R.M. Cartmel (who answers to his friends as Dick) was born shortly after 2nd World War in Western Germany as one of the occupying forces, and he has been asking the Germans to forgive him ever since. This has been a long slow process of reconciliation involving beer, wine and sausage, in roughly equal proportions. He does not remember his first experience of Germany, and his first memory of life was living in a tin hut on the Yorkshire Moors with the rain thrumming on the roof. That first decade as a military brat at least saw improvement in his standards of living, from a small Nissen Hut, to a rather larger Nissen Hut (It was always possible that he had himself just got smaller). The next move was startling, as he found himself in a building made of brick, which did not echo when it rained.
Somewhere around 1960, it obviously occurred to his father that Dick appeared to be a healthy child, and that it was a little unfair to maintain his current status as a target for the Russians. In case you wondered, the four minute Nuclear Warning was to give his father adequate notice to get his bombers up in retaliation against incoming Soviet ICBMs, before Britain was wiped out. The growing child was therefore shipped off to the South West of Britain with mother and baby sister to avoid the supposedly incoming threat. To avoid any contamination, Dick was sent off to a boarding school in the middle of darkest Exmoor, where he discovered he had an imagination.
His imagination was nurtured by various teachers and relations over the coming years, resulting in intermittent short stories, a couple of dreadful teenage tales of love and despair, sketches and plays for radio and the stage, with added lyrics, and yet despite his trying to suppress it at every possible opportunity, his imagination just would not go away. He trained to be a doctor, and repaid the State for its munificence in subsidising his training by putting it to use throughout his adult life, but there was still no suppressing that imagination. When it was his time to retire, he was told in no uncertain terms that it was now Mr. Imagination’s turn, and he wrote his first book. That book appeared as The Richebourg Affair last summer, and has just been followed into all good bookshops by its sequel, The Charlemagne Connection.
Congratulations on the release of your latest book, The Charlemagne Connection, When did you start writing and what got you into Mystery fiction?
As it says in my bio above, I have been writing all my life, and unlike most of my colleagues in the medical profession, it was remarkably legible. I suspect that was because, while I was a small boy at boarding school, I was always an ‘inky’ child. I seemed to have a magnetic attraction to the contents of the ink well at the corner of my desk. I have no evidence to prove it now, but my school books apparently looked like they had been created by a spider which had been at the 100 proof spirit. I was therefore sent, during the school holidays, to a calligraphy teacher. My immediate thought was that I became no less inky, and there were no fewer blobs on the paper, but they were more elegantly placed.
That wasn’t what you were asking about at all, but that was when I started writing. And as a rather lonely small boy in a draughty stately home in the middle of nowhere, I read books, lots of books, and one of the earliest authors who grabbed my attention was Agatha Christie. I have been a Christie reader ever since.
What is your book about?
In a single word, family. The first book, The Richebourg Affair, introduces the reader to the location, being Nuits-Saint-Georges in the Cote d’Or, and the series protagonist, Commandant (translated into English as Commander) Charlemagne Truchaud. It also looks at why some bottles of wine can be seriously expensive, and about how it might be possible to make a bottle of wine that has no right to such an expensive price by fraudulent means. It also looks back at France in the 1960s, though it is not set then.
The Charlemagne Connection takes the setting and characters created in the first book and puts them through further adventures, looking at how French families work, and how, like everywhere in the world, they sometimes don’t. It also explores some of the things that happened in Burgundy during the Second World War, even though it too is not set then.
What was your inspiration for it?
Ain’t that just the way it goes. I answer the question, and then it gets asked again in a different way! The Charlemagne Connection was inspired at least in part by its predecessor, The Richebourg Affair. Truchaud himself came to visit one afternoon sitting in the café du Centre in Nuits-Saint-Georges, must be ten years ago now, long before I retired or even considered writing a book. Once I had got a location, and a character, plot was the next phase.
What type of challenges did you face while writing this book?
Oh good! The questions and the answers are now in the right sequence again. Once I had decided on a plot concept, I then needed to make sure that the science behind the book was right. I needed to find a winemaker to make sure that the viticulture was correct for the reader, and there I found a delightful man called David Clark, an ex-mechanic from Williams F1, who had made a change in the direction his life was taking him, and he was making remarkable wine in Morey-Saint-Denis, just down the road to Nuits-Saint-Georges. He was singularly helpful in both books. In the Charlemagne Connection, I also needed advice from a lawyer about fine facets of Inheritance law, French Style, and forensics. (More on that later).
What do you hope readers will get from your book?
Well, I hope they will enjoy the story, and will, when they have finished it, end up wanting more. They will be relieved to know that I am in the process of writing another, called The Romanée Vintage. I hope also that they will be interested in trying the wine themselves. I appreciate that Richebourg itself is fiendishly expensive, and if they find a bottle at less than a hundred bucks a bottle, it is almost certainly a fake! But there are bottles of very nice Burgundy that are also quite reasonably priced, and I hope that all three books will help them find those bottles.
Did your book require a lot of research?
Well, that was the point of the whole thing! The books gave me an excuse to go and ‘live among the natives’. It took me to Nuits-Saint-Georges during the spring for The Richebourg Affair. The following summer, I was waiting for the flowering in order to write The Charlemagne Connection, with its citrus aromas in the air. David and I drank a lot of tea during those times, when his vines were not distracting him. We also drank a modicum of wine too. The vintage last year also found me there in preparation for The Romanée Vintage.
