As a murder mystery writer and performer, probably my most frequently asked question (after “so who did it, then?) is something along the lines of “So how did you get into this line of work?” I’m not normally evasive about this (unlike the “who did it?” question), but it can be difficult to precisely pin down the actual starting point… did my passion for theatre and drama begin during frequent visits to the Bridgwater Pantomime in the 1970s? Probably – I still have very fond memories of being thrown around backstage by the Dame Johnny Farrance and the giant (a quick visit to Google reveals he was played by Michael Morrice) at Jack and the Beanstalk in 1974, shortly before leaving the town kicking and screaming because I had been told I would be old enough to appear in 1975. I was quite bookish as a child and worked my way through the Three Investigators series and loved the stories that featured puzzles and clues to find a hidden treasure. At secondary school, I frequently took part in the school productions, beginning as Gad in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat ( a production presented as part of a double bill, alongside the fourth years’ version of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame – a more bizarre pairing you could not imagine). In the sixth form I was cast as Marlow in She Stoops to Conquer, won a school prize and my love of theatre was cemented.
Having studied Electrical Engineering and Physics at university, I worked for a well-known helicopter manufacturer in Somerset (no prizes for guessing which one!) whilst still taking part in local productions. Being male, a rare beast in most amdram circles, I was often sought by various local companies, one of whom performed annual murder mystery dinners. Like Murder to Measure’s mysteries, these were immersive, meaning that the action and the suspects happened among the guests, however, many elements of the story were scripted, which meant line-learning and rehearsals. They proved popular in the village, and often the group would be asked to provide entertainment at other venues. The need for rehearsals meant that this was rarely possible, and certainly not at short notice. I was asked by a local singles group if we could present one of these mysteries for them, and the timing was all wrong for the group, so I offered to write a suitable story. The theme was to be “Vicars and Tarts” – a fairly unlikely pairing to get together at a dinner, and our first mystery Holy Smoke was born. This was followed by a story for a Curry Rivel Twinning Association (The Curry Rivals), which led to our first paid gig for a birthday party (Ramble – First Blood) which required me to learn a lot about the Battle of Sedgemoor for my character.
Things were beginning to take off, at just about the same time as my day job was beginning to cheese me off, and in 2005, twenty years to the day of starting the engineering career, I decided to work for myself, reasonong that if I didn’t do it then, I never would. The rest, as the cliché goes, is history. Since those early days, we have produced dozens of stories and expanded the types of mystery offered, so that guests can play roles, or so that teams can puzzle over clues.
This all became possible because my headmaster gave one sage peace of advice on my leaving school. “When you start work”, he said, “The first thing you should do is save up 6 month’s salary. That way, if you decide that you can’t stand the job, you can leave when you want and you’ll have 6 months to find something you enjoy more.” It’s advice I took to heart and followed, and this is what resulted. A fun job, largely working from home and in my own time. Do you have any good advice which you have or wish you had followed?