Now that I’m in the mood after Offcuts and Offcuts (2), here is another passage that was once part of When the Darkness Comes but is so no longer. I didn’t have a problem with it; it was simply that the book had become so damn long, bits of it had to go and I chose those that could be considered self-contained.
Ted loves sailing, if being driven by a powerful motor can be called sailing. Maxim makes omelettes for lunch; they drink mineral water with them, because Ted has a no alcohol while at sea rule. They spend the evening in Mgarr Harbour on Gozo, where Ibrahim stays on the boat while Ted and Maxim dine ashore on Spagetti ai Frutta di Mare. The Gozo wine is good, though Maxim the Frenchman refuses to say so, the night is peaceful and they breakfast next morning on bread, coffee and sweet cakes.
The second day they dock at Crete; and after a late breakfast and an early lunch on shore they turn north and start picking their way between the islands that dot the whole waterway. As the afternoon sun begins to descend towards the sea, Maxim suggests stopping for the night in Kusadasi.
‘You want to reach Istanbul tomorrow?’ asks Ted.
‘We do not have time to arrive there today. And it is a busy harbour. Not the best place to navigate in the dark. And you have never seen Ephesus, I think.’
‘I won’t now. Ephesus Harbour is dry. The town is miles from the sea.’
Maxim glances at him. ‘I thought you did not know this area.’
‘I can read a chart.’
‘There are taxis.’
Ted shrugs. As far as he’s concerned, they’re here for the pleasure of the trip.
Customs come aboard and make a perfunctory examination. A polite man in an Immigration Officer’s shirt and an old pair of yellow trousers, gathered at the ankles, checks their passports. Then, once again, Ted and Maxim go ashore while Ibrahim stays with the boat.
Ted suspects that Maxim thinks him a fool, but he is not a complete idiot. Before leaving the boat, he takes the gun from its hiding place and slips it into the little leather handbag in which he carries his passport and some of his money. He wraps the strap negligently around his left wrist, carrying it as though it had no importance at all.
The Frenchman, too, carries a bag — in his case, a crocodile document case.
As Maxim said, there are taxis. This one is clearly waiting for them.
They go through some polite business about seating arrangements, but Ted makes sure Max sits up front with the driver, where he can see them both. He slips his hand into his leather bag and sees the driver’s eyes on him in the rear view mirror. Ted makes a show of taking out his passport and examining the sticker the Immigration man has put there. The driver looks away. He says something briefly to Maxim. Maxim, as briefly, replies. The conversation is not in French, and Ted does not understand it.
It isn’t far to Ephesus, but the road is poor and the journey takes half an hour. They see almost no-one on the way.
They park just outside the town and walk in. Ted, manoeuvring to keep himself on the right hand of the other two, sees Maxim smile.
‘Once,’ says Maxim, ‘there were three hundred and fifty thousand people here. How many people in your home town, Ted?’
‘About the same.’
‘And now look at it.’
‘Ephesus. This is what you get from living at a crossroads. You are lucky, you English, to be stuck out on a bunch of islands no-one wants. Did you know Paul wrote to the Corinthians from here?’
Ted is looking at the Odeon, a ruin of burnt clay with steep terraces and surrounded by clapped out buildings. ‘Looks like Roker Park to me.’
‘They have earthquakes here,’ says Max. ‘Many earthquakes. The Temple of Artemis was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. You know what is there now? One pillar. Two, maybe. A few stones scattered. Grass. Scrub. Nothing.’
‘So why are we here?’
‘The Hittites were here. The Greeks were here. The Romans were here. This was the second most important city in the Byzantine Empire. Paul lived here, John lived here. They claim the Virgin Mary lived here, after her Son was put to death.’
‘But why are we here?’
‘Do you know they have camel wrestling in Ephesus? Still, today?’
‘Have we come to watch?’
‘No, no. The wrestling is in winter.’
‘Men wrestle camels?’
‘They would be killed, Ted. No, no, the camels wrestle. Male camels. They make a big show of it. Dress the camels up. Music. A march through the streets. They find a female in heat and parade her in front of two males. Then the males wrestle for the right to mount her.’
‘Ah. It’s more like Newcastle than I thought.’
