3 August

It is the third of August already - already only three weeks of my summer holiday left. I had hoped to have finished Chapter Three of Kip Fenn this week, but, although I did work quite hard, it was slow going. If I can nearly finish by Tuesday, I could still make a decent stab at getting a good part of Chapter Four done before I get back to EC Inform after the summer.

This morning’s post nearly gave me a heart attack. There was a letter from an agent - Arcadia Agency - to which I’d sent three chapters of BLR several months ago. I think I sent three letters at the time, and two replied fairly swiftly, but I never heard from the third. In the back of my mind, though, I did know there was still one agent which hadn’t replied. The letter that arrived this morning did not use my stamp-addressed envelope nor were my three chapters enclosed. It states: ‘Apologies for not replying sooner but it does take time, unfortunately, to read through scripts! Well, we have received the material relating to your book and I am writing to confirm that we shall be pleased to act for you and to enroll you onto our client list. I enjoyed very much reading your work and I would like to receive the whole ms if you do decide to join the agency. With regard to the possibility of obtaining publication for you as an author, we would point out the following: in accepting you as one of our clients, we act on your behalf in promoting your work with various publishers. The subject of your book is interesting and, once we have your confirmation in writing that you wish us to act for you, we shall be instituting preliminary research to find suitable publishers to whom we can submit your work. Please see attached terms of interest.’

I don’t how many seconds this fooled me for, but it wasn’t very many. Certainly, as soon as I looked at the second page, the ‘terms of interest’, and saw the ‘administration fee’ of £70 charged for each manuscript, I realised that this must be a down-at-heels agency reduced to petty deceptions to raise funds. I do not believe for a moment that this Agency will spend more than half an hour on my manuscript, just enough to reproduce a standard letter thanking me for sending it, and to spend a few minutes every now and then listening to my messages asking for information on its answering machine - I would put money on the Agency’s telephone number being permanently plumbed into an answering machine. Other warning signs are the fact that there is no fax number on the letter headed paper, and the email address in the ‘Writer’s Handbook’, from whence I got the address, shows the Agency’s email address as a Freeserve one - how low can you get. I suppose the surprise is that I’ve not had a letter like this before now - or perhaps there are not many such agencies that manage to present a bona fide face while exploiting the writer wannabes, the writer nevertobes (such as me). So, no heart attack after all.

The Commonwealth Games are drawing to a close. I wonder why the athletics, which are surely the heart of the Commonwealth Games just as they are of the Olympics, finish mid-week, leaving a motley collection of sports - hockey, rugby, badminton, swimming and others - played in lots of different places for the last weekend. The athletics always provides the focus for a multi-disciplinary event like the Games, and this final weekend has no focus.

Today, I’ve watched the final of the men’s double table tennis between England and Wales. I do not understand why they only play five sets of 11 points each in this event (seven games are played in singles matches). Games and matches are over in a jiffy. In the past, table tennis games were always played to 21 allowing any dominance to demonstrate itself. Even though the England-Wales match went to the wire, it lasted less than an hour - even the shortest of men’s tennis matches last that long, and the sport involves much more energy.

The women’s hockey, though, provided me with great entertainment. The final, between England and India, went into extra time. England had all the run of the play in the second half of the match proper, but India came back strongly in the first half of extra time - in which a golden goal would decide the gold medal. With 20 seconds to the end of the first half of extra time, India won a penalty corner. A shot by India was blocked by the goalkeeper; the hooter went to signal the end of the 10 minutes; India scored on the rebound; then the referee blew her whistle to indicate the end of the half - but the Indians thought she blew to indicate the goal (and the goal medal) and were celebrating. When they realised the truth, they immediately objected and within a minute or so the ref had over-turned her previous decision, awarded the goal and the gold medal. Then it was the turn of the English side to object vociferously. It seemed that England was claiming that because the hooter and whistle had gone, the goal could not be allowed. The rules, however, state clearly that a penalty corner awarded before the end of play must be played out until the ball becomes dead or leaves the penalty D area. I’m not quite clear whether or not a mistake was made when the hooter sounded, but it is clear from what all the commentators were saying that the ref should not have blown her whistle to stop the game until the penalty corner play had to come to an end. Likewise players do not play to the hooter but to the ref’s whistle. England could not, therefore, legitimately claim that they stopped play at the hooter and that, therefore, India was able to score the goal. And, since the whistle did not go until the ball was in the net, England could not claim the goal was stopped because they ceased defending on the whistle. Moreover, the replays show, without doubt, that there was no let up in the English defending after the hooter. In the moment, it did seem like some unfairness had been imposed on England, but, in retrospect, England had no legitimate argument against the ref’s revised decision. But it was exciting to watch the controversy.

