About Lloyd Shepherd

Lloyd is the author of The English Monster and The Poisoned Island. He lives in London, but dreams of Manchester.

Savage Magic – cover reveal

Simon and Schuster have just revealed the cover for Savage Magic – and I am absolutely thrilled with it. Out on August 28th.

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The Madhouse Open to the Sky

With just over a month to go until the publication of my third novel, Savage Magic, here’s a taster: a film shot by my brother Phil Shepherd with me reading from the book over the top of it.

In this segment, Aaron Graham, the senior magistrate of Bow Street (who appeared in my first two books as well) is pondering his life as a resident of Great Queen Street, on the fringes of Covent Garden, as he wanders towards a certain pub to meet a certain pimp to discuss the activities of a certain group of reprobates known only as the Sybarites….

Aversion Therapy with the Authors’ Club

The Authors’ Club were kind enough to invite me to give a talk at their monthly lunch about my books and my writing. I took the somewhat self-indulgent and meta route of talking about talking about writing. If you read the below, you’ll see what I mean.

Hello, and thank you Sunny and everyone here for inviting me to speak to you.

But I won’t pretend this is going to be easy. In fact, this is a session of aversion therapy for me. Because I am going to speak – DEEP BREATH – about me and my – SWALLOW – writing!

Groucho Marx, as everyone knows, said he’d never join a club that would have him as a member, and thus inevitably ended up posthumously donating his name to a club.

Today is the opposite of that for me. Because here I am, at the Authors’ Club. A club of authors.

Talking about myself.

Talking about being an author.

My teenage self has just roused himself from the floor, where he was listening to heavy metal and dreaming about Kate Locke and her amazingly tight jeans, and given his future self a round of applause.

But why should this be aversion therapy?

Anyone who’s ever seen me talk about ‘being an author’ will know that I have had a profound aversion to it ever since my first book was published in 2011. Not to talking about myself – oh no, I can gladly bang on about that for hours. But when it comes to talking about writing, I’ve encountered an insurmountably English diffidence.

So, you’re all here to help me with this desperate affliction. I want to talk about being an author.

Why do I want this?

Firstly this: not wanting to talk about being an author has the unwelcome, and entirely unsought, side-effect of making said author sound like an arrogant scoundrel. I learned this, actually, at another Authors’ Club event. You kindly shortlisted my first book, The English Monster, for the Debut Novel award, more of which in a moment. Part of my duties (as I then saw them) was to read from the book and answer questions alongside the other shortlisted authors. One of these questions was along the lines of ‘was it hard, writing this book?’

Yes, of course it was hard. It’s a hundred and ten thousand words! I’ve never written anything as long as that before! It took bloody ages! And then the pacing was wrong, and the tone was inconsistent, and a lot of the imagery was naive or didn’t work, and most of the characters were entirely unsympathetic, and I did it all on my own, and I had a job at the time as well, and I can’t believe I pulled it off, and here you all are saying this book is quite good, actually, and I can’t BELIEVE IT!

The trouble is, I did not say any of these things. No, indeed. Because it was drummed into me at school: Don’t show off. Don’t display enthusiasm. Adopt, at all times, an air of worldly insouciance. Discussing one’s own achievements is deeply uncool, not to say horribly gauche. DO NOT DO IT.

So that was playing round in my head. The other thing that was playing round was this: my wife was then working as a headteacher in a Peckham primary school. She went into work every day at seven, and got home at eight. During those thirteen hours, Peckham threw everything Peckham could throw at her, and believe me, Peckham’s got a lot of stuff to throw.

In that light, how could I possibly describe what I did as hard? Even if it perhaps was.

So I answered the question like this: “No, it wasn’t hard. I wrote in the evenings. I treated it as a kind of hobby. Some men build model ships. I wrote a novel.’

Tumbleweed echoed around the room. My wife put her head in her hand. Somewhere across London a child could be heard to laugh derisively.

