In the Great Publishing Wars of 2013 there’s no such thing as a typical 24 hours. Today, for instance, this supposedly fertile scribbler’s brain now resembles nothing so much as a dessicated raison after a 30 hour, non-stop trans-global flight following a two-month tour of duty in the Northern hemisphere that seemed to last a year and took most of my sanity.
I split my time between the UK and Australia and for this last jaunt I was seconded to the Brits with a sidetrip to one of the smaller Emirates as a chaser. My mission was to pretend to be a proper writer in an effort to persuade the public to buy Down Among The Dead Men and, on the whole, I think I got away with it. In a whirlwind of trains and planes and M6 traffic, some moments stand out: necking free bubbly with a sizzling Irish actress in a clinging sheath dress in front of a babble of drooling Park Lane paparrazi (all cameras on her, not me, despite my sharp suit and tie) and trying unsuccessfully to look like I belong on the red carpet; talking sex-crime with Steve Berry to an audience of baffled conservative Arabs wearing translation devices tied under their chins while next door 3000 crazed Bollywood fans went nuts for the Mumbai equivalent of Brad Pitt; giving a live-to-air late-night interview to a nervy Liverpool DJ sitting on top of a 400-foot shonky concrete tower swaying in a near-hurricane blowing in off the Irish Sea; meeting Peter James and Ian Rankin and Lee Child and Martina Cole on the same night and managing to keep the sound of my grinding teeth to acceptable levels.
Through all of that, and more, I wrote.
I wrote on planes and trains, in airports and stations, in the bedrooms and boxrooms of friends, in boozers in Berlin and lofts in Liverpool, in lousy hotels in literary London and dramatic ones in diamond-glittery Dubai. I wrote in my underwear in air-conditioned desert splendour, and rugged up and wearing gloves to keep the Cumbrian frost at bay. Costa and Nero’s became second homes (flat white and pain au raisin if you’re buying).
And now I’m back at my Aussie desk in Chatterton Towers. The desk, made of a wood that doesn’t exist in the civilized world, is a small one. Not through choice but because, as with every single desk I’ve ever bought, it looked much bigger in the shop. So, as usual, I fight for space with my own debris and always, always, there is that Holy Grail of a perfect working space tantalisingly out of reach. The sort of silent, mahogany and leather-scented environment that I just know Martin Amis and Ian McEwan and Hilary Mantel occupy instead of my own permanently temporary arrangement of trailing modem wires and overflowing cardboard boxes and flatulent labradors.
My current view is good, though, I have to admit. Palm trees, cockatiels and blue sky. The Pacific Ocean. A light, roll-up and BO-scented breeze blowing in through the window, beyond which Tug, the Australian gardener, busies himself blowing leaves from one part of the lawn to another using a pertol-driven leaf-blower set at a decibel level that would bring tears of joy to Ozzy Osbourne’s ears. As an aural counterpoint to this din I can hear, as so often, the distinctive whine of the Great Australian Spin-drier moving to its final cycle.
Since Australians get out of bed at an obscenely early hour, I’ve already been out for what I laughingly call a run across the rolling headlands with my faithful hound in tow and have now showered and taken caffeine on board ready for that all-important hour or three on Facebook before I start ‘work’. If I don’t have illustration work to do (something my alter-ego, Martin Chatterton does to earn a crust) I’ll tap the keys for most of the afternoon, stacking up word after blood-soaked word, some of which will be relatively useful, most of which won’t make the cut. I’m a vicious editor, my own most cuthroat critic.
By five or six I’ll be eyeing the fridge for wine, my mouth as dry as a Saharan sailor, and I’ll have that first glass still at the keyboard looking back over what I’ve done – or, on a bad day – what I haven’t. Depending on the verdict I’ll drown my sorrows or celebrate with another glass. Then, tools down, I summon my faithful manservant, Sean*, an almost tame, slab-faced Mackem with an accent so impenetrable that I have never understood a word he has said in the last ten years, and order the evening meal – usually just something simple like soy-crusted Atlantic salmon fillet on a bed of sweet potato mash and drizzled in an Andalusian salsa. While Sean busies himself in the kitchen, Lady Chatterton and I sit and watch another perfect Aussie evening fade into night. No TV, obviously, because we’re in Australia and Australian TV could easily be used as an alternative to water-boarding at Gitmo, so it’s light conversation (Lady C adores hearing about my writing adventures and often closes her eyes in dreamy contemplation as I talk) before Sean’s culinary offering, then cigars, coffee, port and bed.
*Sean does not in fact exist.
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