Tuesday, 22 March 2011

My little stab at writing a mystery . . .

After my little stab at historical fiction yesterday, I thought I'd dig out something I wrote a few years back - my little stab at writing a mystery.  When I shelved the book, it was about two-thirds complete, so definitely something I'll be picking up again when the time is right.

The book is called 'A Nightingale Sang', and here's the first chapter:

Chapter One
Henry Templeman saved his latest masterpiece to disc, labelled it 'Another Pile of Shit' and threw it into the left hand drawer of his writing desk. This was his twenty-sixth book and he would quite happily have burned the whole bloody lot of them, but they paid the bills and kept his ex-wife from bleeding him dry. So on with them he would go.

He made his way to the window overlooking the terraced garden. The trees at the back of the garden bent with the wind, and he noted how tangled and overgrown the grass had become. A fence panel near the house rattled and an upturned bucket with no handle scraped across the patio. A dozen empty whisky bottles lay flat in the grass like snipers.

And he asked himself why? As he always did. Why he hadn't stopped her from leaving, why he could never tell her he loved her. And he remembered how they'd met at the launch of his first book and how he'd gazed into those deep and wonderful eyes of hers and she'd said 'hello', and she was so beautiful. And he remembered Brixham Harbour and how they'd both laughed like children when that seagull flew off with his cheese roll, and he wondered why they'd never laughed like that again. And then he remembered the first time he hit her.

The letterbox crashed open. Bloody postmen. Lazy bastards, every fucking one of them; all they ever brought him were more reasons to hate his shitty little life. Endless bloody bills, inane circulars, junk mail; fucking junk mail, and of course, letters for her; her and her fucking catalogues and freebies and mailing lists. Once a week, he would burn all his post in a metal dustbin at the back of the house, along with anything postmarked 'Solihull'. That was where she lived. Bitch.

The wind blew hard outside; a storm was brewing. A rumble of thunder, a crack of lightning, and moments later, rain lashed against the study window. Henry made his way back to the desk and sank into his chair and closed his weary eyes. He would have been glad to have never opened them again.
* * *
Henry slept fitfully till mid afternoon, when he was awoken by the clanging of the doorbell. He scratched his head and yawned, and thought about going down to answer the door but decided he really didn't give a shit. The doorbell clanged a second time. He placed his hands on the front edge of the desk and eased himself to a standing position, swearing through gritted, yellowed teeth as his knees ground in their sockets. A sharp pain shot up his spine, and he bent his head to his chest and breathed heavily. What a bloody mess. If only she could see him now, weak and bent and racked with pain - and not just pain.

As he reached the bottom of the stairs, a small brown package slid through the letterbox and thudded onto the hallway floor. Another fucking catalogue, no doubt. Bastards.

Henry lunged for the front door and yanked it open, squinting up and down the street. Not a soul in sight. No-one, except Mr. Singh from number forty two opposite, peering out from behind his curtains. Mr. Singh smiled and waved. Henry mouthed at him to fuck off and stuck up two fingers before going back inside and slamming the door shut. He picked up the parcel and turned it over in his hands. No stamp, no postmark, not even an address. Just three words written with broad strokes in black ink across the centre.

'Henry Templeman, Writer'

He took the parcel through to the study, and felt in the right hand drawer of the desk for a small pair of scissors and cut away the brown paper, revealing a black, leather-bound volume, edged with gold leaf. The leather was worn and bumped at the corners and at the edge of the spine, and showed through brown in these places. On the front cover, lettered in gold:

'The Diary of Jonathon Wingate - 1849'

When Henry opened the book, he saw the pages were stiff and yellowed, and spotted with age. The ink had faded to brown, though the handwriting was smooth, and easy on the eye. Intrigued, Henry settled in his chair, lit up a cigarette and read the first entry.