‘And they spit, and piss backwards. So getting close is not a good idea.’
‘Even more like home. Why are we here, Maxim?’
‘I thought I might take a look at some antiquities while we are in Turkey.’
‘You can pick up a head, or a carving, for a good price. Sell it in Paris for three, four times what we pay the locals.’
‘Is that legal?’
‘Do you care?’
‘I’d like to know.’
‘It is completely legal, so long as one has a certificate issued by a museum.’
‘Which, of course, we will.’
Max smiled. ‘This is the State Agora.’
‘Not very impressive.’
‘Two thousand years ago, it would have been a bustling courtyard. There were porticoes down two sides like cloisters, with columns supporting terra cotta roofs.’
‘The columns seem to have collapsed.’ Ted waits for Max to mention the three people, two men and a woman, sitting in the gathering dark on broken stone shafts. They give every appearance of waiting for someone.
Max points away from the three. ‘That is the Street of Curetes. It leads to the Fountain of Trajan, which you can still see though it’s dry, and the Temple of Hadrian. Nice friezes. And the street has some lovely mosaics. Why don’t you take a walk down there while I talk to my friends?’
‘You don’t want me with you?’
Max smiles. ‘Don’t miss the mosaics. They’re worth the detour.’
That passage is followed by the one I reproduced in Offcuts (2) but we return to Turkkey here:
‘What do you want to do?’ asks Dolan when my glass has been refilled. ‘Do you want to finish the story? In whatever time you’ve got left? Or are you ready to go? Let that poor girl up? Face the music?’
I steady myself with a swig of champagne. The poor girl can fend for herself. Facing the music is the last thing on my mind.
‘It was all about the woman,’ I say.
‘When we reached Ephesus, remember? There were two men and a woman waiting for Max. It was all about the woman. The antiquities were a smokescreen. The idea was that we’d bring back a couple of stone heads. They had the museum certificates all ready for us. I was to believe that the certificates were fakes and the heads were hugely valuable. And they’d persuade me to bring the woman along for the ride home. But, actually, the heads were just heads, bits of stone. It was the woman they wanted to get out.’
‘The DGSE. Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure. The General Directorate for External Security.’
‘If intelligence is the word we’re looking for. Never overestimate these guys, Barry. If you want to know how bright a country’s intelligence services are, form a view on the average IQ of their ordinary police force. Chances are, the IQ of the secret guys won’t be more than eighty per cent of that. What you do get, even more than with the police, is every kind of psychosis, every shade of mental infirmity, every possible form of delusion. And all the sociopathic and just plain barmy behaviour that goes with those things. And, above all else, a conviction that only they are in the know, only they have the big picture, and everyone else must help make their loony plans come true.’
‘So who was this woman?’
‘An employee of the DGSE.’
‘A French spy.’
‘If you want to give her that much glamour. She was no Mata Hari, believe me. The rather plump, rather plain French mistress of a Turkish diplomat who must have needed his eyes testing. And his sense of smell. She’d been happily sending back information about Turkey’s plans for whatever it is Turkey makes plans about, and they’d cottoned on to her. The Frogs needed to get her out before she disappeared.’
‘How do you know all this?’
Dolan sighs. ‘As I said before, it’s your time you’re wasting.’
‘Did you ever think of becoming a teacher, Barry?’
‘Why are you doing this? You’re dying, as you keep telling us, and still you fence with me as though you had all the time in the world.’
‘Yes, all right. I know all this because this is what Maxim and Ibrahim told me after I’d shot the two Turks.’
‘You shot the two Turks.’
‘So when I say I don’t know it, what I mean is it was told to me by people whose word was hardly reliable. Intelligence people.’
‘Ibrahim and Max were with French intelligence.’
‘Are you going to repeat everything I say? See, I’ve spent a large part of my life among criminals. And, by and large, criminals didn’t lie to me. They shot at me, they tried to rob me, but they rarely lied to me. They knew what they wanted, they said what it was and they went after it. But then I got involved with people whose job was keeping the world safe for democracy and they never said a true word if they could say a false one.’
‘Tell me why you shot the two Turks.’
‘Well, that’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about.’
