Elder Begins …

Frank Elder first saw the light of day – in print, that is – in a short story called “Due North”, which was first published in Crime in the City, edited by Martin Edwards (The Do Not Press, London, 2002) It was reprinted in The Best British Mysteries, edited by Maxim Jakubowski (Allison & Busby, London, 2003) and collected in A Darker Shade of Blue, (William Heinemann, London, 2010). It’s currently available in an Arrow paperback.

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This is how it starts …

Elder hated this: the after-midnight call, the neighbours penned back behind hastily unravelled tape, the video camera’s almost silent whir; the way, as if reproachful, the uniformed officers failed to meet his eye; and this especially, the bilious taste that fouled his mouth as he stared down at the bed, the way the hands of both children rested near the cover’s edge, as if at peace, their fingers loosely curled.

Of course, there is no peace. Certainly not for Elder, even though by the end of the story that’s what, in desperation and despair, he’s seeking, leaving his wife, Joanne; his eleven year old daughter, Katherine [“eleven going on twenty-four”]; leaving Nottingham and travelling about as far west in the country as it is possible to go, the Penwith peninsula, deep into Cornwall on the road to Land’s End.

There, brief and unsatisfactory visits back to visit his family aside, he stays until in her teens Katherine seeks him out herself and another sad chapter of their story begins.

From his position atop the rough stone wall, Elder tracked the progress of the bus as it trailed around the road’s high curve, the rough-hewn moor above, the fertile bottom land below. Today the sky was shade on shade of blue, and palest where it curved to meet the sea, the horizon a havering trick of light on which the outline of a large boat, a tanker, seemed to have been stuck like an illustration from a child’s book. Elder knew there would be lobster boats, two or three, checking their catch close in against the cliff and out of sight from where he stood.

He watched as the bus stopped and Katherine got down, standing for a moment till the bus had pulled away, a solitary figure by the road’s edge and, at that distance, barely recognisable to the naked eye. Even so, he knew it was her; the turn of her head, the way she stood.

With a quick movement, Katherine hoisted her rucksack on to one shoulder, hitched it into position and crossed the road towards the top of the lane that would bring her, eventually, down to the cottage where Elder lived.

Dropping from the wall, he hurried across the field.

That’s from chapter two of Flesh & Blood, originally published by William Heinemann in 2004, and just reissued by Arrow Books in a paperback version designed to match the new and fourth Elder novel, Body & Soul, which has a similar beginning; only Katherine is now in her early twenties and sorely troubled, seeking something – solace? answers? – from her father that he finds it close to impossible to provide.

Flesh & Blood is published today, March 1st, and this month is available as a Kindle Monthly Deal at 99p. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Flesh-Blood-Frank-John-Harvey-ebook/dp/B004ZLS2WS/ref=sr_1_359?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1519892042&sr=1-359

Body & Soul is published by William Heinemann on April 19th.

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New Beginnings …

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“Now it is necessary to get to the grindstone again.”
Ernest Hemingway, 1938

“So there is this pressure now, on every sentence, not just to say what it has to say, but to justify its claim upon our time.”
Renata Adler : Pitch Dark

Two quotations which were very much in mind at the end a week in which I began writing a new book for the first time since I set out on the road to Darkness, Darkness back in 2013. Not another Charlie Resnick, of course, but what, if things go as planned, will be the fourth of the Frank Elder series, tentatively titled Body & Soul. Where Frank is concerned, it’s been a while. The third, and last up until now, Darkness & Light, was written in 2005, published in 2006; Ash & Bone was published in 2005 and Flesh & Blood, which I began writing in London and finished in New Zealand, was published in 2004.

Up until recently, my standard answer to the question, would there be another Frank Elder book, has always been no, no way: the central element in the books, for me, had been the changing relationship between Elder and his daughter, Katherine, and by the end of Darkness & Light that seemed to have settled to some kind of conclusion, a compromise, at least. A trilogy, over and done. But nothing comes from nothing and, a little over a year ago, the germ of an idea struck me. Not exactly an idea, an image: one which suggested a retread of the scene at the beginning of chapter two of Flesh & Blood, in which Elder meets Katherine after she has travelled down to Cornwall to visit.

As I say, nothing comes from nothing. That image wouldn’t let me go. What was she doing there? How long has it been since, father and daughter, they have seen one another? Why has she come?

I have a notebook in front of me now [Yes, all right, I’ve fallen for all the hype and it’s a Moleskine] which has Body & Soul in ink on the wrap-around cover and on the first page, the title again, with, underneath it, towards the bottom of the page, Dec. 2015. On succeeding pages are the notes and ideas that occurred to me in the ensuing months, some just a few words long, some longer and numbered into what could be a sequence; others, more elaborate and connected by arrows, the beginnings of a structure; then there are lists of the possible names of characters; things I need to find out, people it would be useful to talk to, what I need to talk to them about. I had briskly re-read the other novels in the series a couple of weeks before starting, making brief notes and marking passages I thought I might need to refer to. The next step was to process all of this into a different form. Armed with a white board and coloured markers I made as close as I ever get to an outline, not linear, but circular, beginning by placing the central event around which the action will be focussed at the centre and arranging the principal characters and actions around it.

My other preparation has been to go through my usual palate cleansing exercise of reading Hemingway – the first section of A Farewell to Arms and a selection of the short stories – the Nick Adams stories and some of those set in Europe, “A Simple Enquiry” for instance, and “Che Ti Duce La Patria”. Why? See the Adler quote above.

At some point, the reading has to stop  …

Monday, January 30th, 2017. Somewhere around 9.00/9.30am, having been at my desk since 8.00, hovering uncertainly over the crucial first sentence, the first line, I settled on this …

The house was at the edge of the village, the last in a row of stubby stone-built cottages backing onto fields leading down to the sea.

Not much, perhaps, but it felt right, it was a start …

After that, things moved along with, for me near the beginning of a book, almost worrying speed. Just short of 700 words on the first day, close to 1,000 on the second and third, and then 1, 300 or so on the fourth. I don’t know how that compares to other people, but for me, these days especially, it’s pretty good going. But now it’s another Monday, and the beginning of chapter 4.

She had first seen him …

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Penwith Peninsula

Katherine Mansfield hated it, couldn’t wait to get away, but for us the north coast of that far stretch of Cornwall is just about perfect – this year, especially, when the weather was kinder than is often the case and there was only one day in which the mist refused to rise off Zennor Hill from dawn till late afternoon. So we walked along the coast and up to Zennor Quoit; Sarah swam in the sea and the newly restored Jubilee Pool in Penzance; we ate well at the Porthmeor Café in St. Ives, the Gurnard’s Head, and both branches of Mackerel Sky (Newlyn & Penzance); made two visits to the new and pretty wonderful Newlyn Filmhouse (Maggie’s Plan and an excellent documentary, Fire at Sea); read a number of books, notably a pair by Louise Doughty, Black Water and Apple Tree Yard – both different and very good – and two Irish novels, Ann Enright’s The Forgotten Waltz and Lisa McInerney’s The Glorious Heresies; and very much enjoyed two exhibitions by Imran Qureshi at Newlyn Art Gallery and The Exchange in Penzance. What more could you want of a holiday?

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