The writer, Jack Trevor Story, used to tell how he looked at the list of Birthdays in The Guardian each year to see if he were alive or dead. In his case that little ritual would have occurred on the 30th of March. Never having existed as far as the compilers of said list are concerned [And just who are they? Grizzled old obituary writers? Or interns let loose on Who’s Who?] whenever December 21st comes round I try to be disciplined and not look at all, thus avoiding the inevitable disappointment. But this year, somewhere between seven and eight in the morning, first coffee of the day at my side, I flicked open the relevant section and there I was. John Harvey, crime writer, 80. It would be lying to say that my initial prick of surprise was not followed by a small surge of pride.
Pathetic, you might think, but hey … 80. And in what company! Flanked by perhaps my favourite tennis player of all time, and one of my favourite guitarists [last glimpsed, some while back, in the Everly Brothers’ band at Nottingham’s Royal Concert Hall], and closely guarded by no less than Jane Fonda and Samuel L Jackson. What a pair!
And it was not only The Guardian … Totally unknown to me, Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature had put considerable time and energy into creating an entry on their website called simply John Harvey at 80. A lengthy survey of my life and writing career, together with a broad choice of book jackets and contributions from a number of people I’ve had the pleasure of working with over the years, including Giles Croft, former artistic director of Nottingham Playhouse, screenwriter Billy Ivory and, in a brief but welcome video message, crime writer, Ian Rankin, You can check it out here …
Finally, the photographic evidence, birth certificate included. From the angelic lad in the tin bath (things were hard back in those far off days), through heaven knows what strange incarnations to the bald and bespectacled sage of today.
When, in the early 1960s and recently graduated as trained teachers from Goldsmiths’ College, my friends and I were looking for somewhere outside London to ply our trade, and we decided, after a relatively small amount of research, that Nottingham was just the place. Rents were significantly cheaper than in the capital [nothing changes] and, according to the back pages of the TES, there were jobs. A couple of brief visits aside, however, our knowledge of the city and its environs was less than well-informed. We’d seen, and been braced by, Tony Richardson’s film of Alan Sillitoe’s Saturday Night & Sunday Morning; seen and just managed to stay awake through Jack Cardiff’s tame version of D. H. Lawrence’s Sons & Lovers, a novel I would have read as part of my English studies, Lawrence being more academically respectable then than I believe he is now. [Except at the University of Nottingham, of course.] We’d heard and half-believed the rumours about there being 10 young women for every man – or was it a baker’s dozen? What clinched it, however, was the opening, in 1963, of the newly designed Nottingham Playhouse – Peter Moro’s modernist building, John Neville’s fine profile and artistic reputation … if the city could support a theatre like that, well, there had to be something special going on … and it was only a few hours away from London.
As it happened, my friend John Phillips and I ended up getting jobs in South East Derbyshire, some ten miles west of Nottingham in the small mining town of Heanor, just across the Erewash Valley from Lawrence’s birthplace, Eastwood.
I was born nearly forty-four years ago, in Eastwood, a mining village of some three thousand souls, about eight miles from Nottingham, and one mile from the small stream, the Erewash, which divides Nottinghamshire from Derbyshire. It is hilly country, looking west from Crich and towards Matlock, sixteen miles away, and east and north-east towards Mansfield and the Sherwood Forest district. To me it seemed, and still seems, an extremely beautiful countryside, just between the red sandstone and oak-trees of Nottingham, and the cold limestone, the ash-trees, the stone fences of Derbyshire. To me, as a child and a young man, it was still the old England of the forest and agricultural past; there were no motor-cars, the mines were, in a sense, an accident in the landscape, and Robin Hood and his merry men were not very far away.
D. H. Lawrence: Nottingham and the Mining Country, 1929
Most mornings, unless we chose the alternative route through Ilkeston, John and I would drive out, often in thick fog, past the hosiery factories on the outskirts of the city, on and on towards Eastwood, then down into the valley and up again into Langley Mill, on the edge of Heanor, which was where both our schools – secondary modern in my case, primary in John’s – were situated. It was a journey rarely undertaken without another section of Lawrence’s essay playing somewhere at the back of my mind.
