Phil Rickman
Exorcising crime with Merrily Watkins

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cc: I would imagine a publisher trades on your name as being indicative of the book's content. Daniel Easterman writes (superb) horror as Jonathan Aycliffe, but Easterman fans wouldn't have accepted horror novels from him as they're far too different from his original pitch. Did you ever consider a pseudonym to make the transition, or was it a case of realising you'd 'jumped tracks' only after the first - or even second - Merrily Watkins novel?

PR: That's about right. I didn't realise quite what I'd done until it had happened. I do have another name, however - Will Kingdom. He's padding around the same areas.

cc: Let's talk about Phil Rickman the person for a minute - for those of us who don't live in the area, you have a radio show on Radio Wales. Can you tell us how long you've been doing it, what does it involve and how did it come about?

PR: I was a full-time news reporter for BBC Wales for about nine years. I had to drop news when the novels kicked in, but I like radio, and I do a book programme called, er, Phil The Shelf. We're the antidote to those earnest book programmes you get on Radio Four. That is, we're kind of irreverent. Some best-selling authors and publishers barely get out alive!

cc: Do you have fingers in other pies too? That sounds like a pretty busy life to me . . .

PR: Do me a favour - I already work seven days a week, without holidays!

cc: Fair enough. Let's go right back to your documentary, Aliens. For the uninitiated, it was basically about English people being made unwelcome in Wales. Being Welsh myself and having a semi-vested interest in that sort of thing, do you think it's still an issue? It certainly never was to me but then I lived in a big town - it seems to have gone away for most. Now that might be easy for me to say as I live in Kent now, but how does it look from just next-door?

PR: The resentment and the terrorism, that was always a minority thing, but it gave me my first novel, so I'm not complaining. And hey, some of my best friends are Welsh! Some of them even speak the language. We live right on the border now, and on the border - as the writer Raymond Williams observed - people talk about "the English - and we're not them. And the Welsh - and we're not them either." The border's still a very mysterious place. It's where most of my inspiration comes from.

cc: Who do you rate in the market right now in both the mystery and horror genres? For my money, Peter Straub still has 'it', Stephen King should really hang up the gloves, Ramsey Campbell has dropped off the planet and Dean Koontz is repeatedly proving himself to be a one trick pony . . . Ian Rankin is really turning up the heat on the world and Jeffrey Deaver consistently churns out great plots and characters - any tips?

PR: Yes, Rankin's on a roll. I've liked everything he's done recently (although Black And Blue told me far more about the oil industry than I ever wanted to know). I really like the Cajun crime writer James Lee Burke, not least for the atmosphere he evokes, and I never fail to enjoy the very devious and very funny Welsh crime writer Bill James - as a stylist, he's up there with the best America can produce.
    I'm really sorry Ramsey Campbell doesn't seem to be published in Britain. I thought early novels of his, like The Parasite and The Influence were uniquely scary, but his later attempts to avoid cliché - and, it seems, to avoid being edited - resulted in some . . . let's say regrettable excursions. As for King, don't let's write him off yet. From A Buick Eight might be old ground, but it shows there's still a lot of energy there. He just needs to move into new areas, get some new impressions. But not to Wales, okay Steve?

cc: How come you don't do book tours - or have I just not been paying attention!

PR: Because I'm not Jilly Cooper and I'm not Terry Pratchett. In this country you have to be huge to do book tours. Besides, I'd probably hate it. I just do places like Hereford and Llandrindod Wells where old friends drop in. Much more civilised!

cc: Your career is obviously going in the right direction, so you've obviously made some good decisions in your life. Any advice for other writers with regards to agents and publishers? To my mind the 'market' seems a bit confused and empty right now.

PR: You're right - the market's flat, the book chains run the show, such as it is. Publishers are running scared and most popular novels are cloned. Originality - and this is the biggest crime of all - is simply not encouraged in popular fiction. I only got published by accident. Asses need to be kicked. One day . . 

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