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Tuesday, 4 October 2011

To mark the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Dickens in 2012

Sir David Madden renders homage to the great author by creating an ending to The Mystery of Edwin Drood faithful to Dickens' style.
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Sir David Madden, former member of HM Diplomatic Service, has used his credentials having written in an official capacity all his career to complete the work of the great master, Charles Dickens. 

Drood has previously been shown in a handful of films, and was incomplete when Dickens' suffered a stroke and died the following day. Sir David Madden has brought The Mystery of Edwin Drood to life in a way that I think Charles Dickens' would approve.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood, though named after the character in the book, focuses on Drood's uncle, John Jasper, who is in love with his pupil, Rosa Bud. Bud is Drood's fianc√©e who has also caught the eye of the hot-tempered Neville Landless. Landless and Drood take an instant dislike to one another. Drood later disappears under mysterious circumstances. A whodunit, or a tragic romance? I’ve yet to find out. And you can bet this book is on my reading list!
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Interview with Sir David Madden:
What inspired you to write, or rather finish, The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens?
I have always been interested in books and literary games such as Ex Libris, where you write first and last lines for novels. Then, after retirement, I started writing fiction, but based on existing literary characters or indeed real people; and realised that I had some abilities at ventriloquism. It was actually my sister-in-law who suggested I might have a go at Drood. I was immediately attracted, not least because I love Dickens’ novels, and had studied “Our Mutual Friend” quite carefully for A Level – admittedly some time ago!  

Did you have to get special permission?
No. Dickens is out of copyright, and the text of Edwin Drood is available in the splendid Project Gutenberg.

Have you finished it using his methods/notes or have you recreated an entirely different ending to the story?
Dickens left no notes for the second half of the book. There is some contemporary testimony from close friends and family, which may or may not be accurate on the detail: Dickens tended to play his cards close to his chest. So the main clues are to be found in the finished half of the book. Using these, I have tried to create something which is true to what can be divined of Dickens’ intentions. As for methods, I have attempted to reflect the structure, style and fabric of the first part; for example the shifts in tenses between the chapters.

How hard was that to stay on course and write in his style?
Using the approach I adopted to completing Drood, it was essential to try to keep as close as possible to the style in which Dickens wrote the first part. So that was in my mind all the time as I wrote: how would Dickens have written a passage, how would he have enlivened descriptions and incidents, what images or similes would he have employed, what words would he have used? So it was the starting-point for all I did, and seemed quite natural. 

Some would say “who are you to attempt such a project” what would you say to that?
It’s a fair question. But I am not pretending to be a genius like Dickens, or even an expert on him: or to claim any unique role. My project was straight-forward, and to an extent limited: to write the second half of a book which Dickens died while writing in 1870, and to do so in a manner and style which seemed true to his intentions.  I see it as a tribute to Dickens, and to the hold he still has over our hearts and imaginations.   

Have you, or would you consider ghost writing as a career?
I spent the main part of my career working as a diplomat, a public servant. This involved putting across messages on behalf of the governments of the day. It also involved sending  reports back to Whitehall from Embassies abroad which would allow people at home to understand what was happening in the country where one was posted. This was not quite “ghost-writing”, but it certainly required finding the words and arguments which would resonate abroad, and convince at home.  

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Yes, because I love books and writing. Being a diplomat satisfied my wish to use words in a cause which mattered. So it was probably inevitable that I should try my hand at writing. And, having always had to write officially and as factually as possible, it was probably also inevitable that it was fiction which would attract me. But in this first published attempt, I have relied on Dickens to supply all the characters but three.

Have you attempted to write anything else?
I have written Iago’s Diary, which is an attempt to look at the events in Shakespeare’s “Othello” from Iago’s point of view, and answer some of the puzzles in Shakespeare’s text. Who was Iago’s confidant as he plotted? How did he work out his plan? How was he word perfect in the great temptation scene? To whom did he boast as he wove his web? Who was his accomplice as his villainy deepened? Why was he addicted to soliloquy?  Of course, he kept a secret diary: this is it. And it is still secret, since it is not yet published.     

