Jim Eldridge had a stellar career writing for TV and radio before he turned to World War II and late 19th century historical mysteries which demonstrate all the page-turning immediacy of the TV shows he cut his teeth on.
Hi there, I’m your host Jenny Wheeler. And on this week’s Joys of Binge Reading podcast, Jim talks about growing up on a London bomb site and staying ahead in an ever-changing publishing world.
This week’s Giveaway
Our Giveaway this week is a BookSweeps draw – a Literary, Historical and Book Club Fiction selection. Be into win a library of great books, plus a brand new E reader, worth $300 in total prize value.
Available only for a limited time – the draw closes on November 22.
Before we get to hear from Jim, I wanted to take a moment to issue a huge apology to those of you who may have reached out to me through my website contact forms, either through my book site at www.jennywheeler.biz or the podcast at www.thejoysofbingereading.com
I’ve discovered quite recently to my horror, that emails from those sites have been going into a kind of internet nether land for quite a few months. I don’t really know how long, never to be seen or heard from again. With the help of Toby, our new webmaster we have solved this problem, and I will answer all genuine inquiries as soon as I can, but unfortunately I can’t get any of those historical ones back.
Also another reminder, if you enjoy the show, leave us a review so others will find us too.
Links to things mentioned in this episode:
The Line of Kings (Tower of London):
Girton College, Cambridge: https://www.girton.cam.ac.uk/
Churchill’s War Room:
Down St Station: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Down_Street_tube_station
The House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Saxe-Coburg_and_Gotha
The Blind Beggar pub:
Salvation Army founder, William Booth:
The Kray Brothers:
Dennis May Wilson: https://www.comedy.co.uk/features/comedy_chronicles/dennis-main-wilson/
Georges Simeon: (Maigret author) https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/9693.Georges_Simenon
Ed McBain: (real name Evan Hunter) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evan_Hunter
Peter Davison: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/celebrity/peter_davison
Where to Find Jim online:
Email: Contact form on Jim’s website.
Introducing mystery author Jim Eldridge
But now here’s Jim. Hell, Jim and welcome to the show. It’s great to have you with us.
Jim Eldridge: It’s fantastic to be here Jenny and thank you for inviting me on.
Jenny Wheeler: You’ve had a fascinating varied career with a very large amount of experience in TV before you set about doing your fiction writing with your historical mysteries.
We’re going to be focusing on those historical mysteries and two of your most recent books, Murder at the Tower of London, which is #9 in the Museum Murder series, and Murder at Down Street Station, which is #5 in the World War II mysteries.
Tell me, what made you change from doing TV to writing historical mysteries?
Jim Eldridge: I think actually what happened was I had my first show on in 1971, which is a long time ago. And over the years, things changed at the broadcasting. I wrote for British, Irish, and American television, TV and radio. It’s about almost who you know, and towards the end – I think I did my last script in 2010 and it struck me that the business had changed.
Streaming had come in. When I first started writing for TV over here, (in the UK) there were only three channels. That was it. BBC One, BBC Two, and ITV. So if you had an idea, it was going to go out on that. But now, there are so many streaming channels.
And you need to know who it is who’s taking the decisions. And unfortunately for me, most of my producers had by then retired.
The commissioners I knew had retired, so the whole industry had changed. I was faced with going out and saying to people, I’ve got this idea of what you want me to do.
Writing on the wall – Pivoting to a new career
But by that time, of course, I was in my early 70s. And most of the broadcasters were looking for what they would call “young and diverse” talent. And I really didn’t fit that. The reason I’ve survived so long in this business is because I’ve always been a great one for looking ahead.
Seeing where there’s going to be a problem and then moving into another one. I went from radio to television from comedy to drama and so on and on books as well.
Seeing what’s happening because when you’re dealing with a company, and I’ve written for some of the biggest publishers, you never know when suddenly there’s going to be some kind of main corporate move and suddenly all the previous authors are no longer required.
So that was it. I think I saw what was happening and I thought this is the time to move into books. I’d already had quite a few children’s books written, but that’s what struck me.
Jenny Wheeler: And tell me what did you learn in TV that you brought across your fiction writing?
Jim Eldridge: Very much that rather than coming in and saying, “This is what I want to do,” learning with publishers.
