Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Stalker

"Move over Dermot. You're occupying my space"
London underground trains do not lend themselves to social niceties. Passengers avoid each others' eyes. In the rush hour, you shrink into yourself to minimise physical contact. The man sitting next to me, apart from accusing me wrongly of taking more than my fair share of space on the seat which we share, overflows liberally. His bum bulges and his elbow digs into my side. And now to make it worse he is talking to me.  Reluctantly I turn towards him.  Though he has obviously recognised me, I have no idea who he is.
"Another novel on the stocks, I suppose?"
For a moment I am flattered. I am not the sort of writer who seeks publicity, but confirmation that a stranger  knows your work, can sometimes ease discomfort. Not  this time. My neighbour is unsavoury as well as presumptuous. "Name's Shadwell," he says, "Tony Shadwell". Feeling as though I had been kicked in the stomach, I turn towards him. I sense some sort of bad joke. Tony Shadwell is a character in my last published novel and in the one which preceded it. A mean and ingratiating inhabitant of the corner of London where it is set. He makes a living by spying on people in public life and selling information to any one who will pay for it. He is a blackmailer and persecutor of women.  Much of the dirt he gleans turn up on the Internet, or worse specifically in the hands of hostile foreign powers.
"So you recognise me?"
" I suppose I should  be flattered," I say,  that you want to  enter into the spirit of  two of my books. The only thing is, your shoes are wrong, cheap and unpolished; that brand of wrist watch is not right for  Shadwell - he wouldn't wear a Swatch - and you have fat, pudgy hands, instead of sneaky, bony hands"

He laughs. He has a particularly unpleasant laugh. Something I recognise and have attempted to describe, though my description does not match the vomit-inducing, staccato snicker I now hear.
What is this? The beginning of some sort of blackmail attempt? Or an even even more sinister threat? The threat of mischief?  I think about my enemies. Who would resort to such a weird trick? And why?

The next stop is Charing Cross where I get out. Will he follow me? I stand up and leave the train without looking behind me. As I follow the familiar route of brightly lit tunnels and moving staircases which lead to the main line station, I persist in keeping my eyes in front of me. The Hastings train is waiting  on Platform 6 and I make straight for the barrier. Even when I enter a carriage half way to the front I refrain from looking back. Relieved I sit down. But my relief is short-lived.

As the train  leaves the station a body thuds into the seat beside me. Making use of its bulk it edges me to  one side. No question  now that I am being pursued by a persistent and sinister stalker. "Not going to greet me, Dermot? I am yours after all, Mr Dermot Frankenstein, your very own handiwork. I now have  a life of my own;  and, I don't mind saying, with rights and in particular the right of self-determination."

"I hope you are enjoying the joke" I say.

"What joke? The crime writer Dermot Martin has responsibilities, like a father for his children. Like a bitch for her pups. Jokes don't come into it. "

"What do you want?"

"What would you want in my place, Dermot? OK, I'll tell you what I want. I want respectability. I want to be ordinary, dull, banal, a bit  like you Dermot. And  I want to be looked up to at least  by a few people. To put it at its simplest, I want to be loved."

I fall for this. "But in that case you would be someone else. The person  in my books has no outwardly attractive qualities . He is a bastard, a liar, a thief and a bully. It is too late to change that. And you, meanwhile " I add to make it clear that I am  not myself nutcase enough to take my stalker seriously, "you are a nut case."

"But you could, if you wanted to, change me. You have already featured  me in two novels. Your Shadwell is a wanker but not a wally".  The stalker  is bright enough to come to terms with his weak and evil side, to pull himself up, brush himself down. "I suspect that I am already in the plot of  the next  book unwinding in your predictable, little brain. You could plunder your imagination for a change  to show a deeper side to my character, one ready to be rescued, to be redeemed..."

Please don't talk to me any more," I say looking out of the window. "I'm thinking." I am not  thinking. My mind is a blank. But may be  the belief that I am thinking will keep him quiet. Even encourage him to leave the train at the next station.  Some hope. My character lives in South East London in a flat above a seedy shop on a street corner.

From Hastings station it is a short walk  through a street of Victorian houses to my house. I walk quickly and don't look back. "Give me a few minutes" I say to my wife". I know there is a drink waiting and a meal in the oven, but I have a  chore before I can relax. From my study window I can see the street below and sure enough there is Shadwell leaning against a wall under a street lamp just flickering into life. At my desk I begin to type right away what is in my mind.

