At 71 years old, and with the inevitability of nothingness before me, I am about to give up – so far as novels go – sending MS off to agents and publishers. Even if they do read the synopsis and ask to see the MS it can be a year or more before a decision on the MS is made. More often than not, after repeated sendings-out, the MS doesn’t even find a slush pile to grace. And most times I don’t receive as much as a Thanks-But-No-Thanks response to my introductory email/letter.
So, with time the least I can now spare, from January 2018 I am going to self-publish on Kindle those novels already published but which I felt, their publishers not long after publication going out of business, didn’t get a fair chance at attracting a readership.
First to appear on Kindle will be Trees: The Tree Prospectus. Trees first saw light of day as an e-book courtesy of the German company, Safkhet Publishing. That was in the October. May the following year Safkhet ceased trading and their version of Trees was withdrawn from Amazon. This new version is a bigger book, comes complete with my illustrations – https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B078R5C5R2
At present I have 4 other titles to follow during 2018. 2 of them will be republications and 2 – should I not in the meantime hear back from agents and publishers – will be brand sparkling new. One of them is even bigger than Trees. And inbetweentimes I’ll leave a few spare beginnings here.
2018 is going to be busy.
Plot One. On a frost-pattered morning here in a Welsh valley the first of these plots under consideration is a weekend country house gathering, a middle-age celebration of a birthday.
One of the presents gets stolen. Probably a piece of art, or china, but there on display one moment, gone the next. Say when all the celebrants go out for a hill walk together, house locked on departure, unlocked on return. Someone asks to examine the artefact, and so discover that it is missing.
Doubt now whether the house was truly locked, but certainly not broken into. Mystery gets chewed over but unresolved. Until morning, when the artefact is back where it was.
Title I played with was Dark Side of the Moon. Possibly the name of the artefact, but doubling as the ongoing speculation, all of the weekend friends remaining under suspicion. A sub-theme was to be setting the value of possessions against that of friendship.
Possible dialogue could be – partner of birthday person speaking – “It’s back. Does it matter now who took it?”
“’Course it matters. I have to know. Else how can I trust those who were here? Trust anyone of them? Even the thief. Without knowing they’re a thief. I have to know.”
That could be the prologue. Then, with the weekend over, the friends disperse back to their own houses, own lives. The birthday person, however, and of either gender, and despite still having the artefact, or because it is still there on prominent display, becomes fixated with not knowing who could have tried to steal it. Each chapter could be an analysis, various points of view, of each of the characters under suspicion.
“Not still going on about it?”
“They were our friends.”
“Were our friends.”
Plot Two. Another Dark Side, but different. Again a weekend plot, but in a decidedly wealthier house. So wealthy that the servants are taken for granted. Except that on this weekend as soon as all the guests have arrived the servants get sent away. The guests, couples all, have gathered for a weekend orgy. Although, being of their class, the orgy is not acknowledged as such.
Over dinner guests and host do talk of promiscuity, do advocate permissiveness, mention erotic books and films, joke about pornographic scenarios and moustachioed plumbers, about bed-hopping; but the conversation of a general nature, not referring to any of those present.
Throughout the weekend however there are various secretive recouplings. All part on the Monday and the weekend is never explicitly referred to again, nor is any attempt made to repeat it. Not out of shame but out of prudence and a sophisticated unease over arousing their partner’s basic emotions. Jealousy principally, but for some a fear of pornographic lust, which might have them stepping beyond the bounds of acceptable class-contained behaviour and tapping up their secretary, their gardener, or, perish the thought, a stranger on the tube, in the lift….
It’s that repressed urge of maybe a couple of them that I was thinking maybe to explore. That repression becoming increasingly difficult to sustain. Imagination, fantasy scenario overload. Imploding? A Dice Man who didn’t dare? A Zipped Up Jong?
Place Familiarity : another aspect of ageing (15th January 2018)
When younger what I wanted was to be invited, allowed into the places familiar to others – their streets, their houses, woods, fields, park. To know the places that knew them, and to know the places know the person.
Knowing wasn’t so easy.
I very soon learnt that I couldn’t know their perception of the place, what memories lurked by association in the thirty third passing stone, where their old den before last had been, who lived grumpily behind that garden hedge, the tree that had a cruel shadow….
Despite the impossibility of knowing, and being a pensioner now, I miss that I no longer have to go looking for day jobs, or go sneaking off to do removals on the black. So there’s probably no chance at all that I’ll ever open that door into that walled garden, won’t know what it’s like to work with robots in a warehouse, be a forklift driver, finger the code to go through the door that says, ‘Market Staff Only’.
Small loss maybe, in the time gained for writing and publishing, for catching up on my reading. And yet… and yet I sometimes wonder if retirement is foremost a denial of familiarity. No more workmate camaraderie, no routine breaks in the day other than those self-imposed. Could that be why some people, with a pension sufficient to meet all their domestic bills, to take them on foreign holidays, apply for any old job – security guard, shelf-filling – not so much to occupy their days or nights, but to be familiar with something other than the house they can return refreshed to?
I’m supposing that at one time or another we have all had awkward neighbours. Not just those neighbours we have found impossible to love, but the odd one or two who have been simply hateful, ridiculously aggressive, and have gone way beyond being unhelpful to performing small acts of spite. And that, a home under threat, has to be where these 2 plots had their genesis.
First plot relies on a sense of gathering menace. But begins with a silly row with a neighbour – over bins, a noisy party, a parcel lost? – the row ending with the neighbour threatening, “I’ll get you for this.”
This neighbour is completely beyond reason, beyond entreaty. “Can’t we,” our hero asks, “consign our differences to the past?”
“I don’t forget.”
The not forgetting is perpetuated by the baleful stare, the muttered threats whenever passed in the street.
“I don’t forget.”
Then come the small events – cat gets run over, a window broken, car damaged… The neighbour is confronted, unconvincingly denies it. Dog disappears, and so on.
Two possible conclusions to this plot. One could be an escalation to the murder of one combatant or the other. Or possibly the small disasters could become part of the victim’s increasing paranoia? A paranoia going way beyond the domestic.
The second home-unsafe idea is that of a respectable man receiving a letter/email/text telling him that at 12 the next day his garden hedge will catch fire, and that in 8 days time, at seven in the evening, he will die. Other daily events prior to his dying are predicted.
On every one of the 8 days things happen more or less as predicted – a window falls out, dining room furniture is rearranged, a water main bursts outside his house, etc . All taken as evidence of the letter writer’s power. Police are called, can find no culprit, doubt that the ‘events’ are a crime.
At seven on the eighth day a courier arrives with a package. The bomb squad are called, can detect no explosives. Package is nonetheless carefully opened. Under layers of wrapping is a single postcard, on it a message asking the man if he recalls a letter he wrote to a national newspaper in support of capital punishment. ‘Know how the condemned man feels now?’
© Sam Smith 21st January 2018