It is Adam’s birthday tomorrow - his 15th. I have written a futuristic story for him - it’s called ‘BEYOND’. I hope he likes it. Although it was tough initially to get my head around what I could write about the year 3002 (he had asked for a story based a 1,000 years hence), I quite enjoyed composing it once I’d got going.

8 August 2002

Having failed to finish chapter three of Kip Fenn by last weekend, I pressed myself to finish it by mid-week. By Tuesday night I had brought the chapter to a close, although without an annex, or even a fully-formed idea for the annex. At 20,000 words it was about the same length as the first two chapters. When I came to read it over and fill out my note sheets on Wednesday I became a bit disheartened. It didn’t seem as interesting or as well written as the first two chapters. However, I coped with this by realising that it would be normal for Kip’s life to lose colour and excitement when he settles down with a job and a family. Also I noticed from my original plan (which peters out at chapter eight and which has been much elaborated or ignored), that Kip and Hilary’s break up should come in Chapter Four. I decided to clip the end of Chapter three, in which Kip runs through, rather quickly, the break-up, and keep it for Chapter Four, adding an alternative end to the chapter. I needed, for example, to say something about Caxton’s People’s Party which had been referred to several times but not elaborated on, and I felt the need to mention a few trips that Kip and/or Hilary had taken, and to make a passing reference to Alfred, who hasn’t been mentioned once in the chapter. So I’m rewriting the end, and I’ll have to invent an annex somehow linked to Caxton or Hilary who are the two main characters in the chapter. All of which means, the chapter will have taken me a week longer than I planned (in my most recent plan) - three weeks of the summer; plus I don’t know how many weeks in the last six months. In my head, I’ve sort of told myself that I’ll spend the first six months of 2003 finishing it, but quietly thinking I’ll take less time than that. Now, I’m not sure. I may not even be able to finish. I’ve started worrying about the idea of having a major episode that kills millions and millions of people, because I can’t envisage Kip being able to write reflections on the minutiae of his life with such a catastrophe filling up his more recent history.

The proms this summer are full of lovely Spanish music. As I write, I’m taping a Falla Zarzuela - ‘La Vide Breve’ - onto minidisc; it already has Falla’s ‘El Amor Brujo’ which I taped on Tuesday. On a separate minidisk, which already had some John Harle playing, I taped from the same Tuesday late night prom a spanish-themed Harle composition called ‘The Little Death Machine’ along with Rodrigo’s ‘Concierto de Aranjuez’ arranged by Davis and Evans and played by Harle.

Today, also, I should mention I finally got hold of a CD of Gounod’s ‘Mireille’. I used to have it on tape, but a while ago I noticed I no longer had it. I searched on Amazon with no success, and then I tried at the little record shop in Godalming. Within a week the shop had it for me - I picked it up today for £22.50. I think it must be the very same recording I used to have - the CD is a 1988 remastered copy of a recording from 1980.

The weather has been poor - wet and cloudy. Adam works sporadically during the day on his GCSE course work.

Adam’s 15th birthday on Sunday was a bit flat. He’s too old to spend the day with his aging parents. His presents were mostly books and pens and money. Later in the morning we drove over to near Albury and went on the same walk on the downs that we’d been on a couple of years ago - past the silent pool. My knee held up well for about an hour, but then I had to limp very slowly for the latter part of the walk. I was afraid I might get another of those flashes of pain down the back of the knee which disturbed me several weeks ago. It’s difficult to explain to the physio what the problem is because it’s not pain exactly that stops me walking properly, it’s just a thickness, a feeling of wrongness. This is absolutely connected to the cyst and not to the lost ligament. I can well distinguish now the two different problems in my knee. When we got back, we had a birthday tea with a cake B bought in M&S. Then A and B went to the cinema to see ‘Men in Black II’. I didn’t want to go, partly because I wanted to rest my knee, and partly because I had no interest in seeing the film, having only recently seen the first ‘Men in Black’ film and judged it particularly pointless.

