A Pilgrim's Progress and other novel adventures

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Bigamy, theft and murder - ‘the Rainhill Murderer’

I’m just getting into my stride on ‘Beasts to the Slaughter’ (the working title for my second Pilgrim novel) and I’ve been casting around for inspiration for the antagonists.  To my surprise I found a generous dollop just a few streets away from where my husband grew up in Rainhill, Merseyside.  Frederick Bailey Deeming murdered his first wife and his four children in Dinham Villa in Rainhill. and buried them all under the hearth.  Shortly afterwards he killed his second wife Emily in Windsor.  The murders were only discovered after Deeming was arrested for another murder in Australia. Police in London considered him a key suspect for Jack the Ripper.

Deeming’s smooth manners and good looks made him a hit with the ladies, but he was as bloody a psychopath as any crime writer could invent.  I’ve decided to base one of Pilgrim’s adversaries in the novel – Frederick Arthur Denning – on him. No need for a spoiler-alert on this one – Pilgrim’s pretty certain that Denning is up to no good right from the start.

‘Frederick Arthur Denning rented a terraced house in Webb Street, South of the river, with his new wife Dorothy and her younger sister Helen Whitaker.  The house was narrow and grubby, with plaid curtains and a dirty doorstep.  Denning owned a Boston Terrier called Flit, preferred tea to coffee, worked as a gas-fitting salesman, and rarely took strong drink in public.  Pilgrim knew all of these things within half an hour of arriving in Webb Street, thanks to some careful questions in the nearest butcher, coffee shop and tavern.’

Will Pilgrim get his man?

There’s a great Australian website all about Deeming’s misdemeanours here

Thursday, 12 March 2015

From the screen to the page. The metamorphosis of murder.

What’s the difference between writing a novel and writing a screenplay?  It’s a question I’m often asked, being someone who earns a living doing both.  The answer isn’t as easy to pin down as you’d think.

 ‘An Act of Mercy’ began as a screenplay – ‘Pilgrim’, a speculative pilot episode for a TV series, or ‘spec script’.  I first had the idea for the story after reading an article about Charles Dickens, who was a massive fan of the newly-created detectives, often writing about them in his journal ‘Household Words’.  Unfortunately, his enthusiasm wasn’t shared by the public–at-large, especially the middle- and upper-classes, who thought there was something ‘sneaking and un-English’ about the concept.  Even the Police Commissioners believed that crime prevention was the key to successful policing: detection after the fact was an admission of defeat.  

I thought it was a great starting point for a story.

Shortly after finishing the screenplay for ‘Pilgrim’, ‘Ripper Street’ hit our TV screens.  I was gutted.  No-one was going to commission another Victorian crime series now!  But I’d enjoyed the company of Detective Sergeant Harry Pilgrim so much that I really didn’t want to abandon him.  I decided to turn the screenplay into a novel.

I started out with the dialogue and action of the script, and gradually built setting and internal monologue around them.  What I also had, right from the start, was structure (as any TV writer will tell you, a sound story structure is crucial if you’re going to sustain an hour-long TV episode). The only problem was that I only had enough structure and story for half a novel!

Turning ‘Pilgrim’ into ‘An Act of Mercy’ was a fascinating and occasionally frustrating challenge.  But I’m so glad I stuck at it.  Thanks to HarperCollins Killer Reads I can now share Detective Sergeant Harry Pilgrim with other lovers of crime fiction. I can also answer that tricky question with some authority.  What is the difference between a writing a novel and a writing a screenplay?  Six months hard work! 

This post will be a guest blog at KillerFest 15 - come and join us!

Questions, Questions.

My first ever Authorial Question and Answers!


Thursday, 8 May 2014

How goes the night?