Now Eastwood occupies a lovely position on a hilltop, with the steep slope towards Derbyshire and the long slope towards Nottingham. They put up a new church, which stands fine and commanding, even if it has no real form, looking across the awful Erewash Valley at the church of Heanor, similarly commanding, away on a hill beyond.
So, somehow, those sentences, that essay ‘placed’ the area for me in a writerly way, gave it a kind of added resonance, just as, I suppose, Sillitoe’s writing did for much of inner-city Nottingham. I continued to read Lawrence for my own pleasure [The Rainbow & Women in Love] and read his poems – Snake! – and the short stories with my classes – Sillitoes’s stories, likewise. All of this without any suggestion, any idea or ambition that I might one day attempt to be some kind of writer myself; that was to come later, more than a decade later, and from a quite different direction. Though I suppose, in retrospect, what was learned, what was carried through, was some belief that story and character were best told, best seen and understood, when they were most closely allied with place. Which, in my case, has most usually been Nottingham – that and the few other areas I’ve spent enough time in to feel I know beyond the lines and contours of a map.
And speaking of maps …
The above is ‘borrowed’ from the newly redesigned website of the Haggs Farm Preservation Society – https://haggsfarm2.wixsite.com/lawrence – an organisation dedicated to encouraging the preservation of the farm buildings and reinforcing the vital importance of Haggs Farm to the early formative years of D.H. Lawrence’s development as an internationally renowned writer.
The farm was the home of the Chambers family, both farm and family being inspirations for much of Lawrence’s early writing; the daughter, Jessie, being the clear model for the character of Miriam in Sons and Lovers. The farm, unfortunately, has been uninhabited for over 50 years and is on private land with no public access. Despite being a Grade ll listed building since 1966, the house is in a serious state of disrepair and I would encourage readers to log on to the society’s site and pay the small amount [surely, it should be more?] it takes to become a supporting member.
Looking at the map above took me back to the many times I’ve walked, usually with friends, from the site of Moorgreen Colliery, north along the sparsely wooded side of Moorgreen Reservoir and then across the open fields towards Felley Mill, with Haggs Farm off to the west, turning then towards Beauvale Priory and round in a sweep back to Moorgreen. Beautiful country, indeed.
Since the summer, I’ve been reading – a group at a time – through the two-volume Heron Books edition of Lawrence’s Collected Letters, and just recently came across the following, written in response to a request from H. A. Pilcher, a writer of travel books.
from Del Monte Ranch, Questa, 17 April 1925
Dear Sir: I received your letter only last night.
The scene of my Nottingham-Derby novels all centres round Eastwood,Notts (where I was born): and whoever stands on Walker Street, Eastwood, will see the whole landscape of Sons and Lovers before him. Underwood in front, the hills of Derbyshire on the left, the woods and hills of Annesley on the right. The road from Nottingham by Watnall, Moorgreen, up to Underwood and on to Annesley (Byron’s Annesley) – gives you all the landscape of The White Peacock, Miriam’s farm in Sons and Lovers, and the home of the Crich family, and Willey Water, in Women in Love.
The Rainbow is Ilkeston and Cossall, near Ilkeston, moving to Eastwood. And Hermione, in Women in Love, is supposed to live not far from Cromford. The short stories are Ripley, Wirkswoth, Stoney Middleton, Via Gellia (‘The Wintry Peacock’). The Lost Girl begins in Eastwood – the cinematograph show being in Langley Mill.
Some nights, Resnick thought, you knew sleep wasn’t destined to come; or that, if it did, it would be haunted by dreams pitched just this side of nightmare, broken by the startled cry of the telephone heralding some new disaster, awful and mundane. So there he was, at close to two a. m., ferrying through the sparsely filled refrigerator for the makings of a snack, during cold milk – yes,milk – into a glass, opening the back door so that Pepper could join Dizzy in a little night-time prowling, hunting down whatever was slower or slower-witted than themselves. Miles and Bud were upstairs on his bed, missing, perhaps, his bulk and warmth while relishing the extra space.
