Dark Echo began with a single two sentence statement: ‘Jay Gatsby was a bootlegger. Harry Spalding was the Devil himself.’ That one came to me one evening at the King’s Arms pub at Hampton Court and everything else followed on from it. The Memory of Trees began with the idea of a man looking up at a stained-glass window in a derelict church and seeing a depiction of a medieval knight who so strongly resembles him, he could have been his twin. With The Magdalena Curse it was a boy who dreams aloud in ancient languages.
You have to start somewhere. The Waiting Room was originally an idea I had for a short story in which a sceptical ghost hunter is stranded in the past by his own hubris. My agent insisted I write it instead as a full-length novel. I’m rather glad she did. When I put Paul Seaton in that dismal flat at the start of THOLS I had no idea what had reduced him to his pitiable condition. But I was reasonably confident it would come to me in a way that would subsequently enable me to explain it to you.
Only once has something come to me more or less fully formed, and that was with The Lazarus Prophecy. My 2, 000 year-old conspiracy of religious silence occurred to me in a dream so disturbing that it woke me. I had the choice of getting up at 3am and writing down the detail or of going back to sleep. If I hadn’t got up, I think I’d have forgotten all about it by the morning. It’s my least typical book in part because it had a theme, or a framework from the beginning. Every story needs internal logic, but that’s not the same as saying you need to know the eventual destination at the outset of the journey. My one precondition is that I have to be entertained by what I’m writing. If the story isn’t stimulating me, it has zero chance of stimulating anybody else.
Some scenes just insist on being written. There’s one of those towards the end Harvest of Scorn, the third novel in my Colony trilogy. The story needed to come full-circle. And in order for it to do so, it demanded a personal appearance from my cursed slave-ship master Captain Seamus Ballantyne. Without that scene, the story would have been incomplete. But I only realised that some time after finishing the first draft. I knew something was missing, but didn’t know what until the afternoon when suddenly I did. Writing that scene was as satisfying as the one that followed it (at the book’s conclusion), was poignant.
Today’s picture is a boat originally built for the invasion scenes in Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood film. It was being customised for another role at Richmond where I took this photo. It looked completely authentic, even close-up. Much better than CGI.
A month ago today I re-read the 30, 000 words comprising The Lucifer Chord written in 2013 and then put to one side uncompleted. The problem with it was my heroine, a bit colourless and making the story too flat on the page. Since 2013, I’ve created my character Ruthie Gillespie. She’s a lot more fun. I thought that if I substituted Ruthie for my slightly vapid main protagonist, I might be in business.
And I was right! Putting Ruthie at the centre of events did the trick. The story now stands at over 71, 000 words spread over 23 eventful chapters and I’m on course to complete the novel by the end of the month. Chronologically, it begins a few weeks after the events recounted in Harvest of Scorn. Anyone who has read that will know that Ruthie is feeling a bit bruised. But you don’t have to have read that to read this. It’s a total stand-alone – though it does feature a location familiar to some of my readers in Klaus Fischer’s derelict mansion on the Isle of Wight. And it features my sinister cult The Jericho Society, which is fun to write about and ups the ante fright-wise. They’re nasty people with a very dark agenda.
In this one Ruthie takes on a research job in London to get away from her Ventnor home and its immediate memories. The commission comes from Carter Melville, music impresario and manager of Ghost Legion when they were the biggest and most decadent rock band on the planet back in the glory years of the industry. She’s to look into the life and times of Legion frontman Martin Mear, who died in mysterious circumstances in 1973. Her impossible mission is to separate the man from the myth.
I can honestly say that over the past month, The Lucifer Chord has provided me with the most enjoyable writing experience of my entire life. And I sincerely hope that my enjoyment of the story translates into yours. The finished novel will be around the same length as The Waiting Room and Dark Echo, so quite a substantial read. Today’s picture isn’t here for any other reason than this is my personal favourite of all my book covers – an area in which I believe I’ve been extremely fortunate. Architect Michael Aldridge (first-person narrator of this novella) crops up again in The Lucifer Chord. He’s been unfinished business ever since I completed this.
The Lucifer Chord is set in the weeks following the events of the concluding novel in my Colony trilogy; a couple of years after the events recounted in my novella, The Going and the Rise. Chronology is important because my character Ruthie Gillespie is emotionally bruised at the start of the story. That’s what prompts her to leave her Wight home and apply for a research job in London. She urgently needs a change. She contacts architect Michael Aldridge in pursuit of a job reference. She did some vital research for him in The Going and he remains grateful. My opening scene is their reunion. I’ve always though they had unfinished business. I’m writing him in the third-person (rather than the first-person) in this one, though he remains the same essentially decent man. And I’m writing in such a way that it isn’t necessary to have read anything by me preceding it. The cause of Ruthie’s broken-heart is fully (if quite briefly) explained.
The research Ruthie undertakes is into the life of Martin Mear, lead-singer and guitarist with Ghost Legion, the biggest and most decadent rock band on the planet when Martin checked-out prematurely in 1973. His career is to be the subject of a definitive box-set of Legion recordings and Ruthie’s brief is to separate man and myth for the glossy 10, 000 word essay included in that. The commission comes from Legion manager Carter Melville, who has persuaded Martin’s long-term girlfriend and daughter to speak about him on the record for the first time (I know – terrible pun).
Separating man and myth is pretty tricky, though. For one thing die-hard fans (Legionaries) are convinced that Martin is coming back. They plan to orchestrate a ritual to accomplish this, an event they refer to as, The Clamouring. Then there’s the seance Melville encourages Ruthie to attend hosted by a medium claiming to be in contact with his spirit. There’s the oddness at Proctor Court in the Shadwell flat occupied by Martin’s uncle when he worked as an import clerk on the docks for Martens & Degrue. And Ruthie will have to go back to Wight eventually. It was at a derelict mansion there that Martin wrote The Legion’s breakthrough album, King Lud. In a sense, that’s where the Martin the world came to know was born.
I started this novel in 2013 and generally a book takes me about three months to write. But I didn’t quite know where to take it either plot or structure-wise and so it was superseded by other writing projects. It’s shuffled back to the front of the queue because I’m much surer about where the narrative is going and because though practice doesn’t make anyone a perfect writer, it does make a writer technically more proficient. I want readers so convinced that Martin Mear really existed, they’re googling his name. I wasn’t sure I could do that four years ago. I think I can do it now.
Today’s illustration is another of my brother’s canvases. He tends to write this one off as overly sentimental. I think it’s charming.