Well, maybe that’s a bit OTT. But this is a very good review of A Just and Upright Man from Francine in Romance Reviews Magazine:
As I’ve said before, Zappa’s Mam’s a Slapper is due for publication 1st March. I’ve always been aware that there was a slight weakness in one particular aspect, but I couldn’t fix it because I couldn’t quite place it and so many people I trust—people in publishing, not friends and relatives (none of whom have seen a word)—have told me how good the book is that I was okay with letting it go. Then, late last week, I got an email from my editor: I’ve had a bit of a brainwave but I don’t know how you’ll feel about it. Poppy comes looking for Billy and it feels too calculated – her seeking him now he’s famous. I wonder whether he could be the one to seek her? I also think this works in terms of a protagonist leading the action, changing their own destiny. What you’d probably need to do is seed in details in the MS which show that Billy still thinks of her (and this would make sense as he’s quite sentimental and kind.)… What are your thoughts? I know it’s tiresome having redrafted so much and so you might be feeling a little deflated, but I do think it’s worth tweaking this so it reads in the best way possible.
Deflated? No. I was leaping around, punching the air. Of Course! That’s it. Okay, I have to delete about 25,000 words of a 95,000 word novel and replace them with 25,000 (or so) different words, and do it in one heck of a hurry, but there was a problem and this takes it away. It’s ages since I’ve felt this energised.
For the past 72 hours my day has looked like this:
03.00 Get up and start on the rewrite of Zappa’s Mam.
05.30 Shower. Shave. Have breakfast.
06.00 Return to rewrite of Zappa’s Mam.
10.15 Walk four miles.
12.00 Take nap
14.00 Edit rewrite of Zappa’s Mam.
16.00 Have cup of tea and piece of fruit cake. Read (something written by someone else).
18.00 Dinner, followed by coffee.
I haven’t answered the phone or the doorbell before two in the afternoon, no matter what. I know some famous writers have been fuelled almost entirely by alcohol, but that doesn’t work for me—I only drink alcohol on weekends at the best of times and when I’m writing I don’t touch it at all.
There’s 6½ hours of concentrated writing in that schedule and that’s 2½ hours more than I usually do, but I would struggle to stop—the change she suggested is so right that it’s powering me forward.
What would we do without editors?
I’ve been writing – fiction and non-fiction – for a long time. My first sale was an article to Good Housekeeping. I didn’t realise till later that I was starting at the top and would have to work very hard to stay there. If you’d like to hear the very first thing I ever sold to the BBC you can download it here. And I can go back further than that, to the age of ten when I read a story of mine from the stage of Benton Park Primary School in Newcastle upon Tyne to the assembled pupils and parents. Whatever I’ve written has always been full of false starts – an opening chapter or chapters that were only there as scaffolding to get the story going and had disappeared by the time I finally wrote END on the bottom of the last page.
Zappa’s Mam’s a Slapper was different – and a very odd experience. I wrote the first sentence: All I’d said was, I wouldn’t mind seeing her in her knickers. Then I sat there staring at it thinking, “Where on earth did that come from?” Then I wrote the rest of the first chapter. And it’s all still there. I started writing Zappa’s Mam in 2013, it was published on February 1st 2015 and the opening line and chapter are exactly what they were when I started writing. That has never happened to me before.
All the way through the writing, editing and rewriting of Zappa’s Mam, the protagonist – Billy – was looking over my shoulder. There never was a Billy, he’s one hundred per cent my invention, but the was there. There. Watching what I was doing. Talking to me. “Tell them about the anger management.” “Don’t forget the bike.” “I didn’t know Regus then – that came later.”
I’ve had this experience of characters talking to me, guiding me, again since then – I’m currently polishing When the Darkness Comes and I couldn’t have written that in anything like its present form if I hadn’t had Barabbas and Ras Tafar butting in with their comments and demands, but Billy was the first. He took me to a new level of intensity in my writing. I’m grateful to him, though the experience was a bit like banging your head against a wall – nice when it stops.
Yesterday I posted about Coeur d’Alene; today it’s Buffalo, Wyoming. The reason is the same: my new book, Zappa’s Mam’s a Slapper, will be published March 1st and I don’t want to insult anyone from Buffalo, accidentally or with intent, so if anyone there is listening to me I’d be grateful for some of your time.
