Previous reviews are at Mack Pitches Up

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Interview: Gary M. Dobbs, Part 2, The Ripper and the Wild West Show

Read Part 1 of my interview with Gary Dobbs first.
Read my review of A Policeman's Lot.

4) A Policeman's Lot has three themes: The life of a policeman in South Wales around the turn of the century; Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show; and the Jack the Ripper solution. Was one of them the starting point?

Gary - Buffalo Bill was but initially Jack the Ripper wasn't a factor and the novel was concerned with a more run of the mill series of murders, but shortly after starting the book I dreamt the entire Ripper plot. I woke up one morning and it was fully formed in my head and when I started checking the facts I found that the theory in the book made perfect sense.

5) Related to question 4, and without revealing any spoilers, how did you happen upon the Jack the Ripper connection?

Gary - There are many people who have devoted their lives to the Ripper case - Ripperologists they call themselves, and no doubt many will rubbish my book. But I say prove otherwise. The case had always interested me and I've always felt the key is in the last murder. In fact I find it hard to understand why that murder was even considered a Ripper killing. The M-O was different to the other killings and the mutilation was horrendous, almost as if someone was trying to hide the identity of the victim. Who and why, I asked myself and found that this new theory of mine, which as far as I know is quite unique, makes perfect sense. Have I come up with an answer to the crimes? Well it makes more sense than the popular Royal Family theory which can be so easily disproven. I mean when you consider the fact that there were actually sightings of the final so called victim after she was dead, then the premise of the novel doesn't seem so fantastic.

6) Are there western and mystery/crime writers that influenced you?

Gary - Louis L'amour is a massive influence, as is Elmer Kelton and Elmore Leonard. I also idolise British western writer George Gilman, AKA Terry Harknet who wrote the hugely popular Edge series. Many of the writers publishing with the UK's Black Horse house, a publisher who also carry my Jack Martin westerns, are superb and are keeping the genre alive over here in the UK. I can't name any of these guys for fear of leaving anyone out. I think the perfect western would have the characterisation of Elmer Kelton, the feel of Louis L'amour and the pace of George G. Gilman - I hope to one day write that book.

Crime is another favourite genre and I love the old American hardboiled stuff - Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane may seem widely differing writers but I love them both. And I recently read The Postman always rings twice by James Cain for the first time and was blown away. Richard Stark is another writer I love for his tough prose style and I think Parker is an awesome creation. Of the Brit crime writers - Ruth Rendell is someone who I love for her plotting and characters, and Ian Rankin created a modern classic with his Rebus series. Peter Robinson's excellent Banks series is also a huge influence. But overall I think I prefer American crime writing and would love to master the art of writing UK crime with the pace and style of American novels. But I think that I am influenced in some small way by everything I read, maybe all writers are. Which proves the adage that the most important thing one needs to become a writer is a voracious appetite for reading.

7) Will we see more of Frank Parade? This is a direct solicitation by the way, he's an excellent character who can be taken far.

Gary - Parade will return - at the moment I am working on a second Arkansas Smith novel and together with the forthcoming Ballad of Delta Rose I will be two westerns in hand. So I plan to take a good year over the next Parade book as the plot is pretty complex. They will all be back, though - Davies, Oakdale and Sweaty Betty. I can't promise Buffalo Bill or Jack the Ripper next time out, though.

8) You write historical fiction and A Policeman's Lot excels in giving the reader a feel for what the time and place would have been like. How do you go about researching your books?

Gary - I thank you for that - making Ponty, as we locals call it, seem real was very important to me. I wanted in some way to recreate the town as it once was as a kind of tribute to the hard-working people who lived and died there. Much of the research was done at the local library but Ponty has a great museum, the staff of which were very helpful. And if you look hard enough the history is still there to be seen. I'm always talking to older people and they are great at providing information and little snippets of colour about a way of life that is sadly gone.

9) The spelling and some phrasing have been Americanized, or as you would have written, Americanised. Do you think this makes the A Policeman's Lot more accessible to Americans?

Gary - Personally I think the book should have stuck with the British version, it is after all a Brit set crime novel. However I understand and respect my publisher's decison - we are after all two cultures divided by a common language. And besides I think American spelling is more logical, it's certainly more phonetic. I mean jail and gaol. But the English language is a beautiful living thing that is always adapting. On the differences between UK and US punctuation - this is a pain in the butt and I don't understand why it is so. We should adopt a common system.

The interview concludes tomorrow when Gary talks about ebooks, social media, and his connection with Doctor Who.