In June 1851 Charles Dickens accompanied Chief Inspector Charley Field on his night-time tour of the stews of St Giles.  This account of the adventure appeared shortly afterwards in his journal 'Household Words.' What's fascinating to me is not so much the wealth of period detail and dialogue (pure gold dust for a writer), but what it reveals about Dickens himself.
It might not be quite what you expect.
                                                              * * * 
How goes the night? Saint Giles's clock
 is striking nine. The weather is dull and
 wet, and the long lines of street-lamps are 
blurred, as if we saw them through tears.
 A damp wind blows, and rakes the pieman's
 fire out, when he opens the door of his little
 furnace, carrying away an eddy of sparks.
Saint Giles's clock strikes nine. We are 
punctual. Where is Inspector Field? Assistant 
Commissioner of Police is already here,
 enwrapped in oil-skin cloak, and standing in
 the shadow of Saint Giles's steeple. Detective 
Serjeant, weary of speaking French 
all day to foreigners unpacking at the Great
 Exhibition, is already here. Where is Inspector 
Inspector Field is, to-night, the guardian
 genius of the British Museum. He is bringing 
his shrewd eye to bear on every corner of
 its solitary galleries, before he reports " all
 right." Suspicious of the Elgin marbles, and 
not to be done by cat-faced Egyptian giants,
 with their hands upon their knees, Inspector
 Field, sagacious, vigilant, lamp in hand,
 throwing monstrous shadows on the walls and 
ceilings, passes through the spacious rooms.
 If a mummy trembled in an atom of its dusty
 covering, Inspector Field would say, " Come
 out of that, Tom Green. I know you! "  If
 the smallest "Gonoph" about town were
 crouching at the bottom of a classic bath, 
Inspector Field would nose him with a finer
 scent than the ogre's, when adventurous Jack
 lay trembling in his kitchen copper. But all
 is quiet, and Inspector Field goes warily on,
 making little outward show of attending to
 anything in particular, just recognising the
 Ichthyosaurus as a familiar acquaintance, and 
wondering, perhaps, how the detectives did it
 in the days before the Flood.
Will Inspector Field be long about this
 work? He may be half-an-hour longer. He
 sends his compliments by Police Constable,
 and proposes that we meet at Saint Giles's
 Station House, across the road. Good. It
 were as well to stand by the fire, there, as in
 the shadow of Saint Giles's steeple.
Anything doing here to-night? Not much.
 We are very quiet. A lost boy, extremely 
calm and small, sitting by the fire, whom we 
now confide to a constable to take home, fo r
the child says that if you show him Newgate
 Street, he can show you where he lives—a
raving drunken woman in the cells, who has 
screeched her voice away, and has hardly 
power enough left to declare, even with the 
passionate help of her feet and arms, that 
she is the daughter of a British officer, and,
 strike her blind and dead, but she'll write a 
letter to the Queen! but who is soothed with a
 drink of water—in another cell, a quiet woman 
with a child at her breast, for begging—in 
another, her husband in a smock-frock, with
 a basket of watercresses—in another, a
 pick-pocket—in another, a meek tremulous old
 pauper man who has been out for a holiday 
"and has took but a little drop, but it has
 overcome him arter so many months in the 
house"—and that's all, as yet. Presently,
 a sensation at the Station House door.
 Mr. Field, gentlemen!
Inspector Field comes in, wiping his forehead,
 for he is of a burly figure, and has 
come fast from the ores and metals of the 
deep mines of the earth, and from the Parrot
 Gods of the South Sea Islands, and from the 
birds and beetles of the tropics, and from the
 Arts of Greece and Rome, and from the Sculptures
 of Nineveh, and from the traces of an
 elder world, when these were not. Is Rogers 
ready? Rogers is ready, strapped and 
great-coated, with a flaming eye in the middle of
 his waist, like a deformed Cyclops. Lead on,
 Rogers, to Rats' Castle!
How many people may there be in London,
 who, if we had brought them deviously 
and blindfold, to this street, fifty paces from 
the Station House, and within call of Saint 
Giles's church, would know it for a not
 remote part of the city in which their lives
 are passed? How many, who amidst this
 compound of sickening smells, these heaps
 of filth, these tumbling houses, with all
 their vile contents, animate and inanimate,
 slimily overflowing into the black road, would
 believe that they breathe this air? How 
much Red Tape may there be, that could look
