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Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Mike Ripley

Mike Ripley is the author of the award-winning ‘Angel’ series of comedy thrillers.  He has won the Crime Writers Association 'Last Laugh Award' twice, first in 1989 with Angel Touch and then again in 1991 for Angels in Arms. Mike was also a scriptwriter for the BBC comedy-drama series Lovejoy (1986–94), which starred Ian McShane as a lovable rogue antique dealer.
For ten years Mike served as crime fiction critic for the Daily Telegraph and on the Birmingham Post for a further eight, reviewing in all over 950 crime novels..
In 2003 he suffered a stroke, and wrote an account of his recovery, Surviving a Stroke, which was published in 2006.
Currently he writes the "Getting Away With Murder" column for the online publication Shots. He is also the series editor at Ostara Publishing, which specialises in reprinting classic mysteries and thrillers.

Today I have the opportunity of putting to him some questions.

Q Mike, you have written fifteen novels featuring Fitzroy Maclean Angel. Can you tell us about the origins of Angel?  Is he based on an amalgam of people, or pure imagination?
A All fiction writers tend to be something of a Frankenstein, creating their characters out of bits of real people. Roy Angel was inspired by one particular friend from university days, but with certain traits removed and others added from other people. There may even be a little bit of me in there, though I’m not admitting to it.

Q After eleven books in the ‘Angel’ series, in 2002 you published Double Take , a stand-alone about how to get away with robbing Heathrow Airport – a kind of Italian Job for the 21st century. What prompted this? An experience at Heathrow?
A Double Take started life as a film script which was entered for a competition and was my attempt to try and bring the Ealing Comedies of the 1950s up to date. It didn’t win anything and never got optioned so I did a ‘novelisation’ which the Do Not Press published alongside the script. The script took me three days to write. Perhaps I should have taken longer…

Q After 20 years working in London you moved to East Anglia and became an archaeologist. I notice that in Angel Underground (2002) Angel infiltrates a dig in Suffolk, so is this something that you have always wanted to do?
A I’ve actually lived in East Anglia (never in London) for over 40 years and becoming a Field Archaeologist at the age of 46 was, I suppose, my mid-life crisis. I read history at university and have been a crime writer and reviewer of crime fiction, so I suppose you could say I’ve always been paid to speak ill of the dead! It was rather cool being the only crime writer who really did find bodies on a regular basis; though they were usually 1,500 years old.  My experiences on dig sites led to both Angel Underground and then my first historical novel: Boudica and the Lost Roman.

Q You wrote two further non-series books in 2005 and 2007, set in AD 60 and AD 1066 respectively.  Does this mean no more ‘Angel’ books or are you just having a break from Angel?
A I followed Boudica  (Roman Britain) with The Legend of Hereward  (East Anglia at the time of the Norman Conquest) because I saw them as two parts of a trilogy looking at ‘Great British Losers’. Both were heroic figures but neither won their particular corner. The third in the series was always planned to be ‘King’ Arthur who probably existed as 5th century Christian warlord fighting a series of civil wars, but eventually losing out to the pagan ‘Anglo-Saxons’. As I started to do the research, I moved the story back to incorporate the arrival of the Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Friesians so that you had the invading ‘English’ fighting with the Romano-Britons as to who would rule Britannia in the power vacuum left by the retreat of the Roman Empire. The result was a bloodthirsty saga spanning the years 450 – 520 AD called First Kings which, hopefully, will find a publisher this year. The ‘Angel’ series came to a full stop (or at least a semi-colon) with Angels Unaware, the fifteenth in the series, which was published in 2008, twenty years to the day after the first one appeared. I think I tied up all the loose ends, but I didn’t kill him off, so Fitzroy Maclean Angel may yet appear again: older but probably not much wiser.

Q  In 2003 you suffered a stroke and out of this experience came Surviving a Stroke, an account of your recovery. I understand this helped you regained the use of your left hand, as you used a mechanical typewriter. Which came first, the desire to tell the story of your experience or the physical need to become active? Was one a by-product of the other?

Initially, my brilliant idea to use a manual typewriter to get my left hand and arm working again was so that I could go back on the computer and finish the book (Boudica) I had been working on when I had my stroke. Once that was done, I set about recounting my stroke experience really with a view to helping the partners, carers and families of stroke survivors, which I have done as a volunteer with the charities the Stroke Association and the Blood Pressure Association.

