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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Interview with Christopher Fowler - Tube crime & horror writer

After last week's launch of
The End of the Line - collection of subway themed horror short stories, I got in touch with one of the authors - Christopher Fowler. He very kindly answered a bunch of questions about his writing and fascination with the London Underground, which features strongly in his novels, short stories and even on his blog!

You've obviously carried out tons of research about the history of London Underground & its secrets for Off the Rails. Do any real hidden stations appear in the story?
A few but not as many as I'd have liked - I tend to get carried away with research and had to stop somewhere..

End of the Line

Your story in 'End Of The Line' is the final one. According to an Amazon reviewer "it explores the ghosts of some major events that have happened in the history of London's Tube up the recent past.  It once again shows Fowler as a writer in tune with the spirit of this great city". Why do you think we're all so fascinated with London and the Tube's past?
It's an atmospheric city with constantly changing moods. Sometimes I think I'd like to live in a sunny country again, but after a while it's so boring. I miss 'cafe society' though, and the winter months are a killer. And there are lots of great stories about the Tube - I like two in 'Bryant & May Off The Rails' especially - the one about the walking sticks and the wood chips used to deaden the tracks under the law Courts, the fact that the magic shop is still there in the old Trafalgar Square Station tunnel (I visited it a few weeks ago) and Bumper Harris of course.

What is or was the scariest place on the London Underground for you?
This is a funny thing. I'm genuinely not scared in the underground. I feel safe and happy down there, which I know will horrify any country people up for the day. But the old narrow station platform at Angel which used to have a train on either side used to bother me a little when it was very crowded - it felt like walking a tightrope.

Do you have a favourite Tube station - if so what is it? (I hate it when people ask me this!!!)
I'm rather fond of Aldwych (sadly shut now). I like Mornington Crescent, and any other station that still has its tiles. I like Farringdon for some odd reason, coming out into the night there, and lots going on in an old-fashioned part of London. I hate the crummy makeover Tottenham Court Road was given in the 80s, with all the coloured tiles that were falling out even before it was finished. A shoddy, ugly bit of cosmetic improvement designed to cover up the collapsing infrastructure.

King's Cross Bowler Hat and Umbrella Police at King's Cross

You live in King's Cross and right from the start the station is the focus of a lot of the action in Off the Rails - what do you most like and most dislike about the station there?
At the moment the constant shifting of the ticket hall and tunnels is driving me nuts. I know the work has to be done, but if you make a wrong turn you can walk for literally 20 minutes. I use the 'Tube Pro' app on my phone to find the nearest exits but it can't keep pace with the changes there. I love the night kiosk outside, though, as you can get your Sunday papers on a Saturday night from 10pm onwards.

Your detectives Bryant and May have an office above Mornington Crescent Tube station - did you consider any other London Underground homes for them?
Yes, the one on York Way which is now a TfL contract cleaning company's headquarters. Those nice maroon tiles!

Mornington Crescent tube by Redvers

There's a story about two people carrying a tired looking woman on the London Underground. She was propped up between them on seats for a number of stops and legend has it, she was dead and the guys were using the Tube to get rid of her body. What's your favourite urban legend about the Tube?
I like the one I put in the book about the ghost of the woman who can be seen in the tunnels at night, and of course 'Death Line', with its tale of workers trapped below ground who become cannibals. And the urban stories in the film 'Kontroll', about the Hungarian underground staff. There's the thing about fluffers having to sweep up flakes of human skin from the lines. And I have a great painting of a woman pushing a man under a train in the 1950s.

What's the strangest thing you've personally seen on the Tube?
A dozen pink rubber nurses (we get a lot of hen nights on the underground at KX) and the huge cross-London drinks party that took place the night Boris banned booze on the LU.

Trying to get us to come back on at Baker Street More Boris Wiggery at Gloucester Road

London is often described as another "character" in your novels. If you saw the Tube as a character how would you describe it & would you like to take it down the pub for a drink?
As a sooty, grimy character actor who could tell lots of scurrulous stories. I'd take it to the Salisbury for a beer.

Two of my favourite fantasy & crime authors have written novels featuring the Tube - Neil Gaiman (with Neverwhere) and Barbara Vine (with King Solomon's Carpet). Do you have any other writers of Tube fiction you'd recommend?
Geoff Ryman wrote a book called 253, with one page for every passenger on a tube train. And of course the anthology 'End Of The Line'.

Death Line

Strangely enough, there have only been two horror films based on the Tube - Death Line and Creep - which is your favourite and why?
As mentioned, I love 'Kontroll' (Hungary) - that's the best one - and 'Subway' (France), also brilliant, but also 'An American Werewolf In London' and 'Death Line' is so fabulusly sleazy, and you can learn a lot about awful 70s fashion from it (mmm - afghan coats!) Another great one is 'Bulldog Jack', set in the 1930s, with Bulldog Drummond going down a circular tube staircase in a top hat, on a teatray!

It looks like Bryant and May will appear on TV in the future - if budget were no option, which actors do you think would best play them?
I'd like Timothy Dalton and Derek Jacobi.

You have a fantastic blog and lot of interaction with your readers through it, have any of your blog commentators directly influenced your writing or do you ever ask for their help when writing?
I often ask for help, ideas and criticism. Although I don't need to - they give it to me whether I want it or not! I've described the blog before as a cross between an erudite chat in a pub and a fight in a barn.

Speaking of blogs, I love the way that Bryant and May are elderly but live and work in a very contemporary London. Do you think they'd ever get a handle on Twitter or blogging?
I think John May would, but Arthur Bryant managed to almost collapse the internet when he tried. He damages all technology.

Timothy West on the London Underground 2 Rob Brydon on the Tube

You have a play that's just come out the Phoenix Artist's Club, called Celebrity. Who's the most famous person you've seen on the Tube?
No Americans ever, but lots of great British actors from Michael Gambon to Alison Steadman, happily going to the theatre by tube.

You're clearly a bit of a Tube geek and you've very kindly referenced my blog a number of times on yours. Do you have any other favourite sites about the London Underground?
I like 'Abandoned Tubes', 'Sub-Urban', 'Tube Prune', 'GeoffTech', 'Subterranea Britannica' and 'Going Underground' among others...

Finally (and with apologies to Londonist who always ask this question of London bloggers) have you ever thrown up on the Tube?
No, but the morning after my very glamorous wedding I threw up in a litter bin on the Cally Road, the least attractive thing I've ever done!

Thanks so much to Christopher for taking the time to answer all of these questions. His blog is a great way to keep updated with his work (and lots of interesting stuff in general about London) and he's also on Twitter as @peculiar

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