Frost Redux: Writing As R. D. Wingfield; two writers on continuing the chronicles of the acerbic Inspector Frost…
James Gurbutt :
Many thoughts crossed our minds as we gingerly picked up the Frost mantle.
In the Guardian review of the posthumously published Killing Frost in 2007, RD Wingfield’s protagonist had the dubious honour of remaining ‘the most unattractive cop in mainstream crime fiction.’ It doesn’t help that Wingfield’s misanthropic anti-hero is in many ways dissimilar to the TV incarnation, who seems more like a distant relation, a cousin perhaps; one who combed his hair, and held doors open for ladies. The four years and many TV repeats since Frost’s appearance on the page have at best blurred the persona. Additionally there was the problem of Wingfield’s style, considered dated by some, although his effortless switching-point-of-view approach allows the complex plots to flow fluently.
How could we breathe new life into this un-PC, crumpled old bugger with identity issues? A prequel seemed the viable solution – he is younger which creates a new identity of sorts. Is it cheating? Probably. Could we get away with him flirting with fifteen-year-old rape victims, as in Wingfield’s original? Probably not, though at times our DS Frost may be caught admiring a female colleague’s chest. So together with a more contemporary style we may have arrived at a Frost who is a little less harsh, but in retaining just enough of the grubbiness, the cigarettes, the haphazard bumbling, and the all-important bucking of the system (embodied by Superintendent Mullett) we hope the essence of Wingfield’s Jack Frost is still there.
R D Wingfield was no Dashiell Hammett or Ian Fleming (just as, for that matter, I’m no Joe Gores or Jeffery Deaver). In other words he wasn’t a great prose stylist. His use of verbs to carry dialogue was invariably overblown and often idiosyncratic, while his shifting point of view was more inconsistent that omniscient. In fact today his style appears antiquated as opposed to original.
However, where Wingfield really shined, where he outgunned Hammett and Fleming and a host of other notable crime and thriller writers who’ve continued publishing new works long after their deaths, was with his humour, his extraordinarily intricate and compelling plotting and of course his characterisation.
As a co-usurper (because it’s hard to imagine Rodney – though happily not his son Phil – being very pleased with the idea of a couple of hacks taking over the mantle; he hated the TV adaptations after all), the challenge was complicated. Not least because even the humour had dated. Read A Touch Of Frost now and you’ll be taken aback by Frost’s almost incessant sexist jokes and morbidly crass asides.
Yet this was what made Frost such a success. Wingfield was not a man to pander to any notion of the PC world. In part this was to do with the era in which he was brought up and operated, but also and more importantly to do with his understanding of human beings under extreme, testing pressure. Who cares about offending someone of a prissy, post-modern disposition when there are more important issues at stake, like solving a murder?
Staying true to Wingfield’s ethos of and commitment to characterisation, plot and humour were what concerned me, while also bearing in mind a 21st century audience when it came to prose style, narrative perspective and dialogue. By making First Frost a prequel naturally and thankfully afforded us plenty of moral leeway and an excuse to play around with some chunky verbs and adverbs.