Launch day is upon us! (For the eBook anyway – thanks to my amazing forward-planning abilities, the paperback is following in a couple of days, on the 3rd of this month – oops!) The early reviews have been really encouraging (thank you all!) but I left it so late that I urgently need more of them if I'm going to stand a chance of standing out at all...
So, please, check out your local Amazon page for THE BORODINO SACRIFICE at mybook.to/Borodino – and also sign up for the Chasing Mercury News & Stuff substack – come find me on X @paulphillips44 – and share, share, share!
Here's Virginia McKenna as Special Operations Executive agent Violette Szabo, in that stiff-upper-lip classic Carve Her Name With Pride (a movie on which, as I've already mentioned, my Uncle John assisted in an uncredited capacity, alongside SOE's mysterious Vera Atkins and a couple of her surviving field agents).
The scene with poor injured Violette holding off the whole Das Reich Division was an inspiration to me from a young age, as it obviously was for the illustrators of the poster – and no, in the movie itself, as in real life, she didn't still have her parachute harness attached!
But what she did have, as you can see, was a Sten gun: the iconic epitome of Britain's unglamorous, utilitarian, egalitarian war effort. (Yes, I'm back on that again...)
Cut to the present. I'm reading a newish novel set in the world of the F-Section agents and thinking it a pretty good twist on a familiar subject, actually. But one thing keeps jarring – the description of the Sten gun as an American weapon.
I know. Yawn. Mansplaining bore nit-picks on something no one else will notice. But in fact, since I can’t remember which book it was and I had two on the go at the time, one by a female author and one by a male author, it may not technically be mansplaining at all. And if I am indeed, briefly, nit-picking, that’s not my purpose here.
You see, I am British, with a dash of South African and German, so obviously I wouldn’t want the ‘ruddy Yanks’ to get credit for the cheap-and-dirty submachine gun we bashed out for troops and resistance fighters alike during the war (nor, I gather, would they want it).
Also, being British, I dread the embarrassment of being seen to get something wrong – or even the embarrassment of just imagining the embarrassment of being seen.
But as I might have mentioned, I am British (more or less) and as such I don't have the option to teach myself by shooting off military weapons at the range. Air rifles and shotguns, that’s our limit here (although my South African roots have enabled me to get shot at by more exotic firearms, so there is that…)
So no, I'm not pontificating. What this is is an expression of sympathy with authors of action sequences who can’t quite get their heads around the weapons involved – for I am one of you!
Here’s an example. When I wrote my early drafts of The Borodino Sacrifice, in which my male MC snatches a Sten away from my female MC in Chapter One, I had her bring the gun to bear on him and him think thus:
…there should have been a side-loading magazine and it looked like this one had come off in the crash. (He) didn’t think she’d be fool enough to drive around with the gun cocked: these knocked-out British weapons had no safeties to speak of.
Sounds OK, right (if a bit derivative maybe)? Establishes his proficiency with all things military (we’ve only just met him, after all) and makes me sound like I really know my stuff.
Except I don’t. Because the thing I’d picked up from the likes of the Bond books and was trying to get across – that guns can still have a round in the chamber, even if the magazine is out – applies to certain guns, like 007’s semi-automatic pistols, but not to simple blowback submachine guns like the Sten. And, thankfully, I doubted myself enough to check.
A-ha! Wikipedia told me that the Sten 'fires from an open bolt'. But what did that even mean? I couldn’t get my head around it. We may have played WWII soldiers with Tommy-guns as kids – as I riffed off in my still-to-be-completed novella 76 – but none of those gloomy neighbours who’d done it for real stopped and showed us how they worked, and nor did any of the war films, not really.
So I had to dig deeper, and I discovered the world of YouTube firearms content, which includes all the wannabe Navy Seals, as you can imagine, but also a few responsible channels run by dedicated history and engineering experts. From whom I found out about guns like these: how unlike ‘closed bolt’ firearms that are cocked and locked with the bolt forward and a round in the chamber, when you cock the Sten by pulling back the bolt like Virginia and then you pull the trigger, the bolt comes forward, strips a fresh round out of the magazine, slams it into the breech and fires it all in one go (and so on, and on).
