Archives for posts with tag: Novel

Lemmings #1, 2013

Spider clawed at the thick fingers around his throat. He stamped at the pedals, the floor of the car, and the door, but he couldn’t seem to get the message through to Quinnell that he did not want to die. “Stop struggling,” said Quinnell. He gave Spider’s head a hard slap and Spider did as he was told. The Mustang’s windows had steamed up. From the darkness a short-bladed knife consolidated itself and glittered in the rear-view mirror.

“Mr Quinnell,” Spider hissed.

“You mucked everything up,” said Quinnell with a tone that sounded like regret. He pressed the tip of the blade to Spider’s throat. Spider yelped.

Quinnell’s face was flushed. Even the red in his moustaches seemed to have intensified. Following the curve of Spider’s throat, the blade moved slowly and with great deliberation, not too soft and not too hard. Momentarily, it left behind a neat red line. Then it got messy.

Spider spluttered something that sounded like f_k. “You didn’t have to do that,” he rasped. He squirmed in his seat. There was blood down the front of his yellow jumpsuit.

“It’s been a long day,” said Quinnell.

Spider tried to turn his head, but Quinnell did not want him to turn his head. So he hit the side of Spider’s head with the hilt of his knife to keep it where he wanted it.

“How did you find me?” said Spider.

“I’m asking the questions,” said Quinnell. “You lied to me, Mickey.”

The slight movement of Spider’s neck Quinnell’s fingers allowed suggested he wanted to shake his head. “Why?” said Quinnell. Spider sniffed.

“Of course, you’re not going to tell me anything. Not for nothing; that would be against your principles,” said Quinnell. “But I could torture the answer out of you.”

“Who’s your boss, Mr. Quinnell?” Spider hissed.

“You’re the one who knows everything; you tell me,” said Quinnell.

“Detective Superintendent Pankhurst,” said Spider. “Think about it.”

“Pathetic. That’s your answer?” Quinnell relaxed his grip. But the knife blade remained. “Very weak, Mickey,” he said.

Spider chanced turning his head to face his interrogator. “The culture’s changing, Mr. Quinnell,” he said. “And Bamtree’s changing with it. Our old arrangement was good, but someone made me a better offer.”

“Who actually paid you?” said Quinnell.

“No money involved.” Spider laughed a tight little laugh, which turned into a cough that rattled through him and shook the car around them. When the fit subsided he added, “Just be glad you didn’t hurt me too bad, Mr. Quinnell. I’ve become an asset.”

“You’re a prick,” said Quinnell. “Tell me who paid you.”

“I can’t do that, Mr Quinnell. As you know, words is my business, and those words would cost me dear.” There was a sour chemical taint to Spider’s breath. He turned back round so he was facing the windscreen. “Please don’t make a mistake here that we’ll both regret.”

“Mickey, you are no longer under my protection. May God help you.” Quinnell withdrew the knife. He slid back in his seat, folded the knife away, swung the car door open and climbed out. It had all been for nothing – paying the kid in the squad car – the bloody car-chase. Quinnell blinked in the darkness.

*

Lemmings (Including Cog) is the first track on Van der Graaf Generator’s 1971 album, Pawn Hearts. The original album was a massive three tracks long, the whole of side two being taken up by A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers (23:04). The album reached the number one spot in Italy. When the band toured the country to support it in 1972, riots broke out. Exhausted on their return to the UK, the band split. And reformed in 1975. Split again in 1978. Reformed in 2005 and are still going today (minus flute/ sax player David Jackson). The remaining members (Peter Hammill, Hugh Banton and Guy Evans) are touring this year and have promised to play A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers in full. You can see the song being performed on Belgian TV here. But, you know, buy the album.

*

Just after I ran into Jimmy Clancy, I met up with David Cook. I’ve known David since 1986. We were at art school together in the nineteen (mutter, mutter, mutter). He’s an artist and runs a great blog about art in London here. I was very jealous of David’s red jacket (not the reason this photograph is B&W). Anyway, thanks for letting me take your photograph, David! Hope you like it.

David Cook, 2013

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Untitled digital photograph, 2012

Untitled digital photograph, 2012

Untitled digital photograph, 2012

“What are we doing here?” said DI Quinnell.

“Keep watching the door,” said DS Donohue. They were sitting in Donohue’s car across the street from a cafe. It was  cold, even for November. They could so easily have wasted the morning at the station instead; it would have been warmer.

“There,” said Donohue, jabbing a gloved finger at the windscreen. A slightly-built bookie-type entered the café. “There’s your man.”

“He’s got nothing to do with the murder,” said Quinnell.