The following passage occurs in Zappa’s Mam (just before the Coeur d’Alene pages I posted about yesterday). If you know Buffalo, Wyoming, please read this and tell me whether it’s going to upset anyone. I’ll be really grateful.
Take Dan and Vern in Buffalo, Wyoming. We met in the Occidental Saloon. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Buffalo Bill and Calamity Jane all stayed at the Occidental and when you stand in the bar you can see twenty-three bullet holes in the ceiling. It brings back every Western you ever watched.
Dan and Vern and I got talking. The conversation turned to women. Dan and Vern liked women, but things had gone wrong. ‘The design of women is flawed,’ said Vern, who it turned out was a retired engineer.
‘Well, sure. If you bought a house in that condition, you’d sue the plumber.’
‘We’ve cracked it,’ said Dan and Vern said, ‘Yeah. My Sophie’s a real doll.’ They both cackled at that.
Dan and Vern had been friends for sixty years and they’d shared a home on Klondike Road for the past twenty. ‘Out near the Willow Grove Cemetery,’ Vern explained. ‘We don’t want to inconvenience folks too much when we go.’
Dan said it would be real polite of me if I’d step out to Klondike Road with them and meet their womenfolk. Naturally, I said yes.
It took three days before they’d agree to have their pictures taken and sign the release forms without which the publisher would never let them into print. When she’d finally overcome her scepticism and accepted that the pics were real and I hadn’t set them up, Jessica said they were some of my best ever.
They kept these two dolls permanently inflated and sitting up in their tidy, spotless living room. Vern explained that Kerry was a Backdoor Baby because Dan sometimes liked to pack fudge but he, Vern, took his sex straight. On the other hand, he’d always liked big tits. I had to admit I’d rarely seen any bigger than Sophie’s. Dan and Kerry had a two-seat sofa and Vern and Sophie had another at right angles to it. The television constituted the other side of this triangle. The four of them would sit up at night watching old movies, the men’s arms around the women, the men eating corn chips, drinking beer and smoking. At the end of the evening, Dan and Vern would tidy the room, empty the ashtrays, drop chip packets into the pedal bin and fill the dishwasher. Then they’d pick the two girls up in their arms and carry them off to bed.
They had wardrobes of tarty underwear and slutty dresses, skirts and tops they bought on the Net and, once they’d decided to trust me, they went through a whole series of changes while I took photographs. I did not, thank God, get to watch them coupling with the dolls. Dan explained that they both needed Viagra now and, once they got started, it tended to last a very long time and, anyway, they preferred to do it in bed. ‘We like a bit of privacy. We’re not nuts, you know.’
Dan and Vern were odd, but no odder than some of their neighbours. In Framingham they’d probably have been locked up. By the time I got to Coeur d’Alene, Spokane and Moses Lake they seemed almost normal.
So there you have it. The question: Is there anyone in Buffalo, Wyoming who could be offended by anything in that passage? (Especially anyone called Dan or Vern? :-))
I’m looking for help. My new book, Zappa’s Mam’s a Slapper, will be published March 1st and I’m a great believer in the definition of a gentleman that says a gentleman is someone who never insults anyone accidentally. I don’t want to insult anyone from Coeur d’Alene, accidentally or with intent, so if anyone there is listening to me I’d be grateful for some of your time.
The following passage occurs in Zappa’s Mam (in fact on pages 295 to 302 of the paperback version). If you know Coeur d’Alene, please read this and tell me whether it’s going to upset anyone. I’ll be really grateful. (Ignore the bit about blow-up dolls—that’s actually about Buffalo, Wyoming and I’ll be posting something for them separately).
However hard the author works, books are sold on one or two incidents, one or two pictures. What people remember I90, Road to America for is Dan and Vern and their blow-up dolls, and the Church of Forgiveness.
I’d only been in Coeur d’Alene for two days and I was walking around getting my bearings when a man so fat you were surprised he could walk stopped me in the street. ‘My son, we must talk, you and I.’ He had a voice as deep as Paul Robeson’s.
Normal people cross the road at this point and walk on. Photographers with paymasters looking for a freak show don’t.
