SO, JULIAN, have you ever thought of murdering a newspaper executive? Funny you should ask that.
The question was posed in playful spirit by a number of people when I was made redundant. They did not have access to my inner dark side or anything, but merely wondered if killing off a newspaper boss in a crime novel might not in some small way be an act of revenge.
The odd thing is I murdered an editor years ago, long before I had reason for a grudge. The editor was Harry Hulme and the unpublished novel was called A Fine And Private Place, a title since used by other authors. It comes from the Andrew Marvell poem To His Coy Mistress, and the hero of my novel was a policeman called Andy Marvell (it’s that Eng Lit degree thing again).
The book was my first attempt at a novel. To write this column I seek out the fat envelope on the bookshelf, the one containing the typed out manuscript as rejected by a publisher or two. It has been years since I have looked at these words, and at a glance they are better than I remember, although that may be a fond delusion.
The novel opens by introducing Marvell, ‘It was raining, it was the start of his holiday, and the Indian take-away was leaking.’
After that we meet Hulme, “tall, mournful and grey-haired”. The sketched portrait is sympathetic in tone (ah, if only I had known). “It would have taken a feat of remarkable optimism to describe Hulme as happy go lucky, but he did not think of himself as a miserable man. After all, he had satisfied his early ambitions, even if being an editor was no longer quite the job it once had been. There was too much corporate-speak now, too much marketing, too much bollocks, was how he put it.’
I suspect an editor today would think similar things, only multiplied many times over. Anyway, Hulme isn’t long for this world. It is late at night or early in the morning more truthfully. ‘It was time to go home, long past time to go home.’ Hulme walks through the deserted newsroom and decides to go and look at the paper being printed, standing on a platform above the press.
‘The noise was thunderous as the paper flashed beneath him, a blur of headlines and pictures, a seamless, limitless newspaper, waiting to be cut and folded, dispatched, read and discarded. For a moment Hulme felt excitement stir inside him like a forgotten thing.’
As he thinks about newspapers and his life, Hulme is surprised from behind, crying ‘What the hell…?’
‘The sentence was never to be finished. Harry Hulme, the copy boy elevated to the editor’s chair, gasped in an agony of surprise. Something had ripped into his stomach. He looked down. It was a spike, a bloody copy spike. He gasped and staggered backwards as the spike lunged again, this time tearing into his neck.’
After a further struggle Hulme “toppled over the metal barrier and fell through the unsustaining air to land on the next day’s front page. There was a tearing, shuddering sound as the newsprint ripped apart and the body of the editor slumped on the rollers below…’
This scene was written long ago, years ago. I can hardly remember when. The novel as I recall it spins out from that murder to include asides on journalism, as well as a central plot about council corruption.
One publisher returned the package thanking me for sending “my treatment”, or so I recall. Even today with a couple of published novels to my name, I don’t know what that means. But he wasn’t interested and no one else was either, although that is not quite true. My wife read the book and loved it. Even today she says she liked it. Shame she’s not a literary agent.
If any passing publisher wishes to give the book the kiss of life, it is now called Do There Embrace (Mr Marvell again, the poet that is, not the policeman in the invented setting of Townley).