11 August 2002

Sunday morning. Adam is on his paper round. I shall wait, as usual, to have breakfast with him around 9:30. Yesterday, he told me, he spent the morning in Guildford buying a portable minidisk player which he can plug in to the hi fi in his room, and looking round the house in Guildford which Barbara is about to buy with Alistair. I spent the morning revising, again, chapter three of Kip Fenn; and I’m a bit happier with it now (I woke in the night with a tense feeling which seemed to come, somehow, from the writing, but all I could synthesise from the feeling was the word ‘ultra’, as though something in the chapter needed the use of the word ‘ultra’ - how odd.)

The news continues to be dominated by the abduction of two 10yr old girls from a town in Cambridgeshire. They went out for a walk last weekend, a few sightings on cctv showed them wondering around town for an hour or so, and then they disappeared. The investigation is being called one of the biggest ever mounted. But, as with the Dowling investigation (a 13yr old that went missing without trace many months ago), the police have no clues. On Friday, they let it be known they thought the children could still be alive (headlines to that effect in all the papers) and were being held captive. This was based on psychological profiles (but on what information?). I’m sure this is not true, I’m sure they are dead.

Cricket: Poor young Vaughn. He was on 197, it was nearly the end of the day. He had played superb cricket - scoring more than half of the England total. His highest ever first-class score was 183, and here was test cricket 200 within sight. Then, he nicked the ball, out of tiredness and lack of concentration more than anything (the last session of the day is usually the longest - and the sun was actually shining).

I am trying to plough through a few back issues of ‘The Economist’, which have been piling up over the summer weeks (I usually save them to read on the train to Brussels). One article gives me good background on Muslims in Europe - I must start preparing for a Muslim-Western Europe conflict in the next chapter of Kip Fenn. Another analyses why there is so much good TV drama coming from the US at the moment which I shall put in my still-virtually empty file of cuttings on TV drama.

I also read about research which purports to show - more solidly than hitherto - that there is a gene, or combination of genes in fact, in humans which can be directly linked to violent behaviour. The research, however, stresses that the main effect of the expression of this gene only occurs with the connivance of nurture - i.e. a child’s education. The gene in question is for a protein called monoamine oxidase-A (MAOA) which seems to break down neurotransmitters (such as serotonin). Reduced levels of MAOA result in violent behaviour - this seems to be well known; it has been shown in mice, and a Dutch line of people without the gene altogether are notoriously violent, the article says. In addition to MAOA, there appears to be variation in the ‘promoter’ DNA (is this another gene in fact) which is responsible for switching the MAOA gene on and off. A study in NZ has followed a group of 500 men for 20 years and found that a statistically high number of those individuals with low levels of MAOA and histories of childhood abuse (12% of the total) were themselves violent - and 85% of that 12% showed evidence of anti-social behaviour in adulthood (twice as many as those with high levels of MAOA). The article makes it sound relatively simple, but I’m sure the actual research report is more complicated, and I’m also sure that there is more to it than the researchers claim. For instance, there appears to be no acknowledgement (I’d have to check the original to be sure) that the levels of MAOA (or the related promoter) might themselves be affected by development (as so much of the brain is) rather than being a parameter fixed at birth.

15 August 2002

I am sitting at a table on my own when someone sits down next to me. I know him from somewhere, but I’m not quite sure where. I’m going to do you a big favour, he says, here take my mobile phone and get out - a bomb is going to go off soon. I say thanks and leave quickly. I hurry along the streets in the opposite direction from my way home. I notice the mobile phone I am carrying is only half there, as though half as been blown away. Suddenly I start worrying about Adam and Barbara. Although they were not in the pub with me, they were at home (or in a hotel, I suppose), just behind the bar, and I realise that if a bomb goes off it could affect them too, or maybe a fire would spread to their building. I can’t believe I have just run off from the pub without warning them or fetching them. Suddenly, Adam appears at my side, he seems to have been in the pub with me, and has followed me along the streets.

