Dark Echo began with a single two sentence statement: ‘Jay Gatsby was a bootlegger. Harry Spalding was the Devil himself.’ That one came to me one evening at the King’s Arms pub at Hampton Court and everything else followed on from it. The Memory of Trees began with the idea of a man looking up at a stained-glass window in a derelict church and seeing a depiction of a medieval knight who so strongly resembles him, he could have been his twin. With The Magdalena Curse it was a boy who dreams aloud in ancient languages.
You have to start somewhere. The Waiting Room was originally an idea I had for a short story in which a sceptical ghost hunter is stranded in the past by his own hubris. My agent insisted I write it instead as a full-length novel. I’m rather glad she did. When I put Paul Seaton in that dismal flat at the start of THOLS I had no idea what had reduced him to his pitiable condition. But I was reasonably confident it would come to me in a way that would subsequently enable me to explain it to you.
Only once has something come to me more or less fully formed, and that was with The Lazarus Prophecy. My 2, 000 year-old conspiracy of religious silence occurred to me in a dream so disturbing that it woke me. I had the choice of getting up at 3am and writing down the detail or of going back to sleep. If I hadn’t got up, I think I’d have forgotten all about it by the morning. It’s my least typical book in part because it had a theme, or a framework from the beginning. Every story needs internal logic, but that’s not the same as saying you need to know the eventual destination at the outset of the journey. My one precondition is that I have to be entertained by what I’m writing. If the story isn’t stimulating me, it has zero chance of stimulating anybody else.
Some scenes just insist on being written. There’s one of those towards the end Harvest of Scorn, the third novel in my Colony trilogy. The story needed to come full-circle. And in order for it to do so, it demanded a personal appearance from my cursed slave-ship master Captain Seamus Ballantyne. Without that scene, the story would have been incomplete. But I only realised that some time after finishing the first draft. I knew something was missing, but didn’t know what until the afternoon when suddenly I did. Writing that scene was as satisfying as the one that followed it (at the book’s conclusion), was poignant.
Today’s picture is a boat originally built for the invasion scenes in Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood film. It was being customised for another role at Richmond where I took this photo. It looked completely authentic, even close-up. Much better than CGI.
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.