Tony Parsons: My Inspiration
(Image: Ian Fleming at his desk © The Ian Fleming Estate 1961. Reproduced with the permission of Ian Fleming Publications Ltd. and The Ian Fleming Estate.)
The idea for the DC Max Wolfe series first came about in 2010 when I attended a film screening organised by the director Sam Mendes, who told me he was going to make the next James Bond film and was reading all the Ian Fleming books again. I started reading them myself and thought, what an incredible achievement it is for any writer to create a character that lives long after they die and can be endlessly rebooted, whether it’s James Bond, Sherlock Holmes or Dr Watson. I thought, ‘I want a crack at it, I want to create my own character’.
Although I’m a new crime writer, I’m steeped in crime fiction. My favourites include Robert B Parker, John D MacDonald, Lee Child, PD James and Ian Rankin. There are so many of them. But the trick is to find your voice. I wanted my guy rooted in some kind of family life, rooted in loved ones, but at the same time, I wanted him free to have the romantic and sexual adventures of a James Bond or a Jack Reacher. So a single parent was perfect. And I wanted the book to be recognisable to my old readers.
DC Max Wolfe has become real to me in a way that I would not have thought possible. I think that is a by-product of writing a series of books about one character – they become part of your life in a way that doesn’t happen when you are only with a character for a year or so. During the writing of The Murder Bag, I went for a guided tour of Smithfield meat market early one morning, and I found my gaze drifting up to the windows of the apartments high above the market – the kind of loft where Max and his daughter Scout live. And for a second I honestly thought that I might see him; it made me wonder if I was going completely nuts. But I think it’s simply that a character becomes very real to you if you spend enough time with them.
The classic example is Ian Fleming and James Bond. When you hear Bond talking about food, drink, women, gambling or his country – that’s Ian Fleming’s voice. But Fleming was not Bond; 007 is a hero in a way that Ian Fleming never was. And yet Fleming spent a lifetime in the shadow of heroes – his father died in World War One, his brother Peter was a war hero and, as a Commander in Naval Intelligence in World War Two, he sent men off on missions that were just as suicidal as anything that James Bond ever embarked upon. So although Ian Fleming wasn’t James Bond, the character was partly taken from real life, and partly mined from the author’s soul. That is an incredibly powerful way to create a vivid, multi-dimensional character, and in a way it gives the character a life of his own.
Max is like that for me. Max has his own world, and his own momentum, and his own adventures ahead of him. He is my shadow brother. And I worry about him, and I know him, and I love him. And I know that if I keep looking at those lofts above Smithfield meat market for long enough, then one day I might see him.