Spark To The Flame

A few years ago I tried to leave London (in truth, I think I was trying to get away from myself, but that’s for another time). I gave away most of my books, my music, my DVDs (the Oxfam shop in Kentish Town, littered with remnants of my past, had a display window that looked the Wilding Bazaar and Emporium, I winced each time I went past), packed up my little flat and headed for an even smaller space down on the south coast. It was the August bank holiday weekend, a rare strand of sunlight shone down on the hire van as we negotiated our way through the one way system that is Croydon town centre and headed for the South Downs and out towards the sea, never stopping until we ran out of road.

I liked it there, I love Brighton, I still nurture a dream that I’ll end up there with a view of the garden, writing reams as the days drift. I settled, I healed, I revelled in the friends I had and the ones I made, but work and London kept calling me back. I headed to the coast to see if the second book I’d been pushing around was actually in me or just a notion, that Cross Country Murder Song was the one novel I could and would write or was the idea of Red just that, an idea?

Each morning, when the trains ran (Southern trains are so uniformly awful that you think they’ve been created as some sort of social experiment to see how far you can push people until they crack and set fire to the carriage) I’d take my notebook, an actual notebook, and my pen and I’d write as we rattled towards London. That notebook multiplied, and some mornings as the clouds drifted up over the South Downs I had some of my best and most fruitful periods of writing. I even made myself cry at Gatwick as I reached a pivotal point in the plot, it took my breath away, though I fear it did little for the man next to me who’d just got off a plane from Dublin and gave me a perplexed sideways glance as if I’d just placed my hand on his thigh and given it a squeeze.

By the time the next August Bank Holiday had come around, the first draft of Red, in my awful, inky scrawl was finished. I moved back to London a day to the year that I’d left, it had been a strange turbulent last few months, though oddly calm for me, like I was sat peacefully at the eye of the storm as the world blew up around me. Two friends had seen their marriages falter and fail, through no fault of their own, and as I left Brighton it felt tarnished somehow, at least then and for a little while. I moved to the very edge of London and found that I liked it again, close enough to escape the hellish commute that Southern seemed intent on visiting upon the earth, but far enough out that it didn’t quite feel like London, not least Kentish Town, which often felt like you’d just had grit blown in your face.

I think most of you know what came next, manuscript optioned for TV, it spent a year away from home in the doldrums of Hollywood, returned unmade and then I’d missed some kind of window and subsequent publishing deal. I gave it up, convinced myself that it wasn’t the book I thought it was, put it in my desk drawer and left it there. And then after chatting to one diminutive Welsh rock star, there are more than you might think, we’re a small people, decided to read it again, liked it, loved it if I’m honest, it’s actually thrilling, and sad and dark and bloody and occasionally beautiful. Pitched it to Unbound who scooped it up in a matter of days (which lifted me higher than I could have possibly imagined) and then set about getting it backed by friends and strangers alike. Spring ceded to summer and the figure crept ever upward, stuttered, slowed and then sprang into life again, it was maddening and exciting in equal part.

Then it was another August Bank Holiday, the sun shone, Lauren and I walked around Crystal Palace Park, admired the vintage sports cars racing there, sat outside, drank beer and kept a wary eye on my Unbound campaign as it eclipsed 90% and kept going. And then on the Monday holiday it rallied and stumbled forward like a runner taking the tape only to collapse across the finishing line. Late on the Bank Holiday Monday afternoon after a slew of pledges we sat just two pounds from our target. Two fucking pounds, which I must have muttered only a hundred times or so, Lauren suggested putting the money in myself, but I was strangely honour bound to stay true to the idea of a pledge campaign and then someone I didn’t know appeared on Twitter to tell me that he’d pushed me over the edge and past my target. I went over into this new rubicon like a fat kid chasing chocolate cake. There was whooping, almost certainly some hollering, we dragged our tired bodies to the pub, I was deliriously happy, enlivened by another pivotal Bank Holiday.