Why? Because I sounded like a colossally arrogant scoundrel, that’s why.

I learned something that day: both listening to my own woeful underperformance, and to the words of my fellow authors on the shortlist, all of whom spoke amusingly and movingly and above all interestingly about their work. I learned that when people ask you a question such as is it hard being a writer they’re not expecting modesty, be it fake or be it genuine. They’re expecting insight. They’re expecting interest. They’re expecting amusement.

They’re expecting you to talk about yourself, with self-confidence, in an interesting way.

But this raises an interesting issue, and it brings me to my second reason for wanting to talk about being an author. I noticed two very distinct things on the day I was published. The first was the wave of self-doubt that broke over my head. It was like an acute version of Imposter Syndrome, that feeling many of us have that we are going to be found out, that we don’t really know what we’re doing, that one day someone is going to tap us on the shoulder and say I’m sorry, but there’s been a terrible mistake. So, even though an agent has taken you on, even though a publisher has paid you cash money for the privilege of turning your manuscript into an actual proper published book, even though it’s received some decent reviews – you still find reasons for why it must be a rubbish book, and you must be a rubbish writer. And being English, I tended to smother that anxiety in diffident self-deprecation. And thus ended up looking conceited.

The other thing that happens when you’re first published is that you notice other writers in a new way. For the first time, these strange creatures are objects of immediate interest. And my word, they don’t half talk about themselves a lot.

They talk about their writing process. They retweet praise from their books. There are a great number of them who call themselves ‘writers’ who seem to have published no actual ‘writing’ at all. They discuss their inadequacies at great length. They do Q&As and blog tours and Reddit AMAs and place endless About Me articles on their websites and are always asking me to Like their Facebook pages or to follow them on Twitter.

In short, they generally behave like people craving attention and affirmation. Not all of them do all of these things. But most of them do some of them.

And by ‘them’ I of course mean ‘me’.

Why is this, I thought. What’s wrong with these people? Why are they making such a meal of something as natural as writing?

Because, you see, up until then writing had been natural for me. I had done it as a kind of hobby. I worked full-time, and I had no expectations of being published. Which isn’t to say I didn’t desperately want to be published. But I didn’t expect to be.

And then, my first book came out. Then, I was in the game. Because now, a lot was riding on the second book. And suddenly, I didn’t know if I could do it anymore.

It was, in other words, a crisis of self-confidence.

So I looked at all these writers blah-blah-blahing about themselves, and I felt my own crisis of confidence, and then I read something by Neil Gaiman. Now, Neil Gaiman is someone who talks about himself a lot online, and I have had my bitter moments when I’ve wanted him to shut up, because he is of course quite brilliant and utterly successful and married to a rock star and generally very, very cool. So it’s easy to pastiche him sometimes, to characterise his somewhat glib assertions about the creative process as being… well, somewhat glib.

At least, that’s how I tended to characterise him.

But then he said this, in a commencement speech at some American college or another:

Someone asked me recently how to do something she thought was going to be difficult, in this case recording an audio book, and I suggested she pretend that she was someone who could do it. Not pretend to do it, but pretend she was someone who could. She put up a notice to this effect on the studio wall, and she said it helped.

He said a bunch of other things in that speech (including admitting that he, like me, had suffered from imposter syndrome, or what his wife Amanda called the Fraud Police). But that really stuck with me.

Pretend you’re a writer. Pretend you’re a good writer. And perhaps that will increase your chances of being one.

This is insane, right? But what if this was why all these people were so fiercely calling themselves writers? Were they seeking to convince themselves? Were they acting out a role?

I think they were. I’ve even found an academic paper on this.

Seriously.

It’s called ‘Confidence and Competence in Writing: The Role of Self-Efficacy, Outcome Expectancy, and Apprehension’. It was authored by Frank Pajares and Margaret T Johnson and published by the National Council of Teachers of English in October 1994 – so at a time when ‘social media’ meant sharing your newspaper.

