10 Day Book Challenge: Day 3

Reading & Writing

So I’m up there, Piso 2, in the dark, at the laptop. It’s lower on the desk than my London screen so I hunch over. I have to lie on my back twice a day and push back my shoulders to prevent my old RSI from returning. You train for these big finishes like an athlete; no alcohol, careful eating, workouts, breaks between long hours of focus. For what?

A crime novel – an entertainment for readers, that much-maligned and misjudged group, many of whom don’t even consider themselves ‘readers’ because they sometimes choose to read a murder mystery over, say, the new stream-of-consciousness Booker winner.

They say a detective story gets from point A to point B, from problem to solution, mystery to clarity. Today I seem to be stuck at Point Q. Reason? I’m trying to spend as much time on my lawless characters as my police officers. Trouble is, I know the members of the PCU inside out and they interest me, but for me villains are less  fun to write.

Then I think of two fascinating ‘bad’ characters, one real-life, one fictional. Anton Chigurh from ‘No Country For Old Men’ was defined with just a few broad strokes but worked as a shark works, sleekly and dangerously.

And Michael Peterson, the reluctant star of ‘The Staircase’, the best documentary yet to be shown by Netflix, offers us a puzzler: Could this fundamentally good man possibly have killed his wife? You form a cast-iron opinion in the first episode and remain to the end because of his intriguing character (you also form a very unfavourable opinion about the US justice system, but that’s another story).

This is how extreme ‘villains’ can be, from 100% cartoon evil to entirely decent and human. It’s all about perception, so what happens if you turn perception on its head? That’s today’s conundrum, but if I decide to do it, I have an awful lot of text to change.

Back at the book I’m on target word-wise, but it’s at the expense of scenes that need to be more than just bridges. I’ll go back to them later and refine. I have a lunch date, so I run uptown, past Barcelonans leisurely dining in hipster cafés and think, ‘Why can’t I be like them, lingering over a sherry and a cortado? Why am I doing this to myself?’

It’s not for the money; I’m paid a fraction of what I earned in my old film industry job. It’s not for the company; I work alone whereas before I hung out with a big group of writers and artists. I do it because this is what I do and by now probably all I can do.

I’ve had my walk and I’m back at the laptop, trying to make Bryant sympathetic and annoying in equal measure. Next I need to flesh out the murderer’s character – a much greater challenge. Whenever I tire I take another walk. I’m not going to post all ten days – I’ll dip in and out when there are developments.

Some think that ‘just writing’ (as my taxi driver called it) is a fey pastime for dreamers rather than a serious job of work his. Right now this is as tough as manual labour.

6 comments on “10 Day Book Challenge: Day 3”

  1. Sarah Griffin says:

    Thank you for putting in these long days of sweat and brain tangle to give the person who picks up this book a world you’ve designed to disappear into. Everybody out there, being in the stream of life needs a fictional world to give them richness. I imagine that basically you have the drive to create worlds and stories, so that’s what you have to do. Good luck with the marathon.

  2. Diane Englot says:

    Did you write Raymond’s staff memo yet? [smiling and making tiny little hand claps]

  3. Ian Luck says:

    Talking of Raymond, I still think that if a TV show were to be made of Bryant & May, and you had assurances that it would not be altered, interfered with, Americanized, or infantilised in any way, shape, or form, I think the best actor to play him would be Mark Heap. Nobody does ‘put upon’ like Mark Heap. It’s his face I see every time I read a B&M.
    In an ideal world (of course there’s no such thing), my ideal cast for a Bryant & May show would be as follows:

    Arthur Bryant – Toby Jones
    John May – Anton Lesser
    Raymond Land – Mark Heap
    Janice Longbright – Tamsin Outhwaite
    Dan Banbury – Tom Goodman Hill
    Giles Kershaw – Julian Rhind-Tutt
    Meera Mangeshekar – Mina Anwar
    Colin Bimsley – Darren Boyd
    Maggie Armitage – Miriam Margoyles
    Oswald Finch – Geoffrey Whitehead


  4. admin says:

    I’d agree with your desired not to see the books infantilised – I always think there’s no prize in gaining the lower ground. Interesting casting choices. I’ve always thought Toby Jones would be the one to nail it, and Mark Heap would be perfect. I had in mind Maxine Peake for Longbright but I like your choice.
    Meanwhile, the option may be about to be sold yet again…I won’t hold my breath.

  5. Ian Luck says:

    Have you ever thought about getting ‘Big Finish’ to produce some full cast audio adventures for Bryant & May? Their ‘Doctor Who’ work is really good – the offshoot series ‘Jago & Litefoot’ is utterly superb – two supporting characters from the Tom Baker classic ‘ The Talons Of Weng Chiang’, who were strong enough, and beloved enough by fans, to run for several series, now sadly curtailed by the death of Trevor Baxter, who played Dr. Litefoot. Their stories had a similar vibe to Bryant & May – the oddest of odd couples, in this case, a theatre manager (Jago), played by Christopher Benjamin, and a noted Scotland Yard Pathologist, (Litefoot), played by the late Trevor Baxter. Big Finish really do a good job. And with audio, as with books, the pictures are so much better. And no, I don’t work for them, just a fan of their output.

  6. Jan says:

    Ian’s got a point. Think I have suggested a B+M. radio drama before and the more I have thought it through the more these stories seem suitable for radio. Radio will carry the humour in ways telly just can’t pull off.

    They will be funnier, the actual detective bits will work better. I really think that would be the way to go.

    Bill Nighy reading the Charles Parris mysteries worked wonderfully but a full cast production of B+ M would be grand.

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