Since then I’ve spoken to my new editor and I liked him, I think we might have an accord until we don’t. I get my first notes on the manuscript in the next week or so, I’ve been here before, but it’s none the less a thrill that this whole process begins again, the book cover, the proof pages, hell, even seeing the words typeset and on the page. And then a book in my hands at some point in early 2018. Opening your own book up for the first time is almost indescribably moving, unless they’ve spelt your name wrong inside, that kind of thing can put a real kink in your day, like falling off a roof and onto broken glass can put a kink in your day. But let’s not think the worst, Red lives, she’s stirring as I write, rising up from the ground, her hair falling away from her ashen face, green eyes framed in the red, the dirt falling from her shoulders, coming back to the world.

Red

 

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Red: The World Burns…

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What was it Bukowski said, the days run away like wild horses over hills?  I have a friend who sometimes chides me for my occasional dramatic flourish (I say occasional), but as the hours and days count down to the deadline for my second novel, The Death And Life Of Red Henley, I’ll admit to feeling a little skittish, the odd pulse-quicklening moment as we creep towards the final target as it remains defiantly and tantalisingly just out of reach. I’ve very little to complain about (but I will), 74% after forty-five days is not to be sniffed at and while I feign casual indifference as I click on the Unbound updates on an almost daily basis (almost, who am I kidding?), I can feel a tic developing along my right eyelid. It’s the kind of twitch I associate with my bad old days when I’d sleep infrequently and ingest/indulge on a grand scale. I’d realise I’d pushed things just a little too far when my right eye started blinking out in what felt like semaphore, signalling, I imagined, either for sleep or help. It’s nothing compared to a story Carl Barat told me when I ghosted his biography, Threepenny Memoir, about the time he quite determinedly stayed awake for a week, he did it too. I can only imagine the quick-fire messages his eyelids were sending out by the end of that, but the listless, waking dream memory still makes me shudder.

So, also determinedly, though without as much chance of causing my heart to pop like a fairground balloon, I thought I’d push on against the last final hill toward the dizzy heights of a completed pledge campaign. With that in mind, I thought I’d eke out some more excerpts from my book in the hope that they might entice yet another buyer into parting with their cold, hard cash in the hope of some minor infamy of appearing in the thank you list of my new novel. The below is one of the settings for the book: the Tennessee countryside in the earlier 60s, the other is NYC in 1980. I hope you like it, more will follow and if you’d like to read the whole thing then pledge here. Thank you.

June 1961

Raymond Bulley remembered the flames and the voices calling for help. His father pulling him along by his hand, past the smell of something burning nearby, their home literally turning to dust, the oxygen being sucked out of the air, the feeling that at any moment his hair might turn to tinder and ignite around his head, giving him a halo of orange and red. Then suddenly they were outside, the crack of falling wood behind them, something combusted and blew inward, a window fell in on itself, glass shattered and someone screamed his father’s name and then the world exploded and inverted and he was suddenly twenty feet away from where he’d been standing with his leg caught up behind him, something had happened to his thumb, it felt dislocated and useless; like it wasn’t his thumb anymore, the bright sunshine caused him to blink. He sat up and a high, singing alarm went off in his head. Behind him their house was now a dirty black cloud tethered to a series of jagged, wooden spikes that looked like spindly fingers pointing accusingly at the sky, it sounded like something his father might describe in one of his sermons. And then his father was standing over him, blood across his face and on one of his hands, he was screaming something, but the high-pitched keening in Raymond’s ears made it impossible to hear him. He grabbed at the boy’s wrist and then was suddenly jolted backwards and briefly out of sight, he watched confusedly as his father’s legs shot up in the air and then there was Jakub standing triumphantly behind his father, his clothes were smoking and he looked as though he’d been smeared with oil. The whites of his eyes magnified against the burnt black of his skin.

Years later, Raymond would remember the smell, he could sense it in his nostrils, taste the suddenly decaying flesh on his tongue, the charcoal of a barbeque brought it flooding back, sulphur conjured up the ghost of Jakub’s hair, a lick of flame at the crown that he hadn’t seemed to have noticed yet, the scent was overwhelming, nauseating yet sweet, putrid, the thick smell of steak, he imagined leather being held over a flame until it curled and smoked. Then his father was standing next to Jakub, close enough to burn, he pulled his revolver from inside his jacket and placed it at Jakub’s temple and fired. The sound even broke through the white noise that was now making up the inside of Raymond’s skull, he saw the bullet ricocheting inside Jakub’s head, spinning around like a rider on the Wall of Death and then Jakub was gone, a spray of blood described a wobbling arc in the air, and then Raymond was up, his father grabbing at him and dragging him into their car. His father was screaming.

