This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Phil will be awarding a $40 Amazon GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.
Phil has stopped by It's Raining Books today to answer a few questions. Phil, why do you write in your genre? What draws you to it?
I’ve always been an avid reader, and my reading tastes span a number of genres. When I first started to write I think I was trying to emulate writers that I admired (say, Angela Carter or Ray Bradbury), or at least attempting to create worlds in a similar vein to books I had enjoyed. Sometimes this would manifest itself with touches of Magic Realism, at other times it would aim towards the lofty heights of Literature (with a capital L!).
However, looking back at these earlier attempts at short stories and novels I now realize that I had yet to find my voice. Mask of the Verdoy is a period crime thriller, set in 1930s London. But I can’t remember sitting down before I started planning it and thinking, ‘OK, so I’ll choose the Crime, Thriller, Mystery genre’—it was more organic than that really. But I do remember thinking that instead of writing the type of book that I thought might showcase my talent (if I have any), or that might have a chance of capturing the eye of an agent and publisher, I should write a book that’s going to really interest me, and keep me interested.
For a while now I’ve had a fascination with 1930s Britain—through its contemporary novels and films mainly—so I began to read around the subject. Slowly the character of George Harley started to form; this politicized, autodidactic, working-class war veteran seemed to sum up the zeitgeist of the era for me. And then, with the 1930s being the golden age of the British crime thriller novel, it made sense to tell his story in this genre – but with a twist; because instead of the tranquil stately homes and luxurious upper-class settings of the Agatha Christie books, Harley operates in the seamy underworld of a capital city gripped tight by the austerity of the Great Depression. Once I started to create the supporting characters and choose the settings for the scenes I soon began to realize that the fascinating world of 1930s London is a godsend to a novelist.
What research is required?
In the case of The George Harley Mysteries, an incredible amount! I was probably researching the period for a good two years before I started on the first draft of Mask of the Verdoy; this included reading many history books and contemporary novels, and watching documentaries and British films from the era. Included in these novels were a number set in the 1930s criminal underworld: e.g. Gerald Kersh’s Night and the City, James Curtis’s The Gilt Kid, Robert Westerby’s Wide Boys Never Work and other books of a similar nature; these works soon had me fascinated with the street argot of the period and I sought out old dictionaries of slang and other sources of references. Over time I’d compiled my own glossary of phrases and slang terms from 1930s London that I could use to give authentic voice to the characters; rhyming slang, back slang, Polari, Yiddish, Romany … in the end I think the use of this street language has become one of the novel’s USPs. Although, of course, it’s also a gamble that it may scare a few readers away before the plot has hooked them in. To that end I’ve included a glossary at the back of the book; and so far the overwhelming response has been extremely positive, with any minor concerns with the novelty of the language disappearing by the end of chapter two.
Name one thing you learned from your hero/heroine.
George Harley is quite a complex character. He’s bright, with an autodidactic and enquiring mind and so has come to eschew the prejudices and injustice of the British class system. Although he fraternizes with prostitutes and violent criminals he also has a strong set of personal morals and always strives to ‘do the right thing’. He’s loyal and diligent, and once committed to a cause will see it through to the bitter end. All laudable characteristics to emulate. However, George does have a huge chip on his shoulder, and when it comes to dealing with the upper classes will often judge people before he’s really learnt the ‘cut of their cloth’. I think portraying this trait in Harley has made it more difficult to ignore this particular trait in my own personality … before that I only had my wife to point it out.
Any odd or interesting writing quirks, habits or superstitions?
Ha ha! Yes – if I’ve doubled up on a word (usually as a result of cutting and pasting) I have to make sure that the instance of the word that I delete is the newer of the two; the logic being that the other one has more of a right to be there!
Plotter or pantser?
I must admit, I had to look up the phrase ‘pantser’ – I thought it might have something to do with underwear (for your American readers ‘pants’ are shorts or boxers in the UK)! But having learnt that it means an author who writes a book ‘by the seat of their pants’ I’d have to say that I’m definitely a plotter.
Before I started the first draft of Mask of the Verdoy I’d plotted the whole story and had a synopsis for every chapter. Now, I must point out that this plot took quite a while to come up with; I had the main thrust of it to begin with, but needed what I call a ‘plot gestation period’ to fully develop the complex twists and turns. These are the subtle nuances that can’t be forced out by sitting and staring at a blank page, but rather that spring from the creative brain, either to be presented as a nice little gift on awaking in the morning, or that slip into your consciousness when you least expect it.
Because of the chosen genre I think it would be tremendously difficult to write a convincing George Harley Mystery without plotting it fully beforehand; the seeds of clues need to be sown unobtrusively throughout the story telling (along with the odd red herring) – I think if you just plowed through the book ad hoc you’d lose the chance to plant these clues successfully. I’m not sure where that agricultural analogy came from!
Look to your right – what’s sitting there?
A bookshelf full of reference books for my writing. Amongst others:
The 1930s Scrapbook – Robert Opie
A Dictionary of Underworld Slang – Eric Partridge
A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue – Francis Grose
A Dictionary of Phrase and Fable - Brewer
We Danced All Night – Martin Pugh
Hurrah for the Blackshirts – Martin Pugh
The Thirties – Juliet Gardner
The Morbid Age – Richard Overy
Bright Young People – DJ Taylor
The Age of Illusion – Ronald Blythe
Anything new coming up from you? What?