‘I was in train station where there are people - time police. And there were trains and I was a trainee time policeman, and I was green. But the high up people wore black, they had hard faces. There was an assistant who was training with me - he was a technician. We were on these trains and we went back in time. There was this war going on, and we threw this bomb at the war and it killed everyone, and then we went back and I got fired.’

16 August 2002

Friday night, another week over, and not much done. I’ve started work on Chapter Four of Kip Fenn. I spent three or more days reading and trying to plan mostly, and on Thursday I started writing, but was put me off my stride in the morning.

I’ve just been watching the news, because the police are involved in another intensive investigation concerning the two schoolgirls from Soham. Earlier this week, they surrounded a wood and investigated two mounds of freshly dug earth, and the nation waited to hear the news that two bodies have been recovered over night - but they weren’t; now, the police are questioning a school caretaker and his girlfriend and searching their house and the school premises.

Adam and I went to London on Tuesday. I had hoped to find summer events on the South Bank, but there was nothing during the day. We walked along the river a little, and then to Covent Garden, where we watched the buskers for a while. In a bookshop, Adam bought a book by Bill Bryson, and thereafter he kept recounting anecdotes from it. There was a boring show at the Photographers Gallery, but I rested my weary knee in the cafe. After that we moved on to Foyles where I sat for nearly an hour looking through the books on international politics - I bought one on the United Nations and another on planetary politics, both of which I thought would be useful for Kip Fenn. Then we went to see an Argentinian film called ‘Nine Queens’, which I thought was beautifully written and composed. The ending, in the very last frames of the film, was a real coup de theatre; and all the better for allowing one to reflect back over the film’s story and make more perfect sense of it than was possible without the key revealed in the last few frames. Apart from being a cracking story about a con-man, it was also a commentary on the state of Argentina today. We hit the rush-hour coming home, and had to sit on the train floor. I just managed to reach Spar, before it closed at 8pm, to buy milk.

20 August 2002

The bodies of those two poor girls in Soham, Cambridgeshire, were recovered at the weekend, not due to any information provided by the school caretaker and his girlfriend who were taken in for questioning at the same time, and are now under arrest on suspicion of murder, but because some walkers chanced on them. The police have used every possible extension of the arrest laws but must charge the two or release them by the morning. I seem to have been wrong in all my guesses about this business - there can be little doubt now that one or the other or both of the two were the murderers. I suspect the questioning is going on so long because the police need to establish specific charges for both of the individuals. There are so many questions about these murders. The papers tell us that the police are as certain as they can be the bodies are the two girls - what does that mean? have they been mutilated in some way? and when were they killed? and how? and why hadn’t the searches found the bodies before two weeks when they were found only 10 miles away and weren’t buried? And what if it were to turn out that the girls only died a week after they were captured, this would have terrible implications for the police procedures, and would leave the parents horrified at the nightmare their girls must have lived with for seven days. Having said all that, the amount of media attention given to these murders is so out of proportion to the relative importance of their deaths - and yet here I am too writing about them for the third time.

Solidly into Chapter Four now. I’ve spent the whole day writing about Kip’s trip to Dracula Park with his two children. A while ago I had the idea of using a Dracula theme park in Kip, but I thought it was my own idea. At the time, it had no link with the plot, I just thought it would be a good idea for something in the future. Then I found articles about how a site had been chosen (out of five investigated) by the Romanian government and was being opposed by environmentalists. So, if I wanted to use the idea, I couldn’t just pick any old site, I had to research the others possibilities, and what attractions there might be nearby. Then, somehow I found myself writing that Kip had a busy autumn in 2032, involving three trips, and Dracula Park became one of those. But then, I realised that just writing about Dracula Park for the sake it (because it doesn’t exist now) is against the whole way I’m writing book. The two other trips that autumn he writes about - to Malta and Manchester - are there so he can embellish on his relationships with Tim and Alfred respectively. After some careful thought, I decided to write the Dracula Park trip in order to say more about Crystal. I’m half way through the approximate 20,000 words for this chapter, and Kip is still not in Amsterdam.

