Simon Brett, Mystery, And Drama

Book cover from The Body on the Beach by Simon Brett
Berkley Publishing
Simon Brett is once of the most prolific mystery authors in the business. At age 54, he has written more than 50 books, and more than half of them are mysteries, reports CBS News Correspondent Anthony Mason for CBS News Sunday Morning.

Brett also has written children's books, stage plays, radio sitcoms, and he even created and hosted Foul Play, a whodunit game show for BBC radio.

Brett began his career in radio, producing comedy programs for the BBC. But by the winter of 1980, the young Simon Brett had left behind his radio career to become a full-time mystery writer.

In Cast, In Order of Appearance, Brett introduced Charles Paris, a frequently out-of-work actor who is an amateur sleuth.

"I think I'm fascinated by actors," he says. "Also, it struck me that a good actor is a good psychologist. And that's what a detective has to be."

And, no surprise, Brett admits there's a bit of the frustrated thespian in him, though he is glad that he did not become an actor.

"I don't think I would have coped very well with the insecurity," he explains. "I mean, the insecurity of being a writer is bad enough. But I don't think I've got the kind of personality that bounces back renewed from failure And I think that's what you need to be an actor."

Hollywood has come knocking for his stories. The reviews for A Shock to the System, the 1990 film version of Brett's psychological thriller, were muted. But Brett didn't take it personally. In fact, he built a conservatory with it that his family calls "the Michael Caine annex" because, as Brett explains, "he was the star of the movie. My experience was bending down to the door mat and picking up an envelope containing the largest check I've ever seen. And I thought, 'This is great.'"

Back when his third child was about to born, Brett moved his family south of London to a small village about five miles inland from the coast. The mound along the edge of his property is actually an 8th-century Saxon rampart.

He is now setting a new series of mysteries there. Never a keen observer of nature, Brett has been forced to take a closer look.

"I'm actually just looking, you know, walking along the beach and thinking, 'What does seaweed look like?' Because there are certain stock responses we have. You know: 'Seaweed is slimy and green.' Well, a lot of it isn't, you know? It's brown, and there are little pimento bits."

Along a tidal river that runs to the English Channel, Brett discovered an inspiringly insidious spot where, he says, "You would sink horribly in the mud...and might not come out again."

An unfortunate victim in his latest novel, The Body on the Beach, is nearly sucked beneath the surface.

"But, I mean, i is a potential murder weapon, this mud. So tread carefully," warns the author.

Even after some 50 books, Brett's imagination never seems to get stuck in the mud. "Touch wood," he says, "I still have more ideas than I have time to do them. And I think I would still be a writer if I didn't make a living from it. I mean, I think it's something very much in my psyche, you know? When people stop publishing me and all that, I'll still be scribbling away in a garret. Sad, isn't it? Terribly sad."

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