“I’ll make landfill from their bones!” Blue’s voice was reaching Raymond like a dispirited radio signal that had travelled too far and was quickly waning. He watched his father strike the dashboard repeatedly with his open hand. His whole frame was shaking and he was driving like a man who knew that a twister was threatening the sky in his rear view mirror. Until, quite suddenly, he pulled the car wildly over into small side road and stilled. He turned in his seat and placed a hand gently on his son’s shoulder, he looked undone, diminished somehow, he looked like a boy himself, wearing a grown up’s suit for a joke, his head shrunken, peeking out of the collar, the knot of the tie too wide. Not only had Raymond’s father lost his congregation and people, he had, as he would later admit, finally lost everything, even his way.

Red Is Dead (Maybe)

Forty-five days in to the Unbound pledge campaign for The Death and Life Of Red Henley seems like a good time as any to marvel/recoil/reflect on the whole thing so far. At ninety days the thing goes dead, apparently, but, pleasingly, at the halfway mark we’re at 73%, which is tantalisingly close to our target and could see me with a new tattoo (I have the first novel title Cross Country Murder Song set in black typeface on my left arm, I’m so emo) before Christmas. I’ll be honest, it’s been unnerving relying on the kindness of strangers, but the generosity has been staggering, as has the number of people who’ve wanted to be ended violently in the new book. There were five opportunities to be offed in a gruesome (yet lyrical and imaginative!) manner and all five sold. Not cheaply either, I can’t imagine the kind of person who read CCMS, marvelled at the hysterical bloodletting therein and thought, yeah, I want some of that. But they’re out there and probably staring coldly at you as you read this…

The signed pool balls have done well too, which is another surprise as the people who have pledged on them have no real context of how or why they feature in Red. Suffice to say that there’s a very tense pool tournament at the book’s climax as the killer’s identity is revealed (actually, that’s not at all true in any way, it’s a fact that I just made up), but they are strangely pivotal to the story in the most gruesome way. One person has even asked that I come to their home and read to them from CCMS and Red, something they can look back on later in life and rue at their leisure, staring off into the middle distance and wondering at which precise moment did they think letting me into their house was a good idea. But that’s all to come.

If you have pledged, and thank you, then you might have already read the extract below, but if not then I’d like to share it with you. One, to shake the change loose from your cold, miserable hands (no offence) and two, because it was a moment early on in the creation of the book when I felt I was on to something. A few years ago I was in a hotel room in Sheffield (we all have our burdens to bear) and for no apparent reason started writing in my notepad about the loneliness that polar bears must feel as they drift across the arctic tundra. I’ve no idea why, I’ve no idea why a picture of an early astronaut made me write CCMS, but it did and the polar bear was the spark that set the fire under Red. I gave the full chapter to a very dear friend of mine who’s as tough as leather and he broke down crying on the bus on Oxford Street after he’d read it (and he used to work for Tony Blair), which I took to be a good sign.

Anyway, Green (our hero/anti-hero), the polar bear, poor Rudy Porter and his dead wife are all below. If you’d like to get behind the book, and why wouldn’t you? Then get involved here. Thank you, enjoy the extract.

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Rudy Porter had been with his wife, Suzanne, as long as he could remember. They’d been teenagers and then lovers and then married by the time he was nineteen against the wishes of both their parents. Neither of them went to college, they were parents too by the time they reached their twenties. They had two sons; Alix and Mikey, both had graduated college, they’d been his children and he’d loved them, he still loved them. Alix lived in Boston and Mikey had moved south to Florida, he still felt like the centre of their lives if only sometimes as a point on the map. The problem was Suzanne. She’d fallen heavily in the kitchen four days before and hadn’t moved since. He’d placed her in her favourite chair; it had the best view of the TV, and waited for her to wake. He put cups of tea at her side and emptied and refreshed them as they cooled. He held her hand; the colour was running into the fingertips and making them red and purple. Her face was grey, her skull heavier than he could ever remember. He tipped it back against the chair and she sat there as if she were regarding a newly found stain on the ceiling. He missed her more than he could have ever imagined; how could one fall have so irrevocably changed their lives forever?

