This time last year Richard Osman was at a metaphorical base camp staring up at the summit of success as he unleashed his debut novel into the world.
Even with the celebrity of the Pointless and House of Games TV star behind him, nothing was guaranteed.
Making a living as an author is a risky business in which even the most gifted authors can fail, and this is especially true when a pandemic closes bookshops and puts a stop to promotional tours.
But what happened next for Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club is now publishing folklore.
The storey of four elderly amateur sleuths broke sales records and rocketed to the top of the UK best-sellers list. It has also been a success in other countries where it has been released.
Then there’s the matter of Steven Spielberg acquiring the film rights, which isn’t insignificant.
Osman is not satisfied with his accomplishment. “I’ve had a creative life filled with great TV shows that fail and not-so-great shows that succeed, so I’m rarely surprised by anything.” But I’m both humbled and astounded.
“I’m thinking, ‘What a lovely thing to have happened and I get such lovely comments in the street, but I’m with Kipling on success and failure, you have to treat them in just the same way.”
Not one to rest on his laurels, Osman continued with his game shows as soon as filming restrictions were lifted.
He relocated, purchased a long-desired American pool table, and even spent time in the hospital with a sprained knee. More importantly, he crammed in a second instalment in the lives of his elderly heroes, The Man Who Died Twice, which is set to be released this week.
According to Osman, the new book maintains the non-patronizing spirit of his debut, in which the Coopers Chase retirement village protagonists were one step ahead of the police in solving the murder mystery unfolding on their doorstep.
“No one pats them on the back and says, ‘Aren’t you good for 80?'” “They are genuinely smart, funny, kind, and strong people,” he says.
“There are sections of our society that are overlooked, and maybe people in their late 70s and up are one of them, and it’s very nice to see them have their day.”
But, having worked in television for more than 20 years (many of them at the production and distribution company Endemol), Osman understands how easily an audience can be lost for a variety of subtle reasons. If monotony is one of them, The Man Who Died Twice works hard to avoid that curveball.
This new storey has received a large dose of adrenaline. At its heart is a high-stakes cat-and-mouse chase beyond the borders of Coopers Chase to recover £20 million in stolen diamonds.
And this time, we’re not dealing with avaricious real estate developers, but with top-tier criminals such as the Mafia, corrupt MI5 agents, drug dealers, and money launderers.
“Someone recently said it was almost like Miss Marple meets James Bond,” Osman says. “I wanted what happened to be true; they are all things that could or have happened.”
“The truth is a gifted amateur is better than a professional criminal – their fatal flaw is that they are criminals,” Osman says, adding, “their fatal flaw is that they are criminals.” They are constantly looking behind them.
“We think of Moriarty figures, but the truth is that most criminals are fairly mundane, and if they aren’t, they’re violent and thuggish, making them easier to catch.” “I believe my mother could apprehend almost any criminal in the United Kingdom.”
He confirms, thankfully, that he has no working knowledge of the Mafia. “And with MI5, if I had to talk to people for inside information, I couldn’t comment, but I will say there are inaccuracies in what’s represented.”
The stakes in this new storey may be higher, but so is the emphasis on the frailty of old age, the risk of dementia, and the inevitability of death. Almost everyone who enters the scene has an internal monologue about the meaning of life and its fleeting nature.
“I visit my mother a lot in her retirement community, and everyone is very open about it,” Osman says.
“There is an idea that it’s taboo to talk about death in our culture before a certain age, and then you get to that certain age and you think, ‘We better start talking about it now because it’s going to happen.'” They have a more nuanced, upbeat take on the situation. I wanted to convey that in a way that is both refreshing and possibly even calming.”
However, when one of the elderly crew members is mugged and severely beaten, he falls into a deep depression and vows never to leave his house again.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, says, “We know that many older people are concerned about becoming a victim of violent crime, whether at home or on the street, despite the fact that the chances of this happening to them are extremely low.”
“However, if an older person is unfortunate enough to be victimised in this way, the emotional consequences can be devastating, leaving them chronically lacking in self-confidence, particularly if they live alone.”
“In this situation it’s a good idea to take advantage of the follow up help offered by Victim Support. The love and support of friends and family can really help too. In the end it’s up to the older person to choose the kind of help they need.”
Fortunately, the victim’s friends band together to prove Ms Abrahams’ point. And Osman believes that literature can play a powerful role in opening people’s eyes and improving attitudes toward all sectors of society, not just the elderly.
“The great Hollywood edict is’show, don’t tell,'” he says, “which means don’t lecture but show people the world as you think it is and as you would like it to be.”
“My attitude is that we’re all in this together, that there’s a lot of pain in the world, and that anything we can do to alleviate the pain of others is probably worthwhile. Make an effort to leave the world a better place than you found it. That has always been my perspective: live with love, act with love, and try to make the world a slightly better place.”
Many of Osman’s characters berate themselves for missed opportunities and actions they should not have taken. However, Osman believes that we “shouldn’t have regrets, live life forwards, and let most things go.”
“We sometimes hold ourselves hostage to our pasts, which is unnecessary. We never know when the most amazing thing that could happen to you will begin.”
Looking ahead, Osman says filming on the adaptation of his first book will begin next year, but he won’t be involved.
“”I’m letting them get on with it,” he says, “but I do get nice emails from time to time to let me know what’s going on.” But when it comes to movies, I never count my chickens. Television is bad enough, but in film, anything can happen at any time.”
He does, however, intend to pursue new ventures on the small screen. “I’m having a lot of fun with ideas right now. I’m in talks with Netflix about a show, and I’m also looking into doing some more presenting. But I can’t reveal anything.”
And, on the decidedly eccentric side – a trait that endears him to his TV audience – he has a master plan to make waves in the world of chocolate. “There is room for another player in the Christmas market for large boxes of chocolates. So, Cadbury’s, please contact me.”
The Man Who Died Twice is published on 16 September. Richard Osman will be discussing his new book onstage at the London Palladium on 19 September.