Now, this study is interesting in all sorts of ways, and is also full of some pretty dry academic prose (which is code for ‘stuff I didn’t fully understand’).

But the results of the test seem clear, and there are two parts to it:

1 – There is a clear correlation between a person’s self-confidence in general, their specific confidence in their writing, and the quality of their written work. As a side note to this, it’s one’s general confidence in writing that has the strongest correlation with writing outcomes; specific confidence in individual writing tasks (yes, I can use a comma correctly) does not have the same correlation.

2 – That as people practise certain writing skills, their writing improves – but their confidence in their writing does not improve in the same way.

In other words, if you’re confident in what you do, you’re likely to be better at doing it.

But the flip side is, you won’t get more confident by doing it.

I find this disturbing, because of this: I have moved from being a very self-confident writer in short form arenas such as journalism and reviewing, to being a very unconfident writer in novels. I have a very bad dose of imposter syndrome when it comes to what I do.

But even that is not quite right. Because, when it comes down to it, I have written three novels which have been published (well, nearly). I can, clearly, write.

So perhaps I should just say the words “I can, clearly, write” to myself. Over and over and over again.

That seems to explain a lot of how writers behave online. Their retweeting of positive reviews. Their blog posts about their writing process. Their hurt reaction to criticism. Their self-description as ‘writers’ in Twitter profiles and website headlines, as if to write the words ‘I am a writer’ in as many places as possible somehow makes that more true, even if they’ve never had a book published or even a review or a magazine article. This behaviour which I have, in recent years and in my customarily judgemental way, found occasionally risible, occasionally even contemptible, is neither of those things. It’s actually perfectly sensible. Here, for me, is the killer line from that study:

Students who lack confidence in skills they possess are not likely to engage in tasks where those skills are required.

To extrapolate from that in a most unacademic way: I’m never going to write the novel I’m capable of writing if I don’t convince myself I’m capable of writing it.

And the first step to doing that is pretending I’m capable of it.

So: here I am, standing before you today.

I am a writer.

And some of the things I have written have been…. have been…. have been…. pretty good.

There.

Thank you.

Bloody Good Reads: The Extra Ordinary Life of Frank Derrick, Age 81

When I was in my twenties, I spent a considerable amount of time jumping up and down in fairly mindless fashion to the excitable rock-and-roll stylings of a beat combo with the tireless moniker Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine (or, for the purposes of the BBC censor, Carter USM).

There was no other band quite like Carter. There were only two of them, for a start: a fellow in shorts and a baseball cap who played the guitar and was called Fruitbat, and another fellow called Jim-Bob who also played the guitar and sang.

They were backed by a fearsome wall of synths and drums, and came along at the same time (at least, in my memory) as a bunch of other bands who seemed to make one want to jump up and down a lot in old baseball boots, with one’s hat on backwards and cheap lager sloshing around in one’s belly. They were huge, massive, relentless FUN.

What made them different to those other bands, though, was the content of their songs. E.M.F sang in abstract terms about someone being unbelievable, Jesus Jones had some hand-wavy hippy nonsense about how great it was to be alive right now. Carter (lyricist: Jim-Bob) sang about an altogether more down-to-earth bunch of gypsies, travellers, thieves, grebes, crusties and goths – a list which I have mercilessly stolen from Carter’s own song, The Only Living Boy In New Cross.

Jim-Bob’s lyrics were filled with pop-culture references – The Only Living Boy In New Cross features, among others, David Frost, Evita, Simon and Garfunkel, Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones. There were puns – the Evita  reference is ‘fill another suitcase with another haul’, which in a song about life at the bottom end of the heap is fabulously on it – and there was a good deal of anger about the state of post-Thatcherite Britain and its dreary selfishness. Perhaps their most famous song, Sheriff Fatman, is an early one from 1989, which rails at slum landlords, including Rachman and, in Jim-Bob’s own deathless adaptation, ‘Nicholas van Whatsisface’.