He sat with her at nights and talked about when they were young and what they both might have wanted from the world. He talked about the time she left him over his teenage jealousies and how he’d discovered a new hollowness inside of himself, that first very real feeling of his heart breaking. His breath stuttered in sharp jolts like a sudden asthma attack in lungs once considered healthy. The numbness of his loneliness spread through his body like the slow recede of snow. He woke daily to the first, sharp realisation of pain. And then one day she suddenly came back with a warning for him to cool down, to trust her and so he did. She took his hand and they walked through their city. The boys grew and left and they both cried and clung to each other, their lives moving forwards in increments. He thought of her in the hat that she wore to Mikey’s wedding, pale blue; the wide brim casting half her face in shadow. He had never seen her look more beautiful and now he was crying as she sat in another shadow altogether, the life ushered out of her, her unseeing gaze staring only upwards as if that was where she was meant to go.

Green had no idea why he was the one they called to the apartment. Later, he’d think it was because of his father’s calling as a priest, that if he could listen and ease the minds of men then perhaps his son had a similar aptitude, a gift, but he was never completely sure why he got the job. Patrolmen had been called to Rudy Porter’s apartment when his son Alix had started to worry about where his father and mother might be. Their phone rang uselessly; Alix imagined it sat there in their apartment trilling with life as they lay asphyxiated yards away, slumped and just out of reach. The patrolman talked to Rudy through the door, but didn’t think crashing through it would help the situation. The man’s nervous reassurances sounded much more weary than they were manic or dangerous. Neither son could make it into town until later that night and there was a stench starting to settle around the doorway and across the building’s landing. Something was waiting on the other side of that door and the patrolman didn’t want to meet its unwavering eye.

Green sat across from Suzanne who was now bloated and cartoon like, her arms stuck out and her engorged calves were set wide apart. He was momentarily worried that her dress was going to rise up. Her head was tilted forward and he waited nervously for her eyes to blink open and for her to come screeching into life. He felt like the butt of an ugly joke. The chair beneath her looked sodden. She was putrefying; the smell made his throat pinch and his eyes redden with tears. Though it was Rudy who was crying. He sat across from them both, hunched over, the tears making his body convulse. Green had never heard a human being make a noise like that, he wondered if that was the sound that grief made, that one day they would all wail like a lost or abandoned animal when it came to facing their greatest fear down. The primal ghosts of all their ancestors brought to bear when it finally sensed extinction. Death, he thought stupidly, really is the end.

“Suzanne,” said Rudy, he was looking at him now, eyes streaming, his cheeks were white; he looked wild. “She used to enjoy wildlife programmes, the Discovery Channel, do you ever?”

He nodded, it was true too; he found some strange comfort in nature’s abstract approach; life really was out of your hands. It was said that the Victorians couldn’t so much stomach Charles Darwin’s research that turned their world and its inherent beliefs on its head, but that they couldn’t bear how indifferent and cruel nature could really be. There was no glorious path or journey; each man’s fate wasn’t aligned to the stars. Death could be waiting at the corner as easily and absurdly as it could a zebra’s watering hole.

“You know the polar bears?” Rudy was staring at him, Green nodded; sure he did. He felt as if Suzanne were staring at him through her eyelids, checking that he really did too.

“They go out on the ice and they make a hole, you know.” Said Rudy, but he wasn’t talking to Green anymore, his eyes were trained on the window, he was looking hard at the polar bear sitting alone among all that white.

“And they wait, for days sometimes. And these beluga whales they come to the surface, they need the air, they’re white like ghosts, they look like Casper, have you seen them?”

Green nodded, he wasn’t sure that he wanted to hear about a polar bear crushing and killing and then eating a beluga whale as Mrs Porter sat just feet away, her insides rotting to an indiscriminate mush, it seemed to make the scenario they found themselves in even more surreal and rank. But he had nowhere to go, he needed to leave with the assurance that Rudy would let his wife go with him, that Rudy might finally loosen his grip and let himself be free. He looked at Suzanne and wondered at the woman, not this ghoulish approximation of a once living thing.

“They come up through the ice, the whale, and they do this sort of half loop, the icy water coming off them in a sheet, it’s an incredible thing to see.” Said Rudy, he was close enough then to feel the spray of icy water.