 round on the faces which now hem us in—for
 our appearance here has caused a rush from
 all points to a common centre—the lowering 
foreheads, the sallow cheeks, the brutal eyes, 
the matted hair, the infected, vermin-haunted 
heaps of rags—and say " I have thought of
 this. I have not dismissed the thing. I have neither blustered it away, nor frozen it away, 
nor tied it up and put it away, nor smoothly
 said pooh, pooh! to it, when it has been
 shown to me "?
This is not what Rogers wants to know,
 however. What Rogers wants to know, is,
 whether you will clear the way here, some of 
you, or whether you won't; because if you
 don't do it right on end, he'll lock you up!
 What! You are there, are you, Bob Miles?
 You haven't had enough of it yet, haven't
 you? You want three months more, do you? 
Come away from that gentleman! What are
 you creeping round there for?
"What am I a doing, Mr. Rogers ? "
says Bob Miles, appearing, villanous, at the
 end of a lane of light, made by the lantern.
''I'll let you know pretty quick, if you 
don't hook it. WILL you hook it?"
A sycophantic murmur rises from the
 crowd. "Hook it, Bob, when Mr. Rogers
 and Mr. Field tells you! Why don't you hook 
it, when you are told to?"
The most importunate of the voices strikes
 familiarly on Mr. Rogers's ear. He suddenly
 turns his lantern on the owner.
"What! You are there, are you, Mister 
Click? You hook it too—come?"
"What for?" says Mr. Click, discomfited,
"You hook it, will you!" says Mr. Rogers
 with stern emphasis.
Both Click and Miles do "hook it," without
 another word, or, in plainer English,
 sneak away.
"Close up there, my men!" says Inspector 
Field to two constables on duty who have 
followed. " Keep together gentlemen; we 
are going down here. Heads!"
Saint Giles's church strikes half-past ten.
 We stoop low, and creep down a precipitous 
flight of steps into a dark close cellar. There 
is a fire. There is a long deal table. There
 are benches. The cellar is full of company,
 chiefly very young men in various conditions
 of dirt and raggedness. Some are eating
 supper. There are no girls or women present.
 Welcome to Rats' Castle, gentlemen, and to
 this company of noted thieves!
"Well, my lads! How are you, my lads?
 What have you been doing to-day? Here's 
some company come to see you, my lads!
 There's a plate of beefsteak, Sir, for the
 supper of a fine young man! And there's a 
mouth for a steak, Sir! Why, I should be
 too proud of such a mouth as that, if I had it
 myself! Stand up and show it, Sir! Take
 off your cap. There's a fine young man for a
 nice little party, Sir! An't he?"
Inspector Field is the bustling speaker. 
Inspector Field's eye is the roving eye that 
searches every corner of the cellar as he talks.
 Inspector Field's hand is the well-known
 hand that has collared half the people here,
 and motioned their brothers, sisters, fathers,
 mothers, male and female friends, inexorably,
 to New South Wales. Yet Inspector Field
 stands in this den, the Sultan of the place. 
Every thief here, cowers before him, like a
 schoolboy before his schoolmaster. All watch 
him, all answer when addressed, all laugh at
 his jokes, all seek to propitiate him. This
 cellar-company alone—to say nothing of the
 crowd surrounding the entrance from the
 street above, and making the steps shine with
 eyes—is strong enough to murder us all, and
willing enough to do it; but, let Inspector 
Field have a mind to pick out one thief here,
 and take him; let him produce that ghostly 
truncheon from his pocket, and say, with his 
business-air, "My lad, I want you!" and all 
Rats' Castle shall be stricken with paralysis,
 and not a finger move against him, as he fits 
the handcuffs on!
Where's the Earl of Warwick?—Here 
he is, Mr. Field! Here's the Earl of Warwick,
 Mr. Field!—O there you are, my Lord.
 Come for'ard. There's a chest, Sir, not to 
have a clean shirt on. An't it ? Take your hat
 off, my Lord. Why, I should be ashamed if
I was you—and an Earl, too—to show myself
 to a gentleman with my hat on!—The Earl
 of Warwick laughs, and uncovers. All the
 company laugh. One pickpocket, especially, 
laughs with great enthusiasm. O what a
 jolly game it is, when Mr. Field comes down—
and don't want nobody!
So, you are here, too, are you, you tall, grey, 
soldierly-looking, grave man, standing by the 
fire?—Yes, Sir. Good evening, Mr. Field!—
Let us see. You lived servant to a nobleman
 once?—Yes, Mr. Field.—And what is it you
 do now; I forget?—Well, Mr. Field, I job
 about as well as I can. I left my employment 
on account of delicate health. The family is
 still kind to me. Mr. Wix of Piccadilly is 
also very kind to me when I am hard up. 