Oh, and they headlined Glastonbury.

But I come here not to praise Carter USM, but to bury them. Their last ever gig will be this November (and I can’t go, chizz chizz chizz), and these days Jim-Bob is a solo recording artist. His last album, What I Think About When I Think Of You, is fantastic and I commend it to you.

So Jim-Bob hasn’t gone. But he has begun to change, like Seth Brundle in The Fly, into an altogether more disturbing creature: a novelist.

There have been two novels under Jim-Bob’s name already: Storage Stories and Driving Jarvis Ham. I commend them both to you. His third, though, is under a new name: J.B. Morrison. I don’t know why he changed it. Perhaps it’s considered more grown-up. But I’m delighted to say the novel, The Extra Ordinary Life of Frank Derrick Age 81, is full of everything that I loved about Carter and everything I love about Jim-Bob, but without the wall of synths and the beer in the belly. It’s a charming story, beautifully told, about an 81-year-old man living on his own and the relationship he develops with the woman who comes to care for him for an hour a week.

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I couldn’t help feeling some sadness reading this; my dad died in 2008, and he’d be touching on the same age as Frank Derrick by now. And Frank’s story does have its sad moments and its tiny tragedies. But Frank’s brain is as sharp as those old Carter lyrics – as sardonic and bitter but also as witty and affectionate. His hair is too long, and his best mate is an ex-punk called Smelly John. He loves films and had once planned to build a cinema in his shed. His wife Sheila died years ago, lost to dementia – and Jim-Bob/Morrison’s use of sea-swimming as a metaphor for the loss of Sheila’s mind is as fine and terrible a piece of writing as I’ve read this year.

The novel rescues the elderly for us, paints them as just older versions of ourselves, with the same anchors in shared popular culture and the same wish to be interested, involved, inspired. There are no easy answers in Frank’s life, and the novel doesn’t pretend there are. At one point, I thought the novel was going to settle for a bleakly obvious ending, and it does toy with us as if it might. But it doesn’t. It carries on – Frank carries on – with warmth and acceptance and, ultimately, love. It made me realise, actually, that love was what Carter were on about, a lot of the time, too.

I put it down, and I phoned my Mum.

 

 

Bertrand Russell on the pre-Socratics

I’m reading Bertrand Russell’s mammoth History of Western Philosophy, and just read these two gems on the pre-Socratics, for whom the old fellow had a very soft spot indeed.

‘The atomists, unlike Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, sought to explain the world without introducing the notion of purpose or final cause. The ‘final cause’ of an occurrence is an event in the future for the sake of which the occurrence takes place. In human affairs, this conception is applicable. Why does the baker make bread? Because people will be hungry. Why are railways built? Because people will wish to travel. In such cases, things are explained by the purpose they serve. When we ask ‘Why?’ concerning an event, we may mean either of two things. We may mean: ‘What purpose did this event serve?’ or we may mean: ‘What earlier circumstances caused this event?’ The answer to the former question is a teleological explanation, or an explanation by final causes; the answer to the latter question is a mechanistic explanation. I do not see how it could have been known in advance which of these two questions science ought to ask, or whether it ought to ask both. But experience has shown that the mechanistic question leads to scientific knowledge, while the teleological question does not. The atomists asked the mechanistic question, and gave a mechanistic answer. Their successors, until the Renaissance, were more interested in the teleological question, and thus led science up a blind alley.’

‘What is amiss, even in the best philosophy after Democritus, is an undue emphasis on man as compared with the universe. First comes scepticism, with the Sophists, leading to a study of how we know rather than to the attempt to acquire fresh knowledge. Then comes, with Socrates, the emphasis on ethics; with Plato, the rejection of the world of sense in favour of the self-created world of pure thought; with Aristotle, the belief in purpose as the fundamental concept in science. In spite of the genius of Plato and Aristotle, their thought has vices which proved infinitely harmful. After their time, there was a decay of vigour, and a gradual recrudescence of popular superstition. A partially new outlook arose as a result of Catholic orthodoxy; but it was not until the Renaissance that philosophy regained the vigour and independence that characterise the predecessors of Socrates.’