He held out a hand the size of a rugby ball. I shook it. ‘The Reverend Humphrey Catalan.’ Humphrey? He handed me a card; sure enough, that was the name he went by. His occupation: Pastor of the Church of Forgiveness. He wrapped a monstrous arm around my shoulder. ‘Let us break bread together, son.’
We caused a bit of a stir in the coffee shop. It seemed the Reverend Humphrey had broken two of their chairs in the past and now he was only allowed on the bench that ran round the booth at the back, but this was already occupied by four teens.
‘Stay cool,’ said my new friend. ‘We don’t mind sharing.’ With which words he eased himself through the entrance to the booth, sat on the bench and pushed effortlessly leftwards, sliding the four towards the end. I expected trouble. Instead, one of the youths stood up and raised his hands palm outwards. ‘Okay, Reverend. You win.’
They filed out peaceably and took seats around a table. The Reverend Humphrey beamed at them. ‘God bless you, William Kazsnowski. Tell your mother it’s high time she made her confession.’
The waitress stood beside us, pad in hand. ‘Making confession,’ she murmured. ‘Is that what they’re calling it now?’
Humphrey ordered coffee and blueberry pie with ice cream and double whipped cream. I asked for coffee. Humphrey said, ‘You should eat something, son.’ I told him I’d had breakfast only an hour earlier. ‘So did I, son. God’s work requires that we keep up our strength.’ He turned on me the same thousand watt beam he’d directed at the Kazsnowski boy. ‘Introduce yourself, my son,’ he boomed in a voice that might have been heard twenty miles away.
I handed him my own card. While he was reading it, I took the Olympus out of my pocket and shot him three times, bracketed for white balance. The fluorescent light was flashing and you never know what sort of light you’re going to get. He tucked the card into his waistcoat pocket.
‘So,’ he bellowed. ‘What’s an English photographer doing in Coeur d’Alene?’
‘Looking for the unusual,’ I said.
‘Looking for the unusual. Well, son, you sure came to the right place.’ Lowering his voice to a decibel count that probably wouldn’t carry more than two hundred metres, he said, ‘You have the most terrible aura, son. You know that?’
‘That’s why I spoke to you. You want to know what your aura says?’
‘Maybe. I’m not sure how many people I want to share the information with.’
He looked blank. The waitress slapped down an enormous slice of pie and two coffees. ‘He means he’d like it if you kept your voice down, Reverend.’
Humphrey began to open paper packets of sugar and empty them into his coffee. He looked at me. ‘That true, son? You shy?’
Walking away, the waitress said, ‘He’s English,’ as though that explained everything. Which, in Coeur d’Alene, possibly it did.
Humphrey shovelled pie into his mouth. When he had finished, he stood up, dropped some money on the table and made for the door. ‘Let’s go, son.’
I followed him out. ‘Thanks for the coffee,’ I said. He put his arm round my shoulder and began to walk. I had no option but to go with him.
‘I’ll give you a tour of the town,’ he said. ‘And while we walk we’ll address the subject of your vengeful spirit.’
‘Unforgiving. I never saw a more remorseless, grudge-holding aura in my life. That’s the City Park, by the way. You want to get a picture?’
‘I’ll come back for it. I don’t hold grudges.’
It’s a strange place, Coeur d’Alene. Americans will tell you it didn’t exist much more than a hundred years ago, which rather rudely ignores the Indians. Now it’s a resort and you get lots of normal people, or people who can pass for normal in the northwest USA, and they have malls and restaurants and stuff to amuse themselves in. There’s sailing in the summer and skiing in the winter and golf most of the time when it isn’t actually snowing. Good old friendly USA.
But it started as a frontier trading post and went into mining and logging and gambling, and the people who did those things weren’t clubbable. Coeur d’Alene was where you got off the steamboat to try your luck at prospecting for silver, and where you got back on the boat to go home, or more likely to drift on somewhere else, when you realised this was not the place you were going to make your strike. There was no welfare state and no safety net and if you didn’t look after yourself in whatever way you could, you starved. It takes a certain kind of person to thrive in that environment and beneath the tourist polish all that independence and egoism is still there.
That was what I was looking for in Coeur d’Alene and I90, Road to America shows that I found it. I took a lot of photographs, far more than got into the book. I got to love the place. There aren’t many places where I think, “I could live here,” but Coeur d’Alene is one of them.