Likewise Mr. Nix of Oxford Street. I get a
 trifle from them occasionally, and rub on as 
well as I can, Mr. Field. Mr. Field's eye 
rolls enjoyingly, for this man is a notorious
 begging-letter writer.—Good night, my lads!
—Good night, Mr. Field, and thank'ee, Sir!
Clear the street here, half a thousand of
 you! Cut it, Mrs. Stalker—none of that—
we don't want you! Rogers of the flaming
 eye, lead on to the tramps' lodging-house!
A dream of baleful faces attends to the
 door. Now, stand back all of you! In the 
rear, Detective Serjeant plants himself, composedly 
whistling, with his strong right arm 
across the narrow passage. Mrs. Stalker, I
 am something'd that need not be written 
here, if you won't get yourself into trouble,
 in about half a minute, if I see that face of
 yours again!
Saint Giles's church clock, striking eleven,
 hums through our hand from the dilapidated 
door of a dark outhouse as we open it, and are
 stricken back by the pestilent breath that 
issues from within. Rogers, to the front with
 the light, and let us look!
Ten, twenty, thirty—who can count them!
 Men, women, children, for the most part 
naked, heaped upon the floor like maggots in a cheese! Ho! In that dark corner yonder!
 Does any body lie there? Me Sir, Irish me, 
a widder, with six children. And yonder?
 Me Sir, Irish me, with me wife and eight poor
 babes. And to the left there? Me Sir, Irish 
me, along with two more Irish boys as is me 
friends. And to the right there? Me Sir
 and the Murphy fam'ly, numbering five 
blessed souls. And what's this, coiling, now,
 about my foot? Another Irish me, pitifully
 in want of shaving, whom I have awakened 
from sleep—and across my other foot lies 
his wife—and by the shoes of Inspector Field
l ie their three eldest—and their three youngest
 are at present squeezed between the open
 door and the wall. And why is there no 
one on that little mat before the sullen fire?
 Because O'Donovan, with wife and daughter,
 is not come in yet from selling Lucifers!
 Nor on the bit of sacking in the nearest
 corner? Bad luck! Because that Irish
 family is late to night, a-cadging in the 
They are all awake now, the children excepted,
 and most of them sit up, to stare.
 Wheresoever Mr. Rogers turns the flaming
 eye, there is a spectral figure rising, unshrouded,
 from a grave of rags. Who is the 
landlord here? — I am, Mr. Field! says a
 bundle of ribs and parchment against the 
wall, scratching itself.—Will you spend this
 money fairly, in the morning, to buy coffee 
for 'em all?—Yes Sir, I will! O he'll do it 
Sir, he'll do it fair. He's honest! cry the 
spectres. And with thanks and Good Night 
sink into their graves again.
Thus, we make our New Oxford Streets,
 and our other new streets, never heeding,
 never asking, where the wretches whom we
 clear out, crowd. With such scenes at our 
doors, with all the plagues of Egypt tied up
 with bits of cobweb in kennels so near our 
homes, we timorously make our Nuisance Bills
 and Boards of Health, nonentities, and think
 to keep away the Wolves of Crime and Filth,
 by our electioneering ducking to little vestrymen,
 and our gentlemanly handling of Red
Intelligence of the coffee money has got 
abroad. The yard is full, and Rogers of the 
flaming eye is beleaguered with entreaties 
to show other Lodging Houses. Mine next!
 Mine! Mine! Rogers, military, obdurate,
 stiff-necked, immovable, replies not, but leads
 away; all falling back before him. Inspector
 Field follows. Detective Serjeant, with his 
barrier of arm across the little passage,
 deliberately waits to close the procession. He
 sees behind him, without any effort, and 
exceedingly disturbs one individual far in the 
rear by coolly calling out, " It won't do Mr.
Michael! Don't try it!"
After council holden in the street, we enter 
other lodging houses, public-houses, many
 lairs and holes; all noisome and offensive;
 none so filthy and so crowded as where 
Irish are. In one, The Ethiopian party are 
expected home presently—were in Oxford
 Street when last heard of—shall be fetched, 
for our delight, within ten minutes. In
 another, one of the two or three Professors
 who draw Napoleon Buonaparte and a couple
 of mackarel, on the pavement, and then let 
the work of art out to a speculator, is refreshing
 after his labors. In another, the vested 
interest of the profitable nuisance has been in
one family for a hundred years, and the landlord
 drives in comfortably from the country to
his snug little stew in town. In all, Inspector 
Field is received with warmth. Coiners and 
smashers droop before him; pickpockets
 defer to him; the gentle sex (not very gentle
