Osman and I met in a park near his London home to discuss “Missed Bullets,” the third novel in the series, where he inspired his character — and the murder story in his own family history.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
ask: This is your third novel after a long TV career. Has your writing style been different after the success of Thursday’s Murder Club?
A: When you write your first novel, unless you’re a lunatic, you think it sucks and you’re not a writer. Along the way, you’re like, “Wow! That’s what it’s like to write a book!” When something needs to happen in a story, you say, “Now, if this is a novel, what’s next?” When you start writing the second or third, it’s just, “What’s going to happen next in my story?”
Review: “Missed Bullet”
ask: Do you read differently now than you write?
A: Yes, completely. I’m a huge crime fiction fan, so I’ll only write what I’ve read myself. But I’ve always read purely for entertainment, so I never ask, “What are the authors doing? What tricks are they playing?” Now, when I read crime fiction, the point is, “Where are you hiding your clues?”
ask: Where do you hide your clues?
A: I love things about the world around us, so I can usually hide clues in observations of local stores, or I can hide them in jokes or comedic discussions between people. But I don’t like irrelevant information that you think “it’s not about the story”.
ask: There is something very recognizable about your character. My mom said each reminded her of a different friend of hers. Are they drawn from someone you know?
A: I’m not really based on people. I think of them as actually the four corners of my own brain because I find each of them easy to access. I mean, the main narrator Joyce is a 78-year-old woman, and I find her easy to get into her head! Whenever I get stuck, I write a chapter of Joyce.
But I don’t like characters that are purely archetypes. I like when people come in and you think, “Oh, they’re going to be bad guys,” they might be bad guys, but they’re another thing. I like to think, “Would they be happy if an actor played this little role, even if they were only in two scenes?”
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ask: I heard you’re going to leave these characters behind and move on to something else?
A: Oh my gosh, no! I’m writing my fourth book right now, and then I’ll start a different series. But I won’t kill them. I’m going back to them. As a gang I had a lot of fun with them and they’re not going anywhere anytime soon. They seem to spread a lot of joy, and, you know, it’s quite a shortage. So I’m happy to stick with it.
ask: Tell us how to spread the joy.
A: There are writers I love and admire who do different jobs and create extraordinary art who add color to great literary classics. But hopefully, if I’m anything, I’m an entertainer. I write books that I can read and write them as best I can, but my main job is to try to please people, not to push literary history in a particular direction. I’m here to give people a book they can’t put down, if they’re traveling on a plane, the plane travels faster, and if they’re on vacation, they’ll remember the vacation because they’ve read the book. It’s a bit of an understatement at times, but it’s really hard to do!
I’d love to be Cormac McCarthy or Alice Munro, but I’m not. I do have a place, though, which is: “Would you like to be treated by royalty?” Some laughs, some tears, a mystery — I do my best to make it happen.
ask: Your novel seems to have a very quiet political agenda about bridging divides: friendships that span generations, or class, or political faction. Is this intentional?
A: They definitely have a political agenda, but it’s never worn on a sleeve. It comes from my heart. We’d better find some common ground as soon as possible, or we’ll be in trouble. And, you know, the world has a lot in common!
But I also think the popularity of the novel Yes What political significance do they have. In fact, people from all over the world read them, people from different generations read them, people from different political affiliations read them, but the message is tolerance, love and understanding, and the triumph of empathy over sociopaths.
ask: Now that you wrote about murder, what is the story of your ancestors solving a murder in the 19th century?
A: I was on a show called “Who Do You Think You Are?” Where do you view your ancestors. They have a whole team working on it and then you show up and you don’t know what they found until they hand over a piece of paper. I could see the production team knew they had something. I could tell from their faces: “Oh, we have something good for you today!”
They turned the story of my great-grandfather Gabriel Gilliam and his wife Nancy and his mother Elizabeth five times. They lived in a fishing community by the sea in Brighton, with true Dickensian poverty, when these great Regency villas were sprouting around them. In any case, they were told something special — something not quite right — in a barn in Preston Park, two miles from the coast. So the three of them went downstairs and found a body in one of the most sensational murders of the century.
[Gabriel] The main witness at the trial.He was even accused of murder by the killer: “You found the body because you kill her! “But of course, thankfully, he didn’t. There was a massive public interrogation and the killer was hanged a few months later. So it’s incredible that these three guys from the Brighton fishing community settled this one. Extraordinary crime, and then two centuries later, I’m writing a story about an amateur detective in his 70s who solves a crime.
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ask: Don’t you want to include it in one of your novels?
A: I’d love to turn it into a story because it’s so engaging. I like the idea of Brighton as a small town that has suddenly become very rich but still has poor fishing communities, there is still a lot of lawlessness and justice is in the hands of the people. I can name these characters after my ancestors. Because in the kind of family I came from, they all died of poverty, in workhouses, forgotten by history.It would be lovely to have them no Be forgotten by history by writing something about them.
Dennis Duncan is a lecturer in English at University College London and author ofindex, history. “
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