“And the bear reaches out to embrace them, to get a hold of them, its claws out. And he gets a hold of the whale for a moment, but I don’t know if it’s the momentum of the whale or the water or the impact, but the whale keeps going, these long cuts down its side, these claw marks and it just keeps on going. It hits the water and is gone and the bear sits back and it looks, I don’t know, dumbfounded. Suzanne used to say, I think she was teasing me, that polar bears get lonely out there on the ice and all they want when they reach out for the fish, they just want something to hold on, that they love those whales, that it’s the only thing they’ve seen for days and the loneliness is just killing them.”

He was crying now, hard.

“And I said to her, but when those bears catch the fish they kill them, they crush the life out of them, you know. And Suzanne said…”

And he allowed himself to look up at his once beautiful wife, her cheeks bloated, her hands fat, as if you might prick her and she’d deflate like a day old party balloon. He saw his wife completely then and then he let her go, let the air out him and the next part of his life in.

“And she said, that the bears loved the whale so much that they couldn’t help but hug them too hard and that their feelings were so strong that they ended up killing the thing they loved. Just from the holding on…”

And then Green was across the room and he held Rudy Porter in his arms as he cried and cried and he was careful to turn the man’s head away from the sight of his dead wife, so that he might see her as he once saw her. And he held him firmly but gently, so as not to crush the life from him, but to ensure that Mr Porter might yet go on living still.

As (Not) Seen On TV: Death And Life In The American West

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So just over a year later after I handed over the manuscript of my second novel, The Death And Life Of Red Henley, to some North American producers (film and TV, but more latterly TV, as that’s where the money is, though not in my case), they’ve handed it back. In truth, I’ve missed her, I’ve gone back over the pages many time, tinkering here, readdressing there, I spent a few months crafting a TV pitch that ended up using the characters from the book and transplanting them a few years into the future, created eight episode arcs and a new world that was set some time after Louis Green first ever discovered the story of Robert Walker, a preacher called Blue, pool balls as instruments of torture, the fire in the Tennessee countryside and Red Henley and her strange demise. In essence, and really without thinking, I created the sequel to a novel that had yet to be printed. The idea was (we were so knowing), that book 1, with its magical/grotesque reveal about Green and Walker’s backstories and relationship, would eventually become season 2 once we got picked up as a show in the US.

Except we didn’t. Which happens a lot, or doesn’t happen a lot, depending on how you look at it. The manuscript floated around the WME office in LA and then floated back. It wasn’t quite the heartache I’d experienced on Cross Country Murder Song, which went briefly to Miramax, Jude Law and a handful of others who all decided it wasn’t quite what they were looking for. TV and film people, I’ve found, are a bit like old A&R men; they’re not sure they want it until someone else does.

And that’s where it sat, I re-read it occasionally and was still stirred by the power of the prose and its sometimes fantastical darkness. I did a few edits (for no good reason other than I was unhappy the way some of it sat on the page), put it back in the drawer and then I started on book 3. And then I was asked to write the liner notes for the Manics reissue of Send Away The Tigers. There are two renowned musicians who really like CCMS (most just say they like it and put it down after page twenty-three, but that’s okay too), one’s retired and the other one is MSP singer James Dean Bradfield. While we chatted about Tigers, he told me that his wife had taken the family away for a few days not so long before and how he’d settled down with CCMS for the third time and read it in less than 48 hours, which I only recommend if you like scream-filled, fitful sleep and bad dreams that haunt you long into the next day. It was, he said (god love him) the first time the book had truly opened up and revealed itself to him. It’s a dense read and I admire anyone who can get through it once let along go back for more of the same. Where, he wanted to know, was Red? He’s been asking the same thing since the manuscript went off for its gap year in the US. I had no answer and so I took it out of the drawer and read it again and decided there and then (after speaking to ever eloquent David Quantick, a man more enshrined in cynicism than even me) if self-publishing/pledging worked, if Unbound was a worthy platform or a waste of my time. To my surprise, he was all for it, after the success of his first book on there he’s about to publish his second.

So, I stepped out on that road and I’m still on it. We reached a remarkable 34% in four days, which I think even surprised some of the people at Unbound. And here I am shaking my collecting tin of coins at you. If it’s on any interest at all, then head here and pledge – https://unbound.com/books/red-henley – or just go and read about the lonely polar bear for free, it made one of my dearest friends cry on the top deck of a bus on Oxford Street, but in a good way. Do what you can or do nothing at all, I’d just like to see Red live.

