33 1/3 Questions with Andrew Cartmel, author of The Vinyl Detective Mysteries
author of The Vinyl Detective Mysteries.
By David Hicks
Andrew Cartmel is no Johnny-come-lately putting plot to paper. Among other things, he was the script editor of Doctor Who during the final three seasons of its original run on BBC One; has worked as a magazine editor, a comics writer, a film studies lecturer, and has written for audiophile magazines and has several other novels published outside the domain of The Vinyl Detective.
While reading the first book in the series I was pleased to discover that I enjoyed the novel from the mystery perspective of the story, and not just for the mention of hi-fi gear. But I wanted to know for sure, was the author an audiophile? Did he actually play vinyl records and listen with audiophile gear or was he capitalizing on the resurgent vinyl record craze that’s taking over the marketplace with everything from Scotch brand tape dispensers to bathroom sinks (literally) in the shape of record players? So, I contacted the author who was kind enough to consent to an interview. The next day, when I touched down in his hometown of London, via Skype, the first question on my list was:
DH: Have you done interviews for audiophile societies before?
DH: Okay, next question, would you describe yourself as an audiophile?
AC: I am an audiophile, but I’m a little bit wary of the term, I prefer to say I’m a music lover because I don’t want to go down that rabbit hole where the technology is more important than the music you’re listening to. But to put it into perspective, around about Christmas time I invested in an SME arm, and it was a major event in my life. It transformed my entire record collection. And I knew it would be good, but it was better than I expected. I am aware of how significant the equipment is in terms of giving you quality reproduction of your music. And I’d been gunning to get this arm for ages, and for years, like twenty years, I’d been using a budget Rega arm, which is very good. And last Summer I went to the London Film and Comic-Con and I had a little stall there where I signed and sold my books, and I did a very good business. And I had earmarked that money to buy the SME arm and pay the guy to install it and also to service my deck, which is a Garrard 301, it’s a vintage British deck. So, having said I’m wary of the term audiophile, having said all that, it’s a very important thing in my life and I’m aware of how significant the equipment is in terms of giving you quality reproduction of your music.
dh: There’s a bit of conversation here where we discuss the Garrard 301 and a reference to the protagonists’ turntable in the second book of the series, but I won’t spoil the intrigue for you when you come upon that bit of info. Just know that Mr. Cartmel has promised the reference will be revisited and corrected in a subsequent book in the series!
DH: Where did your love of audio gear originate?
AC: I worked on Hi-fi magazines, Hi-Fi Choice and Hi-Fi News. Hi-Fi News was the more interesting because it had been around since the ‘50s and it had a great pedigree, and if you dig around in the archives you could find interesting articles about the sort of things that I love, which is pure hi-fi from that period. And it was while I was there that I learned about the sort of system that I wanted and I acquired the system by meeting people selling the Garrard 301 and the Quad speakers, and so on.
DH: Okay, back to the books, I’m wondering, the protagonist is, in addition to being an audiophile, a cat lover and a coffee fanatic who is very particular about how he makes his coffee, so, I guess you have cats and make your coffee in some ritualistic fashion?
AC: Well, let me tell you a little story about that, when I was creating these books, I discussed it with a friend of mine who’s a best-selling novelist, Ben Aaronovitch (Andrew and Ben actually co-author a miniseries called London River), uh, he’s very successful, and I told him I was basically basing the character on myself, and he said, are you including the cats? And I said no, I thought that was like a bridge too far. And he said, “you must put the cats in.” And so, in many ways this guy’s like me, he’s got the cats, he’s got my hi-fi system, but I did feel it was essential to put some clear blue water between us, and so the one thing that I don’t share with him is the coffee. I don’t actually drink coffee or tea, so I’m sorry about that.
DH: So, you were talking to your friend about the novel, and that brings up one of my questions, which is, do you have friends who would see themselves in the characters in the novel?