The second series of ‘The West Wing’ finished on Sunday - and I am in mourning. It was a grand final. Bartlett, having announced that he had been suffering from MS for years, had to make the decision whether to seek a second term. He was also coping with the sudden death of his secretary, who, it transpired, he had known since he was a schoolboy. His coming to terms with the death of the secretary and the decision on whether to stand or not were neatly dovetailed by the writer - Aaron Sorkin I think (its a scandal that ‘Radio Times’ doesn’t list the writer’s name). I said to Adam that it was the kind of idea that I like to think I would use/invent. In Kip Fenn, for example, I had just imagined and written about a verbal motif (as opposed to a visual one in ‘The West Wing)’ between Kip and his father.

The Pope is looking about as infirm as any man can. He can barely stand or walk, and is surrounded by a permanent nursing home which has to go wherever he goes. It was Poland last week, for a last farewell. Two million people turned up to crowd an open air mass he gave - most of them cannot even have seen or heard him; yet the numbers are witness to the power of the Catholic faith to pull in the punters. More or less at the same time, fans around the world - I don’t know how many, perhaps millions - were celebrating the 25th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death. There’s no doubting that people like glitter.

25 August 2002

I am in Cambridge or somewhere similar and wanting to get to London by train. I enter the train station which is small but familiar, except that things have changed slightly. I buy a return ticket, and go to find somewhere to sit. A ticket inspector checks my ticket while I am still in the waiting room. I notice that I have four tickets and I must change at Cadogan. I go to the platform and look for my train. I ask a woman standing next to a wide door if this is the Cadogan train. She says yes. Inside, there is a but a single carriage which is much wider and more oval than a normal train. I look for a seat but choose to sit on the floor. Someone says the train is Russian and has been bought because it navigates a particular bridge without being modified. The large doors close, and the train takes off. Someone says we’re about to cross the bridge, and I race forward to the bow of the room where I can see through the glass window that a long section of rail track seems to be suspended, like a rope bridge, through a ravine. The train lurches along the track as if it were an amusement roller-coaster, but at each curve it seems to be less capable of holding on to the tracks. Finally, it comes off and we fly through the air. I am not scared of the crash being fatal. I just use my feet to brace myself. The train skids to land, as if it were a plane on a runway rather than a train on rocks. We all get out. I wonder round and see a road in the distance, and suggest to our guide/conductor that we head for it. As we do so, I realise that I should take at least my most important possessions, so I run back to the carriage and find my bag. I take some things out and walk back to the road. As I’m approaching I see several cars stopped and all my fellow passengers getting in - I assume they’ve hitch-hiked. I hope one of them will wait and take me, but they all drive off, and I am left alone.

26 August

It’s August Bank Holiday today - but how would I know? Perhaps because there are more films than usual on the TV. Perhaps I’ll indulge myself and watch ‘Custer’s Last Stand’ this morning aka Hussein and Stewart’s attempt to battle on against the Indian attack after being made to follow on - they are still over 100 runs behind the Indian’s massive 600-plus total, and have only six wickets left. England need to bat for most of the day to have any realistic chance of saving the match - but that seems such an unlikely prospect.

Adam and I played a game of boules yesterday evening. We have six balls and a jack (given me by Andrew and Susie for my birthday). The first person throws the jack 2-6 metres away, and then tries to throw one of the metal boules (the size of a cricket ball) as near to it as possible. The second person then tries to throw one of his three boules nearer. If he doesn’t manage, he throws another one and then his third. If he gets his first or second ball nearer the jack, then the first person throws again to see if he can get a ball nearer, if not he throws his last ball. The winner is the person with the ball closest to the jack; if he has two balls closer to the jack than any of the three balls of his opponent, he gets two points, and, similarly, he can also get three points (i.e. the same kind of scoring system as in bowls or curling). We’ve only played a few times, and we’re both fairly hopeless. Nonetheless, it was a classic game. We had decided to play to 10 points, and had reached nine points each. Then Adam asked if there was any way we could tie, and I said: no, this would be the decider. However, after two balls each a controversy arose because we couldn’t decide which ball was nearer (even using the special measure provided with the boules set). We had several close calls throughout game, but we had always been able to agree eventually on which ball was closer. In this instance, we discussed it so long that we forgot whose ball was whose. Thus, we decided to play the round again, and Adam promptly said: So, there was a way we could tie. He then went on to win the replayed round and the match.