“Wait,” said Donohue. So they waited. The car’s ineffectual heater hummed. Two women pushed buggies past the car, followed by a small boy wearing an inside-out blazer. He swaggered over and pressed his face against the passenger window, until Quinnell flashed his badge. Then the boy ran off.

“That woman,” said Donohue, nodding at the café entrance…

Untitled digital photographs, 2012.

The close was almost exactly as she’d left it – neat suburban houses at the upper end of the property market – its pavements bathed in a soft sodium haze. A family car had been parked on a verge by the road directly under the street light, but apart from that there was no change. The close was still and lifeless as a stage set. It was when the stage-set beckoned her forward that she realised she was shaking. Ms Nobody had not eaten for at least eight hours. “I’m starving,” she said to the lamppost. “I’m ravenous,” she said to the street sign. Dunn Close it replied.

Untitled digital photograph, 2012

Untitled digital photograph, 2012

Untitled digital photograph, 2012

Untitled digital photograph, 2012

Untitled digital photograph, 2012

Leaves, 2012

Untitled digital photograph, 2012

Scaffolding, 2012

Untitled digital photograph 2009-12

Rain blundered over from the other side of the open market and splattered itself over the cafe’s front windows. What could have been so pressing that Pankhurst couldn’t lead an investigation into the killing of a celebrity? Quinnell sipped the cold remains of his tea. The slow clockwork of Cafe 13 whirred and gyred around him, a small deal here, a customer nodding out there. He took comfort in the familiar cycle. Too many things were changing for his liking.

Untitled digital photograph, 2012

Untitled digital photograph, 2012

“The appearance of Scutt means someone has stopped caring about consequences. Because Scutt doesn’t follow no code. He doesn’t care about  rules. He’s bad for business – everybody’s business.”

Untitled digital photograph, 2012

Untitled digital photograph, 2012

Untitled digital photograph, 2012

Untitled digital photograph, 2012

Untitled photomontage, 2012

Untitled digital photograph, 2012

Untitled digitally-treated photograph, 2012

Jennifer Stephenson’s thoughts on Mary Gracie: Dowdy did not do her appearance justice – her clothes had passed through drab to the other side. They were glaringly negative, unhappy, ill-fitting, inelegant, ugly, rucked up, ruffled, laddered, unravelling, creased by failure and frustration, grey, washed out, scuffed, torn, discoloured and stretched. 

Shutters, 2012

Rapt, 2012

On the corner of City Road, opposite the entrance to the police station, stood a wooden billboard. The day before, he was certain it had advertised British Gas. Today it read, “Morning Worms,” in foot-high, san serif capitals.

Golden Promises is the first track on Peter Hammill’s 1980 album, A Black Box. You can read more about the album at peterhammill.com – it’s a massive and lovely resource jam-packed with lyrics, interviews, videos, and audio clips.

Untitled digital photograph, 2012

Untitled photomontage, 2012

Untitled digital photograph, 2012

Untitled digital photograph, 2012

Untitled digital photograph, 2012

“There are no demons behind this – just men, Rufus. We’re creating Hell on Earth.”

Untitled digital photographs, 2005

These were taken with my first digital camera, a 5MB Pentax compact. The idea was to convey a sense of unease with mundane objects – a kind of underlying terror with the everyday. The camera was never the same afterwards.

Untitled digital photograph, 2008

The following is from Chapter 13 of the novel, originally extracted for reading at a writers’ group. Chapter 13 is a big one – currently 300-400 pages long. So, a small extract…

For the first time ever she saw it rain gravel. Terence the driver fell over backwards, like a felled tree, into the mouth of the garage. She let him lie for a while then, when he didn’t get up again, Jennifer walked over to see what had happened. From the concertina metal doorway she could see him sprawled on his back, a marijuana cigarette smouldering just out of reach of his right hand. His left still held the gun.

“Are you alright?” she said.

“Jenny.” The driver didn’t move. He spoke to the ceiling.

“Yes,” she said.

The left hand laid the pistol carefully to rest on the concrete floor.

“You haven’t shot yourself have you?” she said.

Without raising his head, Terence said in a low voice, “No, I must have blanked out for a second and squeezed the trigger by accident.”

Jennifer walked smartly into the garage and ground the joint underfoot. “Naked flames: not good in a garage,” she said.

“Do me a favour. Don’t tell anyone about this,” said Terence.

“Spoilsport,” she said.

“I mean it. Tony’s very anti-drugs. If he knew I’d been smoking, he’d sack me.”

“You’re joking.”

“Please, Jenny.”

