The Crime Readers' Association

How I drew my own cartoons – and why it gave me the idea for a cozy mystery, by Peter Bartram

18th September 2017

Sometimes it’s really hard to trace where the idea for a book first originated. But here’s one example. I went to a school which first opened its doors to pupils in 1614 – two years before Shakespeare died and six years before the Pilgrim Fathers landed in America. Some of our lessons were held in the original Jacobean building – vast blackened timber beams and tiny mullioned windows so high up you couldn’t see out of them.


One of the rooms was called Big School. It was a long gloomy chamber. It would’ve been great as the setting for one of those murder mysteries where the suspects are assembled in the same room and the killer is fingered. The place had a raised dais at one end for the teacher. But if you were sitting up the back, you were well out of his view. During a dull lesson we’d entertain ourselves by drawing simple moving cartoons in the margins of our exercise books. It’s easy. You start at the back of the book by sketching your background. A road disappearing into the distance was a favourite. You’d draw the same background on every page from the back to the front of the book.


Then you’d put in a moving figure or object. You’d draw a car as a dot in the background and getting larger as it moved forward on the other pages. When you’d finished, you could flick the pages from back to front and watch the car speed towards you. A simple pleasure which relieved the tedium of trying to figure out what cosines were all about.


What we didn’t realise was that an American had already invented a machine which flicked whole pictures – in his case a series of still photographs – to create the image of a moving scene. The man was called Herman Casler and he named his machine a “mutoscope”. In Britain, they became notorious as What the Butler Saw machines. They were often installed on seaside piers and showed short films of nude women. Ahem!


Now, where was I? Ah, yes, how did this lead up to the idea for a book? Well, memories of those flick-book cartoons reminded me about the What the Butler Saw machines on Brighton’s Palace Pier. And then I thought: what if someone stole a film from one of those machines? Why would they do it and what would happen? I had the starting point for the plot of Stop Press Murder, the second in my series of Crampton of the Chronicle comic cozy mysteries. The e-book version is on special offer (99p/99c) on Amazon and some other e-book providers until the end of September.



Photos Click thumbnails to enlarge

Go back to Blog

Join the CRA

Joining the CRA is FREE. There are no lengthy forms to fill out and we need nothing but your email. You will receive a regular newsletter but no spam.