Carrying his sandwich through into the front room, he pulled an album from the shelf and slipped the record from its tattered sleeve. The Thelonious Monk Trio on Prestige. Through the smeared glass of the front bay, he could see the outlines of houses left and right along the curve of street, roofs bulked against a city sky that was never truly dark. Faint, the hum of occasional cars, one block away on the Woodborough Road. Monk’s fingers, flat, percussive, treading their way through ‘Bemesha Swing’ like an overgrown child lurching along the pavement, crack by crack. It was no surprise when the phone finally rang, nor that the voice at the other end was his sergeant’s, weary and resigned.
That deep into the early hours it was no more than a five minute drive to the old Lace Market, the corner of Stoney Street and King’s Place and the Victorian conversion that for years had housed Jimmy Nolan’s jazz club and bar. Acrid and pungent, the scent of burning struck Resnick as he climbed out of the car. Smoke eddied on the air. Fire officers, purposeful yet unhurried, damped down smouldering wreckage; making safe. Resnick knew they would already have isolated, as far as possible, the area where the fire began. The building itself was little more than a blackened shell.
Four cats still rather than just the one; vinyl albums instead of CDs, back before vinyl was the trendy thing: Resnick in 1999. A while ago.
‘Slow Burn’, the short story of which this is the beginning, actually began life a year earlier, as a 60 minute radio script written for BBC 4 producer, David Hunter, which was originally broadcast in 1998 and has been repeated on several occasions, most recently this week on Radio 4 Extra. You can still catch it on the BBC Radio iPlayer, where it’s available, from today, for another 27 days.
David Hunter was the producer who marshalled my dramatisations of two Resnick novels onto the airwaves, Wasted Years in 1995 and Cutting Edge in 1996, each in several parts. Slow Burn followed these in 1998 and my original radio script became a short story, which was first published a year later in the collection, Now’s the Time, by my own small press, Slow Dancer, that collection being reprinted, in an enlarged edition, by William Heinemann in 2002 and in 2013 the Arrow paperback below.
There has only been one representation of Resnick on screen [so far – hope springs eternal et cetera] that by Tom Wilkinson in two television adaptations – Lonely Hearts & Rough Treatment, produced by Colin Rogers for Deco Films and TV and the BBC, and shown in 1992 and 1993 respectively. Tom reprised the role in the first of the radio versions mentioned above [Wasted Years in ’95], after which Hollywood beckoned and Resnick was personified first by Tom Georgson in Cutting Edge, then Philip Jackson in Slow Burn, and, finally, Keith Barron, in two other dramatised short stories, Cheryl (2001) and Bird of Paradise (2002).
Keith Barron, who sadly died just yesterday, November 15th, was the reader of two abridged versions of the novels Cold Light and Living Proof, released by Reed Audio in 1995, and Philip Jackson the reader in the excellent ten-part version of Wasted Years, adroitly abridged and directed by Gordon House for BBC Radio 4 and since repeated on a number of occasions.
Most recently, Resnick was brought to the stage by David Fleeshman in the Nottingham Playhouse/New Perspectives production of Darkness, Darkness, directed by Jack McNamara. That’s David, outside the Playhouse, immediately below, and, with Simone Saunders as Catherine Njoroge, in a scene from the play.
And here’s Tom Wilkinson in Resnick guise, first in a BBC publicity shot and below on the jacket of the French edition of Lonely Hearts, Coeurs Solitaires.
One of the ideas informing my dramatisation of the Resnick novel Darkness, Darkness for Nottingham Playhouse was that while we ourselves are alive, the dead – the dead that we know – never quite die. The plot is set in motion by the discovery of the body of a young woman who disappeared during the Miners’ Strike, some thirty years before; what the story then does is revisit the significant moments in that young woman’s – Jenny’s – life, showing them in juxtaposition to the present. To Resnick, who knew her only slightly and is now investigating the circumstances of her death, she was little more than the memory of a bright, lively and outspoken young woman, a firebrand, and during the course of the play he gets to know her more clearly, more roundly, so that, in the scene towards the end [possibly my favourite scene of all], when she visits him in his house where he is getting dressed ready to go to her funeral, it is – bar a quick and instant frisson – no real surprise. She talks to him and he answers, much as he would if she were still alive, much as we hold conversations (inside our heads, more usually, rather than out loud) with those we knew and maybe loved long after they are gone. Much as Resnick, in the play, holds sometimes grudging conversations with the strike leader whose funeral he has attended just before the action opens and who, like a somewhat guilty conscience, comes to haunt him – haunt, the word is correct here, I think – as the play progresses.