So the finished draft just has to say:
…but its distinctive side-loading magazine was missing. He snatched it from her.
…which unfortunately doesn’t make it sound like he or I know anything clever about the weapon, but is more accurate and plausible than what I had before. (And shorter. Hooray!)
From then on, there was no stopping me correcting myself. Mercifully, writing about the immediate postwar period, I didn’t need to describe any characters thumbing back the hammer on a Glock or clicking off its safety catch (neither of which it has), but I was able to steer clear of other notorious pitfalls such as the ‘smell of cordite’ (keep that for my Boer War period epic…) or a revolver with a silencer…
And that’s really all I wanted. To avoid making a fool of myself. Not to give characters who've just picked up a gun an unlikely knowledge of that gun, and definitely not to info-dump gun porn on the reader by having a character think that an MG-34 is firing 7.92×57mm Mauser... but rather to get it right that in this period he’d probably (and wrongly) identify the machine gun as a ‘Spandau’ and not an MG-34 at all.
But here’s the thing. Along the way, I started caring about the more egregious errors I encountered, because they reflected how a lack of knowledge (or an acceptance of TV cliches) can influence your narrative detrimentally. An example would be the habit of interchanging rifles and submachine guns based purely on the coolness factor, without stopping to think that one is designed to hit something far away, sometimes even further away than you can see with the naked eye, and the other’s basically for pistol range only – Lost and Walking Dead fans take note! In a similar vein, on a subject I know even less about, I've heard that archers get furious with Legolas et al for drawing their bows and then keeping them drawn to threaten people or make long speeches, as though they were handguns and not weapons based on completely different and very physically demanding physics…
Plus I started seeing how choosing to feature more appropriate, interesting or, yes, forgotten weapons instead of the obvious ones had the potential to enrich the story – in exactly the same way as one might avoid overworked settings or character traits to make them more distinctive. So by the time I got on to Book Two, I was letting Ian McCollum of Forgotten Weapons and Jonathan Ferguson from the Royal Armouries point me towards unusual things like the De Lisle silenced carbine, which I was able to see for myself on a visit to the latter in Leeds (well worth it!). And understanding the capabilities, limitations and availability of that weapon helped shape the story itself.
So, not a gripe. Just a bit of well-meant advice, from someone who’s learning from his mistakes. Double-check the stuff you kind-of-know you’re not too sure of. And please let me know what things I'm still getting embarrassingly wrong, won't you?
And in the meantime… Oi, Yanks! Hands off our Sten guns! (Seriously, I now know they’re horrible to hold!)
P.S. – I’ve just realised that much of the above may be largely irrelevant if you’re a gamer, playing those games. But I don’t. My namesake Trevor is quite enough for me!
And seriously, I know full well that neither YouTube, gaming – nor escapist action thrillers – can give you an accurate impression of what it's like to use one of these weapons in the flesh or, God forbid, to have it used on you. But that doesn't mean that as creators we shouldn't try to get closer, does it?
Here I go again, thinking with my pen – finding out what I think about something by writing about it. (It’s almost as though writing were an intellectual, exploratory, ambitious endeavour and not an action that can be reduced to its component parts and imitated by a machine…)
Anyway, cut to the chase… In fact, cut to Chasing Mercury, my series of what looks like being three espionage/action adventure thrillers set in the immediate postwar period.
I’ve touched on this before, when I talked about some historical authors seemingly fighting the urge to give their characters cellphones in my piece about world-building and wordcounts. But there I was discussing different stylistic conventions of historical novels, from the modern-day framing narrative to the ‘plunge right in and make it feel immediate’ lobby...
Here I’m thinking about honesty (and how to fake it, as Groucho Marx, Sam Goldwyn, George Burns, Jean Giraudoux or ChatGPT might have said).