January 1st 1849
Today, I completed my amendments to the life of Henry VIII. Mr Lewis was not overly delighted with my choice of name at the outset, believing that we had already overextended out quota of Henrys. After all, he reminded me, quite properly, there had already been seven. I said to him, feeling that my work warranted a sufficient and robust justification, I am going to make this one different, more outlandish, uproarious even, the greatest of them all. The real king had been such a bore by all accounts. Mr. Lewis was not at all sure about the preponderance of wives but was most pleased when I informed him that I had named the final wife after his own good lady. Catherine, the Queen that outlived the King. He said she would like that. Not that she would ever know, of course.

Henry read on, dragged into the conspiratorial world of Jonathan Wingate by the empty tedium of another rainy day. Wingate spoke of different projects, different people; Kings, Queens, Prime Ministers, adventurers, traitors, heroes and villains, the lives of which he and his colleagues seemed to be contorting in order to fit some sort of predetermined purpose. It was brilliant.

March 15th 1849
Tomorrow I begin work with Mr Smithers on the Nelson papers. Mr Lewis considers that they are still possessing of a certain paucity of grandeur. Something is required, he feels, and rightly in my opinion, that will elevate Mr Nelson above the commonplace. He wants me to make him a leader of men for whom even the most clandestine would have gladly given up their lives. A far cry from the truth, apparently, but then, that is my job. To elevate the ordinary, to give the common people of this great nation of ours something, someone, to believe in. Having read Smithers progress so far, I fear he has rather indulged himself somewhat in those liaisons of the heart that he loves to write so. His work on this project is full of Nelson and Lady Hamilton cavorting all over Europe. Poor old Smithers, no idea really. No imagination. I already have the inklings of perhaps crippling Nelson in his final battle, commanding his men till his dying breath. I need to think of some stirring last words, of course, but I'm sure they will come.

Henry flicked over a few more pages and read another entry.

July 14th 1849
Mr Lewis relayed to me again today his fear that a government raid may befall us any time now. He says that if it were not for the quick thinking of the excellent Mr Perkins in the shop above just yesterday morn, the game would almost certainly have been up for us all. It would not surprise me greatly if the order arrived for us to move on before the week is out.

Martha knows nothing still. She believes that I have spent these past two years labouring on Ned Blanchard's farm. The poor thing, I cannot tell her. She cannot know that truth of what I do.

September followed August, and Wingate's prose became more urgent, more secretive. He wrote as one in fear of his life. Most of November was left unwritten. Henry turned to the final entry.

December 4th, 1849
'Old Smithers failed to arrive for work this morning. I had seen him in conversation with Mr. Lewis only yesterday, and he displayed the countenance of a beaten man. His desk was cleared before luncheon and his name erased from the roster. We take our leave of this place tonight. I have resided here in my Bramfield village all these thirty one years and, after tonight, I shall tread her sleepy lanes no more.

Sweet Millicent, my darling daughter, though you are not yet five years, you have become more special to me than life itself, yet I can see you no more. Please forgive me.

My dear Martha, I love you more than I can bare. Please know, my darling, that I am doing what I know to be right.

Goodbye, my sweetheart.

And that was it. Henry's lifelong passion for old books told him the one he held in his hands could be the genuine article. Not
genuine genuine, obviously, how could it be, but it had helped pass a rainy day, and he had to be grateful for that.

Henry lay awake much of the night, the darkness when he closed his eyes shifting and breaking, dislocated in time.  When he finally achieved a semblence of sleep with the help of a bottle of Scotland's finest, he dreamt himself as a shadow, floating, adrift from a world that no longer remembered his name. A world that no longer cared.

The story goes on to tell how Henry attempts to track down the author of the diary, and becomes embroiled in something so huge, so incredible, as to force him to question not only everything he knew to be true, but to face the demons inside he's spent his whole life trying to forget.

Like I said, this one is something I want to take up again at some point.  Just a question of timing, you know :)  


  1. Something to take on in your copious free time, eh? (Joke!)

    I hope you do find time, and sooner rather than later. I love the way you set the scene and start to sketch in Henry. (And I have big green eyes over such lines as: 'A dozen empty whisky bottles lay flat in the grass like snipers.'. Lovely stuff!) And as for the diary - fantastic! What a great idea, I can sense so much potential in this. Top notch!