'What started you writing?' It's a question I've come to dread. I want to print out the answer on a sheet of A4 and have it ready to hand it over to the journalist asking that most lazy of questions to put to a writer. It's like when you get married and want to punch the 50th person who asks you what married life's like. And then I feel guilty, because someone asking you questions is a good thing. The alternative, nobody asking you questions, isn't so good for book promotion, capisce?
I love the story of Prince Philip, returning from an overseas trip, who is accosted by a cub journalist who somehow has made his way to the front of the scrum and attracted his attention.
'Prince Philip sir! Prince Philip sir!' Our hero has a recorder held out.
The bushy-browed figure leans down towards his tormentor. 'Yes?'
Our man is rather like a dog chasing a car, in that now he has his prize, he doesn't quite know what to do with it. He gathers himself manfully. 'H-How was your flight, sir?'
Philip smiles. 'Have you ever flown yourself, young man?'
Our man is puzzled. 'Yes, sir. Many times.'
'Well, it was just like that.' Says Philip, turning on his heel and moving on.
I didn't have an idea what I was going to write, really, only that I had a vague notion of spoofing those international thrillers where our man is chased across Europe by a shadowy cabal of evil wrong-doers, saves humanity and gets the girl. The book would be amusing, only because I am easily bored and essentially shallow and so thought myself incapable of writing something literary and nuanced. According to my Amazon reviews for the resulting novel, Space, I'm also incapable of writing a funny book.
And yet it still makes me laugh when I read it today. It's often irredeemably silly, it makes a number of errors I have since learned to spot and remove from my writing and it makes the, in conventional publishing terms, fundamental error of not taking itself - or its reader - too seriously. And yet there's a sort of cry of 'Yahoooooo' about it, think small boy kicking autumn leaves and you're half-way there. The book has energy, ambition and a delightful way of killing off cherished characters that I must admit I have rather retained.
There are a number of high points that still tickle me pink. The police interview with a suburban housewife who has lost the ten inch 'thing' from her bedroom drawer, sold to her by the gorgeous and pneumatic sex worker Kylie - who is without a single brain cell to bother her - still cracks me up (remember I'm fundamentally weak-minded). There's the divorced copper with a perspiration problem and the poor middle-class doctor who is the unwilling victim of 99% of the book's set-ups. The angriest policeman in England is quite fun, counterpointed by Ivan Litvanoff, a particularly evil Russian spy. His encounter with Nigel, a camp MI5 safe-house housekeeper with a Prince Albert, ends with a most satisfying gag. A particular high for me was black leather cat-suited CIA operative Neon Womb, who has a 'moment' every time she kills. She was my female side coming out. Oh, and I'm forgetting the house-cleaning spy from Vientiane, the vengeful Véronique. Not to mention former French resistance fighter René the Horse, the character who featured in the short story that was my first attempt to write a book. He had to have a place in Space, and so he does. Oh! And grumpy handbag-wielding galleon Mrs Bartholdy...
Oh, gosh. There's quite a lot in there, really. It's amazing what you can do with 100,000 words when you put your mind to it...
Anyway, I'm rambling. Space is free on Amazon.com from noon today for the next five days. So if you want a free copy (saving you £0.99, cheapskate) or want to let a friend know they can get a copy, fill your boots. I'm not claiming the book's perfect or representative of my later, more serious work, right? But you can let me know how it went for you by leaving a review and I won't mind at all. Even if you don't think it's funny...