Well, at the moment my time is fully occupied with marketing Mask of the Verdoy. I think this will be the case up until Christmas. By then I should be able to pull back a little to attend to the next story in the series – The Grimaldi Vaults. I’ve plotted the book – I just need to knuckle down and get writing!
Here’s a teaser for the next book from the GeorgeHarley.com website (where you can also see the cover):
February 1933. With Hitler now Reichschancellor of Germany, Ilse Blau—the infamous star of erotic films and self-styled ‘Queen of Depravity’ of Weimar cabaret—adopts a pseudonym and flees Berlin to escape the cultural cleansing of the Nazi regime.
A few weeks later, whilst investigating a seemingly run-of-the-mill missing persons case, George Harley stumbles upon a clandestine decadent night-club in the vaults of the Joseph Grimaldi pub in Soho.
A child abduction … a dismembered body in a suitcase … Occultist rituals … it isn’t long before Harley is once again trawling the seedy labyrinth of the capital’s demimonde searching for clues to another sinister mystery.
And behind it all lurks the menacing shadow of his arch-enemy, Osbert Morkens—but he’s still safely locked up in his padded cell in Broadmoor … isn’t he?
And scary clowns.
It’s business as usual for Harley in … THE GRIMALDI VAULTS—the second in the George Harley Mysteries series.
Do you have a question for our readers?
Yes. As a reader, what do you find most compelling about losing yourself in the world of a novel? And can you give an example of your favourite experience of escaping into the pages of a book?
And then, one smoggy night …
The cruel stripe of a cutthroat razor … three boys dead in their beds … and a masked killer mysteriously vanishing across the smoky rooftops of Fitzrovia.
Before long the cockney detective is drawn into a dark world of murder and intrigue, as he uncovers a conspiracy that threatens the very security of the British nation.
God save the King! eh, George?
THE 1930s … thinking debutantes, Bright Young Things and P. G. Wodehouse? Think again—more like fascists, psychopaths, and kings of the underworld. GEORGE HARLEY’S London is a city of crime and corruption … of murder most foul, and smiling, damned villains.
In part an homage to Grahame Greene’s Brighton Rock, and to the writings of Gerald Kersh, James Curtis, Patrick Hamilton, Norman Collins and the other chroniclers of London lowlife in the 1930s, Mask of the Verdoy also tips its hat to the heyday of the British crime thriller—but unlike the quaint sleepy villages and sprawling country estates of Miss Marple and Hercules Poirot, George Harley operates in the spielers, clip-joints and all-night cafés that pimple the seedy underbelly of a city struggling under the austerity of the Great Slump.
With Mussolini’s dictatorship already into its seventh year in Italy, and with a certain Herr Hitler standing for presidential elections in Germany, 1932 sees the rise in the UK of the British Brotherhood of Fascists, led by the charismatic Sir Pelham Saint Clair. This Blackshirt baronet is everything that Harley despises and the chippy cockney soon has the suave aristocrat on his blacklist.
But not at the very top. Pride of place is already taken by his arch enemy, Osbert Morkens—the serial killer responsible for the murder and decapitation of Harley’s fiancée, Cynthia … And, of course—they never did find her head.
Mask of the Verdoy is the first in the period crime thriller series, the George Harley Mysteries.
Enjoy an excerpt:
STILL CLUTCHING THE distraught Gladys close to him the Italian moved forwards and fired up at the cage, the round ricocheting off the bars, briefly illuminating the gloom with a spray of sparks. Harley hunkered down, swore, and redoubled his efforts, finally forcing the catch and dropping through the small opening just as another bullet passed inches from his head.
The cage slewed as he dropped inside, the box of dynamite shifting a little to the left.
Now that his eyes had adjusted to the darkness he could quite plainly make out the length of two-core cable running through a drilled hole in the side of the box of explosives and out through the cage, snaking away into the gloom. He turned to peer through the bars—and was dismayed to see the second hand of the oversized clock ticking past the three minute mark.
He quickly lay down and started to crawl towards the bomb, the cage listing dangerously to and fro.
Girardi now fired again; this time the bullet made it through the bars to clatter terrifyingly around the inside of the cage.
‘Smith! You still there?’ shouted Harley, feeling in his jacket for his penknife.
‘You betcha, guv!’ came a voice from the gloom.
‘Shine a spotlight down there on that cowson, would yer? Try and dazzle him for me. Make it sharpish, now! We’ve only got seconds before this bloody thing goes up.’
About the Author:
Most of his working life has been spent in and around the capital in a variety of occupations. He has worked as a musician in the city’s clubs, pubs and dives; as a steel-fixer helping to build the towering edifices of the square mile (and also working on some of the city’s iconic landmarks, such as Tower Bridge); as a designer of stained-glass windows; and—for the last quarter of a century—as the director of a small company in Mayfair specializing in the electronic security of some of the world’s finest works of art.
All of which, of course, has provided wonderful material for a novelist’s inspiration.
Always an avid reader, a chance encounter as a teenager with a Gerald Kersh short story led to a fascination with the ‘Morbid Age’— the years between the wars. The world that Phil has created for the George Harley Mysteries is the result of the consumption and distillation of myriad contemporary novels, films, historical accounts, biographies and slang dictionaries of the 1930s—with a nod here and there to some of the real-life colourful characters that he’s had the pleasure of rubbing shoulders with over the years.
So, the scene is now set … enter George Harley, stage left …
Phil lives in the beautiful West Country city of Bath with his wife, Susie. They have two sons, Jack and Ned.
Buy the book at Amazon or Book Depository.
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