Saturday, January 30, 2016
9mm Interview: RM Cartmel
Last May I caught up with some authors, reviewers, and publishers I already knew, and met many others, at the fantastic Crimefest in Bristol. An annual event that started as a spin-off from Left Coast Crime in the United States, Crimefest has become a highlight of the British literary calendar, with a whole host of authors from many countries in attendance. I'd highly recommend heading along if you get the chance.
One of the new-to-me authors I had the pleasure of meeting at Crimefest last year was Dr Richard Michael Cartmel, a wine-loving former general practitioner from Peterborough who in his retirement has began a trilogy of crime novels set in the Burgundy wine region in France. Richard, who writes under the name RM Cartmel, is an avuncular man, a delight to chat to, very generous with his time. I'm looking forward to catching up with him again on the crime fiction circuit, and following his series of wine-soaked mysteries.
His debut, THE RICHEBOURG AFFAIR, sees Commandant Truchaud of the Paris police return to his hometown on his brother's death, and get caught up in all sorts of local villainy in the small village of Nuit-Saints-George. It's been called "a well-crafted treasure of unforgettable characters, eloquent yet whimsical language, intrigues burrowed into the ways of classic French wine making, and vintage murder mystery writing," by #1 bestselling author and Bouchercon Chair Jeffrey Siger. Cartmel has published a second in the series, THE CHARLEMAGNE CONNECTION, and is currently working on the third in his trilogy.
But for now, he becomes the 137th author to stare down the barrel of 9mm.
1. Who is your Favourite Recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
I think this changes from time to time depending on what I’ve just read, but currently I have to put Flavia Albia pretty high up the list. She is Lindsey Davis’s second generation detective in 1st century Rome. I was seriously lucky to catch her father in his first book, THE SILVER PIGS, and have followed them ever since. Quite early in the Falco series, the slightly stroppy disagreeable teenaged adopted daughter looked a great creation, and now she’s her own person in her late 20s and a private eye during the very strange Emperor Domitian’s reign, she has really flowered in the way I had hoped.
Currently I am also seriously into Amy Lane and her sidekick Jason, by Rosie Claverton. Yes I know that’s two people, but Amy can’t go out of her flat, as she’s seriously agoraphobic, so Jason is her pair of legs when she has to find something out. In both series, the location itself is a major character in the novels, being they Ancient Rome, or modern day Cardiff, maybe that is why I am into both so much as a sense of place is very important in what I write too.
2. What was your very first book you remember reading and really loving and why?
You have to remember that it was a very, very long time ago, and it was probably my first ‘grown up’ book. Certainly it is one of the very earliest I remember reading. It was Nevil Shute’s ON THE BEACH. It certainly filled me with the paranoia of a small boy sent away to boarding school ‘to keep me out of harm’s way.’ My father was a station commander in the RAF at the time, and the “Four minute nuclear warning” was so that he had enough time to get his bombers up to retaliate against an incoming Russian attack. [Of course in those days, we had no idea that all those missiles we saw on Moscow Mayday parades were just empty tubes of cardboard!] ON THE BEACH explained to me why I was at that strange place that wasn’t home, and solved any constipation problems I might have had at the time.
3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written, if anything; unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
Lots! The dedication in THE RICHEBOURG AFFAIR is to a lady yclept ‘Papi’. Let me tell you the story, you can always cut it out. Before the 1939-45 escalation of the unpleasantness that was the 20th century, my late teenaged mother did an exchange with a girl from Dijon, and they became lifelong friends. Fast forward to the early 1960s, we went on holiday to see Michele’s family in a caravan. [We were only allowed to take £50 pounds per adult out of the country per year in those days, and while fifty quid bought a lot more then than it does now, it would soon disappear mixing two adults, two kids, and a hotel!]
Perhaps thinking I could do a Nevil Shute, I don’t know, but at the time I was doodling a story, and my hero was chasing ‘The International Gang’, an invention of my Aunt’s, around France and Germany, not in a Wolseley towing a caravan, but in his sports car. At one point Papi, my mum’s friend’s mother asked my mum, ‘What’s he doing,’ to which my mum replied, ‘Oh he’s writing a detective story, [un roman policier]. Papi turned to me and asked me to write one for her too. So half a century later, when my first book THE RICHEBOURG AFFAIR, is finally in front of the public, long after all the other people in this story are all far from here, I dedicated that to her. From that little book, which is long since been stolen by the International Gang, I have been writing in one way or another ever since for practice/amusement.
Whether it was short stories, and a couple of novels - one I know you’ll never see, the other who knows? - I wrote sketches for revue, a couple of libretti for stage and radio. In the eighties I wrote a couple of still unfinished sci-fi and fantasy novels, in the nineties I was the editor of a regional medical newspaper, and then when I retired from medicine in early 2012, I knew that I should have to try and do some justice to this fun little hobby, I had played with all my life, and set off to Burgundy to do some proper research and earn a really top quality hangover!