“Alright, but you owe me one big boy.” She turned on her shiny heels and left the driver where he lay.

In a moment they would all come running to see what the noise had been. Jennifer picked her way down the path between the outside wall of the garage and the moat. It ended in a dilemma. Did she step out onto the lawn, possibly alerting the inquisitive guests in the drawing room to her presence, making them wonder what she was doing there? Or did she somehow squeeze herself into the undergrowth, where ivy and brambles had been allowed to run wild, but beyond which stood a line of trees in the shade of which she could hide?

She peeked around the corner of the garage. A figure stood on the concrete terrace that adjoined the drawing room, a hand raised to its ear: Dave. Tony, who was now dressed in a silver shirt, stepped out to join him. They exchanged a few words and then the singer disappeared back inside the house. Dave tapped a number into his phone. A mobile ring-tone she had not heard before started blaring in the garage. Jennifer retreated. No way could she appear from behind the garage now. Nothing about her conduct must arouse Tony’s suspicions, not now when everything was going so well. The bramble bushes behind her were up to waist height. She had nothing with her to cut through them, and nothing obvious to hand that would act as a switch. Then she saw, lent on its side against the garage wall, a broken decorator’s plank. It was damp and slimy and snails had congregated on its shady underside. But the plank was all she had, so she lifted it and laid it down over the spiky undergrowth. Thorns squeaked and a fallen branch snapped. Then all noise stopped. And she was shimmying across the plank into the shade of the trees.

Dave’s voice grew louder as he approached the garage; he was still talking into his phone. If you took away the garage there was probably less than twenty feet between him and Jennifer. She concentrated only on the next step. Make no noise. Breath become invisible, inaudible. After twenty-five-six-seven steps, the path widened. Enough that she didn’t have to stop to unpick thorny tendrils from her skirt and jacket every few feet. She allowed herself to breathe and filled her lungs with a welcoming earthy smell. Rotting leaves? The aroma belonged somewhere else, where? The time Danny got lost in the New Forest. Long before he got his hands on a drum kit.

Jennifer felt a sharp pain in her ankle. She had wandered into a nettle patch. “Ow, shit,” she said and hopped to a patch of bare earth under a big old tree. On a protruding root, she set about massaging her ankles through her sheer black tights. She knew she needed a dock leaf, but didn’t know what one looked like.

Around the curve from the base of the old tree, the gap between the undergrowth and the moat got narrower. If it got much tighter her clothes would be ruined. She thought she could see movement, a bird or something flitting across the path, but it was just flies. Where she was, the brambles were still too thick to climb through, so she pushed herself up off the tree and walked with burning ankles down the slope towards the narrowing path.

Its perfect body blocking her way, one dark eye open and glassy, lay a fox attended by three house sparrows. The birds did not fly off at her approach, but continued to regard the corpse with interest. Scarlet berries or fruit of some kind, had fallen from the surrounding plants and into the gaps between paw and tree root, snout and leaf. Here is death, thought the sparrows. Nijinsky, thought Jennifer. Nijinsky. This was her new world – savage, beautiful, vengeful. Seemingly as cunning a confection as her own outward appearance. What set of circumstances had led the fox and the birds into this composition? To this frozen moment. The fox had a neat brown bullet hole in its neck. Small spots of blood marked the fur here and there, but otherwise there was surprisingly little mess. It must have been Terence, she thought. Not as bad a shot as he seemed. If he stayed off the weed he could be quite dangerous.

She too could be dangerous, the girl who had chosen this path, the maid whose origins lay in an ‘A’ level art class. An oh-yes moment: she chanced upon Untitled 1975 by Cindy Sherman in a book about the eighties. It was made up of 23 head and shoulder shots of Cindy from the first, where she wore glasses, no make-up and limp shoulder-length hair, through twenty-one minor changes – glasses taken off, blusher, eye shadow and eyeliner applied, thick red lipstick, a beauty mark and a black choker added – one picture at a time. Until at last she looked like a different person; still Cindy, but with a new hard outer layer. This work of art was something else. It did something in the world. To Jenny it said, “It is possible to effect change.” So she put away her paints and started using her body as her material. And here she was, as much of a confection as the Cindy Sherman of Untitled 1975, as much of a result of circumstance as the dead fox before her. What a pretty picture they made: the fox, the maid, the house sparrows, the spilled fruit.

Jennifer stepped over the dead animal and found herself in a less overgrown area. The blackberries had been cut back, the nettles cleared. Just ahead of her and to the left, she could see the foundations of the summer house. A little further along she would be able to slip out onto the lawn behind the tool shed.