 

Bloody Goodreads: Total Chaos by Jean-Claude Izzo

 

My good friend Jon introduced me to this book, via my wife – in as much as she swiped it off me when I first bought it, read the first 50 pages and discarded it, saying it wasn’t her thing at all.

This surprised me, because I think it’s a wonderful book – a very, deeply French Raymond Chandler, with jazz and pastis instead of big bands and hooch.

It’s set in Marseilles in the 90s (I think), a racial melting pot filled with resentment, racism and rancour. A local detective investigates the deaths of two of his oldest friends, 20 years apart, and finds himself elbow-deep in conspiracy, gangs and organised crime.

Izzo writes beautifully, and his main guy, Fabio Montale, is a fabulous creation, a recognisably tragic figure who loves women and honour and booze and food and is doomed to destroy himself with his appetite for life. Montale very much reminded me of James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux , and I can think of no higher praise than that.

There’s two more books in the series, and I’m definitely going to read them both.

 

Goodreads | Total Chaos by Jean-Claude Izzo — Reviews, Discussion, Bookclubs, Lists.

London, UKIP and English freedom

A week or so ago, UKIP super-chump Nigel Farage raised eyebrows (in some places) and glasses (in other places) with his observation that he’d sat on a train leaving London for Kent and had not heard a single person speaking English until he was well clear of the metropolis. This was intended as an illustration of how terrible things are, how the English lost England, and how UKIP are the only ones telling it like it is.

Now, apart from the fact that Nige’s story is almost certainly just that – a story – it did serve to illustrate a new and rather wonderful fact about modern England, and it’s this: you can choose the environment you want to live in (as long as you can afford to live anywhere, that is). Want an all-Caucasian English-speaking village? We’ve got lots of those. Want a semi-urban environment with religious facilities with a distinctly South Asian feel? We’ve got those. Want a deserted windswept wilderness? Yep, go ahead.

And want a multicultural metropolis where English is the lingua franca but not the monoglot essential? Yes, we’ve got a few of those, too.

What Nigel doesn’t understand is the essential freedom that England now offers us. I well remember a receptionist I once worked with telling me she was moving out of Morden and into Surrey. When I asked her why, she said, without a trace of shame: “Too many blacks.” Shocking, yes. But she had somewhere to go to rehouse her appalling racism. She could go and live with other racists (and UKIP councillors, eh, Nige?), somewhere green and pleasant and suited to her own tastes.

That’s what’s great about England. I live in London precisely because of the reasons Nige gave for not living here. There’s room for us both. And if Nige or any of his ilk move into my street, I’ll sell up and move somewhere else. Because with that lot moving in, before you know it the whole place will be crawling with them.

Death of the book trade: more anecdotes released

Throw a paperback at a room full of writers, and chances are that it’ll hit someone with a grievance. Writing is a lonely trade, and success – the genuine life-changing success which follows a major literary hit – is astonishingly rare, not least because so very many books are published these days. There were more than 170,000 new titles in 2012, up almost 20,000 in three years. How many of these were hits? And what’s a hit anyway?

I’ve never encountered an industry as subjective as book publishing; we who work in it, and particularly we who write books, are dangerously prone to the fallacy that because we have observed something, it must be both true and a signifier of something wider. Because isn’t that what we try to do with our books – speak some larger truth, comment on some aspect of society, make the story resonate beyond the page? But when we write an opinion piece based on those beliefs, things come dangerously unstuck.

To quote the old saw: the plural of anecdote is not data.