 here) smile upon him. Half-drunken hags 
check themselves in the midst of pots of beer, 
or pints of gin, to drink to Mr. Field, and 
pressingly to ask the honor of his finishing 
the draught. One beldame in rusty black 
has such admiration for him, that she run s
a whole street's length to shake him by 
the hand; tumbling into a heap of mud by 
the way, and still pressing her attentions when
 her very form has ceased to be distinguishable 
through it. Before the power of the law, the
 power of superior sense—for common thieves
 are fools beside these men— and the power of 
a perfect mastery of their character, the
 garrison of Rats' Castle and the adjacent 
Fortresses make but a skulking show indeed
 when reviewed by Inspector Field.
Saint Giles's clock says it will be midnight
 in half-an-hour, and Inspector Field says we 
must hurry to the Old Mint in the Borough.
 The cab-driver is low-spirited, and has a 
solemn sense of his responsibility. Now,
 what's your fare, my lad?—O you know, 
Inspector Field, what's the good of asking 
Say, Parker, strapped and great-coated, 
and waiting in dim Borough doorway by 
appointment, to replace the trusty Rogers
 whom we left deep in Saint Giles's, are you
 ready? Ready, Inspector Field, and at a
 motion of my wrist behold my flaming eye.
This narrow street, sir, is the chief part of
 the Old Mint, full of low lodging-houses, as 
you see by the transparent canvas-lamps and
 blinds, announcing beds for travellers! But
it is greatly changed, friend Field, from my 
former knowledge of it; it is infinitely quieter 
and more subdued than when I was here last, 
some seven years ago? O yes! Inspector
 Haynes, a first-rate man, is on this station now,
 and plays the Devil with them!
Well, my lads! How are you to-night, my
 lads! Playing cards here, eh? Who wins?—
Why, Mr. Field, I, the sulky gentleman with
the damp flat side-curls, rubbing my bleared
 eye with the end of my neck-kerchief which 
is like a dirty eel-skin, am losing just at
 present, but I suppose I must take my pipe 
out of my mouth, and be submissive to you
—I hope I see you well, Mr. Field?—Aye, all 
right, my lad. Deputy, who have you got 
up-stairs? Be pleased to show the rooms!
Why Deputy, Inspector Field can't say. He
only knows that the man who takes care of the
beds and lodgers is always called so. Steady,
O Deputy, with the flaring candle in the
blacking bottle, for this is a slushy back-yard,
and the wooden staircase outside the house
creaks and has holes in it.
Again, in these confined intolerable rooms, 
burrowed out like the holes of rats or the
 nests of insect vermin, but fuller of intolerable 
smells, are crowds of sleepers, each on his foul
 truckle-bed coiled up beneath a rug. Halloa 
here! Come! Let us see you! Shew your face! 
Pilot Parker goes from bed to bed and turns
 their slumbering heads towards us, as a salesman 
might turn sheep. Some wake up with an 
execration and a threat.—What! who spoke? 
O! If it's the accursed glaring eye that fixes 
me, go where I will, I am helpless. Here! I 
sit up to be looked at. Is it me you want? — 
Not you, lie down again!—and I lie down,
 with a woeful growl.
Wherever the turning lane of light becomes 
stationary for a moment, some sleeper appears
 at the end of it, submits himself to be scrutinized,
 and fades away into the darkness.
There should be strange dreams here, Deputy. 
They sleep sound enough, says Deputy, 
taking the candle out of the blacking bottle, 
snuffing it with his fingers, throwing the snuff 
in to the bottle, and corking it up with the 
candle; that's all I know. What is the inscription, 
Deputy, on all the discolored sheets? 
A precaution against loss of linen. Deputy 
turns down the rug of an unoccupied bed and
 discloses it. STOP THIEF!
To lie at night, wrapped in the legend of
 my slinking life; to take the cry that pursue s
me, waking, to my breast in sleep; to have it
 staring at me, and clamouring for me, as soon
 as consciousness returns; to have it for my
 first-foot on New-Year's day, my Valentine, 
my Birthday salute, my Christmas greeting,
 my parting with the old year. STOP THIEF!
And to know that I must be stopped, come
 what will. To know that I am no match for 
this individual energy and keenness, or this
 organised and steady system! Come across 
the street, here, and, entering by a little
 shop, and yard, examine these intricate 
passages and doors contrived for escape,
 flapping and counter-flapping, like the lids of 
the conjuror's boxes. But what avail they?
 Who gets in by a nod, and shews their secret
 working to us? Inspector Field.
Don't forget the old Farm House, Parker!
 Parker is not the man to forget it. We are
