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 But I didn’t quite know where to take it either plot or structure-wise and so it was superseded by other writing projects.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.
I’ve been spending quite a bit of time in London in the Spring of 1941. Bombs are falling, food is rationed, soap is scarce and the blackout has facilitated an unprecedented crime wave. I’ve been to other places too. I started out at the commando school on Lord Lovat’s estate in the Scottish Highlands. From there it was a bumpy plane ride and parachute drop into occupied France. Back to London, a bit of training on one of the Solent sea forts and then off to Norway aboard a Royal Naval vessel disguised as a trawler. Though in the event, not well enough disguised. Much of this done in the beguiling company of a young woman named Amelia Dunford, who might actually be her twin sister Celine.
Before I began writing as F.G. and filling my pages with spectres I wrote as Francis. My debut novel was an espionage story set at the height of the London Blitz. This novel, with the working title Hercules Road, has the same hero, a step further on in his journey to becoming an intelligence agent in the Cold War about as far removed from James Bond as it’s possible to get. He’s a working-class lad from Liverpool with an Irish-Catholic Fenian ancestry that sees him conflicted serving his Whitehall masters. His role brings him into contact with women far removed from his own social class. But there’s not an ounce of misogyny in Jack Finlay. He has the respect for women bred in a boy brought up by his mother alone. Given the rigid class barriers of the period, he’s both an anachronism and a bit of a loner. But I quite like that about him.
Some of you will be dismayed to read this because you’re fans of ghost stories, or at least stories with some element of the supernatural about them. But I haven’t given up on writing the F.G. stuff at all. I’m well into the Jericho Society novella mentioned earlier and set mostly in The Bartered Oath, a pub not just with an enigmatic name but with a distinctly dubious past. I’m halfway through Ruthie Gillespie’s first stand-alone novel and still greatly enjoying the company of the mischievous Ventnor Goth.
I wrote the first draft of Hercules Road in 2012. It wasn’t quite there structurally and so I put it away and got on with other things (specifically The Memory of Trees and The Lazarus Prophecy). But Christopher Nolan’s track-record suggested Dunkirk would be a successful film and I knew its young cast would bring a fresh audience to the subject of WW2. So I got the novel out and fixed what was wrong with it and we’ll see what happens from there. Jack has seen a ghost, by the way. He saw his father, in his infantry uniform, polishing the blade of his bayonet at the kitchen table at his Bootle home late one evening as a teenager. Except that Jack’s father perished at the Battle of the Somme when his son was only six years old…
Ghosts. Can’t keep away from them. Just hope they go on keeping away from me. Today’s picture is the Polish cover of The Magdalena Curse. I always think of it as the Nigella cover, because I think it quite strongly resembles a certain famous television cookery person, possibly a moment after eating something rather tasty.