Asking questions like ‘What are you looking for? What is your readership?’ Because if you wanted to write, I’ll use the example of hardcore porn or something. You don’t go for one who does regency romances.
When I had a meeting with my current publishers, first of all, it’s checking their list to see what kind of stuff they did, what was popular on their list.
Then I could go along and meet them and talk to them and really pitch ideas or characters, which is what I did.
I’ve written for lots of other people’s shows. It’s not only the ones I’ve created myself. And if you were there and you had a situation where you wanted to impose your style on a particular series which didn’t fit it, you’d soon get the sack.
I’ve known it happen when I was on one of my own shows as a script editor, and we brought in a writer who we thought was ideal, and it turned out he had his own agenda. And then it can’t go ahead.
A body stuffed into Henry VIII’s armour
Jenny Wheeler: That’s great. Look, Murder at the Tower of London is set on the cusp of the 20th. century It’s 1899 in fact
It opens with a rather gruesome death. It’s really spectacularly graphic – somebody who’s run through the sword and stuffed into. a coat of armor in the Tower of London. Now it seems to me this very graphic opening is very much a TV kind of opening, isn’t it?
Jim Eldridge: You’re absolutely right there, Jenny. I think one of the things I learned as a TV writer, it was pushed on me, open with a big scene that grabs the audience. Because certainly with streaming services, you’ve got so many hundreds of channels. If you don’t grab that audience straight away, they’ll turn on to somebody else or switch it off. Therefore, go for the big opening and then afterwards, you can then tone it down a bit.
Jenny Wheeler: It’s Henry VIII’s suit of armor, which makes it even more spectacular.
Jim Eldridge: Yes. Again, most non British people would know of King Henry VIII. I thought it was most interesting that Henry VIII – The suit of armor he wore changed as he grew bigger, much bigger. The suit of armor that’s on show in the Line of Kings display is actually of a slimmer Henry VIII.
Jenny Wheeler: The Line of Kings is still a thing today and you can actually go and see it. It’s on display at one of the cafes in the Tower of London, isn’t it?
Jim Eldridge: Yeah, that’s absolutely right. And I thought it was most interesting, the idea it is called the Line of Kings.
And although Queen Victoria didn’t have her own armor, Queen Elizabeth the First did and she wore armor when she addressed the English army at the time, of the Armada
But it was only the Line of Kings. So only the males were shown, even though most of them never went to war, actually.
Digging up history’s colourful details
Jenny Wheeler: I love the way you include all those little factoids and you say that, I think it was Charles II that made the ruling that it was only going to be men who were allowed to be in that Line of Kings. Was that right?
Jim Eldridge: Yes. Yeah, It’s on the Restoration. I think there had always been a tendency for some of royalty to think that women should be handmaidens. And the one thing Elizabeth wasn’t was a handmaiden.
Frankly, if you look back on it, the two of the toughest monarchs were Elizabeth and Victoria. and there were some fairly wimpish kings in between.
Jenny Wheeler: Yes. Do you visit most of the sites that you write about?
Jim Eldridge: I do my best to, yes, so consequently, even when I did like Manchester Museum, yes, I’d go to Manchester.
I do like to go there. I like to get the feel of it. Many years ago when I did a book about World War II which included Pearl Harbor, I went to Pearl Harbor and you get that feeling there, being in the place is quite an amazing feeling really.
I like to get the empathy and the ambience of the place and that’s why I work very hard to describe it as much as I can for the readers so they get that feeling of being there.
Jenny Wheeler: It certainly does come through in the writing, and I suppose because I do like history, I was fascinated with many of the historical facts that you brought out. There was another one, for example, for people who are going to be doing a trip to London, you have one of the Salvation Army officers is murdered outside the pub where William Booth preached his first open air sermon.
And I gather that pub even might still be there. Is it still going in London?
Most famous cum notorious London pub
Jim Eldridge: The pub is still there. It’s called The Blind Beggar. And the interesting thing is, the notorious Kray Brothers killed one of their victims in there. So, it is a notorious pub in London history. And I obviously didn’t include that because this is set in 1899, whereas the Kray Brothers are 1960. But The Blind Beggar survived the blitz and the bombing and is still there.
Jenny Wheeler: Fantastic. I noticed the other thing you do in both your series that we’re talking about, you pair unusual couples together for your detectives.
