I have co-written the final episode of Series 2 of ‘Accused’, Jimmy McGovern’s award-winning drama series on BBC One. ‘Tina’s Story’ was directed by Ashley Pearce and stars Anna Maxwell Martin, Ewen Bremner, Robert Sheehan and John Bishop.
You can read an interview with Anna Maxwell Martin on playing the role of prison officer Tina Dakin here.
And read the press reaction to ‘Tina’s Story’ here.
And buy the box set here.
I’ve always enjoyed fiction recommended via friends’ book clubs, yet have never belonged to one, even though I’ve always been both slightly envious and very curious as to what kind of discussions take place. On Tuesday I was able to find out when I was invited to talk to a group who had read my novel Out of Sight.
Twelve women of a certain age gathered around a log fire in Dorset, and I waited to discover what questions I’d be asked. Their main focus was character – were my characters based on people I knew, why had I chosen to write about such people, what did I think of my characters? Soon the talk widened out to be about guilt and cowardice and forgiveness, particularly on whether it is selfish NOT to forgive oneself. Several people shared intimate information – a brother who’d drowned as a child, a mother-in-law who never spoke of a dead child – and I felt very privileged to be included.
My experience of a book club has been what every author must wish for their fiction – that, through a novel, people came together to feel, share and question things about their lives.
And I got flowers.
In July 2008 two diligent, caring French fathers set off for work, intending to drop their children with relatives or childminders en route, and simply ‘forgot’ that their children were in the car.
In May this year, the same thing happened to two equally loving fathers in Italy. The pregnant wife of one insisted: ‘He is not guilty of anything. He is an exemplary father.’
In America, according to a Pulizter Prize-winning article by Gene Weingarten in the Washington Post, there are on average 25 such deaths each year.
Anecdotally, it also happens here in the UK, but, with our cooler climate, seldom with fatal consequences.
Among these absent-minded European men were a pharmacist, a university lecturer and one who worked at a nuclear plant. I have also been told of a British neurosurgeon who, distracted at work, forgot both kids and car, and took the train home: they were recovered safe and well.
My father was a surgeon. Having grown up with the kind of single-minded focus he brought to his work, I don’t find it impossible to comprehend that kind of ‘distraction’. Indeed, the American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who wrote about the state of ‘Flow’ – a merging of action and awareness involving loss of self-consciousness and time distortion – based his work on surgeons.
I saw how deeply my father enjoyed that optimal state of being, how concentrating fully on the task in hand calmed him, and how his ability to drive out all other thoughts also involved ‘forgetting’ everything else. Facing various emotional difficulties as a young man, he may well have developed it as a successful and ultimately rewarding coping strategy.
Surgeons require what an 18th-century anatomist called a ‘necessary inhumanity’ in order to take a knife to someone. I believe it involves a similar kind of forgetting, a shutting out of all human vulnerabilities – both the patient’s and the surgeon’s own – in the interests of science. It was what made my father able to be ruthless.
He was not a coward; but when I wanted to write about the ruthlessness towards other people that stems from emotional cowardice, to dramatise how my character, Patrick Hinde, in Out of Sight, went about shutting out unbearable thoughts, it didn’t seem at all far-fetched to use the kind of tragic incident that I had read about in France in July 2008.
The sub-title for this post is ‘The Kindness of Others’. I am naturally very excited about today’s publication of my first novel of psychological suspense, Out of Sight, but in a way almost more deeply touched by the delight other people are taking in it. And also a little bewildered: I have been writing for decades, and never experienced the same sense of celebration over a screenplay, a newspaper article or a non-fiction book – all forms of writing I have enjoyed and am equally proud of.
Why should a novel be so different? Why is a novel an endeavour that inspires such shared pride?
A novel is certainly a bigger, more densely sustained piece of imaginative work than, for example, a screenplay (though I doubt it’s my hard work that has provoked my friends’ pleasure).
I think it’s because the physical book bearing my name is much more than simply the story I set out to tell in the form of a novel. I’m too close to the coal-face of writing Out of Sight to stand back and see it from such a wide perspective, but my friends’ pleasure reminds me that any novel has the potential to be a cultural achievement: it may be a realisation of the self, the creation of some kind of defining personal narrative, a personal legacy, or even become part of a literature that reflects society or introduces immortal characters loved by generations of readers. The act of reading also takes place in a specially created personal space, making it a more intimate, companionable experience than watching TV.
My friends’ sense of shared pride in my publication day reflects something far beyond my book precisely because that something places it for a fleeting moment at the heart of all readers’ love of and respect for the adventure of fiction. And that is something to celebrate.
One theory of riots is that they are a performance, that people riot as an inarticulate means of acting out something they can’t express, or get heard, any other way.
Although a performance of power and control – a massive and unacceptable trantrum – this week’s riots are not an outcry of protest against police injustice, Government oppression or racial tension. These riots are not merely destructive, but powerfully acquisitive.
These few hundred people, mainly young men, are smashing their way into shops in order to loot items such as trainers, TVs and mobile phones that they already legitimately own.
This is not the fall of the Berlin Wall, where people excluded from Western capitalism rushed to go shopping. They are not attacking palaces from which they are excluded in order to take things they cannot have, but are ransacking and burning their own local shops.
So what is being expressed through this compulsion to take by dramatic force the very things they already possess? The torching of Miss Selfridge in Manchester yesterday evening could be seen as a symbolic act, demonstrating power and control over a site that holds such significance that it had to be destroyed, a violent rejection of totemic goods that have failed to deliver on their promise.
Whatever it is we’ve been selling them all their lives, the riots this week declare that these few disaffected kids no longer want to be sold the things they want. They want to take them. Or burn them.
Amy Winehouse lived around the corner from my house. As it happened, my 27-year-old daughter had come to spend the afternoon with me as Twitter started to announce her death, so I was not insensible to the grief of losing a young woman of such great and original talent.
We could not help but observe the arrival of police, journalists, TV satellite vans and fans. And it was touching to watch on the news when Mitch Winehouse arrived a day or so later and thanked all those who had come for the comfort their presence gave him.
But beside the genuinely distressed are a large number (they are still coming) just sightseeing. They hurry down the street, all dressed up, seldom alone, laughing (until they reach the solemn spot), on their phones telling friends where they are, already taking photos before they’ve stopped to think why they might’ve come.
The late Gordon Burn was the first to pay literary attention to such spontaneous shrines, long before that most famous installation of collective emotion outside Kensington Palace. Watching the steady stream of sightseers, I wonder how I would write from inside the head of a character who walked up Camden Square betraying such anticipation and excitement. What’s going on here?
Very few of them bring flowers or other offerings; they come to see what other people are looking at and to look at who else is here, avid to witness what others might be feeling.
They appear to come in hope of locating the viral grief advertised on the endless news footage, in search of an emotion to be performed and consumed in the form of a Twitter hashtag or the photographs taken to demonstrate to their friends where they’ve been.
Channel Four News described the inquest into Amy Winehouse’s death as a ‘cold-hearted process’. I disagree: the grief-tourists of Camden Square provide a far more cold-hearted spectacle.