Writer’s diary: stardate: 14.02.2014ish.
I meant to say in my last blog-post that I’d be missing in inaction for the following two Fridays – my usual day of the week for flogging the blog. We’ve just had the fortnight’s holiday that falls between the two semesters which make up the Turkish school year. I went home. To England. On my own. For ten days. My dear Turkish wife didn’t fancy the kind of weather that Blighty was drowning in and she wasn’t going to entrust the care of the Halfling to me for the duration. But I wasn’t going home for the weather. I had things to do and family to see.
I must confess to feeling a little like David Booker as TK1965 accelerated up the pitted and rutted concrete strip that passes for a runway at Sebiha Gocken, (Istanbul’s second airport) dodging discarded wheelbarrows and stray dogs in pursuit of airborne status. (If you haven’t read Bad Sons, I’ve just lost you.) But it wasn’t all doom and gloom that I had to look forward to on my return to Turkey. Unlike DB, life’s pretty good for me out here. Didn’t stop me hailing the complementary drinks trolley to a stop as soon as it started rattling up the aisle, though. I love Turkish Airlines.
It wasn’t a busy flight and I had three seats to myself. I pretended I was flying business class. You can do that when you’ve got three seats to yourself and unlimited drinks. After the first couple of large ones have hit your empty stomach you can pretty much pretend anything you want so long as it doesn’t involve the words ‘hijacker’ or ‘terrorist’.
For company I’d taken along my first hardcopy draft of the fourth Romney and Marsh File and a red pen. I’d been itching to get stuck into the first ‘proper’ edit. With hindsight it probably wasn’t too professional of me to start the very important task of editing with a free drinks trolley doing shuttle runs on a half-empty four hour flight. With hindsight it’s also a good job I didn’t rent a car from the airport. That couldn’t have gone well.
Oddly, I really felt like an author on the flight. I made believe I was paying a quick visit to the UK to see my ‘agent’ about something to do with the bidding war that wasn’t going on for my back catalogue or maybe it was something to do with the option to Acer’s film rights that Ronnie Corbett hadn’t got in touch over. (I blame that particularly good French red they were serving rather liberally.) I read and scribbled and laughed a lot. (Again, possibly the wine and my sense of temporary liberation and freedom – think demob sponsored by Merlot.) I imagined another passenger maybe looking over and asking me what was so funny and I’d have had to tell them something like, ‘Oh, nothing. It’s just my latest book. Maybe you’ve heard of me? Oliver Tidy? No? The Romney and Marsh Files? No? Acer Sansom? No? Booker and Cash, perhaps? No? Do you own an ereader? An E…READER. Never mind. (Presses red button to attract attention of cabin crew.) All that happened was that a man who looked suspiciously like the Turkish equivalent of a US sky marshal came to occupy a seat in the empty three adjacent to me. He kept talking into his sleeve (another nut-case) and he looked in my direction a lot. I don’t think he was interested in what I was reading.
As soon as I touched down in UK I felt like somebody. Really, I did. I’ve never felt it before. Normally I just feel completely anonymous. And it was all to do with my books. I know that quite a good number of people have downloaded at least one of my books. I seriously wondered whether I was sharing space with any of them as I fought to retrieve my clothes from my broken suitcase as they made their way around the baggage carrousel in the airport; as I was shoved and elbowed on the escalator; as I stood squashed in with all the other tinned commuters on the overcrowded train (one on which I believed I’d paid for a seat). I felt something and it felt good.
James Oswald has recently recalled how he felt seeing one of his books being read opposite him on a train journey (seeing one in the wild as he so humorously put it). Sensibly, he says he was cautiously optimistic – no point revealing yourself if there is a chance the reader is hating every page. But he must have felt effing brilliant about himself. I was looking around expecting at least every other passenger on the slow train from Gatwick to Ashford International to be reading on a Kindle. Maybe I could have struck up a conversation, although remembering my one and only other attempt at such shameless self-promotion maybe it’s just as well absolutely no one was. Where are they all? I was under the impression that everyone in the UK owned an ereader and read voraciously on them.
I so wanted to be stopped in customs (I’ve never been stopped in customs in my life) and I wanted the pompous, bespectacled, tubby official to ask me if I had anything to declare. Thanks to Oscar Wilde I had my line ready. (Probably a good job there was absolutely no one official-looking in the customs hall. Doubtless all on a tea break while the world’s smugglers were hard at it. I imagine they hear Oscar’s line all the time from drunk twats suffering with delusions of grandeur and they probably have a good time exercising their body-search rights as some form of mocking retribution. Maybe that’s where they all were – some other pretentious self-publisher high on self-delusion and free spirits got in there just before me.)