And specifically, honesty in representing the way people thought and felt during the period. Not necessarily how they expressed these thoughts and feelings, because representing period dialogue must always be a balancing act and a stylistic choice, especially the further back in history you go. But being true to the kind of underlying mindset and reactions that your characters would have; that goes to the heart of motivation, plot and everything.
And of course it’s still a balancing act. No one wants to read a hero who’s loaded with all the prejudices of his age. Nor, I think, should we be happy with one who is so anachronistically ‘woke’ that he or she (or they) has none at all. Or not in a genre novel, anyway, even if you’re playing with that genre in other ways.
But let’s get specific and look at my period, WWII or just after. In recent years there has been a very dishonest propaganda campaign waged to misrepresent the national mood during the war – and thereby to undermine the narrative of its aftermath. Yes, I’m talking about that bloody poster. I know the bookshop it was miraculously rediscovered in. (You would be hard pressed to find so many pairs of green wellies in any other secondhand bookshop!) And I also know the inconvenient truth about KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON – that it wasn’t used, because when this poster campaign was tested on the public, the establishment was told in no uncertain terms to come back with something less patrician and more inclusive. And they did, adopting a new tone of mutual respect and responsibility that would contribute, when the fighting was over, to the shift in the notion of national duty and, ultimately, to the introduction of the welfare state and the NHS.
And if you don’t believe that the efforts to popularise this poster were a desperate propaganda campaign – to bend national positivity-in-the-face-of-adversity to sinister, retrograde ends – look at what was going on at the same time. Look at the 2012 London Olympics. Remember how great most people thought the opening ceremony was, despite all our gloomy predictions. And remember those few, bitter voices raised in dissent: the unreconstructed Tories whinging about multicultural claptrap. What they hated, as in 1945, was the emergence of a new kind of national pride, one open and optimistic and far removed from the narrow, outdated narrative they thought they owned. In that moment they sensed their own irrelevance (even the Queen and James Bond were against them!). And so, yes, spoilt brats that they are, they decided to smash everything up. And the rest is indeed history. And tragedy. But my point here is how insidious the misrepresentation of the way people actually thought and felt can be.
And if you want another example, look at the (to me, genuinely) astonishing success of the latest All Quiet on the Western Front movie, which not only plays fast and loose with the history and the source material, but also reanimates the same betrayal narrative advanced by the Nazis. Apart from the Germans, who think about these things, no one else seems to have noticed.
But back to the Chasing Mercury books. No, I don’t want to lazily write my 1945-48 characters as though they somehow have access to 24-hour rolling news and decades of perspective. Nor do I want them to feel like ghosts (using the terms of that previous blog post, these are ‘plunge right in’ stories, not framed historical pieces). And so I have to juggle, of course. Whilst walking a tightrope. Over a minefield (where the Allies are using POWs to clear the mines and redesignating them Surrendered Enemy Personnel to get around the Geneva Convention).
And I think what it comes down to is honesty of intentions. So here, a bit like an accidental or impromptu manifesto, are mine:
To weave my fiction into the historical events in such a way that the reader is neither misled into thinking that the fictionalised events are factually true nor insulted by obviously inauthentic representations of the period.
To do this by drawing on a variety of research, where possible some of it original, rather than serving up the same old detail from the same old history book that every other author refers to.
To limit the extent to which this context is ‘info-dumped’ on the reader – and ideally to achieve this by limiting the knowledge and understanding of each character to what they would actually know and understand at the time.
To do all this without losing their relevance and appeal to a present day audience.
KEEP FAITHFUL & STAY FRESH!
It started so hopefully.
Carefully researched, carefully targeted approaches to carefully selected agents – literally just a handful of the ones I really thought… really wanted…
After the seventh form rejection, with no full requests, I had to consider two alternative but equally plausible explanations.
One, they were reading the letter and sample chapters and were so uninspired they didn’t think I warranted a personalised reply, let alone a request for more.
Two, they weren’t reading them, not properly, or not at all.
I may be an insecure writer but I am not ready to accept option one.