You’ll have one that’s very aristocratic and intellectual and another who’s quite working class. And in this one, the Tower Murder book, you’ve got Daniel Wilson, who’s a former workhouse boy.
He did go on to become a detective senior sergeant, I think, in the end. But his wife, Abilene, is an archaeologist who was one of the first women to study for a degree at Girton College in Cambridge.
She didn’t get given a degree because they wouldn’t let women get the actual degree even when they’d done the course, but she had actually qualified for a degree.
An unlikely pairing. How did you put them together?
Jim Eldridge: Again, I’ve always liked the idea of having two unlikely people in a pair. I’ve done this before as a script writer.
And the question is, how do you get them together in the first place? And once I realized who I needed the two characters to be, who were like chalk and cheese. And then I came up with the idea of the first book in the museum series to be at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.
And Cambridge of course is where Abigail was and she studied at Girton College. And you’re quite right, what’s amazing is at that time, it wasn’t until almost the middle of the 20th century that women were allowed to get degrees over here, although London University was different, but she is an archaeologist.
Abigail one of Girton’s earliest female grads
She did the tripos and all the classics and is now doing the curating of an exhibition at the Fitzwilliam on Egyptian artifacts.
And Daniel is a private investigator who’s called in to investigate the body that’s found in one of the Egyptian tombs and now they’re together and they don’t get on at first and that is the old script writing trick you get two people who at the start are daggers drawn and then gradually respect creeps in and then affection creeps in and then you end up with a pair
You find it on almost every film I can think of, the great romantic films.
Jenny Wheeler: We’ve been talking about this particular book, but a new one in the series, #10 in the series, I think, is coming out in early December. It’s called Museum in the Louvre.
This is maybe the first one in the series that’s set outside of England. Tell us a bit about that one.
Jim Eldridge: Ah, that’s right, yeah. the publishers and I had gone through the most popular museums in the world. It’d be nice to do a really obscure museum, but people in other countries go, ‘I’ve never heard of that,; where the Louvre is one of the most visited. And I thought, this is a great idea.
It’s got one of the best collections of Egyptian artifacts in the world. When Abigail gets a letter from the professor there, inviting her to talk to him about working together on a dig in Egypt, she’s puzzled because this guy has consistently been anti her.
He has gone in press saying, there is no place for women in digs and so on, this kind of stuff, but she wonders, hmm, maybe he’s mellowed, so they decide to go.
Now Daniel has never left England, so they go off to Paris, she has the meeting, but unfortunately at that meeting, and it’s the shock horror thing she goes to the office and finds the professor dead, stabbed through the heart with an Egyptian knife.
Falling foul of French gendarmes
And consequently, om the uproar, she is caught and she’s arrested and taken to the prison in Paris. That leaves Daniel, who has no knowledge of French at all, on his own in Paris, trying to work out how he can get her free because she faces the guillotine. And I just thought…His is interesting because suddenly now, how does he cope?
How, someone with no knowledge can’t speak it, can’t understand it. And that was the basic premise. It really became quite intricate. And I absolutely love that. I’ve been to Paris quite a few times. And I love the Louvre, which has got a fascinating history.
Jenny Wheeler: Murder at Down Street Station, the other series that we’re talking about, is your latest World War II book, and that’s another one, it pairs an aristocrat detective with a wife who’s an up and coming jazz singer. Now tell us about this pair.
Jim Eldridge: Again, before I start writing anything, I have to… and this is a hangover from the days of being a scriptwriter, I mull over who are my lead characters?
Where have they come from? Who are they? And how can they be different without being too obviously different?
And I suddenly had this thought about a guy whose name is Saxe-Coburg. The royal family’s name originally was Saxe- Coburg-Gotha, so he’s alleged to be or thought to be an aristocrat and his brother, his elder brother, is an Earl.
So he is an aristocrat. but he keeps claiming he’s not related to the royal family, but he’s been to Eton.
I have to say I’m more in common with Daniel because I was a working class kid from Camden Town in London, born right in the slums there but I just thought Edgar would have gone to Eton because that’s where they went.
And then the idea of him always been a jazz lover. And the idea of that time of having a jazz singer who travels and they’d met up, makes an interesting pairing, because again, in the same way that Abigail is a strong woman, so is Rose. I’ve always despised the guys who tend to treat women as second-class citizens.
