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.