This month I’m chatting to local author Philip Cumberland. As one of the founding members of a local writing group, Phil reached out to me several years ago to ask if I’d be interested in reviewing a book the group had put together called Where the Wild Winds Blow: an eclectic mix of fact and fiction, featuring short stories, poems, and memoirs, contributed by the various members of the Whittlesey Wordsmiths. Honoured, I said I’d love to. Since then, Philip has released his own debut novel, Killing Time in Cambridge, which was also my choice for this month’s book review.
Welcome Phil, thanks for being my guest. Can you tell everyone a bit about yourself?
Thank you for inviting me, Eva.
I grew up in Huntingdon and have lived in Cambridgeshire all my life, the last thirty-five years in Whittlesey.
I was originally a motor mechanic, then an engine tester. During the thirty years before I retired, I was a metalworker, with my own business.
Have you always wanted to be a writer, and if so, what writers have inspired you?
I suppose off and on I have always wanted to write but couldn’t find the time until I retired.
I read sporadically. After leaving school at fifteen I finished reading the recommended books for O level English, of them, Catcher in the Rye made the biggest impression. My reading is mainly crime fiction and espionage thrillers. I read some science fiction and of course humour.
Favourite authors include Peter Lovesey, Isaac Asimov, P D James, John le Carre, Len Deighton, and Douglas Adams. I also enjoy some more local authors among them Alison Bruce, Tony Forder, and yourself.
My favourite author of all is Raymond Chandler, he paints wonderful pictures with his words, capturing perfectly for me the time, place and characters that inhabit the pages of his books. Chandler’s dialogue is brilliant, it is said Billy Wilder had him write the dialogue for Double Indemnity, he thought there was no one better for the job.
Your debut novel, Killing Time in Cambridge, is, I would argue, a good old whodunnit featuring a mix of light-hearted whimsey and dark humour, and includes, rather unexpectedly, time travel and AI. When did the idea for this story come to you and how important was it to keep the setting real and local?
I am pleased you liked it, Eva. As you know, if people enjoy your writing that is a real joy.
I started writing Killing Time in Cambridge in 2010, while still working full time, its original title was Bernard the Twelvicator. The pressure of work forced me to put the book on hold until I retired in 2016.
I used to drive a lot and part of my mind would go walkabout while driving, designing new products for the business and on this one occasion thinking about computer processors. Before I knew and I suspect most people knew of Quantum processors a processor could only be in two states, on or off. I speculated that if a processor was able to be in twelve different states at the same time, it could be capable of things beyond our imagination.
I enjoy Cambridge and the fens. Fenland sunrises and sunsets painted over the vast canvass of a 360-degree sky have always filled me with awe, I think I am digressing, not many people know I do that.
It was important to me that I kept the story local it gave me the excuse to wander around Cambridge for research, sometimes my brother-in-law would accompany me travelling on the guided bus from St Ives, other times I went alone.
I feel comfortable in the territory of my book and have a great affection for the area it inhabits. I had worked in Ely and used the area known to me in the story. Heacham and Hunstanton are for most of us living locally familiar holiday destinations, myself included.
And finally, my favourite question! For anyone thinking of becoming a writer, what advice would you offer?
If you have a story to tell and imagination or see the world differently, share it, other people may like the things you see. Remember you are your first reader, if your writing captivates you, entertains you and makes you laugh or cry it will do the same for other people. Not everyone but those who enjoy the same things you do, and that is a lot of people.
If you need support, encouragement, and help, join a writing group, Whittlesey Wordsmiths have helped me enormously.