And I spent quite a lot of time with the Reverend Humphrey. He summed up the spirit of the place for me. ‘Folks here will look after you if you need it, but we expect you to look after yourself first. Folks will pick up the slack if you can’t hack it all the way. But folks ain’t your first line of defence, son. Your first line of defence is you.’
I realised after a while that he was feeding me this stuff because I was British and he’d heard all about the British and what had happened to them. We were the brave little land that had helped John Wayne and Frank Sinatra win the war but now our hearts had been poisoned by socialism and we’d lost our self-reliance. This was the second time I’d been the brand someone was going to save from the burning, Melanie being the first someone, and I have sometimes wondered what it is about me that makes people want to rescue me like that.
When I showed Jessica my photographs of Humphrey, naturally I also told her about the man behind the pics. She said he wasn’t really a priest, he was a psychotherapist. Or maybe just a dabbler in self-help psychobabble. Whatever, she said. Whatever turned your crank, or helped you survive in this jungle. She was going through a bad time just then. I got the feeling that someone she’d thought of as her long term partner had just gone, but she didn’t talk about personal stuff to me and I couldn’t even tell you whether that someone was likely to have been a man or a woman. That’s how close we weren’t. But she did tell me that life was precarious. She said the most any of us could hope for was to get through to the day we died without ourselves deciding to chuck it in before then. If we could stand there at that moment and say, “Well, I made it. I’m here. I got through to the end. And in a minute I’ll be out of it,” that would be success.
All of which I’d already worked out for myself. But I didn’t say so. I might have questioned her tact, but Jessica didn’t know I’d got so close to killing myself I’d actually walked out onto the Severn Bridge.
There was one pic I showed her that I certainly didn’t show Humphrey, and it didn’t make it into the book, either. We’d arranged to meet and walk into town where I was going to buy him lunch. There was no-one in the church and the door to Humphrey’s house next door was open as it usually was. He’d told me many times just to walk in and that’s what I did.
It was a two storey house but Humphrey lived most of his life on the ground floor because stairs caused him difficulty. He’d had a stairlift fitted but it had broken the first time he used it. If the sounds had been coming from upstairs I might still have gone up there to investigate, because there isn’t much a photographer after a pic won’t do. But they weren’t coming from upstairs, they were coming from a room I’d never been in but which I knew was where Humphrey slept.
Of course I know I shouldn’t have shot it. I probably shouldn’t have shot two thirds of the pics I’m most proud of. But I did. The chance to immortalise the pastor’s huge naked rump as it rose and fell with astonishing vigour was just too much to pass up. You can always delete a pic you’ve taken and wish you hadn’t, but go back and grab the fleeting opportunity you missed first time around? Forget it.
Pictures capture what you can see. Good pictures also capture what you can feel. What I couldn’t get was Humphrey’s rhythmic grunting or the mewing sounds that were coming from beneath him. Who was doing the mewing, I couldn’t see. Whoever it was was almost hidden by the Reverend’s immense bulk and I remember worrying that she’d be suffocated. I could see from the position of her feet that she was face down, but her feet were all I could see.
Having got my picture, I went back to the front door, rang the bell and then slammed the door loudly as I re-entered the house. ‘Humphrey?’ I shouted. ‘Are you here?’
There was a bellow which I’m pretty sure said, ‘I’ll just be two minutes’ and I sat down to read one of the Church of Forgiveness’s newsletters. After a little more than two minutes, a small, neat woman with flushed cheeks who I knew to be one of the Reverend’s flock passed through the room, smiled shyly at me and departed. A few moments later, Humphrey arrived. He was pinker than usual and breathing quickly.
‘I’m sorry, Reverend,’ I said. ‘I hadn’t realised you were hearing confessions.’
He smiled, gestured me to my feet, placed his arm round my shoulder and led me into the street. ‘Sustenance, son, I must have sustenance. I have quite an appetite today.’
I said I wasn’t surprised. I also said God would provide for his hunger, just as he clearly provided for his other needs. I suppose it came out a bit sour. All right, I’d never been religious and never had the opportunity but I did have some idea of what priestly decorum was supposed to be and it didn’t include banging the parishioners.