AC: Well, that’s interesting, and the answer is no not really. Tinkler’s house is based on the house of a friend of mine, but my friend isn’t really like Tinkler at all, and the character Stinky is kind of based on someone, but I can’t ever tell anyone who that is because it’s such a negative portrayal. So Stinky is inspired by a real-life person but I can’t really think of anyone else who is. Yes, the protagonist shares some characteristics of mine because that’s the low hanging fruit that’s easiest to write.
DH: Jazz is featured prominently in the first book; would you say that’s your favorite genre of music?
AC: Jazz closely followed by film music. In fact, the first record I remember getting was the Casino Royal soundtrack by Burt Bacharach with the fantastic song called The Look of Love sung by Dusty Springfield, and though it’s not jazz it’s got a jazz feel. And the second record I remember getting was the score for Thunderball, for the James Bond movie, which has a big band jazz kind of vibe to it, and the third record was jazz, it was a soundtrack again, it was to the T.V. show Mannix, by Lalo Schifrin, better known for writing the soundtrack for the Mission Impossible series. But Mannix is a fantastic West Coast jazz score, it’s just lovely. So, I was listening to Jazz without even realizing it from the beginning which made for an overlap between jazz and film music. I also listen to all of the things that people would listen to in general, popular music, rock, blues, even a bit of classical music, but if you were to do a statistical analysis of my collection, the great preponderance would be jazz, closely followed by movie music.
DH: Is the development of the character, Agatha (a.k.a. Clean Head, the female driver that Tinkler is smitten with), something that will expand in future novels? (I’d only read the first two novels at the time of this interview)
AC: She’s part of the gang now, very much so. I sometimes think I need a character for a certain purpose, and instead of inventing a new one I like to look at who I’ve got, and so the existing cast of characters keeps recurring and they keep growing. And I find out more about them and my affection for them grows, and the readers respond in the same way, they love to see the characters come back. And I got quite early on that if these books are embraced by a wide readership it’ll be because people keep coming back for the characters. You have to have a good story that surprises people, and there’s a certain amount of mystery, and mayhem and murder, but the really crucial thing is having these characters that people fall in love with and want to keep coming back to.
DH: I heartily agree. I love settling into a new book that has characters I’m familiar with. The characters can almost start to feel like family and I’ll look forward to catching up on what’s happening in their lives, which in the case of your books is some new vinyl record related adventure.
I actually wrote up a recommendation for the first book, Written In Dead Wax, and put it in our monthly newsletter under our “Music Picks” section, thinking this was close enough to a music review, and that people could just pick from the albums mentioned in the book.
AC: I appreciate your saying so, about the characters, and I also wanted to let you know that there’s actually a Vinyl Detective LP coming out that could actually be your music pick in the future. The record is coming out soon in all its glory, hopefully in July.
DH: That’s great, please tell me more about the record.
AC: How this came about is that I review LP’s, and one of the record label PR guys said, when I was out having coffee with him last year, hot chocolate for me actually, and he suggested doing a Vinyl Detective LP, using classic jazz tracks as if they were chosen by the protagonist. So, I thought, well that sounds like a great idea. So I began to put this together, and I was having lunch with another friend of mine, whose name is Joe Kraemer, and Joe lives out in the West Coast in the states, because he’s a film composer, he lives in L.A.- he’s done music for films like Mission Impossible Rogue Nation, and Jack Reacher, and I was telling him about this project, and he said, “Why don’t I write a theme for it? Like, write The Vinyl Detective theme, as if it were for a T.V. show?”
So, this all came together, I curated it, I chose these, and this sounds immodest of me, but I chose some fantastic jazz tracks, plus we’ve got Joe’s original Vinyl Detective Theme, which is stunningly good. Joe had asked me what instrumentation I wanted and I suggested Alto Sax because I was very into Art Pepper, and so he created the files for his theme, he did a long version and a short version, so it’s at the beginning and the end of the record. And I chose these tracks by people like Miles Davis, Mingus, and also some very little-known ones. It’s a mixture of high-profile tracks and unknown tracks. So, I think that it serves really well as a Jazz center. I like to imagine somebody buying the LP who knows nothing about Jazz and they just plunge into this world and discover all this fantastic music, because you can use it as a springboard to pursue all these interesting artists. And the other thing that I did was I wrote the kind of liner notes that I like, which aren’t just postured opinions, they’re full of facts like, who played on the record, when was it recorded, who was the recording engineer, where did they record it.
