Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Royston, it was really nothing

I wrote this "article" last year, not long before DEADFOLK came out. I was sure one of the broadsheets (probably The Guardian) would be desperate for something by me to coincide with publication, so I wrote it in advance, knowing that I might be too busy when the call came.

The call never came. Not from The Guardian. Not from The Times. Not even from the Shitsville Gazette. So it's appearing here, on The Charlie Williams Blog, as an exclusive.

It's about the origins of DEADFOLK. With FAGS AND LAGER due for publication in less than four weeks, I thought I'd get it out now before it becomes obsolete. (Mind you, it's really about the origins of the whole trilogy, DEADFOLK being the first episode)....

Thirteen Years, Twenty-nine Cups of Tea, and a Funeral

This is a couple of years ago.

I'm sitting at my laptop, very specific ideas in my head about the great novel I am about to write. This is going to be the third one (but first published). This time I'm going to nail everything, all those ingredients that are sure to make it magical.

Urban. London. I've been living down here for years so it's about time I start writing about it. The characters are going to be products of the city, overloaded with data, cynical, lost. The devilish plot will lead them to a bittersweet resolution, a recapture of identity, yet at a cost...

So I'm here, writing it down.

But it won't come. I'm losing my way.


I start again.

Sit down. Laptop. London. Bla. Cynical metropolitan types. Bla. Identity. Bla...

That's what it feels like, the writing. Pasting words together. Bricks and mortar. Bla bla bla.

No, it's not working. I throw it all in the air. I want to write. I need to write. I've written lots before, so what's up now? Maybe I've lost it. Maybe I've written myself out, said what needed saying. Maybe not.

Back to laptop.

Bla bla bla.


Something happens.

Reality steps in.

A phone call. A family member has died. My father-in-law. It's not happening. He's healthy and a good man, and this situation is just plain ridiculous.

Only it's not.

We travel up, to that provincial town from which I so triumphantly escaped years ago. I do the best I can for my wife and her relatives and everyone else within range of a squeeze on the shoulder and a nice cup of tea. That's about all I can do, me being me. I talk a bit, but mostly I listen. Listening is easier. I don't have the same feelings about it all as everyone else. He was my father-in-law, the guy who I dreaded meeting for the first time a few years ago but then found out he was OK. But everyone else has known him forever. I'm in the thick of it, right there at the front, yet standing to one side, trying not to get in the way.

So I listen.

I'm OK, listening.


The funeral comes. It shouldn't be happening. He was healthy and a good man, and this situation is just plain ridiculous.

People cry.

People sing and eat vol-au-vents and have a drink.

People laugh.

I laugh. I eat the vol-au-vents and drink and sing. But most of all I listen, to these people from back home who knew him so well. I listen and keep quiet, thinking I know them so well, too. It's like turning the dial on your radio and finding that station you thought had closed down for good years ago. Same songs, different DJ.

I know these people. Maybe not as individuals, but something about them chimes in me. The voice? The haircut? More than that. I lived amongst them for the first eighteen years of my life. It's their essence I know.


It shouldn't have happened.


A good man.

A ridiculous situation...

Well, maybe not, people are beginning to think as the flowers begin to wither. The sun's still shining on this little old town after all. It comes up in the morning and goes down at night. Always did, always will. The people go away and leave my wife and her mother to mourn. And I'm still not sure what to do. I make cups of tea.

I put arms around shoulders.

I try to listen but it's getting hard, to be honest. Not because I can't bear it. I can bear it. But something else is expected of me now. Hey you, I'm hearing. Yeah you, the guy over there who's been doing all the listening. No one's saying that, of course. I don't even think anyone's thinking it. But I'm hearing it. Well, you've heard enough. Now say something. I'm hearing it alright. Say something!


I'm not being much use, really. And the worst bit is that I haven't cried, not like everyone else has. I listened and made tea and didn't cry, and now to cap it all I don't know what to say.

So I slink away.

Sit down. Laptop. Write.

But I can't get back there, to that difficult metropolitan novel. It's dead. I close my eyes and blink back the tears. It shouldn't have happened, you know. It was healthy and a good novel, and this situation is just plain...

Shut up, Charlie. That's awful. Awful. Just write something you... you...


I start again.

Laptop. Keyboard. Tap tap tap. Words are coming. I've been here for two hours and I haven't stopped. But it's... It's not...

It's not urban.

It's not London.

It's not even about products of the city, overloaded with data, cynical, lost. No. This is...

I don't know. What is it, this strange place? And who is this strange narrator who has thrust his voice into my head and down through my tapping fingers? You know, it's a bit like...

No, don't tell me that. I left this town thirteen years ago. It tried to stop me but I slipped from it's grasp. You can't have me, old town. I don't belong here. I'll never be part of you and you'll never be part of me. Now shut up and let me write, stupid old town.

I'm over you.

I write about other things now.

London, for example.

But I have to write. There's a voice up there and I might as well get it out. I don't know who it is, or where he comes from. We'll argue about that later. Let's just get the thing down.


I finish.

It's unlike anything I've written before. I'm wondering if I really did write it. I know I tapped the keys and swapped words around here and there, but there was a guy up there feeding it to me, a guy with a strange yokel accent who lives in an even stranger backwater town called Mangel. Royston Blake, he calls himself. He's a doorman, right in the thick of it yet standing to one side, letting folks past. I try to conjure a title for this new novel. "Deadfolk," he says. "Deadfolk, by Royston Blake."

Sorry Royston.

I did the typing, so I get my name on the cover.


People move around in Ford Capris in Deadfolk. They drive Allegros and Marinas and Vivas. The protagonist is a man who knows himself. Royston Blake, Head Doorman of Hoppers Wine Bar & Bistro. Oh yes, he knows who he is alright. Everyone in Mangel knows who he is. But what happens if you start to pick at him?

How firm is that firm jaw?

How hard is that close-cropped head?

Deadfolk is the book I always had in me, since the days when the rain fell down in a humdrum town and I dreamed of escape. All it took to bring it out was thirteen years, twenty-nine cups of tea, and a funeral.

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