And there certainly was a lot of it as I was growing up, if you can imagine. I like a woman who is strong. And Rose is strong and talented and there is a mutual attraction and it burgeons so once I’ve got those two characters.
Down Street Station – Churchill’s lair
My thinking is if the readership like them, then they will read more about them.
And I think this is the truth about most detectives or characters in books or films. If you like someone you then want to follow their fortune.
Jenny Wheeler: Absolutely, and this one also weaves in some fascinating historical detail. And the Down Street Station, that’s the center of the title of the book, was a temporary safe haven for Churchill at one stage during the course of the Blitz while the proper War Office accommodation was being refitted and made stronger to withstand the bombs.
Jim Eldridge: As you say, Jenny, most people know the Churchill War Room when they come to London or they go there. But before they were in place, they realized it wouldn’t withstand bombing. And so what they did, they looked around and Down Street had been closed previously.
And they had installed the Railway Executive Committee at the very bottom of it because it was safe and they controlled all the railway movements during Britain during the war and it was strengthened and it was deep underground. Therefore, the middle part was given over to Churchill for his War Cabinet and that’s where they were the walls over there. cementing and strengthening the Cabinet War Rooms.
When I discovered this, I thought, this is wonderful. This is again, the real history of London. And because there are so many of these abandoned underground stations, it just presented a lot of prospects.
Jenny Wheeler: Yeah. It’s fabulous. You mentioned in one of your websites that you actually were born during the Blitz, but you were far too young to remember anything about it.
Jim Eldridge: Yeah, I was born, what’s known as, during the Little Blitz. The main blitz was 1940 – 41. I was born in 1944 when one of the V-2 rockets fell and my pram was blown up by one of them.
My older sister, who was 10 years older than me, was taking me out during the day, walking down the local street with my pram, and a V2 blew up a couple of streets away.
These were massive, massive blasts and the blast ripped my pram out of my sister’s hands and raced it down the street and it was on a slope and it carried on careering down there until it hit a pile of bombsite rubble at the end where it turned over.
News of his death greatly exaggerated
My sister ran home to my mother and cried out, “Jim’s dead.” All the neighbors came out and when they lifted the pram, I was fast asleep.
I think it’s one of the reasons why I can sleep through almost anything. Thunderstorms or whatever.
What I therefore remember most are the bomb sites afterwards. And because the area I was born in was in the triangle of Euston, St. Pancras, and King’s Cross stations, it was heavily bombed to try and knock out the railroads.
As a result, all the streets around us, they were flat. It’s like the images you get from Ukraine, it was like that.
And if you ever see old films like Hue and Cry set immediately after the war, that’s what it was like. It was a bomb site. I was lucky to grow up,
Jenny Wheeler: Has there any residual memory that makes this period of the war years somehow extra interesting for you? You were asleep, so you wouldn’t have even remembered anything about it. But I guess that growing up, that landscape of desolation stayed for quite a few years after the war, didn’t it?
Jim Eldridge: Oh, right up to the late middle 50s. It’s about another 10 years before the rebuilding starts, yes.
Basically, as children, our generation, those of us who were in central London, grew up on bomb sites. That was it. There were flattened areas, there were, houses with the fronts hanging off, all this kind of stuff.
And you just got on with it, basically. But also what you did have, of course, is the stories told you by relatives and how they got into the war.
One of my uncles had come home on leave and he’d fought at Alamein and he was with my father and he said to him, ‘this place is more dangerous than Alamein’ because of the bombs coming down, Luckily, if I’d been older, it might have haunted me, but it didn’t. you just got on with it.
A typical writing day for Jim Eldridge
Jenny Wheeler: Yes. Tell us about a typical writing day for you. How does that shape up?
Jim Eldridge: I get up around eight o’clock in the morning, I click on the computer. If I haven’t got any thoughts about what I’m working on, because when I do a book, I’ve got a rough idea of the plot, of what happened, the storyline from the beginning and then where it’s going…
But this changes, so that sometimes, I’ll go through and I think, yeah, that part’s working or that part isn’t working.
And also, I might create a subsidiary character, say a villain or something, or some other character, and they develop a life of their own. And it’s quite interesting because they then create a plot for themselves.
I then have to juggle it around. It’s always changing, which I like very much. And it goes on so some days if I’ve know exactly what I’m doing, I can get straight to it.