Take Robert McCrum in the Observer today: he has written a piece with the provocative title ‘From bestseller to bust: is this the end of an author’s life’, which  caused me to fear it was going to be about the suicide of a scribbler. But no, it’s about how certain authors are struggling to make ends meet. Three authors are cited, two others (Paul Bailey and Hanif Kureishi) are yanked out of the cuttings file, and the general tone of the piece can be summed up by this paragraph:

To writers of my generation, who grew up in the age of Penguin books, vinyl records and the BBC, it’s as if a cultural ecology has been wiped out. For as long as most of us can remember, every would-be writer knew the landscape of the printed word. This Georgian square was home to publishing grandees (now retired). On that high street were the booksellers (now out of business). In those twisting back streets, you could expect to find literary agents working the margins with the injured innocence of pickpockets at a synod. It was a mutually dependent ecosystem.

Publishers were toffs, booksellers trade and printers the artisan champions of liberty. Like the class system, we thought, nothing would change. The most urgent deadline was lunch. How wrong we were. The years 2007-2010 are pivotal: first, as Thomson has described, came the credit crunch. And it occurred at the very moment that the IT revolution was wrecking the livelihoods of those creative classes – film-makers, musicians and writers of all sorts – who had previously lived on their copyrights.

This is asserted, without any supporting evidence or data. It is just fact. Computers killed books. We’re all going to hell in a handcart. But on this specific point – that technology is killing content because of piracy – McCrum is, at least when it comes to the UK book trade, just wrong. I looked at the numbers, and I wrote about it in the Literary Review. Here’s the piece, and here’s the Ofcom report that highlights the minuscule amount of book piracy in the UK.

Now, we might be hell-bound. But at least let’s be hell-bound with the facts straight. At least let’s point out that more books are being published than ever before, that just as many if not more are being bought (don’t believe me? Check the Publishers’ Association figures – they’ve got charts and everything). Let’s be honest that writing is and always has been a precarious business, that making money from it has always forced writers into queasy compromises with themselves and their art. Glen Duncan wrote a whole host of brilliant and critically-acclaimed books that didn’t sell particularly well. He decided to do something about it, and wrote something that did. What specifically is wrong with that?

I look around me at the writers who had their first books come out around the same time as mine. Some have been successful, others less so. Broadly, they’re being supported by their publishers (thus giving the lie to the old ‘publishers don’t support new talent’ canard). They’re all having to look at their bottom lines, calculate affordability, wonder where the next cheque is coming from. That’s freelance work, friends, and it always has been. So my anecdotes are entirely different to McCrum’s anecdotes. Who is right?

There was another (infinitely less egregious) example of this in the Telegraph, in which Jamie Fewery, a publishing fellow who knows of what he speaks, wrote that there was a crisis in reading amongst young men. It was actually an interesting piece, but it opened with the following thunderous bellow of subjectivity:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that men read fewer novels than women.
Or, at least, that’s my experience, based on over ten years of working in the book industry.

Yes, Fewery’s experience is valid (and it’s a lot more trustworthy than McCrum’s misty reminiscing). And this was, after all, a comment piece, not a piece of data journalism. But Fewery’s central point – that there was once a category of books one could broadly define as commercial fiction for men, or chaplit (my horrific neologism, not Fewery’s) – is surely provable with data. Can’t we show how Tony Parsons’ books are selling?

And as for the assertion that ‘young men are reading fewer novels than they used to’, that, surely, is also demonstrable. It may even be true, though if one were to say that one should also point out that young men are probably reading more than ever, it’s just the format that has changed, from novels to games and social media.

But that isn’t the point I’m trying to make. The point I’m trying to make is that we should not continually play The Last Post over book publishing, particularly those of us who make their living out of it (such as Sunday newspaper literary editors). Being able to write books for even a semi-living is a privilege, not a burden. And finally, our individual stories of failure or non-success should not lead us to state, categorically, that everything is failing. We all of us sit on the precipice of obscurity and disappointment and the great majority of us, sadly, fall in.

 

 

Where does it all come from?

