19 June 2015

The Intel: Simon Mason

Simon MasonHolmesian deduction comes in all sizes and ages. Sir Ian is currently rocking his elderly Sherlock at your local picture house and now Simon Mason brings us the first of his Garvie Smith mysteries, Running Girl.

Garvie is a school boy hero, with a Sherlock-level IQ, and a charming, brilliant personality – unfortunately, he’s also a bit of a slacker. When his ex-girlfriend is pulled out of a pond, it’s up to Garvie – and young policeman DI Singh – to solve the crime.

Running Girl, which is out in paperback now, has been shortlisted for the 2014 Costa Children’s Book Award.

Simon is the author of five other novels for younger readers, as well as the author of three novels for adults. You have probably deduced correctly, using all you powers of observation and analytical reasoning, that Simon is about to give us the lowdown on his new teenage sleuth, on writing for teenagers and how uninvited guests often crash his novels. Take it away, Simon…

Tell us about Garvie Smith.

Sixteen years old, super-bright – photographic memory, the whole bit – phenomenally lazy. He’s getting into bad habits: truanting from school, lying to his mother, smoking weed, getting into trouble with the police. So what? The world hasn’t done anything for him, why should he do anything for the world? Nothing gets his attention. Then the body of his ex-girlfriend Chloe is pulled from Pike Pond.

There’s obviously a strong dash of Sherlock in Garvie, but what were your other detective influences?

Yes, Sherlock. Garvie sees the signal in the noise, the detail everyone else misses. He keeps things to himself, goes at them his own way. He cares about justice, but couldn’t care less about the law; if it helps to solve a problem he doesn’t mind a bit of breaking and entering. Poirot too, perhaps. Like the egg-head Belgian, Garvie understands the way people behave; he’s empathetic. I think also he’s like Philip Marlowe, a cynic on the outside, a purist on the inside. He has a conscience and a tenderness – but likes to keep both well hidden.

What’s the trick to getting inside the teenage mind when you’re writing?

Living with a couple for several years helps. There were times I was desperately trying to get out of a teenager’s mind. But what fantastic creatures they are. They explode into the adult world like fireworks. Will life ever be so vivid again?

Running GirlWhy do you think young readers are so drawn to detectives and mysteries?

We lives our lives by stories. We’re story-telling animals. For us the seduction of a story’s mystery is deep and powerful. We have to know, to find out. Our curiosity drives us wild – particularly when we’re young – until it is satisfied. But the detective is also a figure of compelling fascination. Someone set slightly apart – as well all feel ourselves to be – a rogue figure risking all for the sake of the truth.

Running Girl had been shortlisted for the Costa Children’s Book Award — no pressure, then, for the next Garvie adventure?

Genuinely no pressure at all from Costa short-listing. Means nothing. Pressure instead from the characters – from Garvie, from Detective Inspector Raminder Singh, from Smudge, Felix and Alex, from Garvie’s mother. They demand to live. Also, in the new Garvie Smith book (three-quarters done, tell my publishers) the minor characters, those uninvited people who gate-crash my stories and won’t leave even when I ask them nicely: Vinnie the tramp, off his head out on the industrial estate; jittery Khalid running his corner shop; Blinkie the cartoon gangster with an eye patch and a big dog.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

Do it again.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

Changes every week. At the moment: Saul Bellow (the great describer of people and their foibles); Italo Calvino (writer of fables shimmering with beauty and oddity); Elizabeth Taylor (sharp-minded comedian of the English middle-classes); William Golding (laureate of the strange); Geoffrey Hill (author of Mercian Hymns, a poem cycle about Offa, Anglo-Saxon king of England, a sort of cross between Stalin and Dennis the Menace)

Give me some advice about writing.

Write. Be patient (it takes time). Be yourself (this also takes time).

Running Girl by Simon Mason is out now, published by David Fickling Books, price £7.99 in paperback