With superhero avengers fighting their way around Manhattan, the steampunk-inspired Newbury & Hobbes series, and a set of Sherlock Holmes short story anthologies all under his belt, George Mann is one of the UK’s most inventive young authors. Like a crime fiction alchemist, he blends all sorts of historical and fantastical elements into his crime stories, including horror. Now he’s come up with a new flavour. Wychwood, just out, begins a new series and features a killer inspired by a pagan Saxon myth and set in Oxfordshire. We asked George to tell us more about it and about his writing…
What are crime fiction lovers going to love about Wychwood?
Wychwood is the first book in a new series, and marks a bit of a departure for me, a new direction. It’s a crime/mystery novel at its heart, but it’s threaded through with an occult/supernatural story that recalls the ancient folklore of Britain. It’s the story of the Carrion King – a mystic figure who, during Saxon times, created his own kingdom in the old Wychwood forests of Oxfordshire, where he carried out occult rituals in order to gain supernatural power. In the modern day, someone is recreating the Carrion King’s work and leaving a trail of bodies in their wake, all mimicking the original mythology. Elspeth Reeves, a reporter who’s recently returned to her childhood home in Oxfordshire after a failed relationship, and her childhood friend, Peter Shaw, who’s remained in the area and is now a detective, work together to investigate the crimes. The core of the story is Elspeth’s, really – her journey back into her old life, and the place that shaped her as she was growing up.
Despite the mythological elements, Wychwood sticks more to the murder mystery genre than some of your other work. Was this a conscious decision?
Yes, it was very much a conscious decision to write something different. I was ready for a change, and I’ve always intended to write a modern day murder mystery. I’m a huge fan of the genre, both in terms of novels and TV drama, so it’s an itch I’ve wanted to scratch for a long time.
I didn’t really feel as though I was putting limits on my writing, to be honest – more than anything, it felt very freeing to set something in the modern day, to be able to call on my own experiences and reference points, rather than researching historical details. I think the Carrion King mythology allowed me to flex a lot of my creative muscles, too, and I found myself getting drawn deeper and deeper into his story.
Is the Carrion King legend your own invention or based on existing lore? What was your inspiration?
I made it all up! But I worked hard to try to give it an authentic flavour, reading up on the folklore of the British Isles. I love all those quirky stories. They’re so strange, and rich, and populated with larger than life characters, and I keep on coming back to them, too. There’s something about the character of our culture in those stories. More and more, I realise it’s a vein I started mining in some of the other books I’ve written, but here, in Wychwood, it really comes to the fore.
In terms of inspiration, I suppose there are bits of everything in there, from the tales of Robin Hood to the Arthurian myths, along with bits about Herne the Hunter, local witches, and evil reflections…
There is a good range of characters in Wychwood in terms of gender, age, and sexuality. How important is diversity in your fiction?
Absolutely. Again, this was very much a conscious decision, but also, in writing a novel set in the modern day, for me it was a matter of reflecting the fabulous diversity I see all around me. That was one of the things that was so freeing about writing Wychwood, as compared to novels set in historical periods where diversity was more of an issue. Of course, that can sometimes allow you to put a spotlight on some of those issues, but here it was absolutely about celebrating diversity, and hopefully also about creating interesting characters, too.
What’s next for George Mann?
The Sherlock Holmes collection, Further Associates of Sherlock Holmes, is just out. It’s the fourth one I’ve edited, and features some fantastic stories from a host of great writers, all exploring different characters from the original Holmes canon.
In October there will be Ghosts of Empire, a new novel in my series about a New York vigilante, this time with close ties to the Newbury & Hobbes books, set in London, with cameos from some familiar characters.
There’s another Newbury & Hobbes novel working its way through the publishing systems now, too, The Revenant Express, and I’m currently hard at work plotting the sequel to Wychwood, exploring more of the mythology of the Oxfordshire area, and returning to Elspeth and Peter to find out what they get up to next. So plenty more on the way!