Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Author Interview: Dr. John Yeoman of The Cunning Man


Looking for clever, fast-paced historical mysteries? Here you’ll discover seven ‘impossible’ crimes, locked room puzzles, passion and riddles galore. Enjoy these lusty crime stories set in Elizabethan England where a ‘cunning man’, Hippo Yeoman, must solve devilish cases to save his friends’ lives, or even his own.

This anthology of short historical mystery stories is a world ‘first’. It’s not only a joy to read in its own right, but it’s also a ‘fictorial': a collection of crime thrillers packed with clever but unobtrusive tips that show you precisely how they were written, to help you write your own stories! They will appeal equally to avid readers of historical crime and students of creative writing who want to enhance their story or novel writing skills, in any genre.

Can you find the culprit before Hippo does? Challenge your own detective skills, enjoy a thundering good read in settings that are wholly authentic to 16th century London, and discover – while you read – how to write a great story!



1. What do the letters after your name stand for? MA Oxon, MA (Res), MPhil, PhD, FSRS.

Master of Arts, Oxford University; MA by Research; Master of Philosophy (a sort of mini-PhD), Doctor of Philosophy; Founder the Society for the Rehabilitation of the Semi-Colon. (All my qualifications, apart from the last one, are real.)

2. From where did the idea for 'fictorials' come?

I developed the ‘fictorial’ approach, plus an interest in historical fiction, in 2001 when I self-published Gardening Secrets That Time Forgot. It was a how-to gardening manual disguised as a novel. (Yes, it was very odd!) In every chapter I had my 15th century gardener stumble on a clever new gardening idea which the ‘editor’ solemnly explained in a footnote so the modern reader could use it in their own garden.

I sold the book through ads in gardening magazines and netted around $130,000. I knew I was onto something with the ‘fictorial’ approach but I lost interest in gardening and didn’t apply the idea to fiction again until this year, with The Cunning Man.

3. What is a witchcraft cabaret?

In my twenties, I chanced upon a professional witch (don't ask me how) who was touting his coven around night clubs. They'd re-enact a spooky witchcraft cabaret, very louche but low on authenticity, for just a few groats. I was newly down from Oxford, a would-be entrepreneur, so I hired the cellar of the Phoenix pub in Cavendish Square, London, and ran a classified ad in Time Out Magazine. Just two lines pulled in over 200 people. I was too busy at the door to see the show, alas, but at one point a naked girl ran through the lobby, howling. And I prayed it was part of the act.

4. One of the stories in The Cunning Man mentions him polishing glass containers with his beard?

Yes, the cover shows a youthful Hippo Yeoman with a short beard. He grew his beard down to his waist later to appear wise and attract bigger fees. Alas, it didn't work. In my stories, he is perennially poor.

5. Are the books in which Hippo appears a series of sorts?

Yes. I have four Hippo books up at Amazon: Fear Of Evil, Dream Of Darkness, an anthology The Cunning Man and a single long story The Hog Lane Murders.

6. If you could live at any time throughout history, when would it be and why?

It would have to be today, because medical science was almost non-existent before the 20th century. (Up until the 19th century, as many as 10% of people died from tooth infections. If you lived in London, you were unlikely to survive beyond your 40th year.) But if I had to choose an historic era, it would be Dr Johnson's London. Ale, ribaldry and coffee house gossip had their heyday. It was my kind of place.

7. If you could invite any writer from history to your house for supper, who would it be and what would be on the menu?

Dr Samuel Johnson. The menu would consist of a large bowl of punch and Johnson's irritating scribe, Boswell, would be locked away in the outhouse.

8. Do you ever speak at children's schools and what do (or would) you say?

No, I don't, but if I did I'd say: write for fun. And don't let anyone ever tell you that your stories are no good. After all, what do they know?

9. What is a morris dance?

This is a traditional English entertainment - still performed at pubs - in which a group of half-drunken men (and occasionally women) leap about very dangerously waving sticks, swords and handkerchiefs, to the sound of fiddles, drums and concertinas. The name goes back to the 15th century and is supposedly derived from 'Moorish dance', although it may have originated in Cornwall. Tourists visiting an English pub are strongly discouraged from taking part as their travel insurance does not cover the inevitable accidents.

10. What place in the world have you never visited, but would most like to?

Sybil's Club in Paris in 1893. It was the haunt of princes and poets, rogues and millionaires (but I repeat myself). It is the venue for my next novels in which Hippo's great grandson, much removed, is hired to discover who murdered the city's literary agents. He accepts the contract for one reason only: so he can shake the killer's hand.


Thank you, Dr. Yeoman for giving my readers a little more insight into your life and works!

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