Richard Osman: ‘I’ll never be a James Joyce, but my job is to entertain people’

Two years after releasing his debut ‘crimedy’ novel, The Thursday Murder Club, Richard Osman returns with the third installment in the series, The Bullet That Missed.

hings have moved quickly for Osman: the fourth book in the Thursday Murder Club series that has just been written; Penguin are, not surprisingly, trying to sign Osman for four more books.

He says: “Look, I’m a TV producer, and I mean, I know that you’ve got to keep people on board and keep them entertained. One a year is the minimum I’d like to. As much as I’d love a break, it’ll be one book a year for the foreseeable future.”

Osman notes that the success of the books has “invigorated” him creatively, and given the series’ sales figures, it’s safe to say he is pretty invigorated.

Within a year, Osman’s debut novel had sold over one million copies in the UK; the second book, The Man Who Died Twice, became the fastest-selling book of all time, selling 114,202 copies in the UK within the first three days of release. Stats-wise, he is already up there with the likes of JK Rowling and Dan Brown. But what does he make of the sales figures?

“That’s a good question. I like them, that’s for sure,” he says. “Unlike some other authors, I love the selling process. I enjoy the pursuit of those numbers.

“I enjoy looking at the charts. But that’s something I’ve always loved doing — I loved looking at TV ratings. But behind it all, it’s a privilege, and I’m aware that each of those numbers means there’s an individual person simply enjoying the book.

“And that’s a lovely thought.”

Growing up in a single family household in Brighton, Osman put the hard yards in early as a writer at various sports and music magazines, including, most notably, a stint at the NME when he was 15 (this was the mid-80s, and a good decade before Osman’s older brother Mat came to prominence as a member of indie royalty Suede).

While still at school, Osman gained broadcasting experience as a contributor on Turn It Upan open-access show on BBC Radio Sussex known for launching the careers of Jo Whiley and journalist Jane Hill.

Later, working in TV, he devised a number of quiz show formats and worked on shows like Deal Or no Deal, Total Wipeout, 8 Out of 10 Cats and Pointlessthe latter of which he famously presented.


Richard Osman presenting The House of Games

Given the successful pivot into fiction, I wonder if such staggering book sales figures have changed his life in any material way. Is he driving a flashier car or eating in more upscale restaurants?

“Well, I came from a very low-income family, and I had quite a long career in television. It was never my life’s ambition to make money, but the truth is, I did achieve that in TV,” he notes.

“That was the bit in my life where I thought, ‘I’ve achieved everything I ever wanted to achieve. I’ve made more money than I could ever imagine’. I feel the books definitely put me in a different sphere, but materially, I’m not interested in flashy cars. If someone’s just given me 50 grand, I don’t feel the need to go buy a Maserati.”

Why does Osman think the Thursday Murder Club is as popular as it is? Is it a quirk of timing; a culture in which we need feelgood, charming literature with genuinely nice characters more than ever?

“I think they’re entertaining, and entertaining is often a word that authors don’t use,” Osman says of the books.

“And I’m never going to be James Joyce. My job is to entertain people and write something they might pick up and can’t put down and at the end of it they think, ‘that’s better than I thought it was going to be’. It’s in a classic genre — we are very at home with Agatha Christie-type things — and at the heart of it, secretly we all love gangs, from the Famous Five to the A-Team. But I can’t really look under the bonnet too much, I just have to sit down and write the next book. The only formula is write the book you love and hope that other people agree with you.”

The Thursday Murder Club’s ever-growing fanbase has been waiting (albeit not overly long), to find out what happened with Elizabeth, Joyce, Ron and Ibrahim, the elderly residents of a luxury retirement community who fight crime. Osman has slightly raised the stakes for all involved, including the gang’s ostensible leader Elizabeth, who is visited from a ghost of the past as she deals with a personal crisis of her own.

Also in the sleuthing mix this time is a cryptocurrency launderer, a member of the Leningrad KGD, a regional news anchor, a make-up artist and a Polish construction worker. It’s quite the gear change.

“The events of the first book mean that the events of the second book are inevitable and the events of the second book mean that events in this one are inevitable,” he explains. “So it does get bigger and bigger, like a snowball running down a hill.”


The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman

Amid the book’s high drama quotient, Osman writes with great poignancy about dementia, as experienced by Elizabeth’s husband Stephen. The author has a level of experience to draw on after his grandfather was diagnosed with the same condition.

“I love writing about older people. People love reading about them as being these heroes that are overlooked and overestimated but I also have to write the truth about what it is to be older,” Osman notes. “It’s just the cruellest illness, and I wanted to show Stephen, just a gorgeous, delightful character, really struggle with it.”

Elsewhere, Osman’s characters find themselves walking onto a quiz show set — a moment where Osman decided to simply write what he knew.

“That was a real treat for me, taking Joyce and Elizabeth to my former place of work,” Osman smiles.

At Christmas 2020, Osman announced that he was leaving TV giants Endemol after 20 years as creative director.

In April of this year, he left his role as the master of ceremonies Pointless, Ever since, his name has been attached to any number of other quiz shows; including most recently, University Challenge(broadcaster Amol Rajan was eventually named as its new host).

“When one of those big [presenting gigs] comes up, there’s always some speculation that’s just fun, and I supposed my name will be on the list because I’ve just left one [quiz],” Osman notes. ,University Challenge, I’d have loved it, and that’s the truth. I think it would be a fun one, but not now, because I’ve just given a show up.

“Right now, I don’t have any ambitions to host anyone else’s show. Maybe in five years, I’ll want to again.”

The quiz show realm’s loss has very much been the writing world’s gain, and Osman hasn’t lost the drive or that propelled his TV career. In addition to working on the Thursday Murder Club series, the screen adaptation is very much in train. Stephen Spielberg famously snapped up the book rights, and Mamma Mia! director Ol Parker is mooted to direct.

The cast remains a secret, although fans have put Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, Julie Walters and Diane Keaton on their collective wishlist.

“It’s going as quickly as films ever do, which is very slowly,” Osman reveals.

“It looks like they’ll start filming next year, which would be lovely. I’m not involved, but I do want to get to the premiere, mainly just to see what they’ve done with my baby.”

Osman has also just begun a scripted TV project with Netflix that is “really good fun”.

“It’s not going to take my eye off the day job, which is writing books.

“Everything else has to fit around that,” he explains. “But I’ve always had five or six projects on the go at all times, and having your eggs in any one basket at any one time is sort of ridiculous.”

Given such healthy book sales, is Netflix happy to just let Richard Osman do his thing and simply sign the checks, no questions asked?

“Actually, that would be a nightmare to me,” he says.

“The one thing I always want to do is earn my money. The idea of ​​someone going ‘do whatever you want’ — that would be a disaster.

“You’ve got to keep striving. If I go to Netflix, I want to pitch something to them and they’ll say ‘we’ve not heard that idea before’, not ‘what do you want to do?’ My name can get me through the door into a meeting for sure, but then you’ve got to hit them with something great. But then, that’s been my whole career.”

The Bullet That Missed, Viking, £20,
is available now

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