I was delighted to be asked to be part of this blog tour and especially pleased to be allowed to ask the creator of Death In Paradise. Robert Thorogood, a few questions.
This series has a very special place in my heart; when Owen returned home at the beginning of this year we instigated a complicated point system for the entire series with awards made for Victim, Perpetrator and method of killing with a sliding scale for how early these were identified. Needless to say it got totally silly with certain people guessing as soon as each episode started, and other’s making schoolboy errors for not having watched the previous week’s trailer closely! I will be watching the fifth series in 2016 without him but with fond memories and of course I will use my best detective skills to ensure I win.
In the meantime there was The Killing of Polly Carter to enjoy where I pitted my wits against this ingenious puzzle – you can read my review here.
1. Where did you get the inspiration from for Death in Paradise?
It’s actually a rather sad answer, because I came up with the idea in 2007 after the Pakistani cricket coach Bob Woolmer died under suspicious circumstances in the Caribbean. Following his death, the Met Police in London decided that the local Caribbean coppers weren’t up to running the murder enquiry (Mr Woolmer was a British Citizen) and so they sent out a British Policeman to head up the investigation. As soon as I read that, it was like a lightbulb going off in me head. ‘A British Copper goes to the Caribbean to solve murders…?’
2. You came to success relatively late in life after years of dreaming of writing for television; how close were you to giving up?
I certainly was ‘relatively late’! But it’s a hard question to answer in that I was still selling scripts (to both the BBC, ITV and independent film companies) in the years before I got Death in Paradise greenlit, it’s just that nothing I was writing was getting made. In truth, I think that my ‘career’ at the time (such as it was) was more appropriate for someone in their mid-twenties rather than someone in their mid-thirties, and I know this for sure: without my wife’s support — both emotional and financial—over the years, I’d certainly have had to give up long before… so I’m eternally grateful to her.
3. The Killing of Polly Carter is the second in a three book deal with MIRA, how does writing a book compare to writing for television? Which do you prefer?
There are huge differences between writing a book and writing a TV episode. The main one is that when you’re working in TV, it’s very much a team effort, whereas when you’re writing a book you are on your own for months at a time. Which is both liberating and terrifying. What’s more, when you’re coming up with a TV script, you’re very much tied to what we can afford to film, who we can manage to cast — all the ‘real world’ problems that coming with shooting a script in the real world. Whereas the joy of a novel is that you only have to write a sentence and you can conjure anything into existence. (For example, the idea for the murder in Polly Carter was one I’d had for some time, but we couldn’t work out how we could film the necessary cliffs and bay at the heart of the story seeing as there no such cliffs or bay on the island of Guadeloupe where we film the series).
And finally, the real joy of a novel is that it allows the author access to his or her character’s internal thoughts, and this has been the single most enjoyable upside of writing a novel rather than a TV script: in a novel I can explore Richard’s grumpy take on the world in far greater detail.
4. The Killing of Polly Carter features a formerly successful model, did you take inspiration from anyone real? If so are you prepared to tell us who or perhaps give us a cryptic clue?
Ha ha! I wouldn’t really like to say who I based it on — although there’s certainly elements of Kate Moss at her most nihilistic kicking around in there. In truth, I chose to set this book in the world of modelling because I needed the victim to be famous, rich, unstable, and now fed up with life. So that’s the real reason why I made the victim a supermodel. It felt like the sort of character who’d get into the sorts of mess I needed her to get into to help me ‘sell’ the story.
5. In The Killing of Polly Carter I thought I’d cracked it early on only to find I was on totally the wrong track; how long do you spend working out a credible mystery with plenty of red herrings?
It’s so lovely to hear that your theory about who the killer was incorrect. That’s after all what I’m hoping to achieve when I write the book! As to how long it takes to create a story with all the necessary twists, turns, reveals and surprises…?! Well, it takes months and months of plotting and thinking and writing. Just hundreds (and thousands?) of hours of work. For this book, I didn’t even start writing the first sentence until I had a fully-detailed synopsis of every single moment that had to happen… which ended up being a 45-page document! It is tough plotting a murder mystery novel, but very satisfying once it’s done.
6. What I love about Death in Paradise and the two books you’ve written featuring Richard Poole on the Caribbean island of Saint-Marie is the traditional feel to the mysteries. I’ve read that you are a fan of Agatha Christie and wondered which of her novels is your favourite, and why?
I am a MASSIVE fan of Agatha Christie, and I’m sure that my list of favourite novels is very similar to anyone else’s: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd of course; and Death on the Nile, Evil Under the Sun and And Then There Were None. But the truth is that there’s no such thing as a bad Agatha Christie novel. Even in the ‘less good’ books, there’s always something that is startlingly impressive. For example, I re-read the Tommy and Tuppence ‘N or M’ last year. It’s an enjoyable but patchy read, but there’s one glorious misdirection in it (when a passing beggar woman steals a baby) that is pure murder mystery genius… and no-one else could have come up with it apart from Agatha.
7. Richard Poole often gets his flashes of inspiration from the most unlikely of sources, one lightbulb moment in The Killing of Polly Carter was particularly brilliant and obscure, which points to a writer with a wealth of knowledge about all sorts of interesting subjects. Do you start with the solution and work in the clues afterwards? Or do you have some facts that you want inserted and build the solution around them?
I think I know what you’re referring to when you say that there’s an obscure source in the book! (And yes, it is very obscure, isn’t it?). But this is such a lovely question, thank you for asking it, and the answer is simple, really: for the last 5-6 years I’ve been working full time as a murder mystery writer, so I’m always bumping into odd bits of information or forensic breakthroughs or etc. etc. online that I think might be useful in an episode one day. So, whenever I find anything interesting, I make a note of it, and then, before I start writing a book or an episode, I go to my scrapbook of hundreds of half-thoughts, clues and oddities and see what I can weave into the story. So yes, I come up with the ‘fun’ bits first and then, if I can make it work in the story it goes in… otherwise it stays in my scrapbook waiting to be used for another day.
8. Where do you do your writing? I imagine you in front of a big picture of a Caribbean beach with perhaps a toy iguana for company? Am I close?
Ha ha! The tragic truth is that I write in a tiny shed in the garden that’s half full of lawnmowers, old camping equipment and broken furniture. So, the only view I have is of the pine cladding I put on the walls in front of me. And the only window I have is a tiny little strip of Perspex that I can’t see through because it’s directly behind me. In fact, when I’m sitting in my chair at my desk, I can touch all four walls of my (half-an-) office… and yet I’ve come to love it over the years. I think that writers should never get ideas above their station, and it’s very hard to do that when you don’t even have a whole shed to work in!
In fact, here’s a panorama photo of ‘my’ side of the shed taken from one of the corners. You can see the little window that’s behind me (with green curtains bought from a charity shop), the lovely self-built pine cladding on the walls with all my various notes stuck to it (and my Series 1 framed poster)…. And the red thermal curtain I hung to keep the heat in (and to stop me seeing the lawnmower and junk that’s in the other half of the shed).
9. What book would you recommend to me? And why?
Oh gosh, I don’t know! Looking through your website, you read wider and better than I do, so can I please ask you the same question? What book would you recommend?
Well that was a bit of a cheat but… well I’m always up for a book recommendation and the latest book on my book pushing mission is a debut novel that is much darker than yours but also extremely well plotted – the book I recommend is The Hidden Legacy by G.J. Minnett – to find out more, read my review!
Thank you Robert Thorogood for answering my questions – The Killing of Polly Carter is published by MIRA on the 3 December 2015 – don’t miss out!