‘Son, if the Almighty is opposed to men and women doing what He made us to do, he ain’t never mentioned His opposition in my hearing.’
We had reached the door of a restaurant. I said, ‘Mexican do you?’
‘Sure, son,’ he said as he followed me in. ‘Mexican be fine.’ Quality didn’t matter to the Reverend. What mattered was quantity and he knew, as I knew, that he’d get that here.
All right, so the Reverend Humphrey Catalan wasn’t everyone’s idea of a priest. Coeur d’Alene has a lot of churchgoers and many would be likely to cross to the other side of the road when they saw him coming. There are four Baptist churches in town and he’d have been drummed out of all of them. The Catholics have got two and the Lutherans are also pretty big there and they, too, would have denounced Humphrey and all his works. He was a glutton and a lecher and he didn’t say no to a drink when it was offered.
But he brought smiles to the faces of the women he rogered. He cared about people, he wanted to see them happy instead of sad and he had a very clear idea of how that was achieved. Sometimes he wasn’t entirely serious and sometimes he was and he was never more in earnest than when he outlined to me the source of his Ministry.
‘Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord. Leviticus nineteen verse eighteen. But that was an instruction to the Jewish people about the Jewish people. But then in verse thirty-four it goes on, But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. But then came our Lord and the new dispensation, and when one of them who was a lawyer said unto Him, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? He answered him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. Matthew twenty-two, verses thirty-seven to forty.’
All of this delivered without a smile and in full majestic voice.
‘And your neighbour doesn’t just mean that sweet little thing with the big bazookas who lives next door, son.’ He laid his hand on my shoulder. ‘In this global village the Lord in His infinite wisdom and mercy has created, your neighbour is everyone and everyone is your neighbour. But what you need to take to heart, son, is Matthew eighteen, verses twenty-one to twenty-two. Then Peter came and said to Him, Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times? Jesus said to him, Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. You think that means seventy-seven times, son? It does not. It means you forgive without limit.’
‘Why are you telling me this, Reverend?’
‘Your aura, son.’
My aura. Of course. Sure. As long as you believed A that I had an aura and B that he could see it.
We had a lot of conversations, me and the Reverend Humphrey, and he got to know all about me and my childhood, me and Miss Maguire, me and my mother, me and Poppy, me and Melanie, me and Wendy. ‘Seems to me, son,’ he said, ‘that if anyone has a beef with anyone it’s Melanie and Wendy who have one with you.’
There was a cultural thing here. I’d been born with a few serious handicaps and, yes, I’d overcome them but there was still part of me that was ready to accept them as a crutch and what the Reverend Catalan wanted me to know was that that was not the American way. ‘Other people were dealt shittier hands than you, and some of them did okay. A lot of people got much better cards than you did and some of them are in jail, or bankrupt, or dead. Or maybe a combination of those things. When you come right down to it, it isn’t the hand you’re dealt that counts, it’s how you play it. And what about that maths teacher? What about Regus? He believed you when he didn’t have to. What about those teachers who gave up their time for you and didn’t charge a cent for it? Where do you get off holding grudges?’
‘I don’t hold grudges.’
‘What you have to do, son, you have to go through every single person you’re holding a grudge against in your mind and you have to forgive them.’
‘I don’t hold grudges.’
‘You believe that, huh? Forgiveness isn’t for their sake, son. It’s for yours. When you stand before the Lord on that last day He isn’t going to ask whose fault it is. He’s going to want to know what you did with what you were given. The parable of the talents, son. Matthew twenty-five, verses fourteen to thirty.’
I hadn’t a clue what he was talking about. I said, ‘Since you know him so well, is God going to have anything else to say while he’s got me standing there?’
‘Sure is, son. He’s going to point out how many people went out of their way to help you make something of your life and He’s going to want to know what you did to give something back and who it was you gave it to. Not the people who helped you, ’cos by and large it sounds like those guys already got plenty. What you did for the people who couldn’t ever have helped you ’cos they had nothing. What did you spread around, apart from shit? That’s what your Creator is going to ask you on that fateful day.’
‘He’s got a pretty foul mouth on him, then? For a creator?’
‘Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain. Deuteronomy, son. Chapter five, verse eleven.’
So there you have it. The question: Is there anyone in Coeur d’Alene who could be offended by anything in that passage?