Other times I’m not. So, I’ll go out and do some vegetable gardening. Many times I’ve got a problem on a plot bit, or a character bit, and it sits in my brain and sometimes it works itself out at night, overnight.
I wake up in the morning and I’ve got the whole thing worked out and then immediately I get to the word processor. A lot of my work is done in the morning.
Jenny Wheeler: Do you have a aim of certain number of words that you want to do every day
Delivering on time an absolute rule
Jim Eldridge: No, I know what I’ve got to get as the total.
In other words, a book like the ones we talked about, Murder at Down Street I and Murder in the Tower London, are 80,000 words.
I start to get more settled when I’ve done 20, 000 because I know I’m a quarter of the way there and I like to be able to read it and think yeah this is looking solid.
Or sometimes I’m often though thinking myself there’s not enough to keep all this going so I then need to come up with another subplot to create another character or something like that but providing I know when the delivery date is and I will always deliver on that in fact, I deliver ahead of time, but that’s a leftover from script writing.
Coming back to your point, Jenny, because when you’re a script writer, when I was writing situation comedy, you had to deliver a script a week and you’d be going into the studio.
Now, if you didn’t deliver that script, there was no show. So I had to be done and the same thing with everything, especially if you’ve got filming lined up. You’ve got to get it written and so I learned in the early days give myself time so that I can deliver the script and then if there’s any problems, it gives me a couple of days to sort it out.
So I deliver in advance. It is more the fact that if it didn’t work, if I didn’t deliver, I wouldn’t get paid.
And also, people would say, oh, you don’t want to work with Jim Eldridge. He doesn’t deliver on time or he delivers late. There were various stories about, even some really great writers, who had to be locked into a hotel room with a typewriter because they hadn’t delivered yet. And I didn’t want that to happen. I want everything to be and I do, I keep to the same system with books.
Jenny Wheeler: You’ve published 100 books now, you’ve got millions of readers internationally. Do you have a particular goal?
Say. do you do two books a year or three books a year?
When Lord Mountbatten was killed
Jim Eldridge: Again, now, and this is comfortable for me. I’m aiming at two books, two novels a year, two 80,000 word novels a year.
But when I was script writing, I was working, so I would be doing three different TV series all at the same time. And also two radio series. Juggling them all. And it was, the old idea of, working through the night sometimes just to get them all done.
Because don’t forget, no computers then. This is on an old-fashioned typewriter and I remember one particular case it was 1979. The reason I realized this, there was a situation comedy I was doing and I’ve got this situation comedy set in a hairdresser’s where they discovered an unexploded bomb in the wall where the people worked.
And the producer phoned me up on Friday, we were due to record this the following Tuesday and he said, we can’t do this.
Lord Mountbatten has just been blown up. We cannot do a situation comedy with a bomb in it. No one will laugh.
And I thought, oh, and he said it’s Saturday morning now. He said can you deliver me the script tomorrow, Sunday?
And I said, yes, because he needs to get prepared for the Tuesday.
And I was completely stuck. I was stuck during most of that day trying to work it out, because he said you’ve got no more actors. We’ve got all the actors booked. We’ve got all, everything. And that’s it. And basically, I did it on an old fashioned typewriter.
I did it through Saturday night and then got on my mini motorbike and took it over to him on Sunday and delivered it. And that was it. That’s the thing about it has to be delivered and those lessons that I learned, but also it has to be acceptable because you can’t just rush something. But the same thing, if I’m delivering a book to someone, to my publishers, they want to know that it’s good and people will like it.
And if they think it isn’t, they’ll bung it back at me and say, for some reason, this isn’t working. You need to change this, that and the other. And all these things that you have to bear in mind if you’re what I would call a commercial writer rather than an art house writer. James Joyce, what, a book every 10 years or so?
What Jim Eldridge is reading now
Jenny Wheeler: Now that’s good, but I don’t think even today that James Joyce would be able to make a living with a book every 10 years.
Jim Eldridge: No, but I’m quite lucky because don’t forget, as you said, I’ve got an awful lot at the back catalogue and I’ve always made sure I own the rights.
In other words, the old shows. that I’ve got at the moment. I have three old shows going out on BBC Radio 4 Extra. And all the hundred or more books, they’re all slowly earning, not mammoth sums, but they keep me fed.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s wonderful. Jim, as a reader, we always like to ask our authors about their reading tastes. Have you got anything you’d like to recommend to our listeners, and what do you personally like to read?
