Phil Rickman: merrily he wrote along
Excerpt from the interview by Pamela Lawrence in the October/November 2007 issue of Mystery News
A few years back an intriguing title landed in my bedside reading pile. I don't usually read mysteries featuring vicars as protagonist, finding them too tea-"cosy" for my taste. But this was no ordinary mystery, and Merrily Watkins no ordinary vicar. The book was Cure of Souls, the fourth title in an ongoing series by British author Phil Rickman. And the vicar? Definitely no tea parties here, just a fallible, smoking, swearing, single mother; an ordinary woman. Ordinary in every sense, except for the fact she happens to be the Deliverance Minister for the Diocese of Hereford or, what used to be called an Exorcist...
Rickman lives on the Welsh/English border, and the area's unique conflicts provided him with his first novel, Candlenight, published almost by accident in 1991.
"I wrote and produced a documentary, for British national radio, called Aliens, about the problems experienced by - and caused by - English people in Wales. And I remember thinking one day, What if there was a Welsh village in which the English people simply did not survive...? That was the hook for Candlenight, a supernatural thriller with political overtones."...
"...I decided to write an atmospheric crime novel with a real murder mystery and an element of the paranormal which would neither intrude on nor affect the resolution of the 'rational' mystery. That was The Wine of Angels, and it was only after I'd finished it that I realised I was on the fringe of something entirely new."...
The female vicar Merrily Watkins was only meant to be a secondary character in this first "spiritual procedural." "It just so happened that the core dynamic of The Wine of Angels called for a woman priest and this secondary character took over. Ordination of women had only recently been agreed by the Church of England, after a long debate and a lot of controversy, and there was still serious tension...which appealed to me, of course, and I soon discovered that real priests are ...well, not what you expect."
Readers will be delighted to hear that the ninth book featuring Merrily, The Fabric of Sin will be available before the end of the year. And what mysteries will Merrily be facing in this on, I wondered?
"It's set around a medieval church (which really exists, naturally) built by the Knights of Templar and it also involves the secret history of the great Edwardian ghost story writer M R James."
You'd better start right at the beginning though. Because once you've met Merrily and entered her world, you'll want all the background. The depth and complexity of this series is astounding and, let's face it, just good old fashioned storytelling.
Read the complete interview in the October/November 2007 issue of Mystery News