July to September 2002
I find that back in 2002 I actually wrote a blurb for this novel, presumably just for my own amusement. I’d forgotten all about having done it, but fortunately it says more about the story than I am able to remember ten years later! It goes thusly...
Leaving his job in London with a top broadsheet newspaper after his career takes a dramatic nose dive, journalist Sebastian Cook arrives in the sleepy town of Amford to take what he believes will be a relaxed job as Chief Staff Reporter on the small-time local newspaper, a chance to keep his head down while he works to rebuild his reputation.
However, Cook soon discovers that life on the Provincial Weekly is not all that it seems. What is the secret of the bizarre Stylus family, who pass the paper down from generation to generation like a family heirloom? What is the reason for the employment of the apparently superfluous Mrs Egg? And most importantly of all, what happened to Cook’s vanished predecessor, Chris Marshall?
As Cook starts to dig deeper into this series of strangely connected mysteries, he uncovers a sinister conspiracy that spans the decades…
“Of course, all of the best writing comes from the heart.”
The statement took me by surprise. I had only just entered the room and sat down for the interview and was hardly expecting this as an opening line. Some form of introduction or welcome perhaps. Maybe an enquiry about how my journey had been, or why I wanted the job. But not this sudden and unprovoked theory on the nature of good writing.
“Um… excuse me?” was all I could muster in reply.
“I said, all of the best writing comes from the heart,” he repeated. The writing on his door and the sign on his desk both identified him as ‘John Stylus – Editor’, but I knew that already. He was a little older than I had anticipated – perhaps around fifty? – and he had the look of an ageing hippy, his light brown hair cut in what resembled a mullet now streaked with grey, and a kind of dazed yet wise look to his face. He was dressed in brown trousers and a blue shirt, with a purple tie very loosely hanging around his neck. It was his footwear that really interested me though – large, brown buccaneer boots that looked like something a pirate captain might wear in some great swashbuckling adventure movie of the nineteen-fifties. They seemed quite incongruous at the bottoms of the legs of the editor of a small English local newspaper.
I didn’t write any novels at all during my two years at sixth form – or rather, I didn’t finish any. I wrote Coming Apart at the Dreams during the summer beforehand, and Local News in the summer afterwards. I must have written it pretty quickly – my notes from the time tell me I started it on the 11th of July and finished it on the 11th of September, but for two weeks of that I was away in Gran Canaria with some friends, as we holidayed to celebrate the end of our A-Levels and our emergence into the world after school before we went our separate ways.
I still considered myself to be an aspiring novelist while I was at sixth form, but I had a lot else going on. I became a little bit more of a social creature, mixing and making friends with a larger circle of people than I had done before, and of course there was a lot of reading and studying to be done for the A-Levels themselves. I did write quite a few short stories during this time, and also started work on a few novels that were never finished – although many years later the lead character from one of these abandoned projects, as well as some of the setting and atmosphere, did end up in The Wicket in the Rec.
Basically, I was busy pretty much having a good time and enjoying one of the best periods of my life. When it was all over, in the long summer between finishing my A-Levels and heading to Norwich to start university (such was my arrogance the possibility of not getting the grades I needed frankly never entered my thinking), I decided to have another bash at a novel.
I can’t tell you where the storyline or the ideas came from, save that I do remember it was originally intended to be a bit... odder than it turned out. I had some notion of what literature students might call a “magical realism” sort of a plot, but it ended up being set very much in the real world, and probably all the duller for it.
Of all the novels I have written, this is the most forgettable – I wrote the thing, and ten years later I can barely remember anything about it. I do recall forcing myself into a regime of writing for a little while, having a routine every night of trying to squeeze out three or four thousand words and then treating myself to re-watching another episode of Our Friends in the North (one of my favourite things ever) on DVD.
Reading the description of the character of John Stylus in that opening section reproduced above, I suspect I was probably somewhat basing him on my A-Level English Literature teacher, Jon Harley, a legend to many students of The Angmering School over the past thirty-odd years.
This is the first novel I wrote in the first person. I have always, I think, been a better writer in the first person as it helps get into the character and the feel of the piece and means you need less of the omniscient description which I’m perhaps not so good at. The problem with first person is it limits what you can do with the scope of the plot, so I haven’t always played to my strengths by using it.
I’m not sure whether Local News was appallingly bad, but I do think it was fairly anonymous and forgettable. But I would soon be off and onto other things – I was on my way to Norwich, to the University of East Anglia, where you went if you wanted to be a writer.
I think I did send this to a few agents and / or publishers, but nothing came of it – just form letters back, no personal notes.