ST JOHN, HANS ZIMMER AND FIVE BODYGUARDS

TAKING LEAVE was my first novel and I wanted it to be the best. Actually, I just wanted it to be read by people who would at best say how brilliant I was, and at worse not burst out in contemptuous laughter. To aid me in my quest, I traveled to a well-known Greek island – a major source of inspiration for others. If it had been an okay location for St John to write the Revelation in the Bible, it was going to be okay for me. 

Other than music, the only things I required were four or five literary bodyguards standing either side of my brand new Toshiba satellite laptop – I suppose I could have chosen some young contemporary guys that I liked, such as Iain Banks, Graham Swift, Martin Amiss, Jonathan Coe, but I decided I needed tougher more muscular  voices from men who’d been hanging around street corners far longer. The actual authors and their corresponding books I employed were as follows:

  • HENRY MILLER – THE TROPIC OF CAPRICORN
  • F. SCOTT FITZGERALD – THE GREAT GATSBY, TENDER IS THE NIGHT, A DIAMOND AS BIG AS THE RITZ (SHORT STORIES)
  • RAYMOND CHANDLER – THE BIG SLEEP
  • DYLAN THOMAS – ADVENTURES IN THE SKIN TRADE
  • P.G. WODEHOUSE – THE MAN WITH TWO LEFT FEET (SHORT STORIES)

Henry MillerIt is an attractive idea to believe these authors acted as bodyguards while I wrote Taking Leave. The truth of it was that I used them all as ways of raising the bar and helping me write far better than I thought I was able to. Trying to compare any novel to the Great Gatsby is a slightly masochistic idea, but reading passages of it after just writing a few pages of TL brought on feelings of suicide. In the end, it was Henry Miller’s tough exciting descriptive prose style that got me into the saddle and staying there.Miller is a wonderful writer. To think that in 1935, he abandoned his job in Brooklyn to go and write in Paris with no money, just the support of a girlfriend who liked him, good sex and books (in that order) – this was a time when people thought they were brave going out of state or their county, let alone crossing the Atlantic to a country where you needed to speak another language. Henry Miller had guts. The amusing and confusing thing about reading his work is that it’s easy to conclude Miller was only interested in writing about sex. He does write a lot about autobiographical experiences with women, and occasionally they do border on the gynecological. However, to write him off as a literary misogynistic sex addict would be wrong. Miller was not afraid to roll up his sleeves and push his fingers into a scene, and then tell you what he found beneath his finger nails. He was a massive enthusiast, someone who loved language and living life – someone who believed in bending down and stretching to get into dark and fascinating corners.

The devil is in the detail. Miller repeatedly comes up with weird and wonderful touches. Describing growing up as a 17 year old in a cramped house in Brooklyn, he captured a mood and an atmosphere perfectly when he talked about having to wait every Saturday evening  for his sister to finish washing her hair in the kitchen sink that doubled as a bath. How without fail he would discover long black strands of her hair smeared against the white enamel sink and how he had to get rid of every one before he could use the sink too. It might sound like nothing but the point about Miller was that he was not afraid to write about anything – God, love, his German father’s rage, the back of a woman’s bare knee, touching a female up on the subway, the joy of literature and beauty of the stars.

And what is the connection to the other writers and me? Miller ended up living in the Pacific Palisades, in LA, quite close to where Raymond Chandler once lived and very near to where I lived and edited Taking Leave in 2000-2001, not forgetting it’s the very same place where the hero in the Santa Monica Suicide Club lives.

Another blog to follow about TAKING LEAVE and the even more wacky coincidences regarding F.S.Scott Fitzgerald, Chandler, PG Wodehouse and Dylan Thomas.  As a parting shot, whilst writing Taking Leave I listened to the following pieces of music at least 300 times.

  • MOZART – MASS IN C MINOR
  • HANS ZIMMER – GLADIATOR
  • HANS ZIMMER – THE THIN RED LINE
  • ANNE DUDLEY – HYMNS ANCIENT AND MODERN
  • BLOCKBUSTER – SWEET

QUESTION: What bodyguards would you choose when writing your first novel. Tim Lomax in Taking Leave hires two armed bodyguards. Have you ever had one or thought about it? 

END


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  • Orlick Trellis

    Makes me want to read Miller again. Well said!

    My five bodyguards would be good dependable men, except for one. They would be TOM JONES, MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT, WILLIAM TREVOR, JOHN BANVILLE, and THE THIRD POLICEMAN.

    As far as hiring bodyguards, I tried to hire the two living guys named above… to actually write my first novel. They passed for reasons known only to themselves.

    Look forward to your thoughts on Chandler et al.

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