Crazy name, crazy genesis: Robert Richardson reveals how Augustus Maltravers appeared in his head:
I was not on mind-altering drugs; I was totally sober; this really is what happened. Trust me, I’m a journalist. It was while I was married to my first wife, back in what are now a great many days. I can’t remember what I was idly thinking about when it was as if a door from my subconscious opened and into my conscious mind stepped a man I instantly knew was called Augustus Maltravers; it was almost as if he’d said it to me. I’ve never known anyone called Augustus, and Maltravers is an extremely rare surname. (I later discovered that one Baron Maltravers was involved in Edward II coming to an extremely painful end in Berkeley castle in 1327, but that’s coincidence for you.)
My immediate thought was that he was an amateur detective – which turned out to be wrong; he just has a suspicious gift of being in the neighbourhood when a murder’s committed and becoming involved – and grasped the title of a book, The Latimer Mercy, a misprinted Bible in which at one point the word “mercy” appeared as “merry”. Maltravers didn’t condescend to help by telling me precisely where (it turned to be in Psalm 25, verse 10), but wandered off, leaving me with only a bizarre name and a title. An attempt to write a crime novel from such flimsy material crashed and burned after one chapter, then I became otherwise occupied with a divorce, quitting my job on the Daily Mail in Manchester, moving nearly 200 miles away, remarrying and becoming a father. Thus years passed, and it was not until the 1980s that I actually managed to write the book. The UK Crime Writers’ Association voted it the best first novel of the year; retitled An Act of Evil, it’s now available via Amazon as an Endeavour Press e-book.
Over another five books, Gus – life’s too short for the full version – let a few random facts about himself trickle out, as fictional characters do. Born in Chester, started out as a local newspaper reporter, into cricket, Eng Lit and decent beer, divorced, an agnostic who will die convinced of his doubts, several affairs, and a father with a passion for Roman history, which explained his name. Friends who have read the books say there’s a lot of me in him, but . . . ten years younger, earns a living as a full-time writer, lives in a townhouse in a desirable part of London with his partner, a drop-dead gorgeous actress called Tess Davy? I wish.
When he first appeared in print, PD James described Maltravers as “a true original”; he certainly made an original entrance