Thursday, October 2, 2014

TWEED FOR SPANDEX: THE BRITISH SUPERHERO: I.A. WATSON offers excuses for his latest novel

The Brits do superheroes differently.

It’s a cultural thing. If an American gets bitten by a radioactive spider then he’ll dress up in bright spandex, develop a secret identity, possibly get hunted by a mistrustful government, and punch people through walls. If a Briton gets bitten, and assuming he doesn’t turn into a ravening monster lurking in the shadows of society preying on the weak, he is more likely to end up working for a secret government agency assisted by an eccentric professor and a plucky sidekick, or else as a crumpled trench coated outcast thumbing his nose at society. Far less masks and body-hugging
costumes, rather more saying “bollocks”.

The British superhero tradition traces it pedigree back to Dan Dare and his generation, and to heroes who used gadgets or remarkable vehicles as their special advantage. When Americans create a British superhero he’s a mansion-dwelling Union Flag-wearing equivalent of Captain America. When Brits create one he travels round in a police public call box and sometimes wears a really long scarf or a bow-tie. All of which is a really long-winded preamble to introducing Sir Mumphrey Wilton.

A year or two back when I was talking with Pro Se supremo Tommy Hancock he wondered why I hadn’t evolved any “signature” characters. After twenty-plus publications in print into my time as an author, most of my work had been on legendary and public domain characters – the Robin Hood series, Sinbad, airman detective Richard Knight, Africa merc Armless O’Neil – or on other folks’ creations like Blackthorn and Gideon Cain. There’s a list at

“People keep asking em to write things,” I excused myself. “I don’t like to say no.” It goes back to school, I think, where it was drilled into me that every educated person should be able to write a decent essay on any set subject.

But what did I want to write?

On any list of literary influences I’ve ever prepared, Stan Lee of Marvel Comics fame looms large. I discovered his Fantastic Four, Avengers, Spider-Man etc. at exactly the right age for them to forever impact on how I think; and how I think a story should go. So what I wanted to write should be steeped in Lee, and Kirby, and Ditko, and all the rest of those extraordinary talents that gave us 1960s comics.

But... I’m British. Therefore out with the lycra and in with the tweed. Less utility belts, more pocketwatches. Overlay any melodrama with stiff upper lip. Bad behaviour from the ungodly is no reason for a proper hero to be unsporting, what?

Sir Mumphrey Wilton coalesced over many years from several sources: from Simon Templar’s distinctive parlance in Leslie Charteris’ earliest Saint books; from Dr Who’s unorthodox methods of dominating a room of vile monsters by sheer force of personality; from all those intrepid imperial colonialists in politically-incorrect boys stories of the 1900s; from student roleplaying and fansite drafts; from a general desire to see what happened if John Steed got cast instead of Indiana Jones in Temple of Doom.

Like all characters that come alive in an author’s mind, somehow Mumphrey demanded what the world in which he adventured must be. He needed a great conflict as his backdrop, and surely there is no such sweeping panorama as World War II? He needed a vibrant female companion who could stand her own against him. He needed grotesque villains worthy of being smitten in the name of decency. He needed a super-power, but let’s keep that in the spoiler zone.

Most of all, it became clear that Sir Mumphrey insisted on being a Saturday matinee hero, leaping from one cliffhanger to the next, occasionally blurring into a black and white map with dotted travel lines on it before a new caption appears to read “Hong Kong: Three Days before the Japanese Invasion” or whatever.

And so it was.

So, SIR MUMPHREY WILTON AND THE LOST CITY OF MYSTERY is what happens when an editor doesn’t give me a suitably restrictive brief. It’s what happens when the secret origin happens to someone who is perhaps not a typical square-jawed hero. It’s about a very British superhero.

Jolly good show.

I.A. Watson

Saturday matinee cliffhanger adventure meets weird science

Out 7th OCTOBER 2014 from CHILLWATER PRESS in print and kindle

ISBN-13: 978-1502438485 ISBN-10: 1502438488

Available at and on Amazon Kindle

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