Thinking. It’s quite an important part of writing. So says, DAVID MARK, author of DARK WINTER, ORIGINAL SKIN and forthcoming SORROW BOUND. And to do it well, he is happy to embrace the darkness.
It’s a little before 10pm and I’m standing in a graveyard looking up at a sky the colour of dead flowers. There’s nobody else around. Probably won’t be for weeks. Little churches like these only hold a service once a month. I see them. Half a dozen pensioners in overcoats, holding their elbows to their sides and their hymn books in the hands, singing psalms and watching their prayers turn to cloud in the chilly air.
Here, now, my mind is a kite; playing on the cold breeze. I wait. Try and shut out the world. Look up. Faces are forming and shifting in the storm clouds; unfolding like crumpled, dirty lace and drawing a veil over a full yellow moon. I can smell pulverised crops and wet grass. Can smell dying carnations and the whisper of varnished wood.
I’m breathing it all in. Filling myself up with it. Letting the place and the scent and the time and the feelings form complicated chemical reactions at the back of my brain. I’m imagining. I’m letting my mind unfold like a crushed rose as the story that has been kicking at my consciousness begins to roll, snowball-like, down a gentle slope; gathering power, picking up pace and momentum, until it is a thundering, menacing presence at the very centre of my head.
This is what I do. I’m writing. I may not have a pen or a computer but as I stand in the grounds of the little church in the isolated flatlands of Holderness, I’m most definitely writing a book.
This one is going to be called Taking Pity. It will be the fourth in the McAvoy series. I know it will involve a multiple murder in the 1960s and I know that it will see Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy facing destruction both within and without. I have a vague sense that the opening atrocity will take place in a churchyard (this churchyard) and I know it will end on a clifftop above a wild and raging sea. The rest is still anybody’s guess.
Every writer has a technique. This is mine. I take myself out of the world for a time. I switch my thoughts off at the same moment I deaden my mobile phone. And I let my brain drift. I fill myself with McAvoy’s world. I become my characters. How would it feel to be here, now? Who would be here? Why? What would they have in their hearts and heads as they unlatched the white-painted gate and crunched over the gravel of the footpath? Would it be fear? Exhilaration? Would their body language betray them or have they learned to mask their fears? If so, when? How? Why? Who is this person? Would they have clean shoes or mud-crusted boots? Would their gut hang over their jeans or have they honed their physique? Will they live…?
This new person walks through my brain. Becomes something. Forms, like a face in the clouds. Becomes Police Constable John Glass. The year is 1966 and he is about to find the bodies of a family, slaughtered and left the crows in this tiny, hidden church on the road to Patrington.
I can feel John Glass, now. Can feel his fear. The duality of knowing he is a police constable who must do his duty, but also a human being; a husband and father, who wants to get back in his car and drive towards the light. I can taste the pint of beer he was drinking when Big Davey came to tell him he had heard shots fired.
I’m scared myself. I want to get back in my car. I want to drive through the little gap in the hedge that I spotted as I headed towards the coast and waited for inspiration. But I can’t leave John Glass here. I need to hear the bangs. Need to see the smoke rising from the holes in the victims’ chests.
This is how I write. I turn myself inside out. My books are born in everything I see and do and feel and wonder. They are my fears and neuroses. They’re my secrets and shames. A year of writing, editing, shaping, moulding, will make them marketable and sanitised. But now they are raw. Here, now, they are all that matters and utterly all-consuming. They swirl and eddy and claw and grab for my attention. I carry them like memories.
By the time I get home Taking Pity will have a beginning, a middle and an end. I’ll have a structure laid out. A plan. I’ll know what to research and I’ll know how the murderer talks. On the journey I’ll see McAvoy, sitting behind me, uncomfortable and sad-eyed, and blushing when he catches my eye in the rear-view mirror. I’ll see his boss, Trish Pharaoh, in the passenger seat; criticising my driving and lighting a cigarette to annoy me, even though she doesn’t really want one. She’ll smell of coffee and vodka, perfume and wet hair. Her nail polish will be chipped. There will be a flake of white paint upon her knuckle.
This is me, writing. I’d do even it if nobody ever read my work. I have no other use for a brain that only does one thing well.
I can think anywhere. But I can only write stories that feel real. And to feel real, I have to live them. It’s a form of mania, I suppose. And like the darkness, one can only embrace it, or run towards the light.
SORROW BOUND is published in April
ORIGINAL SKIN by David Mark is out now from Quercus, paperback, £7.99