June 17 2017
This is the opening page of my debut novel, written in 1984 and subsequently forgotten about for at least the last 30 years. Allison & Busby were going to publish it. Then Duckworth were going to publish it, but in the event neither of them did. I decided after that disappointment to concentrate on my career in journalism and wouldn’t actually have any fiction published until 17 years after completing this manuscript. Reality intervened. As John Lennon said, Life is what happens when we’re busy making other plans. Mine included launching magazines and becoming a father. Then one day in 1998 I was in Archbishop’s Park in Lambeth playing with my infant son and the plot of a novel slipped into my mind. It was like getting a postcard from someone I’d forgotten I knew. I waited until Gabriel had tired of the swing and roundabout and lifted him onto my shoulders for the short journey home and while he had his nap, began it.
When I exhumed this the other day, two things struck me about it. The first was that it’s written in the first-person. Well, most first novels are autobiographical, so that’s really no surprise. And there’s a typo 14 lines in, where ‘resident’ singular should be ‘residents’ plural. Very careless. My Royal upright typewriter was already antique when I bought it from a mate for £20. I can still recall the staccato rhythm of its keys. I can’t really recall this story at all, and though it might prove a masochistic exercise, think I’ll give it a read. Whitstable would be a very swish setting for a story these days. It wasn’t in the 1970s when I lived there as a student. Though I did used to pass Wavecrest resident and Hammer Studios film star Peter Cushing, taking his constitutional, most days on my morning run. That was always slightly surreal. Whitstable and film stars definitely didn’t mix. Don’t remember him appearing in this, probably for that reason.
On the subject of present rather than past projects, I’m currently working on both a stand-alone novel and a fourth Jericho Society themed novella. There’s a slight change of tone with the novel that I hope increases the ambient level of menace quite substantially. Without going into technical detail, it’s going to be a case of less is more. If you don’t think you’re continuously evolving as a novelist I don’t think there’s really any point. With paranormal fiction, a writer can go from the faintest whiff of something, to the most corrupt stench. There’s plenty of leeway but to my mind, the half-imagined hint is always more disturbing. Going forward, there’s going to be considerably more ambiguity and uncertainty. The ground won’t feel quite so solid under your feet. That’s the intention, anyway.
The technically-minded among you might be interested to know that by 1998 the Royal upright had gone, replaced by an AppleMac LC 475 desktop computer I was only ever capable of using as a ludicrously expensive word processor. But it did the job.