4. Outside of writing, and touring, and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity wise?
I am a music-aholic. I have listened to music all my life, and I wonder what might have happened if I had ever discovered within me any talent whatever as a musician. Certainly I discovered I could write a lyric, which I did often while I was part of the revue groups in the late 70s and early 80s, which I really only pulled out of, as I had to show some commitment to my day job (I was a doctor). My musical tastes were intensely catholic, being an enormous fan of Beethoven, The Who, the Grateful Dead, and Charles-Valentin Alkan, to pull four off the top of my head. None of which I can listen to while I am writing, as if their music is on, I have to stop and listen to it. If I put on ‘lesser’ music while I am writing, then it just irritates me (lesser music for example being Mozart, the Beatles, Shostakovich … sorry being flippant guys).
Of course I like wine, and part of my enjoyment is to taste really good wine, so I cannot afford to become an alcoholic! I consume about two bottles a week. I read books, I travel with a Kindle, but prefer reading physical books, best of all American made books which stay open without bending the backs to damage the spines, unlike the English pressings. And I watch TV too, and I’m rather disappointed that they’re currently not making any new ‘Space Opera’ TV like Star Trek or Babylon 5. Those were the days!
5. What is the one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in any of the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn't initially consider?
Aha! We now hit the tricky questions! I came to my home town, Peterborough, to do a six month secondment in 1981. For reasons I have no idea the Peterborough Effect, which was the new-town buzz phrase then got me, and I did three more secondments, and then became a GP here, probably because I had got fed up with moving. A little known fact is that junior doctors have to move every 6 months to go to the next training post, and when you reach your late twenties, you get fed up with that.
Peterborough has precisely two things that I am into, it’s local Blues Club, ShakeDown where the organisers bring a bluesman or –woman over from the States and a good time is had by all. The other festival, usually just before August Bank Holiday, is the CAMRA Beer Festival, which I understand is the second biggest in the land after Earl’s Court. I never seem to remember those, but I always seem to have one of the bespoke glasses so I was obviously there! What else is there about Peterborough? Well you’ll have to read the book from CSB called 50 MILES FROM ANYWHERE.
6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
I think the immediate figure that leaped out of the screen was Sydney Greenstreet. Maybe that was because of his girth which is similar to my own, but in those Bogart films of the 1940s, Casablanca, which I still think is my favourite movie of all time, oh I know, boring! Everybody knows Casablanca. Okay hold the thought about Sydney Greenstreet, and ask me what film I would like to remake and why? The superb ‘Tomorrow I’ll Wake Up and Scald Myself With Tea’! A surreal Czech masterpiece about identical twin time travellers delivering a nuclear weapon to Hitler in 1944 to alter the results of the war, only the wrong twin flies the time ship and it lands in 1941. If you can find a copy do and I’m not going to spoil it for you.
Well there’s only the two out there at the moment. At the moment I will say THE RICHEBOURG AFFAIR as it was the first and I haven’t heard a bad word said about it. Its sequel, THE CHARLEMAGNE CONNECTION, has been out there for less time, and I am far too close to it to comment. I suspect that if you asked me the same question at the same time every year over the next five years I will have a different answer for you every time. I seriously hope that I have still to write ‘My Masterpiece’ [Cf Bob Dylan’s “When I Write My Masterpiece” Yes he’s up there among the greats, how could you put ‘Desolation Row’ on and not concentrate on it?]
8. What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?
I don’t think I quite believed it until a carton full of Richebourgs was delivered to my front door. I opened the carton and took out a book, and there it was! That first book is still on the shelf in the room where I write. My son and I then powered up the barbecue and I opened a bottle of very fine Burgundy, and we quietly sat outside and watched the sun go down.
9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
You have to remember I am fairly new at this game so I haven’t been at many of those about me and mine yet. Probably at Monterey in 2013. Certainly it was the first time I ever saw the Pacific. We certainly still talk about this to this day. I hadn’t yet got RICHEBOURG out yet, but I had heard of Left Coast Crime at Crimefest the previous year, and having finished my first book and it was being abused by the editorial team, I went off to California, and met all sorts of people whose faces I had seen on the back covers of books.
For a newbie writer you can only imagine meeting the likes of Sue Grafton for the first time. Anyway, as you can see I’m drifting off the point again - this has been longer than many of the short stories I wrote in the sixties! At the Gala Dinner, one of the waiters wandered up to me, and asked me if I had lost anything? He then waved my passport at me, and explained that it had been found at the bar where I had been sitting that lunchtime having some squid and a small beer! That passport was doomed. Less than six months later, and RICHEBOURG was out, I was planning to go to Killer Nashville to be sort of public about it, and no passport. I never got to that conference. I did get a replacement just in time to get to France to spend some time in Nuits-Saint-Georges in time for the Vintage, which is the plot line for the book I am writing now, "The Romanée Vintage". Can you imagine missing doing the research for your next book? That would have been a year’s delay. Sorry about that one, I will have a lot more weirdness and mayhem in a couple of years when I have more experience of these games.
Thank you Richard, we appreciate you taking the time to chat to Crime Watch.
You can read more about RM Cartmel and his wine-soaked mysteries here.