Author Q&A: Neil Richards and Matthew Costello
A Shot in the Dark — Mydworth Mysteries #1
This is the fourth instalment in a four-part conversation with the authors:
The quick read vibe of both these books and your previous series is very compelling. Do you think novellas are making a comeback?
NR: Definitely! And we’d love to be a big part of that. We always thought with Cherringham that we were writing TV episodes in box sets: that’s how we structured the stories, to be 2-hour maximum experiences. People don’t have time for hundreds of pages, they want stories that fit an evening, or a train ride or a plane journey. Our big rule – no waffle!
MC: I travel on something called the New York Subway, and see people reading on their phones all the time. I think the novella format, and our pacing, as people get jostled left and right, is a good fit. And we have heard from many readers who commute, who say they read half the book on the way into the city, and finish it on the ride home. Neil and I think our novellas are the TV episode format turned into prose.
NR: We pretty much always know the back-story – who did what, when and how. This frees us up to be the investigators like our heroes. We nearly always have an ending that we are looking forward to creating – so that’s our distant lighthouse that we know we have to hit inside 30,000 words. Matt likes to freeform more than me – I’m definitely a plotter.
MC: And even with plotting, things happen, changes occur. I like hitting the end of an episode where there are so many balls and untied bits of plot…then making it all work. You can’t really, completely plot that out (or if you did your characters would probably go on strike.) But yes – the backstory is something we do really need to lock down …then that gives us freedom moving forward into the mystery.
A Shot in the Dark is the first in the series. How many more are coming?
NR: I think we have nine commissioned in the first series. Pretty much the same as the Cherringham commission—which went on to 36 novellas, two novels and counting. I think maybe we have another half-dozen Cherringhams to come down the line too, I can never remember!
MC: A few more Cherringhams are due…and based on sales, I imagine we will continue (gladly) with that series. We have a bunch of plot ideas for Mydworth so if our readers like the series, we’re all going to have a great time circa 1929.
What was the last book you read?
NR: Right now I’m incessantly reading crime from the 20’s and 30’s, to keep my ear in tune with the dialogue of the time. I think top of the reading pile right now is a Margery Allingham. Though Mick Herron keeps sneaking in – I love his spy books set in London. They’re my holiday treat.
MC: Since I need to keep my own fiction writing distinct from my leisure reading, I read (mostly) nonfiction…though I have recently read the Annotated The Big Sleep, which was wonderful for some US slang and feel of the period, at least from Kat’s homeland. I also re-read some of Agatha Christie recently with pleasure. As to the non-fiction, a mammoth bio of Verdi and Chaos, the updated story of the hidden details of the Manson murders.
Which writers or books have inspired you to put pen to paper?
NR: I was lucky enough to work as a script editor with William Boyd years ago on his first movie script – I was already a fan, but I learnt from him how to balance character and story and engage and respect the reader. Wodehouse continues to astonish, even on re-reading! I’m not really a ‘literary’ reader – I love pace, tension, story – so crime and thrillers stack up bed-high…
MC: Oh so many. Bradbury. Lovecraft. Sayers. Bloch. Fowles. Matheson. They enriched my existence. And I hope we do some of that for our readers as well…
What’s your party trick?
NR: I know an incredibly rude limerick that is so rude I am never allowed to tell it.
MC: ‘There once was a man from Nantucket, who…’ Actually – I have written a book about magic, and can perform an array of illusions. I can make a glass of water disappear. And in an entirely different – and mundane – fashion, I can do the same with a vodka martini.
What’s next for you?
NR: More Mydworths, more Cherringhams. I’m currently co-writing a movie with Matt for a German producer. I’m also writing and script editing two games, one of which will come out next year. And writing animation episodes with my wife for an Indian producer. And then, in the new year, a kids animated series I’m co-lead-writer on should kick off into its third series for the BBC, so that will take over. Oh, and an interesting series of audio dramas as a spin-off from a game franchise I’ve worked on for many years. That lot should all keep me busy for another couple of years!
MC: My novel Vacation has been optioned and in development as a film, and I may be involved with that script. More mysteries with Neil, as above. I am also working on a number of projects for interactive TV (much like Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch.) Also I have been writing a series of linked short stories that will become the game expansion, ‘The Stauf Mysteries’ for The 7th Guest Boardgame.