Thursday, February 21, 2008


I'm in a rented apartment in Maine, trying to get some work done on THE LOVERS before returning to Europe and the various commitments that will keep from writing as much as I might wish during the weeks to come. Beside me is a small black notebook, a Moleskinne, one of those little hardback jobs witha pocket at the back. It's the latest in a line of such notebooks dating, I think, back to DARK HOLLOW, when it began to seem like a good idea to have something easily transportable into which I could jot notes for the novel in hand. Although it has only been in use since the start of the month, it already includes:

1) Twenty pages of interview notes from a conversation with a former NYPD cop whoused to work the 9th Precinct, an area that will play a crucial role in the next novel. He was extraordinarily helpful, so much so that I'm hoping to pick his brains at least once more before I deliver the book. My only regret is that I didn't have my little tape recorder with me to capture the rhythms of his speech. Next time, maybe. The pocket at the back of the book also includes a map of the precinct in question, drawn on a bar napkin, as well as three newspaper articles concerning, respectively, cars, Jews, and Peruvian death squads.

2) My own initial notes from a walk through Alphabet City, including the first of many poorly drawn maps in my own hand, this time of the area around Tompkin's Square Park. There's also a written description of the 9th's precinct house, and some details of the menu from a nearby Greek restaurant, as well as casual observations jotted down in almost illegible script. Someone once suggested to me that I should use a little recorder for myself, but I'd feel like an idiot walking down the street and talking into a metal object. I don't even use Bluetooth on the grounds that, when I was growing up, the sure sign of a lunatic was someone who talked to himself on the street; that, and tying a coat with string. Now everyone seems to be talking to themselves while walking down the street. I don't want to add to the confusion. Incidentally, I do not tie my coat with string. Yet.

3) More poorly drawn maps and scribbled notes, this time concerning Pearl River in New York. Pearl River is very Irish indeed. Being born there may well entitle one to play for the Irish football team. Even standing still for too long may affect one's nationality.

4) Various plot notes, some of them written under the influence of wine. Ditto supposedly humorous comments, snippets of dialogue, and the odd metaphor and simile. Many of these will not find their way into the finished novel, since they didn't seem half as interesting/useful/funny when I sobered up, leading to the alarming prospect that I may not be half as entertaining as I think I am when I've been drinking.

By the time the novel is eventually delivered, the notebook is likely to be close to full. When I'm done with it, I'll add it to the pile of notebooks that I've already used. I think I've kept them all, but only very occasionally do I return to them. I try not to repeat my research, and part of the pleasure of writing the books lies in finding new subjects and places to explore. Still, in these days of computers, word processing, and the electronic delivery of manuscripts, there is something reassuring about the presence of these little black notebooks. They help to remind me of how the novels were formed, and to chart my own progress through the world of my books.

PS This week, filming began on THE NEW DAUGHTER, with Kevin Costner and Ivana Baquero, based on the short story of the same title in NOCTURNES. For those of you curious to know, principal filming is taking place in McClellanville, South Carolina, under the guiding hand of director Luis Berdejo. I still haven't read the script, which is a matter of choice (although someone who has read it was very impressed with it) but one interesting snippet of information reveals that a casting call went out for a thin, almost emaciated actor to play a "creature" role in full make-up, suggesting that John Travis, the screenwriter, has stuck to the original story's central idea of something very nasty indeed hiding in the burial mound on Costner's property. The film is due to be released in 2009.

This week John read:

The Quest by Wilbur Smith
The Naked Jape by Jimmy Carr and Lucy Greaves

and listened to:

Vampire Weekend by Vampire Weekend
Phoenician Terrace by Bevel
The Pearl by Harold Budd and Brian Eno