 

A Few Words About Love (and Blood)

I finished my second novel (truly finished it after kidding myself it was completed a few months previously) and then watched it dwindle and die. My former editor had retired and wasn’t taking on the number of books he once did and the new season of editors and publishers who had blanched at Cross Country Murder Song’s multi-layered plot lines and dense flashbacks (or maybe they just didn’t like all that blood?), didn’t seem keen to rush in and scoop up my latest effort. I remember one editor on that first round sending back a note that said CCMS didn’t have any redemption. I suggested they try reading Cormac McCarthy and then shutting up, but I’m not sure my then agent ever passed that on, sensibly.

Then there was another agent and now there’s no agent, well, there is, (and there might be another here, ultimately) but this one is based in LA and he’s helping me out for free, because, and get this, he likes my books. He pushed hard to try and get CCMS to an infamous and incredibly talented director and when that didn’t work, he, along with some other equally powerful people (who like me too! The world’s gone nuts!) tried to land it at the feet of one of my favourite living directors. In retrospect, I’m glad that stiffed, I’d have probably had to attend some sort of writing roundtable, attempted to shake his hand and gone straight over the chair next to him. He’s that kind of guy, well, he is to me.

But where were we? Where are we? The French Alps, currently. At a remote chalet where the snow is scant, but that hasn’t deterred most of my housemates from heading to the hills this afternoon with their skis thrown over their shoulders. Part of the reason I came out here, was that the second novel (The Death And Life Of Red Henley) didn’t die. The aforementioned agent in LA (and his band of powerful friends – think Marvel heroes, but with binders and mobile phones) loved the Red manuscript, so much so that they want to develop a TV idea based around the characters who inhabit Red’s world. Roughhewn, raw, lost, they may even be losers, but they’re enigmatic losers all the same (which is how I think of myself when I’m feeling especially charitable) who walk and talk and live and breathe and wash the blood of their sins off their skins everyday. Cheery, right?

So, here I sit, the second novel’s even picked up traction again, people are interested in publishing it, but I’m not, not until I’ve seen this new adventure through, at least. The sun’s on the mountains and I’m developing another world based around the first one I created a scant, few years ago. It’s hard, but the right kind of mental workout, some characters have aged, some have got younger, some are new to this place and they haven’t got a clue what’s about to hit them. If we ever get a TV audience (if we ever get it on TV), then I hope they feel the same way. It’s a good way to start again; some hope, a little damnation, another year. One more go around…

Happy New Year to you and yours from the mountains and my black, Welsh heart.

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The Fall of Rome (LA Edit)

It’s nearly midday and the sunshine is scattering the shadows across the patio of my suite at the London West Hollywood. Someone is smoking dope on a balcony high above me, someone else is playing Nirvana and singing along. The low thrum in the near distance is the endless stream of cars snaking their way along the stop start procession that is Sunset Boulevard at any time of the day. We’ve been here five days now as I’ve stood around watching Rush packing up their metaphorical tents and saying (maybe for the last time) goodbye to the road.

Spirits are high though, earlier in the week we all stood around a pool at the Canadian Consulate as the sun moved sluggishly through the sky making the light liquid and a breeze picked up, diffusing the smoke from the tight clutch of people in the corner nursing their cigarettes. The Mayor of Los Angeles had sent a framed note of thanks to the band (to which Alex responded: “do we have to get him one now?”) while the band signed a print of the recent Rolling Stone cover article, which sat on a stand as people nodded at the figures in the picture approvingly as if the real thing weren’t just standing some few feet away. Jack Black wandered past, his hand on my arm, “Are you Canadian? Me neither, I live here, but tell me…”, he said, an actual glint in his eye, one eyebrow so arched it looked like someone had drawn a tick across his forehead, “Right now, are we in Canada or are we in LA?” He smiled before asking the next person who caught his attention, keen to canvas opinion. By the time he’d made it across the patio and beyond the outdoor dining area and to Matt Stone he seemed no clearer on whose soil his feet were currently planted.

