As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
On The Table Read, “the best book magazine in the UK“, author Tom Mead shares his creative writing process, what inspires him, and his passion for murder mystery stories.
Written by Tom Mead
For years before I was a published writer, I was an aspiring writer. I wrote whenever I could find the time, and I researched endlessly, hoping to stumble across the formula for literary success. I studied textbooks and websites and interviews with famous authors, all of whom basically said the same thing: the only way to succeed as a writer is just to write. As that’s what I was already doing, it seemed like pointless advice. But now that my book Death and the Conjuror has seen the light of day, I think I’m starting to realise what they were talking about.
I have loved murder mysteries ever since I was small. I think it’s the joy of seeing the puzzle solved before your eyes; the satisfaction of seeing the pieces slot neatly into place. That’s the feeling I have always wanted to evoke in my readers. To begin with, I focused on short fiction. This was because I didn’t know how to go about writing a full-length novel, and also because I considered the short story to be a good way of developing my creative skill set. I still believe that to be the case, as writing short mystery stories is a brilliant and worthwhile challenge. When done right, they can pack the same punch as a novel.
Personal favourites for me include Agatha Christie’s “The Dream” and Carter Dickson’s “The House in Goblin Wood,” as well as the Father Brown tales of G.K. Chesterton. I am also in awe of Edward D. Hoch, who is one of the few authors of the twentieth century to make a living exclusively from his short fiction. His series character Simon Ark was one of several inspirations for my own fictional detective Joseph Spector.
Starting To Write
The first short story I wrote featuring Spector has not been published, and it would require substantial rewrites before it ever sees the light of day. Its title is “The Man in Cell 6B,” and it was inspired by the excellent “Problem of Cell 13” by Jacques Futrelle. Looking back at the story now, I can see that it’s far from perfect, but all the same I have a lot of affection for it because of the other work it inspired. The next story I wrote with Spector as the sleuth was called “The Indian Rope Trick,” where a rivalry between two magicians culminates in a highly unorthodox murder. I was pleased with the story and so I started submitting it to prestigious magazines, including Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, which is perhaps the most prominent publisher of short stories in my preferred genre. (It also happens to be a market that pays professional rates.)
I was delighted when they accepted the story, and that’s when I decided that perhaps I was onto something and ought to look into making the Joseph Spector mysteries a series. The next story with Spector featured an impossible murder in a cable-car going down a mountain, and was called “Incident at Widow’s Perch.” This one was accepted by Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, another professional market. Around this time, I became aware of a British independent publisher called Flame Tree Press, which issues excellent hardback anthologies featuring a mixture of new and classic fiction. Several of my stories featured in these anthologies, including a very different piece of work called “Heatwave.” This was a noir pastiche in the vein of Raymond Chandler or Ross Macdonald.
In early 2021 I was contacted completely out of the blue by a man named Otto Penzler, who runs Mysterious Press, one of the world’s foremost publishers of the murder mysteries I love. He notified me that “Heatwave” had been selected by none other than Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher series, for inclusion in an anthology he was editing for Mysterious, which was to be called The Best Mysteries of the Year 2021. Naturally I was thrilled, because this meant that my work would be appearing alongside that of legends like Stephen King and Joyce Carol Oates. But perhaps even more importantly, it established a connection with Otto Penzler, whom I knew to be a fellow aficionado of Golden Age Crime Fiction, and particularly my preferred subgenre, the locked-room mystery.
So I decided to chance my arm, and asked if he’d be willing to read a manuscript I had been working on. This was a piece of work that I had been developing in my spare time, and was the first of an envisioned series of novels about Joseph Spector. He agreed; the work was initially sent to his reader Michele Slung (to whom I am eternally grateful) who passed it on to Otto with her seal of approval.
Following a series of developmental edits, the novel, which was now titled Death and the Conjuror, was accepted for publication by Mysterious Press, and issued in July 2022. The book was subsequently bought by the UK publisher Head of Zeus, to be published on this side of the Atlantic in February 2023.
A Love Of Writing
A continued source of joy to me is the friendliness and supportiveness of the writing community. Ever since my book was announced, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know so many other people who’ve been in the same boat, and who have provided invaluable guidance and camaraderie. There is no rivalry between writers; one author’s success is everyone’s success.
Although I’ve been writing for what feels like a long time, I’m aware that in the grand scheme of things I am still very much a novice. As you can imagine, I’m still reeling from the excitement and anxiety of seeing my book out there in the world. But now it feels as though at least part of the “mystery” is solved, and that I finally understand the advice in all those textbooks and interviews. Perseverance is the key. You’ve got to write every day. Write everything. Keep writing even when circumstances seem to be telling you to stop. So if you are here looking for industry tips, let me give you the very best advice I have ever received: just write.
Find more from Tom Mead now:
We strive to keep The Table Read free for both our readers and our contributors. If you have enjoyed our work, please consider donating to help keep The Table Read going!
Amazon and the Amazon logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc, or its affiliates.