 going there, now. It is the old Manor-House
 of these parts, and stood in the country once. 
Then, perhaps, there was something, which 
was not the beastly street, to see from the
 shattered low fronts of the overhanging 
wooden houses we are passing under—shut 
up now, pasted over with bills about the literature
 and drama of the Mint, and mouldering 
away. This long paved yard was a paddock 
or a garden once, or a court in front of the 
Farm House. Perchance, with a dovecot in
 the centre, and fowls pecking about—with fair
 elm trees, then, where discolored chimney-stacks
 and gables are now—noisy, then, with
 rooks which have yielded to a different sort 
of rookery. It's likelier than not, Inspector
 Field thinks, as we turn into the common 
kitchen, which is in the yard, and many paces 
from the house.
Well my lads and lasses, how are you all!
 Where's Blackey, who has stood near London
 Bridge these five-and-twenty years, with a
 painted skin to represent disease?—Here he 
is, Mr. Field!—How are you, Blackey?—
Jolly, sa!—Not playing the fiddle to-night, 
Blackey? Not a night, sa!—A sharp, smiling
 youth, the wit of the kitchen, interposes.
 He an't musical to-night, sir. I've been 
giving him a moral lecture; I've been a 
talking to him about his latter end, you see. 
A good many of these are my pupils, sir.
 This here young man (smoothing down the 
hair of one near him, reading a Sunday paper)
is a pupil of mine. I'm a teaching of him to 
read, sir. He's a promising cove, sir. He's
 a smith, he is, and gets his living by the 
sweat of the brow, sir. So do I, myself, sir.
 This young woman is my sister, Mr. Field.
 She's a getting on very well too. I've a deal
 of trouble with 'em, sir, but I 'm richly rewarded,
 now I see 'em all a doing so well, and
 growing up so creditable. That's a great 
comfort, that is, an't it, sir?—In the midst of
the kitchen (the whole kitchen is in ecstacies
 with this impromptu "chaff") sits a young,
 modest, gentle-looking creature, with a beautiful
 child in her lap. She seems to belong 
to the company, but is so strangely unlike 
it. She has such a pretty, quiet face and 
voice, and is so proud to hear the child 
admired—thinks you would hardly believe
 that he is only nine months old! Is she as 
bad as the rest, I wonder? Inspectorial experience 
does not engender a belief contrariwise,
 but prompts the answer, Not a
 ha'porth of difference!
There is a piano going in the old Farm 
House as we approach. It stops. Landlady
 appears. Has no objections, Mr. Field, to
 gentlemen being brought, but wishes it were
 at earlier hours, the lodgers complaining of
 ill-convenience. Inspector Field is polite and 
soothing—knows his woman and the sex.
 Deputy (a girl in this case) shows the way
 up a heavy broad old staircase, kept very
 clean, into clean rooms where many sleepers
 are, and where painted panels of an older 
time look strangely on the truckle beds. The
 sight of white-wash and the smell of soap—
two things we seem by this time to have 
parted from in infancy—make the old Farm 
House a phenomenon, and connect themselves 
with the so curiously misplaced picture of the 
pretty mother and child long after we have
 left it,—long after we have left, besides, the 
neighbouring nook with something of a rustic 
flavor in it yet, where once, beneath a low wooden colonnade still standing as of yore,
the eminent Jack Sheppard condescended to
 regale himself, and where, now, two old
 bachelor brothers in broad hats (who are
 whispered in the Mint to have made a compact 
long ago that if either should ever 
marry, he must forfeit his share of the joint 
property) still keep a sequestered tavern, and 
sit o' nights smoking pipes in the bar, among 
ancient bottles and glasses, as our eyes behold
How goes the night now? Saint George
 of Southwark answers with twelve blows upon 
his bell. Parker, good night, for Williams is 
already waiting over in the region of Ratcliffe 
Highway, to show the houses where the 
sailors dance.
I should like to know where Inspector Field
 was born. In Ratcliffe Highway, I would have 
answered with confidence, but for his being 
equally at home wherever we go. He does not 
trouble his head as I do, about the river at 
night. He does not care for its creeping, black
 and silent, on our right there, rushing through 
sluice gates, lapping at piles and posts and 
iron rings, hiding strange things in its mud,
 running away with suicides and accidentally 
drowned bodies faster than midnight funeral 
should, and acquiring such various experience 
between its cradle and its grave. It has
 no mystery for him. Is there not the Thames

