The old adage is that writers get asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” And the answer is, generally, “Everywhere and nowhere.” There are times, of course, when a writer can pinpoint the moment the idea for a story or book came to them, but writing is a long process, and as time wears on, the writer’s mind is so enswirled with what he or she is doing, the origin of the book begins to be lost in the fog.
I can say this about The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller: It started as a Sherlock story. At this point, I was still writing the story in my head; I hadn’t yet put anything on paper. I was playing scenes through mentally, which is generally how I work—I envision them, stage them so to speak, and then write them down. And then I realized it didn’t work for a Sherlock Holmes story, that what I had in mind was something else entirely.
So I changed the characters, and they sort of flew out at me as if they’d been waiting in the wings the entire time. And once I had them, the story just happened.
Peter’s original name was Stephen. But I liked the title “St. Peter in Chains” so much (that’s the title of the original novella that kicks off the novel), and I felt like it would be weird if he weren’t actually named Peter. So I changed his name, which pleased him a great deal. He never liked being Stephen.
I’d also meant for him to have a love interest with his secretary Miranda, but Peter made it pretty clear early on he was gay. So even as I was writing, my main character was hijacking my story. (If you read the book, you’ll see how unhappy this makes Miranda.)
For influences, I’d name John Le Carré and maybe Tana French. Le Carré because it’s set in the 60s and is about a British spy. Tana French because that’s the tone I was going for, the depth of character. I was at the San Francisco Writers Conference a couple years ago, and after talking to editors at big publishers, I was told my book is “upmarket espionage.” It’s not a bang-em-up, and I do worry about that a bit. These days, with short attention spans and the constant need for stimulation, I sometimes fear there is no place in the world for quieter, more thoughtful books (or movies).
I was once told by a tarot reader that, when a writer has a story or character that comes to them so fully, it’s sometimes a way of remembering a past life. And I thought that was interesting. Was I a gay British spy in a past life? I don’t know, can’t even say how much I believe in that kind of thing, though it’s certainly an interesting idea. Peter did come on strong as a character, and I have a deep connection to him. But many authors can say that of their creations. And if you write contemporary fiction, I’m not sure how this would work.
Still, there’s something interesting in the notion that maybe, just maybe, I was trying to make a better ending for a past me by writing this book.
M Pepper Langlinais is best known for her Sherlock Holmes stories. She is also an award-winning screenwriter and produced playwright. Her novel The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller will be released by Tirgearr Publishing in January 2016. You can pre-order it at a discount at the following sites: