I hosted a small writers’ retreat this weekend gone. Each of us was at a different stage in production of our latest work. In my case I’ve been editing the sequel to my first book. That edit finished on Sunday morning leaving me with the current state of play…
1. I have my memoir of my mum read to be published which is what May is for
2. As mentioned I’ve finished The latest edit of The Last Will Of Sven Andersen which I play on leaving to marinade for a couple of weeks. I rashly asked for beta readers recently – thank you to those who agreed – but timings have changed a little and I will come back to each of you nearer the time I’m ready to go.
3. I need a ‘what next?’ decision
Hmm. What to do? As I was with writers whose opinions I value I threw my dilemma to their collective wisdom. Currently I have 5 works in progress, each a fully or substantially completed first drafts of novels (including the third part of the Harry Spittle series, of which The Last Will is part 2 and which I’m definitely not ready to go back to). So that leaves 4 books that need a lot of work, 2 of whcih were the first 2 I ever wrote, back in 2006/7 and whose stories I still love but where the writing will be… well, sh*te.
In the end I gave a brief synopsis of each book and, as universal acclaim they chose the first thing I did. Which I must say pleases me a lot.
And thus I’m underway on a significant rewrite. To encourage myself and tease you, here is the first chapter. Any comments or thoughts will be gratefully received.
May 3rd 2005
“It’d be better if she’d been murdered.” Chris Reyborough squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head. His shaggy brown fringe flopped in and out of his eyes. He glanced at Martin Connolly who gawped back at him. “No, of course that’s not what I mean.” Chris breathed in and glanced at the café’s ceiling in exasperation. “But, shit. Suicide. I mean, if it were that… It’d mean…”
Martin put his cup down and sucked spilt foam from his fingertips. A dollop had fallen onto his shirt, just next to were the last button strained to hold his stomach in. “It can’t be suicide, mate. Not Di.” Martin’s large round face seemed ready to crumple.
Chris moved his gaze away; he couldn’t cope if Martin broke down. Again. How could such a confident man give into tears so easily, he wondered, not for the first time. Over by the wooden topped the serving counter, one of the officials who he recognised from the morning session nodded back at him. “She’d have to have hated me, wouldn’t she? To do that.”
Martin reached out, but Chris leant back, crossing his arms. “No one’s mentioned suicide.”
“No? That coroner’s definitely gunning for suicide. You heard his questions.”
“It was an accident. Everyone knows that.”
Chris swallowed, conscious that Martin was staring at him, but he refused to make eye contact. “Thing is, they’re probably right, aren’t they? Why was she at that junction, anyway? Where was she going?” He wished he’d gone for a walk, not agreed to Martin’s suggestion they come in here. Everyone was listening, judging him. Them. Even Martin had his doubts. He’d never been able to hide his feelings.
Martin began to speak, but stopped himself and sipped his coffee. Eventually he said, “Let’s get some air before they resume.” He checked his watch. “Fifteen minutes.”
“I’ll stay here. If you want a fag, I’ll meet you inside.”
“Sorry,” Martin whispered, as he slipped into the seat next to Chris. “Who’s that?”
A skinny, stooped man, probably in his forties, stood next to the Coroner’s desk.
“The lorry driver.” Chris kept his eyes on the witness.
“Oh. Right.” Martin sat back. Sweat stuck his shirt to his back. “Poor schmuck.”
The coroner, a balding man with round frameless spectacles said, “Can we be clear about this, Mr Johnson? You say you saw her look at you before she deliberately drove out in front of you?”
The witness hesitated. “I think so. It really is a very clear memory. I wouldn’t usually notice other drivers in that much detail, you know. Not just waiting to pull out. It just struck me at the time, how she was making eye contact and now, you know looking back, it just seemed like she made up her mind.”
“Not an accident? Not a loss of concentration?”
“I don’t know, not for sure, it just seemed…” He glanced towards where Chris and Martin sat and petered out.
The coroner wrote a few notes before looking up and smiling. “I know this is hard, Mr Johnson, but it is important that you are as certain as you can be.”
“Wanker.” Martin hissed, under his breath, glancing at Chris. To Martin’s surprise Chris was getting up. A couple of people nearby looked across but neither the coroner nor the witness seemed to notice. He felt a strong urge to pull Chris back, but after a moment’s hesitation, he, too stood and followed Chris outside.
By the time Martin exited to court room Chris was sitting on a bench by a large noticeboard. For a tall man, he seemed to have shrunk since Diane had died, like he was hollowing out. Briefly, Martin wondered if he was eating properly.
“Why didn’t Petes come? He said he would.”
Martin rubbed his jaw, feeling the bristles. “That’s why I was late back. He called. He missed his train. Said his last job overran and he’s really sorry. I told him not to bother now. There’s not another train for an hour and it’ll be all over by then.”
Chris shrugged and studied hi finger nails. “He can’t afford to turn down the business, can he? I mean it’s only Di, isn’t it?”
“Give it a break. It wasn’t deliberate.”
“Really? Every fucker wants it to be suicide. Even Clare.”
“Clare? Don’t be daft.”
Martin jerked back as Chris swivelled in his seat and glared at him. “While you were cooking up a fucking excuse with that tosser, they read out her statement. She made it clear she thought it was suicide.”
“No way. I spoke to her, a couple of days ago. She never said—.”
“Yeah, well, she’s changed her tune then. Go and get a copy and see what you think if you don’t believe me.” He turned away. “Why’d you come, anyway? Make sure I don’t join her? Feeling guilty, are you?”
Martin stood, biting back the comment that burned onto his tongue. “I know this is appalling, but it’s not going to help, having a go at your friends.”
“Friends? What fucking friends?” He stood quickly and before Martin could say any more, headed back into the court room.
Martin sat and let his mind wander. Petes not coming was a bugger. Selfish prick. Christ, he thought as he smoothed down his suit trousers and got to his feet, how the fuck were going to put the pieces back together now?
Back inside the court, the coroner’s officer went through some basic details with the witness, a Mr Alan Harvey. Martin let his gaze go up to the ceiling where dust particles swirled in the shaft of sunlight. He came back to the witness as he started to speak. The man wore an earring and what appeared to be tattooed up his neck, emerging just above the top of his pullover. Martin wondered who he was.
“I came up behind the woman’s… the deceased’s car. It was already waiting at the junction. You know, like it had been there a while. There was a clear view both ways and a bit a bit of traffic, like. She, the deceased, you know, that is, she weren’t signalling but I was sure she was planning to turn right, across both carriageways. Anyway, I waits. A couple of pretty obvious gaps appear but she don’t move. I thought she may be on the phone, you know? Or checking a map or summat. Got to be a minute, sitting there, though it felt like five. Well, I thought of honking, like you do but, you know, do you? Might be some thug, road rage an’ all.” He smiled at the coroner, who nodded him on. “Then there’s this second gap, there’d already been one, real big. She moves forward a bit and stops. Nearly rammed her, didn’t I? I’m swearing away, frustrated like. And the gap’s gone and now we have to wait again. Anyway she sits there until,” Mr Harvey swallowed and looked directly at Chris who stared back, “the biggest bloody lorry appears and… and…” He looked down and shook his head.
“Take your time, Mr Harvey. Do you need a glass of water?”
He shook his head again. “It was horrid. I mean you don’t stand a chance in a small car like that. He, the lorry driver, must have been doing 50 or 60 and…” Again he shook his head. He turned and looked at Chris once more, who had covered his face with his hands. He turned his gaze to Martin. “I’m really, really sorry, mate. I stopped to try and do something but it was awful…” Martin watched him blink and swallow hard. He couldn’t begin to imagine how horrible that must have been.
The coroner finished writing some notes. Mr Harvey waited.
The coroner said, “So, could she have made a mistake, Mr Harvey? Could she have maybe thought there was a big enough gap and made a bad error of judgement?”
“Can’t see it, your honour. I mean she’d passed up two opportunities. She looked like she was about to take the second, but bottled it. Then she chooses the biggest lorry to go out in front of, like. I mean they were this close when she shot out.” He held his palms an inch apart and stared at them as if surprised to see them there. He lowered his hands and came back to the present. “It must have been a total brainstorm.”