Q Currently you write a regular column ‘Getting Away With Murder’ for Shots, an  online publication I greatly enjoy, may I say.  You write for The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Times and the Birmingham Post among others. Additionally you lecture on crime-writing at the University of Cambridge, so I hesitate to ask do you have a regular working day? 
Not any more. Of course, for over 20 years I was a commuter to a day-job in an office in London and in fact wrote the first Angel book on the train. For many years I would write only on Sundays, though naturally I’d be thinking up plotlines and noting down bits of dialogue (and jokes) constantly. These days, the working day is governed by what comes in by email or by mail – I get sent around 300 crime novels a year to review and edit and publish between 12 and 16 titles – but I try and do some ‘personal’ writing every day, even if it’s only something scurrilous for my Getting Away With Murder column, to which I contribute about 60,000 words a year.

Q Is it true that comedy doesn’t translate?’
A Probably; and of course comedy dates. I have been very disappointed never to have been seriously published in America because American editors didn’t seem to ‘get it’ – even though all the American readers I’ve met did. On the other hand I have been translated into German, Spanish, Thai and, most successfully, Japanese though never into any Scandinavian language, which confirms my suspicions about Nordic crime writing…

Q Do you still do scriptwriting?
A   Given half a chance I would, but television production is so fragmented these days, I think you have to work very hard to maintain a network of contacts and then just hope you are in the right place at the right time. It’s a young man’s (or woman’s) game – and so it should be.

Q I am very interested in the reprinting of some of the wonderful books now out of print . Pleased to hear that you are the series editor at Ostara Publishing, which specialises in reprinting classic mysteries and thrillers.  How did that come about?
I was very excited when I was asked by Ostara to create their Top Notch Thrillers imprint in 2009. The idea was to rescue some of the unjustly forgotten Great British thrillers of the Sixties and Seventies; thrillers I grew up with but which have been out of print for far too long. We’ve republished 28 titles so far, with four more coming in 2013 and I am really proud of the fact that we have got authors such as Geoffrey Household, Francis Clifford, Alan Williams and Berkely Mather back in print and in front of a new readership. Last year the owner of Ostara, Andrew Cocks (a near neighbour whom I first met 35 years ago when we both worked at Essex University) asked me if I could establish another imprint, Ostara Crime, which revived more recent British crime fiction from the 1980s and 90s.  Whereas the majority of Top Notch Thriller authors have all been male, our first four Ostara Crime authors are all female.   In our first six months, we’ve reissued three titles each from Christine Green, Denise Danks and Janet Neel (Baroness Cohen) with three from, Lesley Grant-Adamson coming out in the next couple of months. The Ostara philosophy is simple: we don’t do complete backlists, we select authors and specific titles which show all the different styles of crime fiction and we produce (we think) a high quality trade paperback as well as an eBook version. 

Q Equally, I am passionate about new writers. There is some marvellous talent emerging today. You are co-editor of the three Fresh Blood anthologies promoting new British crime writing. Can you tell us something about that? 
A   I used to be very passionate about new writers and felt so strongly that the John Creasey Award for new writers was being down-graded (in the 1990s) that I resigned from the Crime Writers Association. The first Fresh Blood anthology was a response to the fact that the Creasey Award was not made for two years because, presumably, there were no interesting new writers around. We found people like Christopher Brookmyre, Charlie Higson, Stella Duffy, Ken Bruen oh, and somebody called Lee Child – I wonder whatever happened to him?

Q  Are you working on a new book, and if so is it a stand-alone or an Angel?
A  I’ve got two completed novels being considered by publishers at the moment, though neither are ‘Angels’. I am currently working on a non-fiction social history of the Golden Age of British Thrillers from 1953-1987.

Thanks, Mike, for a most interesting chat.

Angel Series
Just Another Angel (1988)                             Angel Touch (1989)
    Angel Hunt (1990)                                          Angels in Arms (1991)
          Angel City (1994)                                           Angel Confidential (1995)
     Family Of Angels (1996)                                That Angel Look (1997)
Bootlegged Angel (1999) Lights, Camera, Angel (2001)
Angel Underground (2002) Angel on the Inside (2003)
Angel In The House (2005) Angel's Share (2006)
Angels Unaware (2008)

Non-series Novels

Double Take (2002) Boudica and the Lost Roman (2005)
The Legend of Hereward the Wake (2007)

Non Fiction

      Surviving a Stroke (2006)


  1. Terrific interview Lizzie, congrats.

  2. Glad that you enjoyed the interview. I love your site.