My Hampstead: Crime writer was inspired by encounter with Inspector Morse creator as young journalist

Red Szell

Red Szell - Credit: Archant

Crime author Red Szell, 43, moved to Hampstead in 1997 where he organised the Gayton Festival, a street party in Gayton Road, for 10 years until 2012. He published his novel Blind Trust in 2011 and this June became the first blind man to climb the Old Man of Hoy.

What brought you to Hampstead? My best friend at university was at school in Hampstead, so being a good Sussex boy who found it very boring at home, I used to come up in university holidays and fell in love with the place. I thought if I can ever afford to live there, that would be my ideal. Now I’m here, and he lives very close to where I grew up in Sussex.

You have a day off to spend as you wish in the area, what would you get up to? I’d go for a swim in the men’s pond before treating myself to breakfast at The Coffee Cup. I would then mooch around the second hand bookshop in Flask Walk, pick up some nice dressed crab from the fishmongers and some nice fresh bread, share that with a friend, before whiling away the afternoon on the Heath with an audio book. Then I would take my family out for a curry at Shahbhag [Indian in Rosslyn Hill].

Is there anything about Hampstead which you would like to see changed or improved? I would like to see more good independent shops so that I don’t have to spend quite so much time going around supermarkets. And I would like to see the high street pedestrianised, since I don’t drive.

As guest editor of the Ham&High for a day, what one local issue would you most like to see reported? I would like to get representatives of the council, the institute of civil engineers and local people who wish to develop their properties and have a full and frank discussion as to why I should be convinced the excavation of basements underneath houses are a good idea and not a selfish indulgence.

What makes you smile on your way home? Bumping into as many friends and neighbours who are out on the streets of Hampstead enjoying living in one of London’s most vibrant communities.

Who is the most inspiring person you have ever met? The crime writer Colin Dexter, who wrote the Inspector Morse novels. I met him when I was working on the Londoner’s Diary [on the Evening Standard]. Having given me a nice quote for my article, he asked me what I saw myself doing in 20 years’ time. I replied that I wanted to be a crime writer and instead of laughing or sighing in resignation, he asked why and what I felt I could bring to the genre. He was an absolute gentleman.

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If you had to write your own epitaph, what would it say? Enjoyed the party while it lasted and left it before his company cloyed.

Red Szell was in conversation with Tom Marshall