My mother came for lunch yesterday. We talked about the family mostly, and I told her a bit about Kip Fenn. Melanie has bought a pied-a-terre in Antibes, and Julian is on holiday in Spain at the moment.

I am starting to be very flippant about my life in 2003. I’ve already lost volleyball, the business will be gone, Barbara will be significantly further away in all respects, and I’m more distant from my old friends than I have ever been. It does not bode well for my psychological well-being. What on earth will I do with myself?

I’ve started emailing a new stranger online called Susan. She is a breath of fresh air. She’s an administrator for a string quartet and for a group of surgeons, but has done some writing in the past. She also has a strange background, in that she was educated at home, and didn’t go to school until she was 13. This is not a dialogue with an underpinning of romantic expectation (at least I hope not). So far, her letters have been quite off-beat and entertaining; and she asks interesting questions. There is something about her that reminds me of Angela. She’s asked me to consider a question put to her by her sister: what sort of vegetable would I liken myself to. It’s not easy. She describes herself as a radish. I was talking to Adam about this, who said, very quickly, that I’m a tomato - because I get red a lot!. I said I certainly don’t think of myself as a tomato. Then, when he asked me to think of what vegetable he was, I couldn’t come up with one. He suggested lettuce, to which I responded ‘a little gem’. Then I said I was trying to think of a vegetable for him, one that’s generally considered a joke - he said a radish. I don’t think I’ll pass that on to Susan.

28 August 2002

Mahler’s third symphony at the Proms has just finished; the other night I listened/watched a marvellous broadcast of Shostakovitch’s fourth symphony; and a Saturday or two ago I watched a live Glyndebourne relay of ‘Carmen’. During the Shostakovitch, Adam was asking about classical music and I tried to explain why people like it.

I’ve been back on EC Inform work the last couple of days, and I’ve felt that old heaviness come and take me over. It won’t be a day too soon when I close my little company, whatever happens to me after that.

I’ve made progress with Chapter Four of Kip Fenn (and by working a few hours every afternoon, I’m trying to keep my mind on it until the chapter is finished), although it doesn’t have the momentum or interweavedness of Chapter Three, but then I’m trying to drag the novel into a serious place. Adam has been pestering me to read it, but I keep telling him no. Finally, he managed to steal the manuscript (the first three chapters) from my desk without me knowing and read it all. But, when he gave it back he made no comment at all. Later though, he said, he thought Kip was a bit seedy. Well, he’s at his seediest in Chapters Two and Three.

How’s my knee? I still feel the cyst at the back all the time. I went out for a fast walk this afternoon on the Common. It might have been half an hour all told, and I was quite close to a limp developing. But round the house, I’m almost back to normal. Occasionally I get vicious twinges in the front of the kneecap. I’ll be seeing the surgeon again in a couple of weeks.

I’ve watched some teen flicks in the last couple of weeks: ‘Dirty Dancing’, ‘Clueless’, ‘American Pie’, ‘Cruel Intentions’; and also ‘The Opposite of Sex’, although the latter I wouldn’t class as a teen flick, since it deals with issues that would appeal to slightly older adults I think. Of the five, I found ‘American Pie’ the best teen flick, but I probably found ‘The Opposite of Sex’ the most interesting, even though the Friends actress (I don’t know her name) is a bit irritating.

Judy, Rob, James and Sophie came round on Monday on their way home from Pagham Harbour. James played with Adam, and the rest of us discussed Sophie’s A-level choices, which she will be making next week. Judy seemed to be favouring her to take English Lang and Lit and history, and Rob wanted her to do philosophy.

September 2002

Paul K Lyons


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