How many unpublished books do you have lurking under your bed?
Alongside Iago’s Diary lurks “Death in Florence”, a novel about the Pazzi Conspiracy and the attempt to murder Lorenzo de Medici in 1478. The latter at least needs dusting off and further work.

How did you find Unthank Books?
Advised by all that the first step was to find an agent, I finally discovered Robin Jones: who subsequently, with Dan Nyman and others, set up Unthank Books, who decided to publish my novel.

How do your juggle a writing schedule?
It helps that I am retired. I still do quite a lot of work, especially on animal charities as Trustee and consultant; but much of my work can be done from home, which makes it easier to combine with other activities.

What's the best/worst part of being a writer?
So far I only know the best, which is the writing. Perhaps I am about to discover the worst: who knows?

What is the most productive time of the day for you to write?
The morning has always proved the best and most productive time for writing. When I was working in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, I valued the early morning coach journey from Oxford, and even more the walk across St James’ Park, to get papers read, and my mind working, arriving at the office all ready for the day. I still find the morning best: now with a CD playing in the background to provide the right accompaniment, and probably a cat snoozing on a rug.  

Do you start your projects writing with paper and pen or is it all on the computer?
I now tend to write almost entirely on the computer: though occasionally I find that it helps to set out a basic plan on a piece of paper to assist composition; and, when I am writing, I am frequently making scribbles in a notebook when away from the computer.

What/who do you draw inspiration from?

From other writers: the classic writers of fiction, but also many others. I read quite widely, including non-fiction, eg recently rereading Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”, and rely on reviews eg in The Literary Review, TLS and London Review to keep me up-to-date, informed about further reading and topped-up with ideas, images and quotations.

Do you set yourself goals when you sit down to write such as word count?
No. I do not think that I am very professional in that respect. Perhaps that is an advantage of being retired. But, when writing Drood, I found very few occasions when I could not write what I wished.

Are you a published or a self-published author and how do you come up with your cover art?
Published. The cover art on Drood was provided by the excellent Ian Nettleton of Unthank. We all contributed suggestions, and comments; but his was the essential hand which was able to transfer these into design.

What are you working on now that you can talk about?
The priority is to get Drood launched, and make the most of this opportunity, with Author’s Events and so on. The fact that it is the bicentary of Dickens’ birth next year may help generate interest. I hope so. Thereafter, it may not be all that long before I reach under the bed for Iago’s Diary. But first things first.

How do/did you deal with rejection letter?
I think that Robin and I were both puzzled by the letters which came back from publishers saying, broadly speaking, it’s good, but we are not publishing it, with no further explanation. But I am very lucky: Robin decided to publish it himself, with the full agreement of the other members of the Unthank team – to whom I am very grateful.

Sir David Madden was a member of HM Diplomatic Service for 34 years (including early postings in Berlin and Moscow); and retired in 2004 after serving successively as British High Commissioner in Cyprus and British Ambassador in Greece. He was then Political Adviser to the EU Peace-Keeping Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina, before returning home to Oxford.

In addition to writing, he does a little lecturing and much animal welfare: he is a consultant to the World Society for the Protection of Animals, working on the Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare; a Trustee both of The Brooke Hospital for Animals and of Compassion in World Farming; and a patron of the Voice for Ethical Research in Oxford. Sir David is married with three grown-up children.  


  1. 'It's good but we're not publishing it' seems a fairly standard response from publishers at the moment!

  2. lol yes, I've had many a letter with that statement.

  3. He didn't leave a lot of notes for the second half but he did reveal the name of the killer in a letter to a friend.
    Would love to read this completion. After living in Rochester, as Dickens once did, (Cloisterham of Drood) I used certain elements of the Mystery of ED in a contemporary thriller.
    Rupert Holmes wrote a musical with an ending where every single character could have done the deed. Ran on Broadway.
    And roll on the BBC version too!

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