My first novel, ‘Utter Folly’, was published more than four years ago. It did pretty well and I decided to write a sequel. But first I wrote a different novel, ‘Dead Writers in Rehab’, which was published in May this year. I also wrote a radio sitcom. And a collection of stories, which is now complete, I think, and will be published, I hope. Now I'm finally writing that sequel, and I'm posting some extracts, partly to see what you think, and partly to force myself to finish the book. That doesn't mean I don't want to write it, just that I need to trick myself into a kind of bargain. Writers will know what I mean.
The new book is called ‘Monumental Folly’ and it picks up the story about four years after the end of Utter Folly. In this extract, James, the protagonist, has agreed to meet up with Oliver, whom he swore to have nothing to do with, ever again, at the end of the earlier book. But Oliver is the brother of Jessica, with whom James is still in love. When Olly calls him, and says he has important news for him, and hints it involves Jessica, James agrees, reluctantly, to meet him at a bar in Shoreditch:
James struggled through the crowd of hipsters, their facial hair like a thick forest just below his eye level. The place was rammed. But he could see Oliver through the crowd, waving from a small table in the corner. He was good at getting tables. James continued to force his way through the people, who were all muttering loudly at each other while they glanced constantly around the room, tormented by the suspicion that something cooler was happening somewhere else.
So many beards. Some of them were blatantly ginger, too. Trousers were very short, and socks were absent in many cases, even though it was November. James reflected that the male ankle, in a strange inversion of Victorian attitudes, was now treated as some kind of erogenous zone; but one that was to be flaunted, rather than concealed, below the truncated ends of trousers as skinny as ballet tights. Another Victorian resonance was that women appeared to be an inferior species. There were plenty of them, but unlike the confident, tweed-encrusted, brogue-shod peacocks, they didn't seem to have settled on an appropriate look, and many of them appeared uncomfortable. Berets, caps and even bonnets were perched half-heartedly on their henna-streaked hair; flimsy layers of vintage clothing clashed with striped tee-shirts, and they peered anxiously through oversized glasses. James noted that they seemed to be drinking more than the men, perhaps to overcome their discomfort...'
James and Oliver start drinking. The more James drinks, the more he feels his attitude to Olly has been harsh and judgemental. True, Olly used his own sister as bait to dupe James into a dangerous criminal enterprise, exploited him ruthlessly, and was prepared to see him jailed in order to save his own skin, but he's great company. Lots of fun. Bloody good bloke, really. Just as James remembers to ask why Oliver summoned him, he's astonished to see Olly's uncle, the unscrupulous John Longbourne, appear in the bar:
He assumed it was John, anyway, and not Bill, his older brother. There was a strong resemblance between the two elderly men, and getting them mixed up had been only the first, and least serious, of a series of excruciating faux pas James had committed during his stay at the Longbourne house four years ago.
He made a quick calculation. Olly's father, Bill, would be nearly eighty by now. John would be in his early seventies, which looked about right for the dapper apparition in the doorway, who now spotted Olly, and made his way to the table with a hint of wolfishness in his smile that confirmed his identity to James beyond doubt. John Longbourne was a far sharper character than his amiable, slightly unworldly brother. They also had a different approach to their personal appearance. While both brothers wore the type of clothes that defined them as country gentlemen, they were like a 'before-and-after' illustration of how different such attire could be made to look with just a little bit of attention – which was far more than Bill was prepared to devote to the patched and decaying collection of corduroy and tweed, held together by string, which was his everyday costume, and which he was only persuaded to alter once a week, when he was chivvied to church.
John, meanwhile, had always been a dandy. This trait was now more evident than ever, and its effect on the assembled hipsters was remarkable. A silence descended on the bar. The bearded and moustachioed poseurs parted respectfully to make way for John, who wore his soft brown trilby, three-piece tweed suit, discreet tie, and ancient but highly polished brogues as if he'd been born in them. Everything about him spoke of effortless entitlement, and although his progress across the hushed bar was languid, his straight back and clipped moustache, with just a hint of a curl at its tips, added a military impression to his appearance. He looked like an aristocratic major who has retired from the Household Cavalry, perhaps to breed hounds and run the local Pony Club somewhere in Berkshire.
James knew for a fact that John had never been anywhere near the army. He also noted with distaste that the old man was sporting a monocle.
This final touch was probably too much, and may have contributed to a ripple of unease that now began to spread among the hipsters, as they considered the possibility that there were unsuspected layers of irony here, which might need to be deconstructed. They were exquisitely alert to the danger of incurring mockery by failing to be an insider, privy to whatever secret contempt might lurk behind the latest attitude, and some of them glanced around furtively to see if the scene was being filmed. Were they, perhaps, unwitting extras in some kind of sneering reality show? Such a fate could ruin them, and they turned away hastily, resuming their conversations and exchanging knowing smiles, without actually knowing what it was they were implying they knew...
That's all for now. More extracts to follow. Probably.