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On The Table Read Magazine, “the best book magazine in the UK“, author Tom Mead talk about his new vintage murder mystery book, Death And The Conjuror.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed author Tom Mead about his life and career, his passion for vintage style murder mystery, and what inspired his new book, Death And The Conjuror.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
My name is Tom Mead and I’m a writer specialising in vintage-style murder mysteries.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
I always wanted to write books because I was lucky enough to grow up surrounded by them. The house was piled high with classic crime paperbacks, including heaps of Agatha Christies with fabulous painted covers by the artist Tom Adams. They really helped to stimulate my imagination even before I got around to cracking the spine and actually reading any of the stories inside. For that reason, books as objects have always had a sort of sense of wonder for me.
When did you take a step to start writing?
I first thought about writing seriously as a career when I finished my A-Levels. When I went to university, I studied a joint honours programme: Creative Writing and English. In those days it seemed like a bit of a pipe-dream, but I can be stubborn when I want to be! And of course I was always a big reader, which is a great way of generating ideas for new stuff. Sometimes you read something great and think “I want to write something like that,” and other times of course you read something terrible and think “Hey, I could do better than that!”
So I started off writing short stories while I was still at university, and eventually got around to submitting them to magazines. When I got one or two acceptances, that gave me the confidence boost I needed to keep going.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
At least three years. For a long while I was working full-time and focusing on the book in my spare time.
What made you want to write Death And The Conjuror?
Well, I’ve written a number of short stories featuring the detective character, Joseph Spector, so it seemed like a natural progression to develop a longer-form narrative using him as the protagonist. But more generally speaking, I’ve always loved the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, in particular the locked-room mystery subgenre.
My favourite author in that subgenre is John Dickson Carr, and I’m delighted to see so many of his works coming back into print nowadays. So writing this book was an opportunity for me to pay tribute to the genre, and to several of my favourite authors, including Carr.
What were your biggest challenges with writing Death And The Conjuror?
Motivation could be tricky. I didn’t have an agent or a publisher in mind, so it was hard to escape from the idea that I could be putting all this work into something that would only ever be read by a handful of people. But like I say, I can be stubborn, so I pressed on regardless.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
My detective character, Joseph Spector, is definitely in the mould of various Golden Age amateur sleuths like Agatha Christie’s Poirot or G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown. He’s a retired music hall magician, and as such that’s given me the opportunity to incorporate all kinds of macabre gimmicks and illusions into his characterisation, and to try and retain a certain sense of mystery around him. In terms of real-life inspirations, I was definitely thinking of certain magicians like Harry Houdini or David Devant, and the famous illusionist-turned-skeptic James Randi.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
Well, I can’t say too much about this without giving the game away! After all, part of the fun comes from not knowing who the antagonist is until the final reveal…
What is the inciting incident of Death And The Conjuror?
The inciting incident is the murder of a celebrity psychiatrist named Anselm Rees, who is inspired by Sigmund Freud. This is the catalyst for the string of extraordinary circumstances that follow.
What is the main conflict of Death And The Conjuror?
It’s a murder mystery, so the drive of the narrative is about identifying the killer. But I also like to think of it as a challenge that I’m setting for the reader. All the clues are there in plain sight, so can YOU solve the mystery?
Did you plot Death And The Conjuror in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
A combination of the two, really. I had a plot outline- which was necessary because of the elaborate nature of the story- but I had a lot of fun writing fairly freely within that established framework.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Death And The Conjuror need?
Otto Penzler, who runs the US publisher Mysterious Press, provided several developmental edits which were invaluable to me. It’s a book with a complex plot, so it definitely benefited from his guidance to help the reader get the most out of it.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
Get the whole thing written from beginning to end. It’s so easy to get discouraged when you are drafting something and it doesn’t turn out perfect first time, but of course that’s natural. So write the story, and worry about tidying it up later.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I can do better than that, I can tell you that the follow-up to Death and the Conjuror is coming soon, and that it’s called The Murder Wheel. Once again, Joseph Spector and George Flint find themselves embroiled in a bizarre series of impossible crimes.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
Absolutely, it’s the culmination of a lot of hard work, so I’m delighted that the book is finally out there and that it’s generated such a positive response already! I really hope it continues to find readers.
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