IN THEIR OWN WORDS

Nov­el­ist Phil Rick­man on ITV’S Mid­win­ter Of The Spirit, Dr Dee and All Of A Win­ter’s Night, his 14th Mer­rily Watkins book

Crime Scene - - CASE NOTES -

In­ever wanted to write about a vicar who solves crimes – that’s what the po­lice do, and crime is never cosy.

I did, how­ever, want to deal as au­then­ti­cally as pos­si­ble with the work of an ex­or­cist. They do ex­ist, in every dio­cese – the Angli­can church just doesn’t ad­ver­tise the ser­vice they pro­vide and some el­e­ments in the Church would like to get rid of them. Mer­rily now gets on bet­ter with the cops than the C of E hi­er­ar­chy, ba­si­cally be­cause they’re not in com­pe­ti­tion.

ITV’S Mid­win­ter Of The Spirit went down much bet­ter with view­ers who hadn’t read the nov­els.

Anna Maxwell Martin and David Threlfall were spot on as Mer­rily and her men­tor, Huw Owen. It’s a fairly com­plex story and had to be sim­pli­fied for three short episodes, with some char­ac­ters lost and oth­ers squashed. This also seems to be the rea­son it didn’t get enough ‘overnight’ view­ers for a sec­ond se­ries.

I have no plans to dump Mer­rily.

Nobody else is do­ing a se­ries like this one. All Of A Win­ter’s Night is full of mys­ter­ies, big and small, it has its dark and sin­is­ter mo­ments and sev­eral mur­ders but it isn’t re­ally a who­dunit. It’s set around one of the most mys­te­ri­ous churches in the coun­try, Kilpeck in Here­ford­shire – fa­mous for the weird im­agery on its walls, its three Green Men and prob­a­bly the most fa­mous Sheela-na-gig, or fe­male flasher, in the world.

The su­per­nat­u­ral is re­ally not an easy el­e­ment to bring into a novel, es­pe­cially the kind you want the reader to be­lieve.

It’s cru­cially im­por­tant to me to have re­al­is­tic char­ac­ters. Be­cause they’re British, there has to be oc­ca­sional hu­mour. Be­cause they’re crime nov­els, there has to be ten­sion. An un­con­vinc­ing su­per­nat­u­ral ex­pe­ri­ence can ruin ev­ery­thing. You have to han­dle it with care and re­straint, which can be more in­sid­i­ously scary than in-your-face horror.

The books are set in the Welsh Bor­der coun­try­side, which is a very mys­te­ri­ous, slightly brood­ing area with a rich pop­u­la­tion mix.

I’ve lived here most of my life and worked in the area as a ra­dio and TV jour­nal­ist, which is a li­cence to pry. I’m cer­tainly not a pi­o­neer of ru­ral noir, which has al­ways been a thread in crime fic­tion. The Hound of the Baskervilles, a not very good novel about an­i­mal abuse, is mem­o­rable mainly be­cause of the hos­tile coun­try­side.

The only his­tor­i­cal char­ac­ter I’d ever wanted to write about was John Dee, who I al­ways thought had been mis­rep­re­sented in fic­tion as some kind of sin­is­ter sor­cerer.

I saw him as in­ven­tive, well-in­ten­tioned, quite kind, a bit of a geek and of­ten broke. He was a sci­en­tist, at a time when re­li­gion ruled. The big prob­lem was de­vel­op­ing lan­guage and di­a­logue that didn’t seem stilted, sub-shake­spearean or of­fen­sively mod­ern.

I don’t worry about Mer­rily age­ing, but her daugh­ter, Jane, wouldn’t be able to play the same mav­er­ick role at 30.

So time passes more slowly in Led­war­dine than else­where. Read­ers have favourite char­ac­ters, and if their favourites are miss­ing from a novel, they tend to take it very badly.

All Of A Win­ter’s Night (Corvus) is out on 5 Jan­uary.

“NOBODY ELSE IS DO­ING A SE­RIES LIKE THIS ONE”

An­na­maxwell­martin as vicar and ex­or­cist Mer­rily Watkins initv’s Mid­win­ter Of The Spirit.

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