That I’ve been thinking about this at all was not sparked directly by the Playhouse/New Perspectives production of Darkness, Darkness [though it does tend to haunt me, both by what was and, perhaps even more strongly, what later might have been] but by the gift of a CD, a remastering of a session by the Gerry Mulligan/Paul Desmond, originally recorded and released in 1957 and sometimes titled simply Quartet, sometimes Blues in Time.
Listening to it now I am back in the home of my friend Tony Burns, the back bedroom of a house in Finchley, north London, both of us in our late teens; Tony is learning the saxophone – the alto, initially – and I am, less methodically, less seriously, learning to play the drums. Desmond, who plays alto, most usually in the Dave Brubeck Quartet, is probably Tony’s favourite player at this time, though he likes Mulligan too, and, like Mulligan, will play baritone – only finally settling for tenor some good few years later.
By profession a tailor, Tony continued to play jazz semi-professionally, only stopping a relatively short time before his death in 2013. By some quirk of circumstance, I was lucky enough, using a borrowed set of drums – my daughter’s – to play with him on a number of occasions in those later years, evening sessions in a pub near the Archway, each one for me a joy. Tony had a way of making you sound better than you really were.
Here, in the final section of a longer poem from Out of Silence called Winter Notebook, are the lines I wrote shortly after Tony died …
My friend, Tony, with whom I first listened,
really listened to jazz, the two of us practising
in his parents’ bedroom, he on saxophone,
me drums, rustling brushes in four-four time
across the top of an old suitcase –
my friend Tony is in a hospice:
the volunteers at the desk welcoming and polite,
all chemo stopped, the carpet deep, the furnishings
not too bright; visiting, we keep our voices low,
talk around you, and just when we think
you’ve drifted off to sleep, you rebuke us
for some mistaken reference to a recording
you know well, Brubeck, perhaps, Mulligan or Getz;
and when Jim retells a joke you first told him
many years before – its punchline too crude
to be repeated here – how marvellous to see
you throw your head back and laugh out loud.
For now I sit alone with you and watch you sleep,
breath like brittle plastic breaking inside your chest,
and, for a moment, without feeling I have the right,
reach out and hold your hand.
One day soon I will push through the doors,
present myself at the desk, only to hear the news
we know must come. It happens, no matter
what expectations we have, fulfilled or not.
And not dramatically, like some monster
rising from the marsh to seize us, drag us down,
but deftly, quietly, like someone switching out the light.
… with any luck, they live on into an easeful retirement … Look at Charlie Resnick, for instance, in the final scene of my dramatisation of Darkness, Darkness, which was produced at Nottingham Playhouse last October … The scene is the chapel garden following the funeral of a young woman who went missing during the Miners’ Strike: after a conversation with another officer who is leaving the force and moving away, Resnick moves downstage and addresses the audience.
RESNICK : Difficult things, endings. Goodbyes. Trying to find the right thing to say, the right thing to do.
Barry Hardwick earlier, in the chapel, stumbling over his last few words, tears blinding his eyes. Any anger, resentment there’d been between himself and Jenny, set aside. Maybe some day them as stood either side of the picket line’ll feel the same … and maybe not. Some things too big, happen, to ever forget.
For me now, it’s going to be a matter of going on from day to day. Taking small pleasures while I can. A decent cup of coffee. Saturdays at Meadow Lane. A glass of Scotch. Charlie Parker. Lester Young. (BEAT) There’s this CD I saw in the window of Music Inn. Thelonious Monk in Amsterdam. I might stroll up there later and take a listen.
THE SOUND OF JAZZ PIANO, SLIGHTLY DISCORDANT, RISES UP …
What was it Lynn said? That bloke who plays piano as if he had no arms? Anyone who can play like that without hands – got to be worth a listen, eh?
… AS RESNICK WALKS OFF STAGE AND THE LIGHTS SLOWLY FADE.
Didn’t think about killing him off, then? someone asked, after reading the novel on which the play was based. Well, yes. But never for more than the odd moment; didn’t have the heart.