Give me a hand here—am I all right with this, or not? Zappa’s Mam’s a Slapper is ready for publication; edit and cover completed; layout for eBook and paperback in hand; and of course I’m nervous—I’m always nervous at this stage. There’s one passage I was happy with and now I’m not. Protagonist Billy has become a celeb, thanks to the efforts of his Prison Education Officer, Melanie, and Jessica, the agent who takes him on. Jessica is teaching Billy what being a celeb means and we get this:
The Governor’s words came back to me. “Lead your own life, McErlane. Don’t let that woman lead it for you.” Jessica said, ‘I know what you’re thinking, Billy, but before you protest, have a look at this.’ And she placed another printout in front of me.
Feeling a bit chilling? Catherine Tate cuddles up to her beau Adrian Chiles as they enjoy a romantic stroll
They went public with their romance in September after they were photographed cuddling up to each other during a holiday in America. And continuing to indulge in displays of public affection, Catherine Tate and Adrian Chiles were seen enjoying a romantic stroll last Friday evening. As they walked the streets of Santa Monica, the 45-year-old planted a kiss on Tate’s forehead while she, 44, wrapped her arm around his waist.
Adrian and Catherine chatted away as they enjoyed their evening stroll whilst hand in hand.
Tate appeared to be wearing Adrian’s blazer as it looked a few sizes too big for her frame. The make-up free flame-haired comedienne stepped out in a pair of slim tight jeans, a striped scarf, Ugg Boots and a dark top. The presenter was seen trying to keep his lady warm as they rested their feet and sat on a set of concrete steps.
Chiles allowed Catherine to rest her head on his shoulder as he stroked her leg.
Dressed rather smart for the evening date, Adrian wore a striped pale blue shirt with a pair of jeans and black leather brogues. He also wore a pair of reading glasses as he held a white carrier bag in his hand.
During the evening, the former One Show host treated Catherine to some frozen yoghurt. Chiles and Tate have both been spotted together on several occasions, and she also appeared on his popular topical news series That Sunday Night Show.
Adrian, who now presents ITV’s football coverage, has been single since he split from his wife Jane Garvey in 2008. The couple married in 1998 and divorced in 2009 – and have two daughters together, 11-year-old Evelyn Katarina and Sian Mary, eight. Catherine split from her partner Twig Clark, a stage manager last year, and they have an eight-year-old daughter together, Erin.
The actress, who is a regular on the U.S. version of The Office, reportedly enjoyed a brief romance with Take That’s Jason Orange in late 2011.
I said, ‘Where’s the story? There’s no story.’
‘The pics, Billy. What do you see? Apart from two ugly people?’
‘Well. They’re posed.’
‘That’s right. You’re supposed to think you’re looking at two people so wrapped up in each other they’ve been snapped without their knowledge, but actually they posed for the pics. Maybe they’re just polite. More likely they did a deal: We’ll give you your pics if you go away afterwards. And I’ll be doing deals for you. Better deals, I hope, because the journalist who wrote this didn’t play the game.’
I read it again. ‘What do you mean?’
‘The reference to slim tight jeans. There won’t be a single person who reads that without remembering that Tate’s arse wouldn’t look out of place on a shire horse.’
‘Why do women have to be so catty about other women? I think she has a nice bum.’
‘Then you have plenty to admire. There’s also the reference to his popular topical news programme, which was so popular it was axed. Just remember: no interviews. Right.’ She turned to the photographer, ‘First shot, please. Leave me out of it. Just Billy drinking his coffee and reading his text book.’ And she placed a book in front of me. I’d never seen it before and I can’t remember what it was. ‘Open it, Billy. Look as though you’re reading it.’ She put an A4 notepad beside me and a pen in my hand.
There were a few other people in the coffee shop and I didn’t find it as easy as Jessica to ignore them, but I did as I was told. When the photographer was happy with what he had, Jessica said. ‘What are you working on in English, Billy?’
We shot a few more pics, but not until we’d driven thirty miles to another town because we didn’t want any sharp-eyed busybody from my past working out where I lived. The first result appeared three days later in one of the redtops.
