Probably because it’s that time of the year, with distant memories of summer ending and thoughts of going back to school to buckle down to work after long, sunlit, carefree days, I’ve been doing a bit of an inventory. I decided to list what I’ve written since the start of 2011 and to see where that suggests I should go with my fiction next. There’s time to write something substantial between now and the year’s end and I needed an overall perspective on what that should be.
This picture was taken at a particularly productive and happy time in my life, in the summer of 2011 when I was living in a Shaftesbury cottage and writing The Colony. This photo was snapped in August and by September, I’d completed that novel. I followed it with The Memory of Trees. Then I wrote The Lazarus Prophecy. Then I wrote Colony sequels Dark Resurrection and Harvest of Scorn. That’s five full-length novels. I’ve also done three novellas over that period; namely An Absence of Natural Light, The Going and the Rise and The Boston Artifact.
I submitted Harvest of Scorn in September of last year. And the Boston Artifact was submitted in January of this year. Since then, all I’ve done creatively is a bit of tinkering with Scorn on the recommendation of a gifted and clever editor. So it’s more than fair to say that I’m creatively fresh. And if I don’t write at least a novel a year, I’m going to feel like the sort of sad navel gazing procrastinator who sits in the bathtub till the water turns cold.
Thus we come to The Lucifer Chord, which examines the enigma of Martin Mear. Martin was the lead singer of the British rock band Ghost Legion until he checked out abruptly when they were at the height of their god-like pomp at the age of 27 in 1973. The exact circumstances surrounding his death are obscure. Martin was heavily into the occult and hardcore fans (known as Legionaries) are convinced he’s coming back. This will be achieved when Ghost Legion songs from their darkest albums are played at a specific time synchronously at chosen locations critical to Martin’s personal history. This process, this ritual, is referred to as The Clamouring.
American impresario Carter Melville first met Martin Mear when they were students at university. He went on to manage Ghost Legion, steering them through their stadium rock and chart success. In the here and now, he wants to put together the definitive Legion box-set. Since the band still shifts 5 million units a year and Carter takes a hefty percentage, this makes commercial sense. The box-set needs a lavish booklet, the booklet needs a considered history and appraisal of the Legion and Carter is lazy and his memory of the period understandably vague. So this is where my researcher heroine steps into the story.
I’ve been cogitating over The Lucifer Chord for about four years. That’s my pattern, though, to ponder for ages and write quickly. One or two familiar characters will feature (at least, familiar if you’re familiar with my fiction); but this is a stand-alone novel I’m determined to complete by Christmas. My ambition is to make it scarier than anything I’ve written since The House of Lost Souls. So naturally, it begins with a seance…
Two new audiobooks out this week. They’re Dark Resurrection (the second novel of my Colony trilogy) and The Going and the Rise, one of my Jericho Society themed novellas, a story close to my heart for a number of reasons. For one thing it’s written in the first-person, which I don’t do very often. And it sees the fictive debut of Ruthie Gillespie, a character I intend to feature a lot more in my fiction going forward. She plays a significant part also in Dark Resurrection and features prominently in Harvest of Scorn, the third book in my Colony trilogy, on which I’m currently doing the final edit. That’s a working title, by the way. It might yet change if the lovely people at my publisher Ipso take a violent dislike to it.
Audible, publisher of my audiobooks, have asked me to film an interview to be uploaded onto Youtube and a variety of other platforms. If he can fit it into his schedule and he’s amenable, they would like my regular reader David Rintoul to participate. I have to say that his reading of my stories has enhanced them massively and done wonders for my audiobook sales. I’ve never met him, but he did phone me a few years ago to say how much he’d enjoyed Brodmaw Bay and to make a suggestion about Richard Penmarrick, my West Country squire in that story. I’d written that Penmarrick had no trace of an accent. David said he would sound much more sinister with just the hint of a Cornish burr. How right he was. He’s a very busy actor but I do hope he can find the time to take part in the interview. I’d like to meet him in person and I’d like to thank him in person for the wonderful job of interpreting my stories he does. I’ve been blessed where he’s concerned.
After finessing Harvest of Scorn, I have my third Jericho Society Novella to polish. It’s entitled The Boston Artifact and Ruthie’s in that one too. And when that’s had its final bit of brushing up, she’ll get her first stand-alone novel, a story which has nothing to do with New Hope Island that’s been taking shape in my mind for a few years now. That’s my process. I write fast. The Colony was written in a Shaftesbury cottage in under eight weeks. But I cogitate for ages before the frenzy of two-fingered typing ever begins.
In other news, I bought my daughter a good pair of headphones this week as her reward for being so brave about her recent surgery. She’s musically gifted and deserved a better pair than the ones I got her a year ago that were anyway on their way out. This upgrade was achieved with the help of my son’s Amazon account. He ordered them, I gave him the cash. Naturally a surcharge was involved; ‘You can’t spend that much on Avalon and not spend the same amount on me,’ Gabriel said, ‘it’s blatant favouritism.’ I didn’t really have the heart to argue it out.
Is Harvest of Scorn a good title for the third book in the Colony trilogy? You wouldn’t harvest much else amid the windswept, granite bleakness of New Hope. In this story a visionary entrepreneur (at least he thinks he’s a visionary) has a grandiose ambition for the island. But the island has at least one permanent resident hostile to intrusion, never mind the prospect of disruption and change. Little Rachel Ballantyne likes things just the way they are and the dark magic of the passing centuries has left her powerfully equipped to keep them that way.
Having told you a little bit about the plot, I’d be grateful for any feedback on that title…
Me and Gabriel on the coast of County Wexford in Ireland in the summer of 1999. Last night I had a beer with him and his friend Callum before they set off to see a mate of theirs perform in a band in a Twickenham pub. We drank laughing at Christopher Walken and Will Ferrell in the classic ‘More cowbell’ Blue Oyster Cult sketch from Saturday Night Live on Youtube. It’s a terrible cliche but time really does fly. And time has been much on my mind recently because there’s only so much of it and as a writer, I want to put it to the most productive use I can.
The next few weeks will be taken up with editing the third book in my Colony trilogy. When I’m not doing that, I’ll be writing a fourth Jericho Society novella. I’m going to dwell on that during my towpath run this afternoon. I’m counting on a serene 7 miles of exercise with a beautiful river view endowing me with the necessary inspiration. I’ll have to ignore my sore achilles tendon and concentrate on plotting, knowing it’ll be worth it. The tendon can suffer in silence. Like the rest of me, it’s knocking on…
I’ve been pondering on sequels not just because I’ve now written two of them, but because some of you actually request them. The most popular candidates among my books for follow-ups are The House of Lost Souls and The Waiting Room. I don’t think that’s coincidental. There’s a strong redemptive theme in both of those stories. Protagonists Paul Seaton and Julian Creed emerge from their contrasting ordeals not just different but vastly better men than they were at the outset. I’ve sometimes wondered myself what happened to them next. And I could live with either again. Creed was pretty odious company at the outset, but by the end of the story he’d grown on me.
One of the crucial keys to any kind of creativity is to be open-minded. That lesson’s been taught me by a couple of gifted painter friends who’ve had the nerve to follow their instincts and to experiment. I’m not ruling anything out. The blank page at the start of a story has never intimidated me. I’ve always seen it as a fantastic opportunity. I’d be the first to admit that some of my novels are flawed; but that doesn’t diminish in the slightest the ambition to do something better in the future than anything I’ve managed to achieve in the past. If anything, the opposite is true. I’ve probably run that towpath distance as fast as I’m ever going to run it. But I still think there are stories in me yet to tell, better than any I’ve so far told.