Jim Eldridge: Personally, I like to read crime fiction, which is one of the reasons why I opted for crime fiction, And yes, my own choices are, I would say, it’s your seminal Maigret series.
I love things I can reread again even though I know ‘who done it.’ For the same reason, Arthur Conan Doyle and Holmes, Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie, and an American writer, Ed McBain who did the 87th Precinct series.
These kind of things, they’re long running series. I suppose you could always call them comfort reading but that’s the kind of stuff I enjoy.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s great, because this show is really about those sorts of books, the books we read for entertainment. And those are all classics, aren’t they? They absolutely are.
Jim Eldridge: They are. there are enough of them for me to know that there’s always another one I can get to. It’s absolutely frustrating if I read the first book by someone and I think this is absolutely brilliant. And then it’s 10 years before the next one comes out.
That’s why I like it. I’m a binge reader.
Looking back down the tunnel of time….
Jenny Wheeler: That’s great. Looking back down the tunnel of time, if there was one thing that you would change about your creative career, what would it be?
Jim Eldridge: That’s a really hard question. Because in a way, it hasn’t been a planned. My career hasn’t been a plan. It’s actually gone from a bit of luck, starting off doing this I did a sitcom – with Arthur Lowe to start with and as a result of that, the BBC said, what else you got?
I came up with the next one because at the time I was a single parent. So I came up with a sitcom about a single parent father and then as you start to get it, people would approach me and say, what have you got for us?
Or would you like to write for such and such this comedian? Or we’re doing this series, would you like to join the writing team and so it went like that.
There’s one or two regrets I’ve got where I’ve said yes. Michael Caine has often said about his acting career, he said yes to everything, he said, and yeah, I made, if anyone’s seen it – Jaws 3. He said, I never have, it’s a terrible film, but I’ve seen the house that it built me, and that’s lovely, So I tend to have that kind of attitude to it.
Sometimes there have been times when I said yes to a show thinking I would absolutely love it and enjoy it and discovered I really didn’t. Either the ego of the star made me think, ‘I’m going to have to run him over or something’ and I’ll take the money and run.
But generally speaking I’ve been very lucky, I’ve enjoyed it all, I’ve worked with some fantastic people, I don’t really have any regrets. It might have changed if something goes badly wrong, that’s when you start to think I shouldn’t have done that.
But I’ve been quite lucky is that most of the stuff that I’ve worked on seems to have done all right.
Jenny Wheeler: That little remark about you’ve worked with some fantastic people. I know it’s very difficult, probably, to pick out some names, but… Are there any names that particularly float to the top of your head that you think, oh, that was just fantastic to be able to work with him or her, just a couple of them?
Great people Jim Eldridge has worked with
Jim Eldridge: Yeah, just one. I don’t know if you know him, Peter Davison. He was in Doctor Who.
And he was in the first series that I did of this one set in a school called King Street Junior. And he was wonderful to work with. Not only was he wonderful, but I’ll give you the example.
I also used to teach and I was teaching at a school for handicapped children and there was a fete being put on and I asked Peter, ‘could you do me a favor? Would you come and open the fete?’
Now, at that time he was doing a TV series, he was doing other stuff, and he only had one day off.
And he said yes. And he wasn’t going to charge for it. Now, I say that because a lot of celebrities, if they open the fete, they charge a lot of money and he came and not only did he open the fete and it threw it with rain down all the day, he walked around, spoke to everyone and everything and I thought, this is one of the nicest people in show business I’ve ever worked with.
He was a sheer pleasure to work with. Yeah. And I worked with a man called Dennis May Wilson, who was my first TV producer. And Dennis May Wilson, again, a lot of people won’t have heard of him, but they might know he Goon Show. He was the man who created that.
Hancock’s Half Hour? He was the first producer of that. Till Death Us Do Part, too. He was amazing. I learned an awful lot from him about comedy. Absolutely brilliant, so those are two, one behind this camera, one in front of the camera.
Jenny Wheeler: One of the areas of your work that we didn’t get to talk about, and we don’t have much time now, but your remarks about both being a teacher and a solo dad show some hint of why children’s books were so important to you. And particularly, it seems to me, children who might have a little bit more difficulty reading.
