My name is Michael Gallagher; I was born in New Zealand. I moved to London in my early twenties and it's now my home. Until quite recently I was a teacher by profession, but I’ve now retired to write full time. I used to be an avid reader but, with my writing now taking precedence, I'm lucky if I manage to fit in one book per month—usually for the Canada Water Crimes & Thrillers book group I attend, which you can find on Facebook.
You're a writer of historical fiction and more especially, with the Send for Octavius Guy series, of cozy thrillers. What inspired your latest book, Big Bona Ogles, Boy!?
The series employs a number of characters from the Wilkie Collins book The Moonstone, and the first few volumes are set in 1852, some three years after The Moonstone mystery concludes. Big Bona Ogles, Boy! (which roughly translates as “What great big eyes you’ve got there!”) is the last to be set in this year, a relatively quiet year in both Britain and abroad. It was, however, the year that a certain Mrs Maria B. Hayden arrived in London from Connecticut in late November to bring Spiritualism to these shores for the very first time. Her seances were actually quite staid affairs, unlike the ones my character Mrs Harmon presides over, but I think my readers will allow me an amount of literary licence as I ramp up the ghostly goings-on when the candles are extinguished. It’s up to my young detective, Gooseberry, to work out how the medium achieves her startling effects—which he does, though only with a little help from George Crump, the lad he is training up to be his assistant detective. As soon as he is able to prove it, however, someone makes use of the the pitch-black room to make an attempt on Mrs Harmon’s life. There are puzzles aplenty and clues abound as the pair set out to track down a ruthless murderer.
Octopus, the second in the series, was received with great critical acclaim. What inspired you to write this book?
I wanted—if it was at all possible—to incorporate The Duchess of Malfi into a novel in some way, just as Agatha Christie did with Sleeping Murder, and P. D. James with Cover Her Face. I soon discovered that Sadler's Wells Theatre had revived Webster's Jacobean revenge tragedy some two years earlier in 1850. So far, so good. The next step for me was to read the play, for I only had the vaguest idea what it was about. When I reached the part where the duchess is strangled by a cohort of executioners, I knew I had the beginnings of a great whodunnit. An actress strangled to death on stage in front of an entire audience…what could be better than that?
Are you anything like Gooseberry – or, for that matter, Lizzie Blaylock, the character from the other series you write?
To be honest, I'm probably more like Gooseberry's (much) older friend Bertha! When I was preparing to write the first novel in the series I used to slink through my local supermarket trying to see the world through the eyes of somebody a good forty years younger and ten inches shorter. Since Gooseberry has bulging eyes (hence his nickname), I would try to make my eyes bulge. If any of the customers noticed, they didn't let on! Gooseberry is fast on his feet, dexterous with his hands, and takes a relatively realistic view on life, if through a noticeably skewed moral compass. He and I both possess an inventive mind, but I can't lay claim to any of his other qualities. Lizzie, on the other hand, has variously (and lovingly) been described by reviewers as determined, courageous, sassy, know-it-all, and, in total contrast to this, young and naive. The truth is there's a little bit of me in every single one of my characters, even the dastardly villains. But the qualities I share with Lizzie? I am a bit of a know-it-all, though strangely this never seems to help me to win any pub quizzes. Hmmm, as Gooseberry would no doubt say…
Who or what do you read for pleasure?
My favourite novels are A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, and Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. I revisit each of them every few years or so. I love Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone and The Woman in White. In the early 1990s I managed to collect all of Agatha Christie's whodunnits from second-hand stalls and charity shops, but many are now in such poor repair that they won't survive another reading. I love historical fiction, particularly by Steven Saylor, Philip Kerr, and C. J. Sansom, the three of whom employ some form of detective, and Anchee Min and Tracy Chevalier, who generally don't. I've just discovered the Flavia de Luce novels of Alan Bradley. They're set in 1950s Britain and feature a precocious 11-year-old girl with a penchant for detecting who likes nothing more than to obsess about poisons. These days it’s nearly always Crimes & Thrillers.
Smashwords suggests an interesting question: What do your fans mean to you? Do you have fans, and, if so, what do they mean to you?
There's a growing number of people who've read my entire canon of novels, who now consider themselves firm fans. They're all passionate readers who've taken the time and trouble to post great reviews, letting other readers know how much they’ve enjoyed my books. If I have a way to contact them, I do, to let them know how much I appreciate what they've done for me. Without their reviews, their feedback, and their continued support, I wouldn't have been able to build my reputation as an author. For me, the truly magic part of the whole writing process is when I finish a book and send it out into the world, and it manages to touch the lives of people everywhere. And I do mean everywhere. In addition to Britain, USA, and Canada, I now have fans as far afield as Germany, South America, Norway, and Pakistan. How fantastic is that?
What are you working on next?
Send for Octavius Guy #4: Octavius Guy and the Case of the Quibbling Cleric. Whilst researching the London suburb of Hampstead for the latest book, I came across an instance of a clergyman so hated by his flock that they petitioned Queen Victoria to have him removed—unsuccessfully, as things turned out. The idea of one of his parishioners taking events into his or her own hands immediately suggested itself to me. Just think! An endless supply of suspects, all with varying motives. Gooseberry and George will have a field day!
No, thank you!
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.