My lovely son who takes the first of his A levels this afternoon. If all goes according to plan he’ll be off to Manchester University in October. He’s no stranger to the North of England because he’s been visiting my home town of Southport since before his 1st birthday. He’s very fond of his cousins there. He speaks like someone educated in Surrey but can do a flawless impersonation of my accent whenever required. I’m a bit mystified that after 18 years of hearing them he still thinks my flat vowels funny, but there you go. He’ll be in a minority in Manchester sounding like he does.
My filmed interview with Audible went ahead last week and I’m waiting now for it to be uploaded. I started a bit nervously but felt totally relaxed after the first couple of questions. The interviewer focused on the Colony trilogy I suppose because The Colony itself is the best-selling of my audiobooks, both here and in America. Reader David Rintoul came in for some well deserved praise since I don’t honestly think my books could be interpreted any better. He’s brilliant.
Harvest of Scorn (out in a matter of weeks) completes the trilogy, but I was asked whether I’d ever consider writing about New Hope Island again in the future. The truthful answer is that I wouldn’t do it just for the sake of it or as a cynical bit of commercial opportunism should the trilogy as a whole really take off sales-wise. I’d have to have a really good reason for going back there – which means a really good story. I can’t rule it out in truth though. I’ve become very fond of the place and its singular charms. In contrast to the characters who endure an island experience in my novels (those of them that survive), I’m already missing it.
This is my brother’s painting of the section of Southport pier that bridges the Marine Lake, at the time it was excavated and filled with water the biggest man-made lake in the world (or so Southport’s tourism publicity claimed when I was growing up there).
This location features briefly in my Colony trilogy closer Harvest of Scorn, when Ruthie Gillespie and Phil Fortescue spend a couple of days in the town and tread the planks of that very pier enjoying a sunset similar to this one before events in the story and their part in it in particular take a sinister New Hope Island related turn.
I enjoyed writing about my home town when I wrote Dark Echo and it was equally satisfying to return to in my imagination this time. Though its fair to say my characters probably enjoyed it rather less than I did.
In other news, on Tuesday I’m filming an interview for Audible on the subject (obviously) of my audiobooks. This will be uploaded onto Youtube and other video platforms and added onto the end of my audiobooks going forward. Don’t know if that really qualifies as added value, since I don’t yet know what questions I’m going to be asked. Shouldn’t really be too tricky, since if my fiction doesn’t qualify as my specialist subject, then surely nothing does.
It’s never over till it’s over is a phrase more commonly associated with football matches or boxing bouts than it is with novel writing. But I was reminded of it at the weekend very much in connection with the latter activity. I was booked to go on a press trip to Switzerland last Tuesday (my first journalism for ages – my first press trip in about a decade); and I was determined to deliver the edited draft of Harvest of Scorn before departing.
Switzerland was fun. The weather was glorious, the scenery epic and the company genuinely enjoyable. And the subject was watches, for which I’ve long had a fascination now shared expensively by my 18 year old son. Maybe it was looking at all those priceless Audemars Piguet pocket watches in the AP museum that did it. Maybe they put me in mind subconsciously of Seamus Ballantyne and the slave ship master’s unstoppable Breguet. But something on the return flight made me think that the story of New Hope Island wasn’t quite as neatly wrapped up as I’d thought it was with the version of the final novel I’d just dispatched.
The story started way back in 2011 when I wrote The Colony. In the first chapter press mogul Alexander McIntyre views cine film shot on New Hope in 1934. It’s subject is Rachel Ballantyne, who perished at the age of 10 in the early 19th century. Or rather, it’s what Rachel Ballantyne has become by 1934, alone and denied rest in her island isolation. There’s a sense in which her father Seamus, the founder of the Colony, the ruler of his New Hope Kingdom of Belief, dominates the whole trilogy. And yet he never appears, I thought, pondering matters on that return flight. it occurred to me that since his daughter opens the story, there might be a fitting symmetry to the whole of it if he came into play at the conclusion. Not that he’s exactly a playful character…
I try never to pull rabbits out of hats in my fiction. So the participation of Captain Ballantyne couldn’t be a meaningless cameo. Plus most readers find Rachel rather unsettling. So her father’s appearance couldn’t be an anti-climax either. He had to be scary, convincing and there for a very good reason. I believe he is – in a closing chapter that gives the ending of Harvest of Scorn much more weight and finality and brings the whole trilogy to a fitting and quite moving conclusion. I’m happy with what I felt obliged to add to the story over the Bank Holiday weekend. Ultimately though my readers are the only judges of whether it’s really up to scratch. That verdict is only a few weeks away now and I’m sincerely grateful for your patience.