And, of course, for Charlie there’s another life, still happily continuing. A life on the internet: e-books. A life in translation. Darkness, Darkness itself was published in French by Rivages as Ténèbres, Ténèbres in 2015 …
…and in German as Unter Tage, in a fine edition from Ars Vivendi in 2016.
And now Donmay Publishing of Taiwan are to publish all 12 Resnick novels in Chinese, beginning with Lonely Hearts, which first saw the light of day in 1989, and finishing with Cold in Hand and Darkness, Darkness in 2022. I hope I’m around to see them.
The cover design for the first in the series arrived today for my approval and what could I say, other than I think it is beautiful. Original and beautiful.
CREMATORIUM. FADE DOWN ORGAN MUSIC AS RESNICK WALKS AWAY FROM THE CHAPEL INTO THE GARDEN, CATHERINE, PATCH OVER ONE EYE, COMING TO JOIN HIM.
CATHERINE: God, Charlie! I hate funerals. Hate them more and more.
RESNICK: You’ll come to mine, all the same?
CATHERINE: You, Charlie? You’ll be here forever.
RESNICK: I doubt that.
THEY WALK ON.
I don’t know about forever, but the old boy does keeping popping up, this week especially.
First there was the realisation [they never let you know in advance!] that my three-part dramatisation for radio of the third Resnick novel, Cutting Edge, was being repeated on BBC Radio 4 Extra.
Originally broadcast on Radio 4 in 1996, Cutting Edge features Tom Georgeson as Resnick. Tom Wilkinson had played him on radio the preceding year, in my adaptation of Wasted Years, which, like Cutting Edge and, in fact, all of the radio Resnicks, was produced and directed by David Hunter. In doing so, Wilkinson, of course, was reprising the role he’d earlier played on television, in the versions of the first two novels in the series, Lonely Hearts and Rough Treatment, both produced by Colin Rogers for Deco Films & Television and the BBC.
Come the time to record Cutting Edge, he was otherwise engaged, so Georgeson, who had appeared on the other side of the law as a burglar in Rough Treatment, stepped into the Inspector’s shoes, bringing the residue of a Scouse lilt with him as he did so.
Resnick’s most recent incarnation, in the stage version of Darkness, Darkness directed by Jack McNamara for Nottingham Playhouse and New Perspectives, saw him being tellingly brought to life by David Fleeshman.
Now, Claudia Ferlisi of New Perspectives has assembled an absorbing “storify”, in which the history of the production is traced through a selection of photographs, video, blog extracts, tweets and so on. You can – and should – look at it here …
Delving further back, Colin Rogers alerted me to a review on the Letterboxd site of the 1992 television adaptation of Lonely Hearts, starring, as has been said, Tom Wilkinson, and directed by Bruce MacDonald. Quite why the review, by Mark C., has appeared now, when no official DVD of the programme is available, I’m not sure. A DVD was advertised as forthcoming on Amazon.com some time ago, but since then there has been no news as to when – indeed, if – it might actually become available. What’s holding things up, I have no idea. Nor do I know which copy Mark is reviewing … but what he has to say, is, I thought, really interesting. Here’s a sample …
It helps of course that the author himself, John Harvey, adapted the novels for TV. But crucially the director of Lonely Hearts, Bruce MacDonald, understands the material beautifully and gives us something unique that still stands out as a distinctive piece of drama some twenty-four years later. Crucially MacDonald’s style, combined with his knowledge and understanding of Harvey occasionally somewhat fragmentary writing style, works in close harmony to deliver an deeply atmospheric piece. Like the jazz beloved of our central character, Harvey’s writing often strays from the narrative through line to provide quirky and unusual flourishes or glimpses of other themes. This is best exemplified in the way that we see the team at Nottingham CID (which includes a youngish David Neilsen before he headed to the cobbles of Coronation Street, looking rather different with short hair and a military moustache, and actor/writer William Ivory as a scene-stealing leery, neanderthal cop who despite his blunt methods gets the job done in a way we cannot help but admire) involve themselves in other secondary cases or how we catch references to their home lives. All of these instances help lend a sense of multi-dimensionality and authenticity to the proceedings.