Jack wasn’t at the Irvine Meadows on the R40 tour the next night, though Steven Adler was, being politely told that he didn’t have the right pass for where he wanted to go. He shrugged it off with a smile and wandered back to the VIP hospitality with his friends. The word is Jack Black will be at the LA Forum tonight though, Jack White too (pleasingly) as well as most of rock’s glitterati who owe something to Rush or simply want to wig out as they thunder through Cygnus X1. Which is what I was doing side stage that night, Geddy Lee some twenty feet away rushing the lip of the stage as the first three rows air drummed at the stars forming in a deep blue dome high above this natural ampitheater. The delighted cries of a throng of middle-aged men almost girlish in their startled response.  It’s easy to see why Geddy might not want to let this go, the euphoria that erupted as the star man descended and settled on to the rear projection screen as 2112 crept into life was almost histrionic. Lee so caught in the moment even he played air drums along to Neil Peart’s much mimicked roll across the toms during Overture.

The band ran from the stage that night, the buzz of Working Man still rattling teeth and rafters and made straight for their cars and back in to LA before the traffic clogged up the highway as surely as an auto accident. I talked to the crew and to the band and though no one was saying it out loud, it was there, the inevitable elephant in the room, one more (show) and then no more. Maybe. There’s nothing in the diary, no plans drawn up just yet. And so we wait for the R40 tour to draw to a close, drinks and a party afterwards and then inevitable goodbyes. Someone asked me if I could make the article I’m writing bittersweet, how could I not? That’s all this feeling is, bittersweet. If someone doesn’t shed a tear during Closer To The Heart later tonight then they clearly haven’t been paying attention these last forty or so years. But for now we wait for stage time and one last curtain call, seven hours and counting.

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The Death and Life Of Red Henley

And two years later it’s done.

What started out as a vague idea about the need to belong and why we feel the need to be a part of something (religion, love, even book groups, okay, maybe not book groups), and with a working title of Standing Behind God’s Back (Cross Country Murder Song was called Trauma for the longest time, until it wasn’t), has mutated/evolved into something quite different. Admittedly, the larger themes of the corrupting aspect of religion and love  – it’s clearly a lighthearted romp – are still there, but whereas CCMS was a multi-layered plot (which really pissed some people off; it’s as if I was asking them to think too much), Red’s twelve concise months set in 1980 in New York City. There’s an extraneous chapter called Solstice – guess where that comes in the book – and a few flashbacks to a commune/cult in the Tennessee countryside, but it’s all pretty linear. Well, it is for one of my books. Dead people speak, there’s a very real battle between good and evil, a note or two on the true nature of sin and there’s a passage about a polar bear as a metaphor for loneliness that has made everyone who has read it break down and cry, even me. There’s also a red number 3 pool ball that plays a big part in the plot, but I’ll let you discover that for yourself.

And how do I feel? Well, how kind of you to ask. Not as bleak and bloody-minded as I did after finishing CCMS – that felt like my first real break-up – but saddened still. I was talking to a proper Rock Star friend about it and he said that the post-production/album blues are a very real thing. Even though some of the characters in Red are hideous, I still miss them. I had a dream the other night where two of the protagonists, Red and Walker, were chatting to me quite amiably, and when I woke and realised they were just figments of my imagination, I actually felt quite sad. That said, I wouldn’t want to live in a world where Walker exists; he’s a complete bastard. But the letting go is a difficult thing, I handed it off to the agent a few weeks ago and felt my stomach flip like a young girl who’s just caught her boyfriend making out with her mum, the agent made some encouraging sounds – ‘very strong’, ‘horrifically violent’ – and then passed it on to my editor at Random House. Which is both exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure. I admire or like – let’s not pretend – very few people, but Dan Franklin at Jonathan Cape is one of them and he has the manuscript now, as I sit here writing, I can imagine him at home with pursed, thoughtful lips and a pen hovering over the scenes of carnage  – a man strung up in a tree like a broken kite, someone falling out of the night sky like an exploding star – and jotting down carefully annotated notes in the margins, which he’ll talk me through over a coffee at some point soon while we’re seated at his desk, a desk where Hemingway once sat. The idea of that still thrills me.

So, next comes the edit, the artwork, publication and my inevitable Red Henley tattoo, but that’s some way off yet. That’s the best part of letting go, the beginning again.

Redlastday