Or suicide, thought Martin.
It took Martin a lot of cajoling to get Chris out of the building. Finally, as they walked down the steps, Martin could light up. After a long drag, he said, “Drink?”
Chris didn’t answer. He kept walking down the steps and, at the bottom, turned right towards the centre of town. When Martin caught up, he said, “That was a farce.”
Martin wanted a second cigarette, but stopped himself. “It had to be a call, or something, didn’t it?”
“What was she doing there? She had no reason. She should have been in hospital.”
“I don’t know. Maybe…”
“Look, it’s just something Clare said.”
“Oh well that makes it certain, doesn’t it?”
“No, listen. Cate’d been in hospital for weeks, right? Di had barely left her bedside. Maybe… you know, maybe she just needed a break and—.”
“That’s balls. Ok, I buy the idea of a break, but you don’t drive twenty miles away without telling anyone, do you? No, she was going somewhere.”
Chris had stopped walking. He met Martin’s gaze. “Yours?”
“Mine? Why…? If she was coming to me – and Christ knows why she would be – if she was, she’d have called. She knows I’m away as much as I’m home. She could just as well have been going to see Petes—.”
“Yeah, like that was going to happen. He couldn’t stand her—.”
“That’s unfair. He’s just a bit awkward with her. That’s all.” Martin rubbed his face, puckering the skin around his jaw. “We’ll never know, will we, mate? Not now. But…” Martin lit a second cigarette and sucked on it.
Martin ground out the cigarette. “Nothing. You want a pint?”
Chris looked like he’d set, so still did he stand. Then he shuddered and shook his head.
“Petes said he’d call round later. See how you were. We could have one with him, yeah?”
Chris looked up at the mention of Peter. “Yeah… it was only the inquest… nothing important. Not like a fucked stopcock…”
“Hey mate. Cut him a little slack, yeah? He needs the work.”
“He’s a coward.”
Martin watched a car pull slowly along the lane; the driver stared at them. “I will ignore that. It is… He’d have been here if he could.”
“Yeah, ok. No drink, though. I need… Fuck knows what I need.”
“A new life, more like.”
“What if we did something. You know, the three of us?”
Chris frowned, a small confused smile on his face. “Such as what?”
Martin hesitated. “We thought…”
“You’ve been planning something?”
“No, just we… well, Petes thought… we thought… we might…”
Martin started as Chris burst out laughing and just as quickly stopped. “Christ Martin. You sound like a teenage boy asking a girl for a date.”
Martin mirrored the smile. “Sorry. A walk. We thought we might try a walk together. Remember we planned one, years ago. Maybe we should dust that off.” He watched as Chris’ frown grew. “Ok, maybe not yet, but think about it.”
“I don’t know…”
“It’d be a few beers, few laughs, lose ourselves for a bit.”
Chris snorted out a breath. “Sounds like a recipe for ending whatever friendship we have left.”
Martin looked at the blank face and pursed his lips but remained quiet.
Chris said, “You really think it’s a good idea? How long would we be together? A weekend? You think we could manage a day without fighting? And Petes isn’t exactly walking material, is he? Anyway, I don’t have any holidays left. I’ve taken so much time off and… no, it’s a nice idea and, really, thanks but it’d be a disaster.”
Martin titled his head on one side. He shrugged. “Ok, wrong time to raise it. But you do need to do something. Get out and about. And it is a cliché, sure, but it will be healthier for Cate if you do. Really.”
Chris stuck his hands in his pockets and moved off. They were a few yards from where Martin had parked. “You’re a fine one to lecture me on doing what’s best for your kids.”
Martin glared at Chris’ back. “Yeah, well. It takes one.”
Chris smiled, just with his lips. He glanced at Martin. “Bring the boys along, why don’t you? We can all bond.”
Martin pulled open his car door. “Right. Good idea. Let’s drop it ok? The offer is there.” He slipped into the driver’s side. “You want a lift?”
“Nah, it’s out of your way. I’ll get a bus to my folks. Thanks for coming. Love to everyone. Suzie, too.”
“Ok. Yes. Don’t hide.”
“We’ll be round. Soon.”