Peter Bartram is an experienced journalist and author of the popular Crampton of the Chronicle mystery series set in Brighton, England in the 1960s. The series features Colin Crampton, crime reporter for the Evening Chronicle. The novels are energetic and engaging, with quirky characters and a welcome dose of humor. They reflect a vivid sense of newspaper crime reporting, before everyone could simply Google information.
Q: You have quite a good deal of experience as a journalist. Your protagonist, Colin Crampton, is also a journalist. Is Colin Crampton you? Or rather, is he based on your own exploits…or is he a sort of alter ego?
A: Colin is really a mash-up of the personalities and quirks of several journalists I’ve known over the years. (I’ve known some brilliant journos but also some genuine eccentrics.) And, yes, I guess there may be a little bit of me in there, too. Several other journalists who’ve read the books say they find the newspaper background authentic - and that comes from having lived it. A lot of the newspaper craft Colin uses is the same as I've used over the years - and there are incidents in the books which are loosely based on things I've done myself - such as how to get into places where you're not wanted!
Q: Why set your books in the 1960s? Why Brighton?
A: The 1960s is one of only two decades in the twentieth century which has its own branding - the Swinging Sixties. (The other is the Roaring Twenties.) The whole spirit of the decade - the music, the fashion, the Age of Aquarius vibe - provide a colourful backdrop to the action in the plots. The 1960s was also the decade when evening newspapers reached their largest circulations before television started to eat away at their audiences. As for Brighton - it’s a great town on the south coast of England. It’s got fine esplanades, seaside piers and a royal palace - but it’s also got its louche and seamy side, a darker world of crime. So it’s a fantastic place for Colin to hunt down murderers.
Q: Do you ever find modern technology; say for instance, cell phones, trying to creep into your plots?
A: No. The plots are firmly anchored in the 1960s and I take a lot of trouble to make sure that everything I mention was around in those days. It helps that I worked in newsrooms in the 1960s. I still remember the old Remington sit-up-and-beg typewriter on which I thumped out stories. Being there is the best kind of research.
Q: Conversely, does the lack of modern technologies complicate aspects of your plot(s)?
A: In fact, the lack of modern technology provides lots of fascinating plot opportunities. For example, Colin can't easily look stuff up on the internet. He has to use a press cuttings library. When he's on a story, he can’t e-mail over copy from a laptop. He has to find a phone box and dictate it to a copy-taker.
Q: How long does it take you to write one of the Crampton books from the original idea to the finished book?
A: Once I’ve got the original idea, generally about four months until I’m ready to submit the finished manuscript. But I’m also working as a journalist - covering stories and writing features at the same time.
Q: Do you start with specific incidents in mind and/or a detailed outline of the book or do you begin writing and see where the character and story lead you?
A: In each book, I tend to start with an idea which is specific to Brighton. So in FRONT PAGE MURDER, it is comic postcards, which are widely on sale throughout the town. I imagined what would happen if there were two artists drawing these postcards but they hated one another. Then one was accused of the other’s murder, but claimed he was innocent. When I’ve got the original idea I think about the overall arc of the story and how I can introduce at least two major twists in the plot. Then I map out the book scene by scene. There are generally around 80 scenes in a full-length novel. Only when I know exactly what’s going to happen do I start to write.
Q: Are you currently working on the next book?
A: The next book is called MURDER HOT OFF THE PRESS and I’m busy working on it. I’ve currently written around 24,000 words in first draft. It’s coming along well.
Q: Besides being an amazingly talented writer, why do you think your books appeal to readers who don’t normally read cozies? The humor? The colorful characters? The setting?
A: Well, I’m blushing at the compliment. One reviewer described my books as part cozy and part hard-boiled. Perhaps, the reviewer suggested mischievously, my genre should be called “soft boiled”! I think readers like the quirky characters, the fast-paced plots and the humour. I always set out to write a book someone would like to read on holiday - and this seems to be a formula that works.
Q: Who/what do you read? Mystery/crime authors? Non-mystery/non-crime authors?
A: I spend a lot of time reading crime mysteries - especially cozy and hard-boiled writers. Special favourites are (from the UK) Peter Lovesey and Simon Brett, and (from the US) Janet Evanovich and the late Robert B Parker. Among the fiction greats I admire are Raymond Chandler and P G Wodehouse. Over the years, I’ve roamed freely through the rich bounty of English literature.
Q: Have any writers, in particular, influenced your writing style?
A: The thing that’s most influenced my writing style is the fact I’ve spent a lifetime working as a journalist. My first job was on a tabloid newspaper and that’s where I learnt the basics of my trade. You write short direct sentences - subject, verb, object. You never use a long word when a short one will do. You light up your writing by using memorable images. Once you’ve learnt to do it like that, you never forget.
Q: I think Crampton would make an interesting and fun TV sleuth – any chance of that happening in the near future?
A: I agree! We’ve punted the idea around a few people and they’re impressed with the books but there are no hard offers on the table yet. If there are any producers out there who’d like to talk about it, you know where I am - www.colincrampton.com/contact/.
Q: If the Crampton of the Chronicle Series were to be made into a TV or cable series, or a movie, who would you want to portray Colin?
A: I’d choose an up-and-coming Brit actor called Matt Jamie. He’s currently recording three of the Crampton books - my Morning, Noon & Night trilogy - as audio books. He captures Colin’s voice brilliantly and would portray him well on screen.
Q: Are there any other questions I should be asking that you would like to answer?
A: Only to say, thanks very much, Cherie, for having me on your blog. I’ve really enjoyed answering your questions.
Crampton of the Chronicle Series
Short story compilation:
Edcom: I would like to point out to our readers that a print edition of the MORNING, NOON & NIGHT combined trilogy of novellas is now available. That will be welcome news for readers, who like myself, despite good intentions, lose track of books we’ve loaded onto our e-readers.
Please click here for more about FRONT PAGE MURDER from the author.
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