For the record, it was four days later that anyone mentioned any of my books. That includes family. My eldest son was after a loan for a car. It occurred to him that if I was selling books he might be able to touch me for a few quid. I have the measure of him. I told him that if he’d care to read one, just one, and let me know what he thought, we could discuss the matter further. He pulled a face, got up off his knees and told me how bad things would have to be in his life for something like that to be likely before wheeling away and muttering under his breath. I can read him like the back of my strong hand.
In one of those short intervals where it stopped raining I took myself out for a walk around the village to which I am no stranger. We’re talking Booker and Cash country. I allowed myself to be seen. I waited for some kind of recognition, just a pointed finger, a bit of whispering or a quizzical look would have been nice. An autograph hunter could have made my holiday. Bugger all. Still, it’s only been out a couple of weeks and my trip home did happen to coincide (unwittingly, I can assure all) with the Romney Marsh Sheep Winter Olympics (a festival in which specially trained ewes and rams of the locality are encouraged to ape (!) the sporting endeavours of their more famous human Olympian counterparts currently disgracing themselves through their participation in and thereby support of the shenanigans of an oppressive, homophobic, intolerant and bigoted regime somewhere very cold and dangerous) so locals were understandably distracted. (Talking of cold and dangerous, I stayed out of Dungeness. I came home seeking accolade, admiration, appreciation, not to get my head kicked in. Think The Hills Have Eyes with shingle.)
On the one fine and dry day of my stay, I visited Dover cliffs with some immediate family (I was ever vigilant that son-number-one was between me and the cliff edge at all times.) We walked from Dover to St Margarets Bay in the brilliant sunshine and a gusting wind. We had a good dinner and a good couple of pints in the pub on the front there.
Dover cliffs are the setting for the denouement of the first of the Romney and Marsh Files, Rope Enough. I haven’t been up there in years. It was wonderful to visit and relive some fond real memories as well as some virtual ones. It was something of a relief to discover that I’d got the geography and features of the area about right. The old war time anti-aircraft installation is a bit further on than I remembered and now fenced off because it is teetering precariously on the crumbling cliff edge – didn’t stop me getting in though. I had to. It was that important to me. The whole day was and it was all because of that book. I felt proprietorial. I felt I had rights. I’d have looked pretty stupid if the relic from the last war had decided to plunge into the English Channel on that particular day. (At least I would have been remembered for something and perhaps books sales might have seen a spike.)
Thanks to family I had a good time in the UK. I missed my writing and I missed my two year old son with a weighty longing that cast a pall over my time away. (It would have greatly helped alleviate my anguished mental state had my dear Turkish wife remembered to inform me before I left Istanbul that she was moving flats while I was away and would have no Internet or phone for a while. I’m sure she didn’t do it on purpose. It must have just slipped her mind in all the confusion and feverish activity involved in moving lock, stock and barrel at short notice. It’s a good job the new people in our old flat could tell me where she’d moved too when they caught me fumbling with a key that no longer fitted the lock to my old front door at two o’clock in the morning. That was after we’d cleared up the understandable confusion that arose. Thanks to the Pidgin English speaker in the building’s armed security response team for that. No hard feelings. Those jeans were due to be thrown out anyway.)
I couldn’t write while I was away; I didn’t take my laptop. But I was mentally productive. From nowhere I came up with storylines for both the third and the fourth Acer Sansom. I’m glad of it. I’m pretty keen to get back in touch with Acer but I just hadn’t worked out a way in. I feel that if someone paid me to stay home for six months I could finish the next two in his life. (Offers by email.) And they’d be worth it. I also had a good idea for something to incorporate into a future Booker and Cash – thanks to the Dymchurch Art Appreciation Society for that. (I went along to the village hall with mum on a very wet Wednesday afternoon and really enjoyed the talk on Vermeer. He could paint. One wonders where he found the time what with all that work providing pretty shiny surfaces for antique furniture.)
I got through the fourth R&M and like it a lot. I think I’ll title it, A Dog’s Life.
I want to say a big thank you to all who have downloaded, read and then commented on Bad Sons here, on Amazon, by email and on Goodreads. It wasn’t a condition of downloading it for free that you had to say something nice about it, but many of you have and I’m very grateful. I’m glad you enjoyed it.
So, I’m back in Istanbul. Back in the bosom of my Turkish family (the wife’s unaccountably frosty, like someone who sees a great plan unaccountably fall apart [think anyone who has tried to invade Russia in winter] but the Halfling seems pleased to see me). Back to my laptop (think The Simpsons and their television set). Back to R&M 4 (where did all those red wine stains come from?). Back to my day job (brave face). Back to job hunting for next year’s day job (hopeful/pleading face). Back, as they say, to (crushing) reality.