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.
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.
Reading rather than writing at the moment. I’ve both a novel and a novella to complete, but sometimes need to read because it’s inspirational to do so. It’s never a bad idea to remind yourself of the standards others have aspired to and subsequently set in their fiction. A couple of days ago I read Robert Aickman’s short story Ringing the Changes for the first time. I did so awed at how much atmosphere he manages to create and sustain over a mere 33 pages. E.F. Benson’s The Bus Conductor is next and then The Apple Tree, by Daphne de Maurier.
Novels as well as short stories are on my summer reading list and those aren’t paranormally themed. Last night I began Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock. I was put off Greene by reading The Power and the Glory at much too early an age. It’s grim stuff for a 14 year-old, though I did enjoy The Human Factor and laughed out loud reading Our Man in Havana. I know the setting really well and think Brighton Rock gets off to a phenomenally vivid start. It’s a potent reminder of the power of words to paint pictures and evoke moods. Great fiction writers are magicians, really.
Today’s snapshot is me at university, pictured in Canterbury outside a branch of the Nat-West bank probably long demolished. I’m grinning because I’d just been inside and successfully cashed a cheque. This wasn’t a unique occurrence, but it was usually touch-and-go. I sent this picture to my son yesterday with a caption saying this is what students used to have to look like in my day. He’s studying Politics and Economics at Sussex and replied rather wistfully that he wishes it was still like that. I think he means that life was simpler and more straightforward, which it certainly was. I might recommend Brighton Rock to him when I’ve finished it, since he knows the setting too.