and follows Bowman's investigation into the discovery of - well, a head in the ice of the River Thames. Over the course of the book, however, and throughout the series in general, we see he has demons of his own to contend with.
There are four books in the Bowman Of The Yard series in all, together with some short stories from Bowman's Casebook. These have been collected into two volumes and fill in the gaps between the novels, giving the reader the chance to follow Bowman's professional progress and personal battles (he's a troubled man, as you'll see) over twelve months of his life.
'A masterful new Victorian mystery series.' Rosie Amber books
'A genuinely impressive debut.' Andrew Cartmel
'Full of the thrills of Victorian London.' Adam Croft
I really hope you like the books. If you do, you can tweet me your thoughts at @RichardNJames. I hope to hear from you!
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The Phantom In The Fog is the last in the current Bowman Of The Yard series. How did it feel writing the final story?
- Emotional! I knew I had to leave Bowman in a good place after all he had been through, so it was important for me to research just how he might recover his wits by the end of the book. This led to some interesting research into Electrotherapy which might seem barbaric to us, but which actually led to some positive results for patients in the nineteenth century.
I also had a few loose ends to tie up, but wanted to nod to the next series of Bowman stories that I have in mind.
What was it like revisiting favourite characters?
- The characters in the Bowman Of The Yard series are like family to me now and I look forward to renewing their acquaintance with each new book. I hope it's the same for my readers! During the events of The Phantom In The Fog, we are introduced to a figure that looms large in Bowman's past, Detective Inspector Simeon Grainger. Grainger was Bowman's superior when he was a sergeant and we'll be seeing more of him in the prequel series I have planned.
Tell us a little of the events in The phantom In The Fog.
- Well, I have to be careful not to give too much away! Suffice it to say that George Bowman is recovering in Colney Hatch from his recent manic episode, so it's tempting to think he's out of the picture. In fact, he manages to solve the case using his memory of an investigation from ten years ago and a little resourcefulness. He's assisted, as ever, by his able colleague Sergeant Graves who join the dots from beyond the asylum walls and the whole story results in the death of a much loved (and loathed!) character and a revelation about one of Scotland Yard's own.
Can you tell us a little about the historical events in your book?
- The story involves the return of an almost mythical figure to London's streets. 'Jumping Jack' may seem far fetched, but in fact he's based on a legend that held much of Victorian London in its thrall. Spring-Heeled Jack brought terror to the capital for decades, supposedly frightening young ladies out of their wits with his appearance. He was described as having blazing eyes, the ability to breathe fire and the habit of jumping over high walls and buildings to make good his escape. Such a story was just too good not to use!
What are the benefits of writing a series rather than a standalone story?
- All the Bowman Of The Yard novels are investigations in their own right but, together, they tell a larger story. It's great to have the time and space to develop the characters. I've also written a series of short stories that fill in the gaps between the novels. This means that every month of the year 1892 is chronicled from the point of view of Bowman and his fellow detectives. Looking back, it seems a mammoth undertaking, but it's been a rewarding process, too.
Will you miss the characters?
- Definitely! So much so, that I can't leave them for long! I'll take a short break and then return to Bowman's world in a series of novels set ten years before The Phantom In The Fog. This will see Bowman in a happier place and even detail just how he met the woman we now know will become his wife.
Which is your favourite character to write for?
- It would have to be Inspector Hicks! He's full of bluff and bluster and is great fun to write. He's an egotist, a liar and an opportunist. What could be more fun! He's a bit of a fan favourite too, so I enjoy the feeling that my readers are just waiting for him to make his entrance.
Where do you get your ideas from?
- Now, there's a question! I suppose the stories suggest themselves as I read around the subject. For example, I knew of the legend of Spring-Heeled Jack and that I wanted to include someone like him in The Phantom In The Fog. Otherwise, it's just a matter of sitting down and thinking through a storyline, researching what was going on at the time and working out how Bowman's investigations can sit within that history.
How have readers responded to The Phantom In The Fog?
- So far, so good! Many of my readers know that this is the final novel for now, so I hope it gives them a sense of completion and closure as they read. The 5 star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads suggest they do!
What are the main challenges facing a writer?
- Finding readers! You can write the most wonderful novel ever but, if no one reads it, it's little more than vanity project. It's difficult finding an audience amongst the millions of books available, which is why reviews are so important. If I could make one plea, it would be to beg readers to leave honest reviews of the books they read (especially mine!). That way, they might just encourage other readers to buy too.
Following a manic episode, Detective Inspector George Bowman recovers in Colney Hatch lunatic asylum. He is surprised when Elizabeth Morley, an acquaintance who had sought to offer him comfort following the death of his wife, pays an unexpected visit with news of an intriguing case.
A mythical figure - christened Jumping Jack by the salacious press - has returned to the streets of London, leaving a trail of death in his wake.
Bowman calls upon Sergeant Graves to act as his agent in the outside world, resulting in his erstwhile companion being subjected to the wrath of Graves' new superior, the recently promoted Detective Superintendent Callaghan.
Graves is taken off the investigation and ordered to look into an issue of fraud at The Royal Armitage Bank. As his enquiries continue, however, it becomes clear the two cases may be linked.
As the killer strikes again and the citizens of London grow convinced they are in the grip of a supernatural force, Inspector Bowman must rely upon what's left of his wits, an improvised map of London on his bedside wall and the memory of an investigation from his days as a detective sergeant.
Does a series of crimes from a decade ago hold the key to the current atrocities being committed in the fogbound streets of London?
Bowman must solve the crime from his hospital ward to enable his colleagues to confront the killer among them.