Behind The Cover: Soho Black
I’d forgotten that Bryant & May crop up in my black comedy ‘Soho Black’. Of all my books it’s probably the oddest man out. But I wrote it for a specific reason; the story is effectively true. Beneath the puns, jokes, movie references and snappy dialogue lies a more serious intent. If you substitute ‘serious physical or mental illness’ for ‘death’ in the book it all becomes clear. My agent said, ‘I can see exactly what you’re up to here.’
It has problems – it’s too ‘Spanky’-like, too glib, too cynical, too long, but it came at the end of a run of zeitgeist London novels, the last nail in the coffin as it were.
In the novel, Richard Tyler, a stressed film executive suffers a heart attack in a fashionable bar and dies – or does he? The twist here is that Tyler gets to do what perhaps many of us would like to do, to see the after-effects of our own deaths. And our hero finds that he’s more respected dead than alive. But he decides not to allow a little thing like mortality to hamper his career…This was my funny/horrific take on the new macho work ethic of London, where risking all is considered a sign of executive bravery. It’s almost a zombie novel crossed with a Guy Ritchie movie, except that Shirley Bassey sings a big production number in it.
Over the years, a lot of people want to turn it into a film. Stephen Daldry fell in love with the book and wanted to direct it, but took it to Working Title. Big mistake, as the makers of CATS and other wholesome fare threw up heir hands in horror at the book’s content.
And perhaps they were right to – I don’t have much fondness for the novel now, but it has some good scenes; I like the dead man found in a telephone box full of rare butterflies, and the gangsters who don’t realise that toes leave prints, although the appearances by Bryant & May and Janice Longbright feel odd now, as if they wandered in from the wrong set of books. ‘Soho Black’ nailed a very specific time, place and work ethos, but it’s not a likeable tale for me, and was written at time when I was burned out from working too hard in the film industry, pretty much living through the lead character’s eyes.
Now it feels as though it belongs to a distant era – two years before 9/11, when everything changed. Comparing the two eras it’s possible to see just how much technology changed us, not really for the better. Before, my offices were abuzz with bright people being clever and arguing endlessly. After, it was just full of keyboard operators in headphones.
The models on the cover were all real Soho denizens. I know that Troy (far left) became a successful businessman. Polly, the blonde at the centre, was a Soho legend. I always wondered what happened to her, but I’m afraid to find out. They were part of a set that lived way too fast for me.