Crime in rhyme at Sidmouth by author Simon Brett
Humour and crime are intertwined at Readers and Writers event at Sidmouth’s Kennaway House
CRIME writer Simon Brett, who enthralled people at Sidmouth’s Cellar Bar at Kennaway House last Thursday with his one-man performance - A Crime in Rhyme - has written 83 books, the popular TV sitcom After Henry and others, radio scripts and even a few stage plays.
To say Simon is a fast writer is somewhat of an understatement.
“Some humorous books are quite short. Crime novels, I suppose, take about three months for a draft and kind of tidy up and then the editorial process is after that. I try to do the first draft in about two months and tinker and tidy,” he said.
“I think I am one of those writers who like to plan it quite a lot beforehand then the writing itself I like to be fairly concentrated.”
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He works office hours (9am-6pm) for half of a seven day week, “but lunch is a very elastic feast.
“When I’m writing a book I have this target of about 1,500 words a day and have a little chart and I fill in how many words I’ve done and how far behind I am and normally during the first month I just slip further and further behind, so by the end of the month I can be 15-20,000 words behind schedule, then I accelerate in the second month and towards the end I get quite manic, so in the last two or three days I catch up a lot.
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“The most difficult bit is the exposition, the opening, where you are giving people information, trying not to do it in a plonking way.”
When he is happy with the manuscript he passes it to his wife Lucy to read.
“The spouse of a writer has an unenviable task...fortunately she likes crime novels, so it is the sort of stuff she would read anyway. She will make good points of detail, then I will tinker a bit more and send it to the publisher.”
Seeing his work published still gives Simon a thrill.
“I still get a charge from holding it my hands and the nice smell of a new book.
“I think it is quite difficult to get started, but it always was. There is a lot of luck involved and I think unless you are incredibly lucky through your career you have to be able to diversify.”
He always wanted to write, although his university days at Oxford began with him reading History. After two terms he changed to English and got a First Class Honours Degree in 1967.
His love of drama was also unleashed. He was president of the university’s dramatic society, playing Edgar in King Lear and was a ‘callow and splenetic’ Leontes in The Winter’s Tale.
He was also involved in writing, directing and performing in revues, and was part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. He was then offered a year’s contract as a trainee light entertainment producer for BBC Radio.
After being a radio and TV producer, Simon became a full-time writer in 1979. Some of his plays have been professionally produced.
“Writing a book is lovely, but it is a very isolating experience...The thing that excites me most now is writing for the stage. There is something about a play that is organic. Every performance is different.”
Simon has written three series of crime novels - 17 books about Charles Paris, now revived on Radio Four, six about Mrs Pargeter and 12 Fethering titles. Now he has begun a new crime series, set in the 1930s, featuring the aristocratic but thick Blotto and his brainy sister Twinks.
“I am just having fun, it is complete nonsense. Some people have enjoyed them and laughed at them.
“My crime novels have quite a lot of jokes in them, I find the two processes very similar, both need quite a bit of planning.”
“I am nostalgic for the 1930s, where they treated murder like a parlour game...it was popular and they were having fun.”
Back in the Cellar Bar, Simon – last of the authors to visit Sidmouth under the Readers and Writers season at Kennaway House - delights us with A Crime in Rhyme, a spoof of 1930s crime stories, set in verse, with him taking all 11 parts.
“I used to be asked to give a 45-minute talk on crime fiction and thought if I did it in rhyme I could learn it.”
But he hasn’t - and it was great.