Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Andrew Cartmel?
A question I often ask myself on my bleaker days. The answer is, I’m a writer. Ever since I could read I’ve wanted to write books. I thought an easy way to support myself while breaking through as a novelist would be to write TV scripts. The word “easy” is not a good choice in that context. But I did end up working as a script editor/show runner on Doctor Who for three seasons.
Your new novel, The Vinyl Detective: Written in Dead Wax, is published by Titan Books. It looks rather interesting: How would you introduce it to a potential reader? Is it part of a series?
The book is called Written in Dead Wax, and the Vinyl Detective is the title of the series. It’s a murder mystery in the classic mould, with our sleuth being a record collector hired by a beautiful mysterious woman and embarking on a quest for a desirable object which people are willing to kill to obtain. In this case (and in the future books) the object is a rare record. Three books in the series have been written so far and are scheduled for publication.
What inspired you to write the novel? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
My friend Ben Aaronovitch is a bestselling novelist (the Rivers of London series). I asked him, somewhat enviously, what the trick was. He told me to write about what I genuinely love. And I love vinyl — searching out great music (usually jazz) on records in junk stores, thrift shops and (of course) online. Plus I love crime fiction: Chandler, Hammett, Cornell Woolrich, John D. MacDonald, Thomas Harris, Charles Willeford. And I’m also just getting into a little known British novelist called Agatha Christie.
As for general inspiration, I find I think best when I’m doing repetitive mundane, mindless tasks like swimming laps or vacuuming the house. So I work out my stories then. It’s either that or brood about how pissed off I am with assorted family and friends…
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
Science fiction was my first love (which came in handy when I worked on Doctor Who). When I was a little kid my mum took me to the library and reached down a book from the shelf for me. “This looks good,” she said. It was Have Spacesuit Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein, one of the greats. I devoured science fiction until my early teens when I broadened out to other genres (including crime) and also, ahem, ‘real’ literature. I adore the writing of Thomas McGuane, for instance.
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
I love being a writer. It’s all I ever wanted to do. I don’t feel I work ‘within’ the publishing industry. I’m a freelance who connects with people who are within the industry (like my marvellous editor Miranda Jewess and groovy publicist Lydia Gittins) when I sell a book. And that feels great.
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
Research has become way easier since the advent of the internet. I’m pretty scrupulous about it. I do a detailed outline before I start a bark, generally in the voice of the character. And I break the book down into chapters (usually about fifteen) which I create as (initially blank) Word documents in a folder. Each chapter has its own title — like a mini-novel — so that I know more or less what happens in it, and which help to inspire me. I lay them out in the folder as icons so I can see them and move them around. Other than that I have a sofa where I sit in a room which looks out over my pleasant little garden, with my hi-fi system in front of me, and I listen to music while working there on the laptop. My cat occasionally sashays in to distract me by demanding food or attention. Plus I have to get up every 20 minutes to turn the record over.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
Like I said, ever since I first learned to read, so about five years old. I suppose my first foray was a trilogy of Doctor Who novels. I can’t re-read my early fiction though. I’m afraid to look at it in case I’ll spot my mistakes. The first book where I felt I got it right was my memoir about working on Doctor Who, entitled Script Doctor. It’s based on diaries I kept at the time and is an extremely vivid and immediate account of those years. I’m very proud of it. The first novel of mine which I look back on fondly is Miss Freedom, which is inspired by the classic TV show The Prisoner. It’s a taut little spy novel in the 1960s tradition. Good luck finding a copy.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
Crime fiction is obviously thriving. The dominant paradigm has shifted from the serial killer/intuitive-profiler-cop model (which was entirely the creation of Thomas Harris) to the Nordic-Noir model, which still borrows a lot from Harris’s invention. My books, for all the extremity and mayhem they depict are what you call “cosy” crime fiction, not least because the hero has a couple of cats. And the stories are funny. This was perceived as a problem in certain quarters, where all they wanted was nihilistic Norwegian necrophilia, until they landed on the desk of an editor who saw all the attributes of my books as a feature, not a bug. Thank you, Miranda.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
As I mentioned, three Vinyl Detective books have been written and I’m circling nervously around the fourth one, on which I’ve already done a lot of work. At the same time I’m co-writing a series of comics with Ben Aaronovitch, which spin off from the world of his Rivers of London novels. They’re called, you guessed it, Rivers of London and are also published by Titan. The first graphic novel collection (Body Work) is in bookstores now and, touch wood, seems to be finding quite a wide readership.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
My non-fiction reading is generally the New Scientist magazine, which I find incredibly useful. In terms of fiction I’m currently deeply into John Steinbeck’s giant novel East of Eden, which I think is just tremendous.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
I can only be killed by a silver bullet.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
The publication of my second Vinyl Detective novel, The Run-Out Groove.