Author R. Michael Phillips visited Boneyard Coffee and Tea!
Michael is a classically trained artist who has been painting for over 25 years. By combining his creative talents with a passion for London he conceived the fictional world of the East London Adventurers Club, home to The Ernie Bisquets Mystery Series. Three books in the series are complete and there are plans for at least five additional books following the adventures of London’s most remarkable pickpocket. Michael is a proud member of the Crime Writer’s Association and Mystery Writers Of America.
Michael stopped by Boneyard Coffee and Tea and was offered samples of our finest Puer teas. The very handsome gentleman (you should have seen Betsy Bean blush) settled into the chair and, after adding samples of our Guatemalan and Peruvian coffees to the table, we did not waste a minute in asking him some questions.
1. How long did it take for you to come up with the Ernie Bisquets character?
The character, Ernie Bisquets, came to me while I was painting a copy of Manet’s, Le Fifre for an old museum frame I acquired. I’m a trained artist and I keep at least one painting going at all times. Since painting is a solitary endeavor, my mind has a tendency to wander freely. So, there I was, painting a copy of a famous painting, and I had this “What if…” moment. That “what if” was Ernie Bisquets–a retired pickpocket tricked into helping a couple Mayfair swells solve a museum forgery case. It took me 3 months to finish the painting, but by the time I was done I had the bones of a character and the outline for the first book. An added bonus–I was able to use the finished painting for the cover.
2. Do you see more of yourself in Ernie or Inspector Flannel?
I’d like to think there is more of me in Ernie than in the good Inspector. Ernie is a pleasant sort, a bit mischievous, but he knows right from wrong. If someone asks his help he’ll jump in with both feet, never worrying about himself in the process. He also has a remarkable way of sifting through clues to get at the solution, much to the irritation of the good Inspector. Ernie is also fiercely loyal to his friends.
3. Of your two characters, Flannel and Bisquets, what would be their favorite Boneyard Coffee and Tea drink? A strong black Oolong tea or a flavorful Boneyard latte?
Inspector Flannel would certainly lean more towards the Oolong tea–being as strong and dark as the hearts of the villains he chases. Ernie, on the other hand, would favor the Boneyard latte. His tastes are more refined, which allowed him to blend seamlessly among the Mayfair swells that fell prey to his nimble fingers.
(Betsy Bean surreptitiously ran an ice cube along the back of her neck, and, after handing her a napkin, I asked the next question.)
4. Do you chart out the events ahead of time or do the characters first scramble onto your page and you have to organize the plot later?
I start each book with a basic synopsis and a brief outline of chapters. Once the setting is established, and the antagonist revealed, I reach a point where the characters take over the direction of the story. I find this very exciting, hoping that if the twists and turns in the plot have surprised me they will also surprise my readers.
5. We all loved book three. What about books 1 and 2?
The first book, Along Came A Fifer, really gets into the character’s backgrounds, along with the introduction of the treacherous Phynley Paine. The second book, Rook, Rhyme & Sinker, gives a glimpse of Ernie’s rough childhood and the surprising appearance of his old mate Simon “Slippery” Railes.
6. Your setting descriptions are very well done and include all five senses. Do you write those moments from memory or do you take notes as you visit places?
Thank you very much. Some are from memory, but I will modestly admit that my talents as an artist have a great deal to do with the painting of the scenes in the books. I’m also fortunate enough to be able to pop over to London when I need to walk the streets of a new story, making notes of the sights and sounds. To me the settings in the books are as important as the characters. Some dodgy old purists will tell you never to start out a chapter with the weather, or describing a room, but if you look at the greats they do just that–it really sets the mood.
7. Who is your favorite author?
This is a tough one. I grew up reading Conan-Doyle and Christie, which is where my love of mysteries came from. Even though my books take place in contemporary London I like to think I keep a little of the mystique of turn-of-the-century London in the characters and mood. As for current mainstream favorites? I would say Robert Parker has always been a must read for me, along with Lisa Scottoline. I also enjoy finding a good book amongst the independent writers who have blossomed from the self-publishing boom. There are some great writers out there just waiting to be discovered.
8. At what age did you feel you were a writer?
Last week . . . Only kidding. I think the realization I was a writer came to me at the first book signing I did in 2009. Walking in, seeing the books stacked up, and hearing my name announced over the intercom was a thrill. And, I must admit, it still is. It’s one thing to create a character and write a mystery, but it’s the readers who decide if you are a writer or not. I’ve feel very fortunate Ernie has become endeared to so many. To that end, I try ever so hard with every book not to disappoint. The greatest compliment a writer receives comes from the enjoyment expressed by those who have read his/her work. If they’re looking forward to the next book, you’ve done a good job.
9. If Ernie and Flannel were dropped off at a cinema, what movie would each one prefer to watch?
I think Ernie would most identify with Jack in Titanic. Here’s a street-wise, young guy from a rough beginning, thrown into the cauldron on High Society. To some he fits right in, but to others he will never be more than what he is. Like Jack, Ernie will ignore the doubters and continue to follow his dreams and ambitions. As for the good Inspector, if you dropped him off in front of a theater he would probably scoff at the idea of wasting time on such sentimental nonsense. An unsavory character in the crowd would then capture his attention; upon which he would call him out for the villain he is and haul him down to the station for booking.
10. If you do book signings, what was your most memorable moment or phrase from a fan?
Book signings are the best part about being an author. Meeting readers, getting their insights about what you did right and what you did wrong, and enjoying the experience is without measure. “What does the “R” stand for in your name?” is usually the first question and the one I enjoy most. I’m a bit of a lad with the responses– Ridiculously-charming, Rudely-abrupt, Remotely-amusing, Relatively-handsome, etc., etc., etc. It helps me relax and sets a friendly atmosphere. And, after all, I’m a mystery writer; there should be at least a little bit of mystery about me.
We really appreciate your dropping by to talk with us. We hope everyone buys your books and cozies up for a good read!
Thanks ever so much for this chance to talk to you and your readers. You’ll never find me too far from a good cup of coffee, so this was such a delight.
Mr. Phillips sauntered out the door and, pulling Betsy Bean back inside, we tidied up the table and enjoyed a cup of Seven Flower Sheng Puer to celebrate our special afternoon! Check out the review of all three of his books at www.latteda.com/book-reviews. Get your copies and let us know how you enjoyed them!