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"It's quite fun to write about a death" An interview with the Author, by Eleanor Broughton, 28/05/09

 

Q&A with Peter Tickler, Oxford crime writer, 12th January 2009.

Peter, you published your first novel, Blood on the Cowley Road, last summer: it's a crime novel set in Oxford. Can you tell us a bit more?

It's all very much set in what I'd call 'real Oxford', not the university world. I deliberately avoided the university world, partly because, although I was at uni here I know the city as somebody who lives and works here. I've lived in Oxford over twenty-five years, nearly thirty in fact. I'd always intended to write it about 'real' Oxford, or non-tourist Oxford, because one thing that slightly annoyed me about some of the TV versions of Morse and latterly the Lewis stuff, was that it was all set in the pretty tourist spots, and it was clearly marketed, for good reason I'm sure, at the international market – pictures of the Bodleian and the Sheldonian, that sort of thing.


So I deliberately steered clear of that. I wanted to write about things that I knew about - football and football supporters, mental health and living in places I know about, like South Oxford and the Cowley Road. It's in many ways just a traditional whodunnit – although I've tried to be different from the Colin Dexter books, so it's not entirely classic 'whodunnit'.

 

Do you enjoy writing about crime? It must be a bit grisly at times...

It's quite fun to write about a death. Mine tend to be fairly short. I'm not a gruesome grisly writer but I do write about [it]... One of my characters in Death On The Cowley Road ends up being killed in an ............ [censored!]  I really enjoyed that one! Yeah, it is fun to write: there's a bit of action, a bit of excitement, you know where it's going. You compromise on the reality sometimes, because in a whodunnit you need lots of interviewing and you sometimes think, “is this getting too tedious for my readers?”. It's quite difficult to keep the action going but appear to be reasonably realistic!

 

[Walking round Oxford], there's a part of me that now says, “hm, would that be interesting, what could happen there?”.

 

Where are your favourite places in Oxford?

I think one thing that people should do, if they've got time, is to walk through Oxford along the river and the canal. If you start up in Wolvercote then you can walk right down, very straight and easy to do. You walk down the back of all the new developments and past what used to be Lucy's Ironworks, see all the canal boats... And you can then swap onto the river, come through Grandpont... I think that's one of the best things people should do. And obviously people should go and look at the Cowley Road – the town end is very interesting... I'm trying to encourage people to go there!

 

Tell us about how – and why - Oxford United made it into your first novel.

Just because I'm a great fan, and it fitted in with the plot that I developed. Without giving too much away, Oxford fans are part of the plot. [Also] it's another way of connecting with an audience. You have to think a little bit when you're writing about who's going to read it – OK, crime buffs and people who live in Oxford - hopefully a few people who are fans might want to see how Oxford fits in. The [OUFC] shop took a dozen copies and sold out and I got a really nice feature in the Oxford United football programme. ...I don't know if they ever appeared in any of the Morse novels!

 

You seem to have stuck to the rule, 'write what you know', with this novel.

It's one of the old adages that you should write about what you know, and of course you can go and research and find out stuff but it's easier to write about what you know, initially. I like writing about Oxford, it's a great place to set crime. It's an interesting place, it's not just pretty buildings – there's rivers and canals, a good football club, one or two mental health centres – doesn't matter what you want to do, there's churches, drama groups, you've got lots of opportunities to do something that will still fit into Oxford. I think physically rivers and canals and back streets are very useful – people have to be allowed to get away from their crimes without being caught on CCTV!

 

Can you let us in on any details about the sequel?

At the moment I've kept all the main police characters, the team of four. In the real world there would probably be more but in Morse it was two, so I've compromised with four. And it's still set in Oxford, but I've tried to do a different plot, obviously! It starts close to where the last one finished, but it moves to North Oxford and South Oxford. It's more to do with the fact some of the characters have a bit more money, and they're a bit more upper class. It feels like less fun than the last one.
Second novels are notoriously difficult! The problem is, you try to maintain the characters but you want a very different plot – it's quite tricky. I'm not sure about the deaths. I think what seems to happen nowadays is that people kill off their police officers - if you look on telly in things like Spooks - so I did think, should I be killing off a police officer? But I haven't figured that one out yet.

 

What tips would you give to other budding novelists?

I think you have to be stubborn and dedicated. You have to be determined. At times you think, will anyone want to read it let alone publish it? Because ultimately you're writing to be published.

 

Did you let anyone read Blood on the Cowley Road before it was published?

My wife Fiona read some, and she quite liked it, but I didn't otherwise! I was too scared, I think, to show it to anyone in case they said, “look this is rubbish”, because I wanted to finish it. When I look back, you finish chapters and put them away, and when you come back to them you think, oh, that works quite well, I was quite surprised really. For me, it's quite an up and down journey, you seem to be getting nowhere, treading water, and then it all seems to work and you read back – some works really well, some needs work on it! If you can be a good editor, it helps. The publisher took it on, only on the proviso I make a few length cuts. But I would probably not have done that, had someone not asked me to. But when they said that, it was, “well, I'd better get it published...!”. You write a piece of prose and think, that's a lovely piece of prose – and it doesn't quite fit in but it's hard to say, “put in the bin”...

 

Peter, thanks for your time and best of luck with the next novel.

 

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Peter Tickler | Author

 

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Photo courtesy the Oxford Mail & Oxford Times © 2008

 

Peter has lived and worked in Oxford for nearly 30 years, and before that he was a University student, reading classics at Keble College.

 

Photo courtesy the Oxford Mail and
Oxford Times © 2008