Okay. The extract is genuine—I lifted it from the Daily Mail and I’ll be acknowledging that in the book. What really concerns me is: Am I going to be all right having Jessica say what she does about Catherine Tate’s rear end? And her reference to two ugly people? When you read those things, do you think it’s me being needlessly unpleasant? Or do you see them as what they’re supposed to be, which is in-character remarks by a somewhat catty and abrasive person?
Working on the edit of When the Darkness Comes I came across this passage that I’d forgotten writing:
Alex had had a list of ways in which Ted irritated her. The way he could not get into a lift to go down without saying, “Dive dive dive.” How he pretended to believe the French for a sponge bag was “sac d’éponge”. The way he would suddenly say, “By Jove, Carruthers” about nothing at all, and how amusing he and his male friends seemed to find it when one of them would offer a hot drink to another with the words, “You for coffee?” It wasn’t a long list and they weren’t big things, but they were there. She had intended to change him when they were married. Her mother had died when Alex was eight; her father had not married again and kept any women he might have had away from his daughter; at ten she had been sent to school in Switzerland and come home only during the holidays; there had been no-one to tell her that all women expect to change their men after marriage and all women fail.
It’s one of the things that have long puzzled me about women. What is it that makes them believe we’ll change? Alex says, “It wasn’t a long list and they weren’t big things” but we’ve all known cases where they were big things—the man was a drunk; he hit women (the big, final, inexcusable act); he lied, spent money he didn’t have or two-timed her—and still she tells herself she’ll change him. Why?
I look at my daughter’s generation and think that today’s women aren’t so gullible and won’t stand for what their daughters tolerated. I hope I’m right.
Not many men get to my age without accumulating a history they’re ashamed of. Things they wish they hadn’t done. People they wish they hadn’t hurt.
What made me think of this was the final revision I’m doing on When the Darkness Comes, which I have been working on for seven years and still haven’t finished. I’ve published four books since I started on that one; when (whether) it will see the light of day I simply can’t say. It isn’t about me and people I’ve known because I don’t write about me and people I’ve known, but some things ring a bell. I’m not going to talk about all of them. There’s this passage, for example, when the protagonist, Ted Bailey, was fourteen years old:
Arthur must be six feet four inches tall and weigh twenty stone, every ounce of it muscle. Half his face is hidden by an untrimmed black beard but there’s no avoiding the eyes that stare at Ted, as crazed as the eyes of the dogs outside. He doesn’t introduce his friend, a skinny man who can’t stop smiling.
‘So this is Teddie,’ says Arthur. ‘He’s as pretty as you said he was.’
Twenty-five pages later, Arthur returns to the story:
The Lizard leans back against the wall, his face a picture of contentment. King Tut rustles his robes. What’s happening on the midway brings back the memory I believed I had buried so deep it could never return. I imagine that’s why I’m being shown it now. Arthur told me to take my clothes off, and I refused. “No” was not an answer acceptable to Arthur. Might was right, and the strong shall conquer the weak, because that is their due.
When my clothes were on the floor, his friend picked them up and took them away. Arthur handed me a pair of girl’s cotton knickers. I said I didn’t want to wear girl’s knickers and Arthur said that was all right, I wouldn’t have them on long enough to worry about.
I’m not going into where all that comes from; I’m only mentioning it here because after publication people are going to be asking me: Do you have a secret? If I do, a secret is how it’s going to stay.
There are other things, though, that have left traces in When the Darkness Comes and when I think about them I’m sad that I behaved that way. I’d like to seek out some of those women and say I’m sorry I treated them like that. Let me make it clear that we’re not talking about rape here—I have never made love with any woman against her will—what I’d make my apologies for is treating women unkindly. There aren’t any excuses. Here’s another extract from the book:
‘… you have a decision to make. About Arthur.’
‘Are you going to use what he did to you as a defence for what you did to Carole and Ramina?’ She held up her hand. ‘Don’t answer yet. You need to think it through.’
‘No I don’t. Shit happens. To everyone. We’re all responsible for what we do. Arthur does not excuse me, because there are no excuses’
P J O’Rourke said that there is only one fundamental human right, which is the right to do as you damn well please. He also said there is only one fundamental human responsibility, which is the responsibility to damn well take the consequences. As I get older, I focus less on the one fundamental human right—and more on the consequences. As I said, not many men get to my age without accumulating a history they’re ashamed of.
I certainly haven’t.