There’s more, but it’s dinner time and I am about to open a bottle of rosé vinho verde (how can a wine be pink and green at the same time?) which is something I’ve never tried before — it came in a bin ends surprise case from Vineyards Direct — so I’ll leave this here and post the rest — probably tomorrow — as Offcuts (4).
Continuing the theme (in Offcuts) of passages that never made the final book, I’ve been working on When the Darkness Comes for a long time now and I really don’t know when I’ll be ready to let it go to print, but this has been in it from the start and beta reader after beta reader has asked me the same questions. Why is this here? What does it add to the story? Where does it get us? And they’re right; this is a perfect example of what editors mean when they tell writers to “kill your darlings”. So — and not without regret — it’s gone. Cut. Rejected. I don’t want it to disappear altogether, though — so here it is:
They’re getting into an elevator. Ted and the dwarf and King Tut. The Lizard stands back, watching them go. But something’s wrong. The building they’re supposed to be going up is next door. This lift is on the front of a tower that stands beside the building. It’s a high tower and a high building, but they’re not connected. How are they going to get across at the top?
There’s worse. The lift is one of those that run up the outside, with glass walls so you can see the people and the traffic grow smaller as you ascend, and the landscape grow wider. Ted hates these. He was in one and when it reached the top he was on his knees, facing inwards, eyes closed. Sobbing. They’d seen it before, apparently. They brought him out in a service lift inside the building. Kept telling him not to feel embarrassed, that it took some people that way. He did, though. Feel embarrassed.
He’s not good at heights.
He doesn’t like crowds, either, and there is a crowd now and it’s pushing forward.
What terrifies Ted, leaving the elevator to one side, what really leaves him wanting to lie on the floor again and scream, is: what happens at the top? If the tower isn’t connected to the building, how will he get from one to the other? And will he have to look down? And will he be able to stop himself?
He won’t make it. He knows that, so he doesn’t want to try. He’s struggling not to get into the elevator, but the crowd is enormous and it’s pushing and bustling and carrying him in there whether he wants to or not. The dwarf has him by the wrist and Tut is bobbing around a few rows back, taking care to keep him in sight.
How can all these people fit into one lift? And who are they? And why is Ted going where they’re going? He doesn’t know them. Doesn’t think he knows them.
And now the lift is climbing, shooting up the outside of the tower at increasing speed. The car is full of people eating and drinking, sitting at nicely linened tables, crisp starched napery, silver bowls, cut glass. Eating and drinking. Attentive waiting staff. Red wine, fizzy water, rare beef. There’s a cigar somewhere. Buzz of conversation. And Ted. He should be at ease in this environment. Man of the world, in his element in pampered luxe. Instead he’s screaming bloody blue murder. And no-one’s looking at him.
How is he going to get across?
Oh, help him, Mother.
They’re there. At the top of the tower. The crowd has strolled out and across, into the building next door. How? How did they cross? How the hell should Ted know? He couldn’t watch. They’re gone. What’s left is people he was at school with, in the Scouts with, played cricket with. How, why, he doesn’t know. And there, in the corner, trying to be invisible but never taking his eyes off Ted, is King Tut. Knowing that he’s really Ras Tafar, Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia should reduce the fear of seeing him, but it doesn’t. If anything, it makes it worse. The dwarf stands in the corner by the buttons.
The others are crossing now, all but the dwarf and Tut, who seems to be trying to creep a little closer to Ted, and Ted can’t go with them. They’re calling him, encouraging him, cajoling. ‘Come on, Ted. It’s fine, it’s nothing. Just step over.’
But it isn’t fine and it isn’t nothing. It’s a drop of hundreds of stories, thousands of feet, higher than the London Stock Exchange or the Gherkin, higher than the Empire State, higher than the Twin Towers of the World Trade Building.
And look what happened to them.
‘Come on, Ted.’ And he can’t. Because he knows they’re wrong. They’ve crossed over and for them maybe it really was easy but Ted can’t do it. He can’t. He’s going to have to stay here. He lies on the floor. ‘I’ll stay in here. I’ll go back down.’
‘Come on, Ted.’
‘You can’t go down, Ted. The lift won’t start till you get out.’
