My brother Steven and I are similar in appearance but utterly opposite in personalities. He’s married with two daughters and lives in the Kent countryside with dogs and chickens and fields full of foxes and deer. I suppose he’d describe himself as a liberal conservative. His wife is an addiction therapist. The family loves cars, and none of them are really that keen on London. They work very hard for increasingly little reward in our pension-and-credit-shrinking world, and we all get on very well.
But at some level, Steven considers me abnormal, an outsider whose knowledge of family units and ordinary everyday life is on a par with his knowledge of Neptune’s surface.
I kept my old company entirely populated with outsiders (I hope you’ll get to read about it in the ‘Paperboy’ sequel ‘Film Freak’) but it has survived since I sold it by taking on more strait-laced personnel to suit these straitened times. If you compare my average week to my brother’s, I seem to have retained my outsider status. I’m happiest in the chaos of the city, freefalling into plans.
The mistake people often make is in assuming that outsiders aren’t as rigorous as their counterparts. In fact many of my friends work much longer hours because they are driven by personal passions, and virtually every lasting discovery in the history of the world has been made by those with outsider status. It’s very rare that conformists create change.
I made a list of all my favourite books and fond that the majority of creators fit the outsider category. But right now, outsiders aren’t terribly popular in the arts. Readers want Sophie Hannah and Lee Child, just as TV currently favours the comfort of the past. So I’ve conducted an experiment. Over the past year I’ve been working on several projects that may never see the light of day, but one of them is to write a mainstream thriller. I’ve now nearly finished it.
I’m doing this for two reasons; first, to see if I can write inside the borders of popular taste, and secondly to see if I can sell it. Of course, what I’ve found is that the book has turned out not quite as straightforward as all that. I set out to write a twisty thriller and think I may have ended up writing one of the twistiest thrillers ever devised. Next month it will go to an agent and be judged.
This isn’t a career change but an exercise in discipline. Depending on the outcome, I’ll know if I ever had it in me to be something other than an outsider.