You did a series for reluctant readers, for example, didn’t you? Just tell us that.
Jim’s passion for helping people to read
Jim Eldridge: I was so delighted to be asked to do that. The reason is, way back in the 70s I was teaching at a school in Luton, in what you could loosely call one of the disadvantaged areas.
And I ended up specializing in the literacy. For example, I had one boy of 9 who couldn’t read, had never read.
And I taught him to read and I thought to myself, if there’s a mission I’ve got is to make sure that no child ever leaves my class unable to read because without that you have nothing and there were some very bright kids and I’ve known some highly intelligent people, adults who were illiterate because they hadn’t learned to read when they were kids.
And so that was the thing and as a result, so when I was offered the chance by Barrington Stoke, who specialise in books for dyslexic children and adults, I was delighted to do those for reluctant readers.
And some of the letters and emails I got that made me happiest was I got one from a woman who wrote to me, she said my son who’s 12 has just read one of your books, she said, He’s never read anything before, she said, and I sit here with tears rolling down my face.
And that is the kind of thing that for me. I’ve won a couple of awards, which is nice, but that means much more to me than anything like that. The idea that someone who couldn’t read can, has now got confidence to read. And so that is the really big thing for me.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s lovely, Jim, and it sounds to me like you’re one of those really lovely people that you say you enjoyed working with. That’s a wonderful story.
Jim Eldridge: That’s my false image of myself. I like to think so, but there you go.
What Jim Eldridge is working on in next year
Jenny Wheeler: I always ask people, what have they got on their desk for the next 12 months? What are you looking at and wanting to get done over the next 12 months?
Jim Eldridge: I’ve got a lot on. I’ve just finished Murder at Lord’s Station which is the latest in that World War II one and I’m working already on the next one, Murder at Whitechapel Road and there’s another couple of books that publishers have asked me to give outlines for which I’ve done the outlines for.
I think I’ve got a busy 12 months ahead. And then here, of course, my vegetable garden, which is very important to me because I don’t get a lot of exercise. So getting out there and deciding which potatoes I’m going to be planting, stuff like that.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s wonderful. You live in Kent, don’t you?
Jim Eldridge: I do, in North Kent.
Jenny Wheeler: Do you enjoy interacting with your readers? I’m sure you do.
How do you do that mostly now?
Jim Eldridge: I don’t do social media and everything, but in the past I would go and do the Chiltern Book Festival, things like that – book festivals, literary festivals, and people would come in and then ask questions and this kind of stuff.
Now, I tend to do most of it by email. People hit my website, and then it goes, contact us. Often it goes like that, although now and then, I’ve recently had someone, I did an old science fiction series years ago, and the journalist contacted me and said, would you like to interview me about it?
He came down to Kent, I don’t travel as much as I used to because, as I approach 80. So that’s why email has been great for me really.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s wonderful. We’ll put your email contact in the show notes for this episode so people will know where to find you. Look, it’s been a delight to talk to you.
Jim Eldridge: Thank you so much for being such a great host. Just allowing me to talk away.
Jenny Wheeler: You do it so naturally, it’s just great to hear. So, thanks a lot.
Jim Eldridge: Thank you very much indeed for today.
If you enjoyed Jim you might also enjoy Lady Sherlock…
Sherry Thomas and her Lady Sherlock mysteries…. What if Sherlock Holmes was a woman? very clever, fast paced and well researched historical fiction from Sherry Thomas…
Sherry Thomas has won accolades for giving Sherlock Holmes a fresh look by taking the famous detective and turning him into Charlotte – a disgraced woman who stays in the shadows and can’t reveal herself.
Next Week on Binge Reading
Empowering feminist historical adventures….set in nineteenth century Australia… uncovering the hidden spirit that’s always been there….
Next week on Binge Reading. Australian best-selling author, Darry Fraser, and her latest empowering feminist fiction, The Milliner of Bendigo, a twisty historical mystery and adventure, and her twelfth historical novel.
Evie has got trouble with the law. Her sister is missing. And she’s conceived a growing attachment to the wrong man.
Evie has a dangerous adventure ahead of her. That’s next week on the Binge Reading podcast.
Once again, a reminder before I go leave us a review. So others will find us too. That’s it for today. See you next time and happy reading.