I’m just back from a session at the marvellous Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (disclaimer: my better half is chief executive) to see a truly fantastic talk by David Almond. The audience were primary school teachers (and me), and David gave us an insight into how he writes books that was at once modest and genuinely inspiring.

‘I’m going to give you a word,’ he said. ‘A four-letter word. When I tell you the word, you have to keep it in your head, but it can only be the WORD. The letters of the word. It can’t be anything else. Just that single word. Ready? Here it is. T-E-N-T.’

The point being, of course, that you can’t. Those four letters become so much more than a word – they become sights and smells and pictures and memories and sounds and everything you’ve ever thought or that ever happened to you that involved a tent.

And that was the theme of the talk: how our minds are vehicles for imagination and creativity, two words which, David said, he was scared of as a child, because they seemed to sonorous and difficult. I still remember my granny saying to me the morning after one of my regular nightmares ‘you have them because you’ve a strong imagination,’ so that imagination became a condition, like asthma or myopia, that made your life more difficult.

David Almond is one of those people who’s not afraid to talk about the magical side of writing, the spark of inspiration – catch his anecdote about when and where the first line of Skellig came to him, and I defy you not to shiver. I’m emotionally hardwired to be sceptical about this stuff, to poo-poo those writers who talk about the mystical side of creativity. But I’m wrong. It’s right to talk about that stuff, because sometimes what we do as writers does feel magical, or at least inexplicable. This morning I wrote two chapters, one after the other. One was great, the other so-so. I have no idea why.

But then, as a counter-balance and a mild name-drop, I did get the chance to chat briefly with David before his talk. What did we chat about? Freedom, the software which allows you to turn off the Internet on the machine you’re working on to allow you to write. So yes, even magicians like David Almond need the right environment.

One other Almond anecdote – when he writes, he writes in Page View, with the numbers of the pages and the title of the book at the top of each page, so he can see the book physically coming to life as he goes. I think that’s brilliant.

A fantastic writer and a wonderful fellow. He signed a book for me, too.

Character Equity and Ripper Street

A quick post while the tea brews….

It’s excellent, really excellent, that more episodes of Ripper Street will be made, thanks to the intervention of Amazon. The deal, according to Variety, involves Amazon part-funding new episodes in return for rights to both of the first two series, and first-broadcast rights in the UK, a few months after which the BBC will screen them. No news yet on how many episodes, or when, or the window between Amazon’s screening and the BBC’s. But this is good news – as I wrote here, I thought Ripper Street was a really excellent and lively addition to the BBC schedules, and I was appalled when it was canned.

jerome flynn ripper streetBut let’s be clear about something: Amazon’s been quite clever here. Because it hasn’t just bought a programme brand, an onscreen look-and-feel, a high-class cast and a high-quality writing team. It’s bought a set of characters. Those characters have been etched out, with growing clarity and assurance by actors, writers and directors alike, over two series. They’re now worth actual cash money.

When television drama is done right and done well, this equity investment in characters pays growing dividends (at least, it does until it doesn’t). Which is why it was so bloody scandalous of the BBC to drop the show in the first place. Yes, audiences could have been higher (so why change the broadcast night and schedule it against more popular fare on the other side?). Yes, it must have been an expensive show to make (so why change the…. oh, you get the idea). But the hard work had already been done. Reid and Jackson and Drake and the rest had had come alive. We cared about them. And that, more than anything, is I think why Amazon have come in on this.

ripper_streetBecause characters have value. Characters pull in audiences. Look at Breaking Bad, which I am so nearly at the end of (five episodes to go) that I can barely stop thinking about it enough to write the book I’m supposed to be working on. Those characters were built, knocked down, re-established and refined over five series, until I’m not sure whether Walt is evil or Jesse is good or Skyler is sly, just in the same way I’m not sure about real people. It’s the power of serial television (and, ahem, serial books). And it’s characters that drive it.

So back to my own serial. For which this has been a very, very discreet form of advertising.