Trevor: What is the story behind "Murder Mysteries"?
Neil: It began with the image of an angel dead on the sidewalk, with blood everywhere. Then I decided that if, as it seemed, it was a murder mystery, it would need a detective. I liked the idea of putting Los Angeles in - when I thought of the story I was going to call it "City Of Angels", although someone shortly thereafter called a stage play that. I wrote it to find out whodunit and why. It seemed to follow the strict rules of detective fiction even down to assembling all the suspects in the library at the end, and the revelation that the murderer was still not the real person behind the murder.
Trevor: As the title suggests there are several mysteries about various murders hidden in the play. How many murders are there in total?
Neil: Four obvious ones.
Trevor: Are the attributes of the angel characters (such as Raguel) based on historical accounts?
Neil: Carasel is imaginary - and a bad pun. I'm pretty sure - it's been over a decade since I wrote the story - that everyone else is a real angel, although I can't find Zephkiel in my "Davidson's Dictionary Of Angels" - but then I didn't have that when I wrote the book and was using other sources. Raguel is, in the book of Enoch, one of the seven archangels and he "takes vengeance on the world of luminaries" - interpreted to mean that he brings other angels to account. Phanuel is a senior archangel "of the presence" and angel of penance.
Trevor: Who is your favourite character in the play?
Neil: Tink's friend Dorothy, I think.
Trevor: So, this is the third incarnation of "Murder Mysteries", then? First as a story in your anthology "Angels and Visitations", then as a SciFi.com Seeing Ear Theatre radio program, then as a play based on the radio program. How hard is it to see your work adapted into a radio play?
Neil: Well, the way that it worked was very easy. Brian Smith took the original story and typed it out in script form. Then he sent it off to me. I saw a lot of places where it needed work - rewriting, expanding, et cetera so I expanded it to make it work and enjoyed myself tremendously. There were some more tiny rewrites when it came to the rehearsal and after that we had a script. I'd love to think that people in the future would gather in theatres, at conventions, and in darkened rooms, and read it out to each other.
Trevor: You worked on another radio play with Dave McKean based on "Signal to Noise" and chose Brian Smith (another huge radio play fan) to write the introduction for "Murder Mysteries". Being an advocate (it seems) of the format, what do you find intriguing about radio plays as opposed to television, theatre, or books?
Neil: Well, Brian was the director of the SciFi.com Seeing Ear Theatre "Murder Mysteries", so he was the perfect person to do the intro. I think radio plays are my favourite medium, as they make the listener work and create and contribute in a way that TV and film can never do, and they have an immediacy that written prose often lacks. In early January (2001) Brian and I worked together again - this time with Bebe Neuwirth in Snow, Glass, Apples and we did it in a day. If it had been film it would have been a month's work.....and I love that, too.
Trevor: Did you have a favourite radio drama growing up?
Neil: I remember listening to some of the BBC radio Angela Carter plays, particularly her "Puss In Boots" ones. I remember the joy (I was 19 so it wasn't growing up but still…) of the original "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" broadcasts; and just tuning into the world service at 2:00 am and listening to strange and heartbreaking dramas which might at the end turn out to have been Ibsen or Shaw (oh my damn head's going - the guy who wrote Unman, Wittering and Zigo) or Angela Carter. I never cease to be amazed at how backward the US is in audio drama: as if all US theatre drama still used the conventions of gaslight theatres. These strange clumping organ chords and so on that people still use when they make radio drama today (NOT, I should add here, Brian Smith) you play them something like "Signal To Noise" and they simply didn't know that things could sound like that.
Trevor: So, with the love of the format, would you write another radio play?
Neil: I just did. SNOW, GLASS, APPLES, starring Bebe Neuwirth as the queen, will be broadcast by the SciFi.com "Seeing Ear Theatre" real soon now.....I think it's better than "Murder Mysteries", but when it's a toss up between two Tony-Award winning actors one is spoiled for choice.
Trevor: Now, onto the script form of the work: this book was published by a small press (Biting Dog Press) and most of the work was generated by hand. What motivated you to want to have your work printed in a limited edition with hand printed artwork?
Neil: They got in touch with me and asked really nicely. They had wanted to simply do "Murder Mysteries". I suggested the script as nobody had seen it, rather than having a lovely edition of a story that had seen print, um, about five times already. I was very impressed with the samples of work they had done that they sent, and I gave the project my blessing.
Trevor: Do you see a parallel between the small press/limited edition book and the radio play? They are both sort of a lost art form.
Neil: Not really - but there may be a parallel between woodcuts and radio; radio plays are a living art form everywhere except the USA.