Anyone who saw the recent production of Darkness, Darkness at Nottingham Playhouse will have been aware of the importance of music and sound in the creation of mood and the reinforcement of meaning. The soundscape – incorporating, in addition to everything from police sirens and gun shots to the chants of Notts County supporters and striking miners, no less than 23 pieces of music – was created by sound designer, Drew Baumohl, working closely with other members of the design team, including filmmaker and video artist, Will Simpson, who was responsible for the projection design.
The initial idea of using the noirish slowcore music of the German band, Bohren & Der Club of Gore and the ambient post rock of the Canadian Godspeed You! Black Emperor to provide the atmospheric interludes and backgrounds, came from the show’s director, Jack McNamara, while the more obviously jazzy selections were mine. I think they work well together.
Here, for anyone wishing to follow up, is a listing of the music used …
Bohren & Der Club of Gore
Midnight Black Earth
The Art of Coffins
Skeletal Remains: all from the album, Black Earth
Cairo Keller: from Gore Motel
Fahr Zur Hollie : from Piano Nights
Staub: from Dolores
Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Moya: from Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada
Asunder, Sweet: from Asunder, Sweet & Other Distress
(I Don’t Stand) A Ghost of a Chance With You: from Thelonious Himself (1957)
These Foolish Things: from Thelonious Monk Trio (1954)
These Foolish Things: from The Quintessential Billie Holiday, Vol 2 (1936)
For All We Know: from Lady in Satin (1958)
I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart: from Easy to Remember (2001)
One Note Samba: from Desafinado (1963)
Suite No. 1 in G Major, Prelude
Suite No. 1 in G Major, Allemande: from Bach Cello Suites (1939)
Waltz No. 10 in B minor, Op. 69. No. 2: from Chopin-Waltzes
So, one week in and one to go, and personal comments, tweets, emails and audience reaction aside, there have been reviews a-plenty, ranging from a miserly two stars out of a possible five in The Times to a resounding thumbs up The British Theatre Guide – “one of the best pieces of theatre I have seen in years.” The truth, to my mind veering strongly towards the latter, lies somewhere between the two.
The reviewer for The Times, opts to judge the play primarily as a police procedural and as such finds “little to distinguish it from any number of mediocre TV cop shows”, and although she recognises that other elements exist – the Miners’ Strike, issues around gender and social inequality – chooses not to allow these the significance I believe the play accords them. As anyone who’s read my novels, or, indeed, seen this production, might attest, the nuts and bolts of the plot – the who did what to whom – are not what interest me most. [Perhaps I should have taken up another line of employment.] I want the mechanics of plot to work, surely, but what I’m more interested in is the why – motivation and characterisation – and, perhaps just as importantly, what the telling of the story allows me to say about the society and values of the world in which its taking place. So it is exactly the Miners’ Strike and its legacy that I’m interested in here, as well as, yes, gender and social inequality, and, running through everything, the persistence of memory. And if those elements don’t come through for the majority of the audience more strongly than they did for The Times then, as a writer, I’ve failed.
What clearly hasn’t failed – even for The Times – is the production itself …
The good news is that Jack McNamara’s production, for Nottingham Playhouse and New Perspectives, is supremely stylish.
Ruth Sutcliffe’s design of gliding black panels and Azusa Ono’s arresting lighting conjure up a murky unease as the plot stops across decades. Figures lurk in shadows or in the sickly yellow glow of streetlights, jazz music curls like smoke around scenes of tense domesticity or police interrogation. Monochrome video imagery flickers – fingerprints, X-ray images, miners on the picket line hemmed in by battalions of uniforms.
Sounds good to me.
And what doesn’t fail – even at those moments – a few, but they’re there – when the script falters – are the actors, whose work has been universally praised and who can, night after night, even knowing the piece as well as I do, make the back of my neck tingle, my heart beat faster, reduce me to tears.
You have to be a subscriber to read The Times review on line, but for anyone wanting to track it down it was in the Friday, 7th October issue. Links to other reviews follow.
I was grateful, of course, for Steve Orme’s wholehearted response in The British Theatre Guide and particularly enjoyed reading the piece by Emma Pallen in Impact, the University of Nottingham’s Official Student Magazine. And I was especially delighted – nay, thrilled – to have the play’s authenticity attested to in the Traffic Light Theatregoer blog by Francis Beckett, who, together with David Heneke, wrote a history of the Miners’ Strike, Marching to the Fault Line, published by Constable.