Accordingly, Williams lead the way. We 
are a little late, for some of the houses are 
already closing. No matter. You show us 
plenty. All the landlords know Inspector 
Field. All pass him, freely and good-humouredly,
 wheresoever he wants to go. So 
thoroughly are all these houses open to him 
and our local guide, that, granting that sailors 
must be entertained in their own way—as I
 suppose they must, and have a right to be—
I hardly know how such places could be
 better regulated. Not that I call the company 
very select, or the dancing very graceful—
even so graceful as that of the German Sugar
 Bakers, whose assembly, by the Minories, we 
stopped to visit—but there is watchful maintenance 
of order in every house, and swift
 expulsion where need is. Even in the midst
 of drunkenness, both of the lethargic kind
 and the lively, there is sharp landlord supervision, 
and pockets are in less peril than out
 of doors. These houses show, singularly, how
 much of the picturesque and romantic there
 truly is in the sailor, requiring to be especially
 addressed. All the songs (sung in a hailstorm 
of halfpence, which are pitched at the singer 
without the least tenderness for the time or 
tune—mostly from great rolls of copper
 carried for the purpose—and which he occasionally
 dodges like shot as they fly near his 
head) are of the sentimental sea sort. All the
 rooms are decorated with nautical subjects.
 Wrecks, engagements, ships on fire, ships 
passing lighthouses on iron-bound coasts,
 ships blowing up, ships going down, ships 
running ashore, men lying out upon the main 
yard in a gale of wind, sailors and ships in
 every variety of peril, constitute the illustrations
 of fact. Nothing can be done in the
 fanciful way, without a thumping boy upon 
a scaly dolphin.
How goes the night now? Past one.
 Black and Green are waiting in Whitechapel
 to unveil the mysteries of Wentworth Street.
 Williams, the best of friends must part
Are not Black and Green ready at the 
appointed place? O yes! They glide out of
 shadow as we stop. Imperturbable Black
 opens the cab-door; Imperturbable Green 
takes a mental note of the driver. Both
 Green and Black then open, each his flaming 
eye, and marshal us the way that we are
The lodging-house we want, is hidden in a 
maze of streets and courts. It is fast shut. 
We knock at the door, and stand hushed 
looking up for a light at one or other of the
 begrimed old lattice windows in its ugly front 
when another constable comes up—supposes
 that we want "to see the school." Detective
 Serjeant meanwhile has got over a rail, opened 
a gate, dropped down an area, overcome some 
other little obstacles, and tapped at a window.
 Now returns. The landlord will send a 
deputy immediately.
Deputy is heard to stumble out of bed.
 Deputy lights a candle, draws back a bolt or 
two, and appears at the door. Deputy is a 
shivering shirt and trousers by no means 
clean, a yawning face, a shock head much
 confused externally and internally. We want 
to look for some one. You may go up with 
the light, and take 'em all, if you like, says 
Deputy, resigning it, and sitting down upon
 a bench in the kitchen with his ten fingers
 sleepily twisting in his hair.
Halloa here! Now then! Show yourselves. 
That 'll do. It's not you. Don't disturb
 yourself any more! So on, through a labyrinth 
of airless rooms, each man responding, 
like a wild beast, to the keeper who has tamed 
him, and who goes into his cage. What,
 you haven't found him, then? says Deputy, 
when we came down. A woman mysteriously
 sitting up all night in the dark by the 
smouldering ashes of the kitchen fire, says it's
 only tramps and cadgers here; it's gonophs
 over the way. A man, mysteriously walking 
about the kitchen all night in the dark, bids
 her hold her tongue. We come out. Deputy 
fastens the door and goes to bed again.
Black and Green, you know Bark, lodging-house
keeper and receiver of stolen goods?
—O yes, Inspector Field.—Go to Bark's
Bark sleeps in an inner wooden hutch, near
 his street-door. As we parley on the step 
with Bark's Deputy, Bark growls in his bed.
 We enter, and Bark flies out of bed. Bark is
 a red villain and a wrathful, with a sanguine
 throat that looks very much as if it were expressly made for hanging, as he stretches it 
out, in pale defiance, over the half-door of 
his hutch. Bark's parts of speech are of an 
awful sort—principally adjectives. I won't,
 says Bark, have no adjective police and
 adjective strangers in my adjective premises!
 I won't, by adjective and substantive!
 Give me my trousers, and I 'll send the whole
 adjective police to adjective and substantive!
 Give me, says Bark, my adjective
 trousers! I 'll put an adjective knife in the
 whole bileing of 'em. I 'll punch their adjective
 heads. I 'll rip up their adjective substantives.
 Give me my adjective trousers!
 says Bark, and I 'll spile the bileing of em!
Now, Bark, what's the use of this? Here's 
Black and Green, Detective Serjeant, and
 Inspector Field. You know we will come in.
—I know you won't! says Bark. Somebody 
give me my adjective trousers! Bark's 
trousers seem difficult to find. He calls for 
them, as Hercules might for his club. Give 
me my adjective trousers! says Bark, and I 'll
 spile the bileing of 'em!
Inspector Field holds that it's all one
 whether Bark likes the visit or don't like it.
 He, Inspector Field, is an Inspector of the 
Detective Police, Detective Serjeant is Detective
 Serjeant, Black and Green are constables 
in uniform. Don't you be a fool, 
Bark, or you know it will be the worse for
 you.—I don't care, says Bark. Give me my 
adjective trousers!
At two o'clock in the morning, we descend
 into Bark's low kitchen, leaving Bark to foam 
at the mouth above, and Imperturbable Black 
and Green to look at him. Bark's kitchen is
 crammed full of thieves, holding a conversazione
 there by lamp-light. It is by far the most
 dangerous assembly we have seen yet. Stimulated 
by the ravings of Bark, above, their
 looks are sullen, but not a man speaks. We
 ascend again. Bark has got his trousers, 
and is in a state of madness in the passage
 with his back against a door that shuts off 
the upper staircase. We observe, in other 
respects, a ferocious individuality in Bark.
 Instead of "STOP THIEF! " on his linen, he 
prints " STOLEN FROM Bark's!"
Now Bark, we are going up stairs! —No,
 you an't!—You refuse admission to the Police,
 do you, Bark?—Yes, I do! I refuse it to all 
the adjective police, and to all the adjective 
substantives. If the adjective coves in the
 kitchen was men they 'd come up now, and
 do for you! Shut me that there door! Says 
Bark, and suddenly we are enclosed in the 
passage. They 'd come up and do for you!
 cries Bark, and waits. Not a sound in the 
kitchen! They 'd come up and do for you!
 cries Bark again, and waits. Not a sound in 
the kitchen! We are shut up, half-a-dozen
 of us, in Bark's house, in the innermost 
recesses of the worst part of London, in the
 dead of the night—the house is crammed with 
notorious robbers and ruffians—and not a 
man stirs. No, Bark. They know the weight
 of the law, and they know Inspector Field 
and Co. too well.
We leave Bully Bark to subside at leisure 
out of his passion and his trousers, and, I dare
say, to be inconveniently reminded of this little
 brush before long. Black and Green do ordinary 
duty here, and look serious.
As to White, who waits on Holborn Hill
 to show the courts that are eaten out of 
Rotten Gray's Inn Lane, where other lodging-
houses are, and where (in one blind alley)
the Thieves' Kitchen and Seminary for the
 teaching of the art to children, is, the night 
has so worn away, being now almost at odds with morning, which is which, that they are quiet, and no light shines 
through the chinks in the shutters. As 
un-distinctive Death will come here, one day, 
sleep comes now. The wicked cease from 
troubling sometimes, even in this life.
Household Words Vol III
Saturday June 14th 1851

