Wednesday 20 June 2018

The origins of Mr Morton Farrier!


So, another blog for you. I’ve been meaning to write this one for a long time now and have finally got around to it. Over the years, lots of people have asked me where the main character of my forensic genealogist series, Morton Farrier originated, so that’s going to be the subject of this blog.

First, his name. In 1998, whilst studying for a BTEC in Media Studies at Shena Simon College in Manchester, I wrote a script intended for TV, entitled The Ghosthunter. I gave the eponymous hero the name Morton Farrier. Why? I can’t remember now but I liked it at the time, as it sounded unusual and like something that would potentially stick in a reader’s or viewer’s mind. Maybe I’d just heard the name Morten Harket, the lead singer of the swedish band a-ha… Who knows! Here’s Morton’s first appearance in the parallel-universe-guise of my Ghosthunter.

So, you see, I don’t know now where the name came from but I liked it anyway and it stuck in my mind. Fast-forward ten years to 2008 when I was part-way through a two-year Master’s Degree in Creative Writing at Canterbury Christ Church University and was required to write a story. At the time, genealogy as a hobby was on the rise, with Who Do You Think You Are? a popular television program helping to promote genealogy as a pastime. I came up with the idea of a genealogist who has to solve a crime in the past, using genealogical research methodology, but who ironically knows little about his own past. So, Morton Farrier, ghost-hunter turned into Morton Farrier, forensic genealogist. I presented the first two chapters tentatively to my fellow postgrad creative writers, who received the story well, which encouraged me to continue writing the story for my final 18,000-word submission. Hiding the Past, with its leading character, Morton Farrier was born.

Yes, Morton was ‘born’ on that MA course and, in fact, he almost died on it, too! My original plan for Hiding the Past was that it would be a one-off, stand-alone story and that Morton would be killed at the end in pursuit of his case. I had just read a book which ended with a ‘in the event of my death…’ kind of letter and thought this would work well with this book. However, based on the feedback from my friends and fellow-writers on the MA course, I re-evaluated this decision and Morton was, thankfully, reprieved to live to take on another case another day!

Lots of people also have asked me over the years if Morton is based on me. When writing the very early drafts of the book, the answer was a tentative ‘sort of’. He drives my favourite car, a Mini and likes a good coffee (or three), just like me. He lives in Rye in a house, which I would love, and spends a lot of time, as do I, relaxing in the abundance of tearooms, cafes and hot-chocolate shops which Rye has to offer. However, when marking my final MA submission, my lecturer suggested that I make a clear distinction and consciously not base Morton on myself or give him my opinions. He felt that writers, who do base a character on themselves, exhibited a tendency to be overly self-critical and self-deprecating, leaving the character devoid of ‘nice’ personality traits. We English tend not to be very good at ‘bigging ourselves up’, even when actually perhaps we really should. I agreed with my lecturer and, from that moment, Morton became like an old friend whom I have known a very long time and whose opinions and views I know well, understand and respect, but might not always actually share.

In my early drafts of Hiding the Past, I featured Morton living with his girlfriend, Juliette but that theirs was a rocky relationship, destined to be over by the end of the book. Then, I read somewhere that leading detective men in books are nearly always single and I was determined that Morton wouldn’t be one of those men! I toned down the animosity between the two of them, but some reviewers have said that they found Morton unsympathetic towards her. I understand why a reader might think that in the earlier storyline but also think that knowing their relationship would last means that the connection between them develops and comes across far better in the subsequent books, as their relationship matures and evolves, as we all know relationships do.

Another question, which I get asked from time to time, is whether I would like to see the series on screen and whom I would like to play Morton and Juliette. The answer to the first question is an unequivocal, yes. I think it would make for an excellent Sunday-night television programme. As to who might play the two main characters… I had always thought that British actors, Julian Ovenden and Keeley Hawes would be excellent in the title roles. However, they were both, like me, born in 1976, so unless the series goes into production very soon, they will be too old, unfortunately. Other actors, whom I would consider as appropriate in the roles are Aiden Turner (he of Poldark fame) with short hair for Morton and Welsh actress, Catherine Ayers for Juliette. If ever it were made into a television series, I doubt that I would have much sway over the casting, anyway!

Julian Ovenden and Keeley Hawes

Aiden Turner and Catherine Ayers

I won’t divulge any spoilers about Morton and Juliette’s relationship to those of you in the earlier parts of the series but, suffice it to say, it develops steadily over the series of books and shows no signing of ending any time soon!


  1. I've enjoyed all your books, Nathan, and it was fun reading about Morton's origins.

  2. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your books. Have just finished The Wicked Trade and struggled to put it down.
    Genealogy is a favourite past time of mine and some ancestors lived in Penzance. So the stories about smuggling and what life was like back then was fascinating.
    Thank you for your stories. I’m looking forward to your next book.
    No pressure!! Lol

  3. Thanks for this background. Just finished the first 6 and starting The Wicked Trade. Love the concept, characters and stories. They feel a lot like the family saga stories I write... so far, My characters talk a lot about genealogy and family history... but no real genealogists... Thanks, again, for many intense, enjoyable hours of reading! 😀

  4. How did I miss this? Fast forward to Jan. 2020. Loved all the details but, Sir Nathan, you stole my heart with your final suggestion of the Irish hunk Aidan (with two A's) Turner playing Morton. Should this ever happen, you would need to write in more opportunities for Morton to go round with his shirt unbuttoned. I'm sure you are capable of that. As always, your devoted fan and idolater of AT, flying under the radar with the username "brittvshows" but better known at the Home as Connie P.

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