Avert Your Eyes….
At the Oxford Indie Book Fair on November 26, I have the delightful opportunity to discuss Oxford-murder capital of the world?
Odd to link ‘delight’ to ‘murder’? Crime fiction is the most popular genre so,unless the reading public is masochistic, we must get pleasure out of reading it. One of the appeals is that it enables readers to confront their fears knowing that justice will be done. In real life that rarely happens. Chris Andrews Publications has produced Oxford guidebooks, postcards and gargoyle photography for forty years. He knows this city inside out and from above and below. Chris will chair the discussion between me and prolific Oxford crime writer, Peter Tickler. I feel like an interloper because Current of Death is my first whodunit but other life experiences mean I can bring something unique to the table. In Oxford, I’m best known for the ten years I sent inspirational people from Town, Gown and County to my mythical island of Oxtopia. The Oxford Castaway life stories were first published in The Oxford Times before being turned onto three books. One of those castaways was the crime writer Colin Dexter, who invented Inspector Morse. Colin holds most responsibility for public awareness of carnage in our city. His Morse books were turned into an internationally successful TV series followed by Lewis and Endeavour. I hope to tell the audience how he managed to write most of the Morse books while working fulltime at the Oxford Delegacy-at least what he told me.
There’d often be four bodies per episode in Morse books . In Current of Death, I fail miserably because there are only two bodies. The number of recorded murders in Oxford, in 2022 ,was TWO – hardly the murder capital of the world! We are not talking FACT but FICTION. Conan Doyle set the ball rolling with Sherlock Holmes based in Baker Street in London . Dorothy Sayers was born in 1893. Her father was headmaster of Christchurch School (Oxford). Her mystery novel Gaudy Nights locations include Christ Church and St Cross Church and Balliol was her sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey’s alma mater. That mystery crime book didn’t, however, include a murder, so Dorothy is not responsible for the death count but, before long, the list of deadly crime mysteries set in Oxford grew and grew.
The outstanding crime writer , PD James, was born in Oxford and although she didn’t set her books in the city, she transplanted some buildings such as St Barnabas Church into her novels. In a different life, she was my customer at the Jam Factory. When her success grew, she bought a house in St John Street and furnished much of it at the Jam Factory ( 1987-1998). One of the things she bought from me was this watercolour set in Teignmouth with Edwardian ladies in bustles and bathing machines.
The Jam Factory was a place people came to browse and chat at leisure so Phyllis and I enjoyed many interesting conversations – one in particular was not about her murder mysteries but about her dystopian novel Children of Men – but that’s for another day
Colin Dexter was a patron of the Oxford Writers Group. He generously read our short stories including mine.