Last year, Harry Bingham introduced us to the wayward and totally original Detective Constable Fiona Griffiths in Talking To The Dead, which got a five-star review here on Crime Fiction Lover. Fiona was abandoned as a child, brought up by a benevolent Welsh crime boss and his wife, but suffered severe mental illness in her teens. She survived and joined the police. Bingham’s next book Love Story With Murders is due out on 20 June, and the mystery begins with human body parts being discovered around Cardiff. So, we invited him to sit down on the virtual CFL sofa to tell us about his books…
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to be a crime writer?
I started out as an investment banker, then turned to writing full time when I was 30. I’ve written in a few different genres – fiction and non-fiction – but I feel most at home in crime. I like the structure of the crime story, but most of all I like the ecosystem in which the genre flourishes: the festivals, the websites, the fans, the fact that you have your own special section of the bookshop. And crime is cool, too. It’s dark and edgy and funny and intelligent. I love it.
You have given Fiona Griffiths Cotard’s Disease. What is it, and what made you decide to use it for this character?
It took quite a long time to develop Fiona, but the thing that locked everything in place was her Cotard’s Syndrome, an illness where sufferers believe themselves to be dead. It seemed to me that the condition was perfect for a crime story. It’s a mystery in itself. It walks a dark edge between life and dark. And it places the detective herself as the ultimate outsider. I came to the idea from two directions. One, I was reading a lot of material about confabulation in mental illness – occasions when the brain simply makes up wild stories to get over some specific type of injury. Cotard’s is obviously one of the more colourful examples of this. And two, my wife, who works with the mentally ill, had a patient who suffered with the condition. When I hit the idea, I knew I’d arrived.
In Talking To the Dead, Griffiths has a shoot-out with the gangsters that just shouldn’t work, but it does, brilliantly. I’m not sure why – can you help us?
Ha! I enjoyed that shoot-out. I think the key is the first person narration. You’re not watching Fi pull the trigger. You’re being her as she pulls it. What’s more, because of Fi’s muddled head, she’s actually clearer and more alive during this scene than almost any other in the book. She feels integrated in a way she seldom manages to achieve. So I think there’s a vibrancy there which encourages the reader to swallow the storyline.
Fiona Griffiths seems too crazy, too beautiful and too intense for anyone to ever bring her to life on-screen. Have you had any approaches? Do you think it could ever be done?
It’s being done! Sky Living will broadcast a two-hour pilot later this autumn. Sophie Rundle stars. I’ve not seen a first cut yet, but shooting has already been completed.
Love Story With Murders is out next month – what can readers expect from this second outing for Fiona Griffiths?
More murder, more crime, more off-piste policing. Fiona is feeling a little more confident in her way of doing things. She’s a bit less introspective, but a bit more alarming to be around. Oh, and there’s one big scene where… well, I shouldn’t say. But put it this way: I gave a proof copy of the book to Sophie Rundle who will, I hope, reprise her role as Fiona Griffiths on screen next year. My inscription in that book just said, ‘To Sophie, buy gloves.’
You found a publisher who put your books into print. What’s your view on self-publishing, and had you not secured a deal, might you have taken that route?
Interesting question. I run the Writers’ Workshop, an outfit which offers help and advice to first-time writers, and we see a lot of people wrestling with this exact question. And while we have had some very successful self-pub clients, it’s still fairly rare for self-pubbers to achieve real sales or to launch a career. So, although I’m very open to changing my mind, I’d say that, for now, the regular route into publishing via literary agents has to remain the target for 99 per cent of writers. If Talking to the Dead hadn’t clicked with my agent, I’d have rewritten the damn book.
What’s next for you and Fiona Griffiths?
We will find out FG’s origins, yes, and in a determinate way. That is, there’ll be a proper solution to the mystery in time. But we’re a few books away from that still, and I’ve no idea what happens afterwards. I’m pretty sure there’ll only ever be one Fiona Griffiths in my life, though. She and I seem made for each other.
Watch for our review of Love Story With Murders. To find out more about Harry Bingham’s Writers’ Workshop click here.