‘For God’s sake, Ted, be a man.’And he’s sobbing as though his little heart will break. Help me, Mother. Help me. Don’t leave me stranded here.
And something strange has happened. Because before there was just the tower and the building and nothing between except blue sky and puffy white clouds. And now there’s a platform half way across. It’s got cloud all around it, so he can’t see where it goes, whether it’s standing on the ground or what, but it’s there and it looks solid enough.
It should help, there being a platform half way. But it doesn’t. It makes it all worse.
‘Stand up, Ted. Take a step onto the platform. Then hold out your hands and we’ll haul you across. Safe as houses. Come on, Ted.’
Stand up. The man’s an idiot. Always was, even as a child. He can’t stand up.
‘We’re going to have to go, Ted. We can’t wait for ever. We’re going, Ted.’
‘Ted! For fuck’s sake, get on your fucking feet and step onto that fucking platform.’
Ted’s the boy. Oh, Ted’s the kiddy, all right. The athlete, hotshot cricketer who can’t stand up for fear of falling. The master of a French whore, killer of villains and police alike who’s too terrified by what he might see to open his eyes.
Now get you to my lady’s chamber, and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must come; make her laugh at that.
Ted is the fellow of infinite jest.
What does my gorge rims at it mean? He probably couldn’t write that line today. God, there’s some dirty bastards around. Where be your gibes now? Your gambols? Your songs? Your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar?
He hauls himself to his knees.
‘That’s it. That’s it, Ted. Now. Over!’
He’s lying face down on the platform. If he’d thought he was scared before, he knew nothing. This is fear. This is cold terror.
He can’t go forward and he can’t go back. The lift has gone, taking the dwarf with it. Or maybe that should be the other way round. The outer door is still open, but all that’s there now is an open shaft, waiting for Ted to fall down it. There’s no-one here but him and Tut, who crossed with him and is now so close he’s almost touching Ted’s spread-out leg.
He daren’t look down. Look down? He daren’t even open his eyes. How are they going to get him out of this? How can they send a rescue crew here? There’s no ladder in the world long enough, he knows that, and he couldn’t go down it anyway. Helicopter? How would they pick him up? Clinging to a net over that drop? I don’t think so, pal.
He can’t go forward and he can’t go back and they can’t pick him off. There’s no way out. It’s just him and Tut and the tower and the clouds and the wind. He hadn’t noticed the wind. It isn’t much, but it’s there. Probably the sound of people drowned it out before. The people have gone.
He and Tut are alone.
I’m editing Poor Law, the sequel to A Just and Upright Man and second in the five book James Blakiston series. At least, I thought I was. But a couple of days ago a series of strokes of the sort of genius known only to the greatest minds meant I had to accept that I was into a wholesale rewrite and not just an edit. I’ve spent a large part of today in 18th century Durham county, the POV I’ve been writing these scenes in is that of a young woman and I got into that trance-like state that comes—sometimes—when it’s going well, you’re undisturbed and you’ve left your own world behind and moved completely into someone else’s. If you like—though it’s a word I don’t like—I’ve been channelling a sixteen year old girl from the 1760s. A number of things happened and Kate told me each time how she felt, what was in her mind and what the reaction of other people was. Times like that you have to keep going, keep writing because you don’t know when you’re going to have that rock-solid connection to another world again. When I finally came out of it (because I needed to eat) I was reminded of that time I’d been writing a 20th Century criminal and, when I finally stood up, I was patting my pockets, desperate for a cigarette. It took twenty minutes before I remembered that I don’t smoke.
That took me on to Zappa’s Mam’s a Slapper, where protagonist Billy McErlane stood over me while I was working telling me, “Don’t forget the anger management. Tell them about the psych. Wendy wouldn’t have behaved like that, she’d have done this.” And from there it wasn’t a huge step to When the Darkness Comes and Haile Selassie elbowing his way forward when he caught the scent of Barabbas (who he didn’t care for one little bit) and saying, “If he’s in, I’m in.” The Lion of Judah had no place in my plans but he wasn’t going to be denied. He took control, too. So I suppose the question is fairly obvious. Am I completely round the bend? Is there any hope?
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.
The Making of Billy McErlane 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 Billy Mac 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, 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 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.
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 came 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 mothers 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.