Bowen on Bowen

Royal_flush My good friend Rhys Bowen has a new book out, ROYAL FLUSH, so I've invited her to talk about it here (and give me a day off):

Thank you so much for inviting me, Lee. We share a lot of background in common.

My first professional experience was with the spoken, rather
than with the written word. Right out of college I was lucky enough to be one
of 30 graduating students chosen from 3000 applicants to join the BBC in
London. And after stints doing everything from playing requests for a
housewives’ morning show to the night shift as announcer on the World Service I
managed to get the assignment I wanted in radio drama. What a medium that was!
No scenery, no glamorous stars to distract the audience, only the spoken word
to convey tension, emotion and sense of place. It is a media of cooperation—a
joint assignment between listener and writer to create a world. As one small
listener once said, “I like radio because the scenery is so nice.”

I agree with her. There is no stage set as wonderful as the
one you create in your imagination, no actor as handsome as the one your mind
assigns to the sexy voice. And as for tension—what could be more scary than the
sound of a door creaking open and then slow footsteps getting closer and

I started off at the bottom—making the spot sound effects.
Yes, this was the good old days when a lot of the sound effects were made live
on mike. We were a little past the coconuts for horses’ hooves days, but still
we were called upon to invent the strangest sound effects. I once had to come
up with a sound for a guillotine cutting off a head. So what did I do? I ran a
knife down an iron bar and into a cabbage, then dropped the cabbage into a
basket. It sounded so real you could actually hear the bones breaking.

After I’d been in drama for a while I rose to studio manager
and I found that I was coming up with ideas of my own. I wrote a radio play,
and with the bravado of a 22 year old, I walked into the head of drama’s office
and gave it to him. He called me in two days later. He liked it and he was
going to produce it. As easy as that! More radio plays followed, then I tried my
hand at TV drama. New challenges there—how to reveal character in a few words
and actions, how to get characters in and out of a scene, how to mix dialog and

Everything I learned has served me in good stead as a writer
of mystery novels. I am highly aware of the power of words.  I still think of my novels in terms of scenes
rather than chapters. I am still very aware of pacing, when to cut away from a
scene, and I rely on dialog to reveal character, create setting and carry
forward plot. I am a huge proponent of show not tell and I have learned to
involve all five senses to make an era come alive.  I’d love to produce my new Royal Spyness book
as a radio play—it’s called Royal Flush and in it my heroine Lady Georgiana (34th
in line to the throne and penniless) is sent home in disgrace to the Scottish
Castle. I’d have gone to town with the sound effects—the wind whistling down
the corridors and flapping the tapestries and moaning in the chimney—the
footsteps echoing across the great hall, the sounds of a grouse hunt on the
moor… but the rising of a monster from the loch and the sound of someone
falling from a mountain when a rope breaks—they’d be more of a challenge! 

Leave a Comment