 '"Come with me," said Lorraine taking Shadwell's arm. She smelt of violets, Her blond  hair brushed his cheek.  Surprised he followed her. It was a new experience  for him to meet a willing partner. And the woman who called herself  Lorraine Price was  to his fevered mind something out of the ordinary. Carpe diem. The pick-up ruse had worked. The man  may have been cunning, coniving and and dangerous, but vanity drove caution out of the window. They left the pub together. "I'm staying here," she said, indicating a small private hotel. Looking over her shoulder she led him upstairs, unlocked the door of her room, and ushered him in. "Make yourself comfortable, " she said, "I won't be a minute" , and  disappeared into  the en suite bathroom. There, opening her hand bag she produced a syringe which she expertly loaded, holding it up for a moment to the light.  Hiding it behind her back she returned to find Shadwell as she had hoped naked and on the bed. "Ah," she said approaching him as though to negotiate an embrace, but instead plunged the syringe into his left buttock ..."That will settle you."'

Would that do at least for the moment?  Some polishing perhaps but positive enough. I looked out of the window to find that Shadwell was no longer in evidence.


  1. I'm not sure what I'm going to say will help; your story scenario has happened to me but not in such well-lit circumstances. More often round about six in the morning when I wake up and find myself a sort of shadow to Clare or Jana. Not needing to speak outright since we share the same thoughts. I pass through the same circumstances as they do (not necessarily events that have occurred in GT or RoW) and we communicate soundlessly.

    As a result I feel that Shadwell must speak differently, more elliptically. Since each inhabits the other's mind there is less need to be continuously specific in the dialogue. But of course this would be a different story. Having Shadwell yearn to be different rather than more or less laying down his terms. My problem is that my experiences are with two women for whom I have great affection (one of the basic failings of the two books I suspect) whereas I should be thinking, on your behalf, about Jerry, Clare's husband, or Vincent, Sebastien's father. Both characters are defective but are nevertheless both God's chillun. Neither (I hope) are entirely detestable.

    Taking Jerry, for instance, I like the idea of him saying "Couldn't I just once - just once, that's all I ask - win one of the PGA events? Not now, it could be in my past, I'd accept that. You could slip it in easily." The idea that Jerry understands how novels are put together is not outside Jerry's character.

    Vincent, a somewhat more philosophical character, envisages the future with Sebastien now married, going to see the grandchildren, events rather more tranquil.

    All very well but I have the advantage of creating plot-lines which emerge out of what I know about the two men. You're starting from scratch. However in re-writing the spy short story (on the train) I began to realise that it failed because the male character is two-dimensional and needs some basic character additions.

    Shadwell asks that in the next book the author "plunders your imagination" (Hmmm.) to show "a deeper side of my character." A generalised, rather lit-crit request. Better to be more specific (yes I know contrary to what I previously said). "You threw in the fact I was a member of a chess club in the previous book, just to get yourself out of a hole with your wretched plot. Why not have me taking a British grand master to a thirty-move draw. It'll make my disasters slightly more poignant."

    Too whimsical?

  2. Not too whimsical, but where do I start? Once the story's posted I recognise its weaknesses but the moment I begin to think about it again, I realize that it must rewritten. All I can do is persist and hope that they will get better.

  3. Phew, glad to see the back of him!

    I'm not saying you couldn't refine it but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    1. Lucy. Thanks for the encouragement. Looking back I can see that all these stories require more work, which I hope I to do sooner or later.

  4. After a few days a re-reading: this story has confirmed my first impression of a tale of dark shadows told in a manner of realism and detailed observation; yet time for me has added a better perspective from which to comment,I think.
    The novelist and Shadwell are brought together by the bond of the imagination. Dermot never expected to actually have to face his creation, and it is only through the use of his imagination that he can free himself. Many crime writers create such characters and this fact adds to the realism of the story.
    However, I think there is an important underlying psychological theme highlighted by the story's "unpleasant" or adroit ending. We do not of course know what was in the syringe or what Lorraine meant by "That will settle you." He could be drugged for an hour or two, or dead. We just don't know. What is interesting to me is that Shadwell and Dermott perhaps inwardly aren't so different. When Shadwell asks to be made more like his creator i.e "respectable" what he may not realise is that his creator is rather like him underneath....A syringe in the buttock? Isn't that just the sort of trick that Shadwell himself might have pulled?

    That's just my interpretation and no doubt there could, and will be others. However, I found the story gripping and thought provoking.
    I agree some polishing would be in order. The inverted commas break down during the conversation on the train. Very important inverted commas too.