This photo was taken not long after the break-up of the relationship significant enough to have resulted in my being father to my two children. A traumatic time personally, professionally things were by direct contrast going well. The House of Lost Souls had recently been published and become a Times Book Club choice, introduced to that newspaper’s readers in a glowing full-page review. Translation rights were being sold at a rate that would see the book appear eventually in 14 languages. It had been optioned by a film company. And though my private life seemed like an ongoing catastrophe, I was making real progress with the novel that would not many months after come out as Dark Echo. Can writing ever be therapeutic? My answer to that rhetorical question has to be an emphatic yes.
I’m pictured here receiving the Dracula Society’s Children of the Night Award, which THOLS won for me that year. The prize-giving dinner was held at the opulent dining room of a Victorian pub on the Strand frequented in his day by Bram Stoker. I’d learned that the Society’s members (who turned out to be delightful people) were a picturesque lot and had been at a loss as to what to wear for the occasion. I’d moved into a basement flat in Surbiton at this point and become friendly with the manager of a neighbouring charity shop. He’d taken an interest in what I did and had read THOLS and enjoyed it. On hearing of my wardrobe dilemma he took me into the shop and showed me what I’m wearing here – a thorn-proof three-piece suit by Cordings of Piccadilly. It had been donated unworn and when I tried it on, could have been tailor-made for me. It became Julian Creed’s Van Helsing suit in The Waiting Room, but that didn’t happen until a few years later. Since Creed is entirely fictitious, the actual suit still hangs in my wardrobe, awaiting another suitable occasion to be worn.
It’s nice to get a prize, but there are more satisfying accolades. Two days ago I got a message from a woman whose life has been terribly diminished by mental health problems. She’s lost her job, home and relationship and fights an ongoing battle with severe anxiety. Reading, when well enough, is her main pleasure. She wrote to me saying that she very much enjoys my books. I’m on her, ‘Reliable good story teller’ list. What a compliment that is (even if the ending of Brodmaw Bay made her furious).
The first-person narrator of my novella The Boston Artefact is a bisexual 30-something woman. I don’t write much in the first-person. That said, I did it with Michael Aldridge in The Going and the Rise and with Martin Stannard in Dark Echo. And obviously I do it in those sections where there’s a diary/journal involved in the story. I think this was achieved most successfully so far in my fiction in The House of Lost Souls and The Waiting Room. It was challenging to try to voice Pandora Gibson-Hoare convincingly. And it was interesting seeing the post WW1 world through the jaundiced eyes of Bruno Absalom. If (as a writer) you want to go back to the Britain of 1927 or 1919 as I did respectively in those two novels, you want to get as close to really experiencing it as you can. It’s much easier to accomplish this as ‘I’ rather than as ‘He/She’. Or at least, it is in my view.
Michael Aldridge crops up again in The Boston Artefact when my heroine Veronica Slade appeals to him for help over something she’s researching and has a hunch he might have experienced first-hand. I don’t like all my characters and frankly some of them are appalling people, but I like Aldridge a lot. He’s a loving and modest man. It’s easier to write about characters you already know. And I’m working on a sequential series of Jericho Society themed stories (starting with The Going) that I plan to bundle together when I’ve completed four of them. They’ll make a total volume of 100, 000 words and may end up reading as much like a novel, with the chronology, as they will like individual stories. They’ll be best read sequentially.
Patrick Lassiter from my Colony trilogy is another character I like. He’s an interesting balance to me of shrewdness and fallibility and a much nicer man than it suits him to pretend. Which is why, as I wrote in my last post, I’m mulling over a prequel, involving him as a young detective investigating the suspicious death of a spirit medium in North London.
My favourite character chart is pretty fluid – much like my personal take on the best/worst of my books. My opinion over that changes pretty much whenever I think about them or see their covers. Recently I listened to David Rintoul’s Audible recording of Harvest of Scorn to determine what I could have written better. I endured one session with the headphones plugged into my phone when it seemed to me that every word of what I was hearing qualified. It reminded me of the graffiti my son scrawled in my notebook when he was about seven years old and resentful of the time I spent writing rather than playing with him: ‘All the rest of this is just crap.’ Fortunately, I’m a bit more positive most of the time. Currently my favourite creation is Rachel Ballantyne – not altogether human but memorable and with a proper character arc.
Today’s illustration is another of my brother’s paintings. I like this one, bright if not particularly spring-like.