What do you do when your muse refuses to collaborate?
I punish it! Remember my mentioning a dreadful novel I wrote when I was a teenager? Well, if Lady Muse isn’t playing, I go back and rewrite it! Don’t worry, gentle readers, you will never be exposed to it, but there are times when my muse is, and it is still a horrid and self-indulgent monstrosity!
How do you keep your narrative exciting?
Well, that is also down to the muse. When we are working well together, then the book comes out how it comes out. The book more or less writes itself, and part of the fun of it was reading what came out in the wash! It may be part of the problem that I am currently having with Romanée is that it was all so much more pre-planned than its two predecessors!
Many writers experience a vague anxiety before they sit down to write. Can you relate to this?
An interesting question. Assuming the question contained a wonderful typographical error, being ‘right’ for ‘write’, yes I have that one! I am very rarely able to spot my own typos, which is why the first person I ever looked for was the person who became my editor. Otherwise, I can’t relate to that sort of anxiety at all.
Do you have a writing schedule? Are you disciplined?
Aha! we’re coming up to the ‘no’ questions now. I try to write a thousand words a day of something, whether it’s the current book in progress, the dreaded teenaged rewrite, or like today, a set of interview questions. But I’m not disciplined, and especially this year, when there has been the most wonderful cricket tour this spring by New Zealand to England. Yes, to an Englishman, it has been monumentally exciting, that I needed to give the visitors a public on the back, and to offer the Australians the challenge of beating that! The main regret I had was that there were only two five-day test matches against the Black Caps!
What was your publishing process like?
Long and slow. That was at least partly my fault. I was aware that having written Richebourg then the first thing I needed was to get someone else to read it. I passed it to all sorts of friends and relations, who were nice about it. I felt that I needed first of all was a professional critic. I saw advertised on the Internet a firm, who will remain nameless, who offered professional services to someone who had written a book. Forty minutes later, when I got my first word in edgeways, after they had suggested that they took my book to Hollywood, I realised that I hadn’t actually described the book! It has taken at least year to get rid of them, but that is an irrelevance, apart from advising potential writers not to listen to the first scammer they talk to. I ended up meeting an editor, and she agreed to look at Richebourg, and take it on. While it was moving from version 3 to version 6, we tried to sell it to an agent. I spoke to three, the first one who declined it said she was declining it because her consort was a wine-merchant. The second one liked it enough to want to read the whole book, and I sent it on. Somehow that particular agency wasn’t really into the final product and declined. But the third one, ah bless him, also wanted to read the whole thing from cover to cover. The problem there was that he never came back to me. It took a supportive chat with Sue Grafton at Crimelandia in Monterey, CA, for me to realise that I didn’t want to wait around for an agent to take six months to make up his mind. There was a string to my editor’s bow that I wasn’t fully aware of, but she also knew that I could do it again. She was going through the first draft of The Charlemagne Connection at this point. I knew she had published handbooks and text books, and had been commissioned to write a ‘How to’ book on crime fiction. She suggested that we forget agents, and offered to publish the books herself. Once she had rescued her hand from my mouth, we shook on the deal, and in the summer of 2014 The Richebourg Affair appeared, with the knowledge that in the fullness of time, The Charlemagne Connection would follow it. Now we wait for the numbers to appear, although, I feel confident enough in The Romanée Vintage to feel that it will get out there when it is ready. The cover, already designed, is delicious!
How do you celebrate the completion of a book?
To me the word ‘completion’ is probably the arrival of a box on my doorstep, and in that box are a few copies of the new books. I took the first copies of both Richebourg and Charlemagne out of the boxes, and signed them. Those two copies are on the shelf in the office where I write. However the bottles I opened at the same time are long since gone!
How do you define success?
In other writers, I define their success is my having ordered a copy of their next book in hard back in advance. For me, it is rather less so, perhaps I feel really good when someone I know from a past part of my life approaches me in the supermarket and says, ‘I read your book and I really liked it, when is the next one coming out?’ The warm fuzzy glow that gives me cannot be quantified.
What do you love most about the writer’s life?
So far the warm fuzzy glow I mentioned in answer to the previous question. I don’t yet know what it will be like to know about people pre-ordering my stuff in advance. I hope, one day, that may happen. It has been a new life and a new direction.
Do you have a website or blog where readers can find out more about your work?
Oh? You mean you want me to tell you about it? Sure its www.rmcartmelauthor.com.
Where is your book available?
It is available at all good bookshops and also on line, which includes Amazon, Nook, and everywhere else.
What is your advice for all aspiring authors?
All I can comment on is for aspiring writers of crime, mystery and suspense. I have no advice to authors of romance or erotica, to say nothing about poetry, science fiction, fantasy or ‘literary fiction’. Within my field, the advice is simple, write what you want to read, and then get an editor to go through it and polish it. Even if your sole interest is to read it yourself, you will get a great deal of pleasure of reading an improved version.
George Orwell once wrote; “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” Comments?
I never really enjoyed reading much of George Orwell outside 1984 and Animal Farm, and perhaps that explains it!
What has writing taught you?
Perhaps this is a ‘Cookie-Cutter’ reply, whatever that means, but it has taught me that there are other authors out there apart from ‘literary writers’ such as George Orwell. I would much rather read Lindsey Davis and Agatha Christie than George Orwell and James Joyce, so perhaps I would rather write readable mystery than hard wired Literary Fiction.
Anything else you’d like to tell my readers?
See you again soon?
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