Sunday, 17 November 2013

A little bird told me...

...about Donna Tartt's new novel 'The Goldfinch'.  The beginning describes a terrorist bomb explosion in a New York art gallery.   It feels so real, and is so relentless that it literally made my ears ring.  The writing is superb.

Tartt's prose reminds me a bit of Hilary Mantel's.  But where Mantel's writing is like a piece of antique treen, mellow and polished smooth by experience - Tartt's has protuberances - phrases and passages of such beauty and clarity that make me weak-kneed with jealousy. 

If you enjoy virtuoso literary fiction, I heartily recommend The Goldfinch.

Photo courtesy of my 'little bird', book doctor and writing guru Andrew Wille.
You can find him at  www.wille.org.

Friday, 20 September 2013

The triumph of hope

I take the dog for a walk every morning along the river.  The path is made of grit and gravel, and yet I always see a dozen snails bang in the middle of it, trying to get from one side to the other.  It must be agony on their tender little bellies.  So why, I wonder, do they do it?  Do they just set off in a straight line, and stick to it, come what may?  At what point does tenacity cease to be a personal asset and become a liability?  At what point does it become stupidity?

Or is it really about hope?

Do the snails simply hope that there is something better on the other side of the path, and keep going, buoyed up on a slime of optimism?  I can tell, of course, from my lofty point of view, that the vegetation on the left hand side of the path is no more likely to satisfy snail-y appetites than the vegetation on the right.  Does that necessarily invalidate the snail's quest? Who can say?

I guess it depends on your point of view. 

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Rewriting wrongs #2

Anything happened in the last few weeks?  Heatwave?  What heatwave?

Have just emerged blinking and bloody from my rewrite of The Alchemist's Heir, that was more gruelling than I ever believed possible. I suspect it's now in worse nick than it was when I started.  What I'd really like to do is put it out of my misery by burning it ceremonially on a bonfire, but I suppose I should put it away for a while and return with fresh eyes and a slightly less hysterical gameplan.

In other news I've just got a contract through for my first-ever paid screenwriting gig, working on a bio-pic for Equation Pictures. They're a newish company, headed up by Diarmuid McKeown, associate producer on some of Danny Boyle's films, including Trance and 127 Hours.

Spookily, Diarmuid started out as assistant to Neil Jordan (see my last post).  I LOVE synchronicity, don't you?