It’s been a really productive seven or eight months for me. I dusted off a 29, 000 word novel opening, realised why I’d originally abandoned it in 2013, performed the necessary surgery, wrote the 50, 000 additional words needed to complete it and sold it to Severn House. It will be published as The Lucifer Chord (finally!) in May. What was mostly wrong with it was a boring main protagonist. As soon as I gave Ruthie Gillespie her roll, matters took on a new lease of life. So this is Ruthie’s first full-length stand-alone, something I think she deserves.
Another character close to my heart is Patrick Lassiter, someone who has battled demons of his own and other people’s in my fiction, as well as suffering more than his share of grief. Realising I still had something in the tank after The Lucifer Chord, in November I began a prequel novel featuring Patsy as its central character. It’s 1983 and he’s a rookie Detective Constable stationed at Kentish Town. I was a North London based journalist back then, visiting that nick on a a weekly basis to go through the crime book with its press liaison officer. So no research necessary and the memories are fresh and vivid. As they should be in a novel set during a july heatwave I well recall. I’m on schedule to finish it by my birthday at the end of January. Birthdays are no fun at my age and I’m determined to have something to celebrate.
On a day when time is on all our minds, today’s picture is my son Gabriel with me when only a couple of weeks old. Yesterday we met at the Boaters Inn on the Thames at Kingston for a seasonal drink. The 20 years in between have been eventful, but I’m immensely proud of the man he’s become. And on that contented note, I’d like to wish everyone taking the time and trouble to read this a truly wonderful New Year.
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.