DH: Yes, these are the kind of facts that you work into your stories that make the mysteries so fun to see unraveled, at least for me, but I’m sure also for your other music loving readers in general.
AC: It’s been a real labor of love. And it’s going to be out this Summer, and we’ve got the test pressings, and it sounds fantastic.
DH: It sounds like a fantastic project. Who is pressing the LP?
AC: Vinyl Passion out of Holland, and they’ve done an amazing job of mastering, and I didn’t know what to expect, but when we listened to the test pressing, we were, well, our jaws just dropped when we listened to it. So, I should really try and get the name of the person who engineered it. (The mastering engineer, as opposed to the original recording engineer, ed.)
DH: Do you know how many copies of the record will be pressed and how the record will be distributed?
AC: I don’t have all of the specifics just now, but I know it will be available at many record stores in the U.K. and I’m hopeful that copies will be available at Amoeba in California; Dusty Groove in Chicago; and perhaps a few key record stores elsewhere in the U.S. (as of 8/8/2019 you can order your copy in the US from https://redyetirecords.com/, dh)
DH: Well, I look forward to getting a copy for myself when they are available.
AC: Yes, and if people want to contact me directly, I would try and ensure that I could get them a copy when it comes out. Probably the best way to contact me would be through my blog on Narrative Drive. http://venusianfrogbroth.blogspot.com/. And just to let you know, the information on my blog used to have a lot more musically related info on it, but that aspect has fallen by the wayside with the writing of the books, though I am looking forward to reviving some of the musical aspects soon.
DH: So, your friend has written a theme song for the Vinyl Detective. Is there anything in the works that might result in that theme song playing in the background of a television show for these stories?
AC: Absolutely. Just two weeks ago we were approached by a major British production company and they were asking if the rights were available. The answer to which, was yes. And that doesn’t necessarily mean anything, it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen, but we have had at least one serious meeting with people who were giving it some real scrutiny, and they passed…but it’s a slow process, and it just means if the books aren’t picked up for T.V. this year it just means that next year there’ll be a bigger readership and I’ll be in a better position because the series just keeps growing. Fingers crossed.
DH: While I haven’t seen your books on the bestseller lists yet, would you say they are successful in something resembling a large scale?
AC: The first book was just published in Germany and it was one of the top 10 crime novel picks in Germany for the month of June.
DH: Well, if your books are being translated into other languages that seems to me like that’s a good indicator of popularity.
AC: The books are currently published in English, German, and oddly enough, Czech. And, I know the readership is growing because with the fourth book, Flip Back, which just came out, the response on social media was big for the first time, I mean, obviously in my little pond, big ripples, but that just means to me that next year the ripple’s going to get bigger. And so, I think we’re on our way to having a successful series with a healthy readership.
DH: Thank you for writing them and thank you for the interview. I know I look forward to the next books in the series and now I’m especially looking forward to the LP so that I can have the theme song playing on my turntable, or at least in my head whenever or wherever I’m reading the novels. (As of 7/25 the advance release copies of Andrew’s LP have just arrived and are scheduled to be on sale this September!, ed)
A Vinyl Detective LP
Joe Kraemer: ‘Vinyl Detective Theme’
Miles Davis: ‘I Could Write a Book’
Charles Mingus: ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’
Lucy Ann Polk: ‘Time After Time’
Mal Waldron: ‘Warm Canto’
Joanie Sommers: ‘Heart and Soul’
Yusef Lateef: ‘Love Theme from Spartacus’
Betty Carter: ‘The Way You Look Tonight’
Blossom Dearie: ‘Thou Swell’
Cannonball Adderley: ‘Waltz for Debby’
Lucy Ann Polk: ‘Don’cha Go ‘Way Mad’
Joe Kraemer: ‘Vinyl Detective Theme Long Version’