So then I saw invitations on social media for authors to submit directly to this new (to me) kind of publisher: digital first. The reasoning here being that since they don’t do print editions, or only print-on-demand, or only after the success of the eBook, they can afford to publish many more titles than trad publishers/imprints. No advance, but supposedly you get help with the marketing and a decent slice of the profits.
I did my due diligence and sorted the rip-off-artists/hybrid publishers from the (reasonably) respectable-looking firms, which in at least two cases were actually divisions/imprints of big trad publishing groups.
I looked at what they published, carefully prepared my pitch and sent off my full manuscript with the promise that this time, they WOULD read it.
And got pretty-much-form rejections.
Now, I realise that my book(s) do not fit snugly into the illustration-of-a-woman-against-a-backdrop-of-two-up-two-down-terraces-with-Spitfires-in-the-sky/illustration-of-a-woman-walking-away-from-us-with-the-White-Cliffs-of-Dover/Auschwitz-in-the-background-(Spitfires-optional) market, but in another way, they kind of could. Enough, as I intimated in my carefully worded query letters, to warrant a discussion about cross-genre marketing possibilities – or at least a considered/considerate reply, you’d think (well, I thought; maybe you’re smarter).
And then what I thought was this…
Because I realised that I had painted myself into the proverbial corner. How could I now go back to querying agents, having taken it upon myself to do their job and submit to publishers directly, even if only a couple of the twinsets-and-Spitfires ones? You can’t write to someone and say I think publishers will be excited about this novel series, and by the way I’ve already been rejected by x, y and z.
So there you go. I always wondered what would finally make me take the plunge and decide to self-publish. Was it going to be 10 form rejections from literary agents? 20? 50?
No. Turns out it was seven and an assumed/probable rejection. Plus two-and-a-probable from digital first publishers. And the strong suspicion that no one was even reading the letters that had taken me hours, sometimes days, to write, let alone the stuff that had taken me years.
Which isn’t right, is it? Just like those assumed and probable rejections from the ones who say they’re so busy they can’t guarantee they’ll get back to you at all.
Anyway. Looks like the next time I write anything here I'll be complaining about how hard it is to get started in self-publishing.
(But not like that – you’re not getting my money as well as all the years of effort. It's time for a bit of DIY.)
I've thought about 1976 a fair bit over the last few years. You might remember I wrote a novella and mentioned it here. (And in this post about log lines, where I even shared a mocked-up cover.) I've come to realise that it was a formative year for me.
Hardly surprising. I was 11, tentatively dipping a little pink toe into the encroaching tides of puberty and adulthood. How? Well, here's an example. My father actually used to come home from London more often than he does in 76. Like any other commuter (although of course he was anything but) he would bring with him his half-read Evening Standard. And I, starved of what I never even imagined would one day be termed 'content', would pore over it that night or next morning.
Despite the massively different media environment, I don't think kids have changed that much. At 11, I instinctively avoided current affairs, as well as most of the sport my father was interested in. Star Wars may have been shooting nearby but it was still far, far away for all of us and 'Cod Wars!' didn't have quite the same ring to it. Everything else seemed to be to do with the IRA, which even the adults didn't understand.
So instead, and with that little pink puberty-toe (!) tingling, I flicked through the fingertip-smudging newsprint in search of fresh imagery. Cinema ads! Tiny photographs in magic-eye halftones with mystical titles bespeaking a higher level of adult understanding that was to prove illusory. The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea. What even was that? An Oedipal-Nietzschean drama set in the world of merchant shipping, starring Kris Kristofferson and adapted from the novel by Yukio Mishima. I'd love to see an elevator pitch for that now, in these days of Chris Hemsworth in tactical gear on Netflix...
Then (because we're coming to it), a page or two later and probably after dipping into the completely unintelligible horoscopes in search of pre-toe-tingling promises of true romance, the comic strips. (I told you we were coming to it!)
MODESTY BLAISE by Peter O'Donnell, illustrated by Romero. Black and white. Three frames a day, no more. None of the subtlety and charm that I was to discover had predated Romero in the original art of Jim Holdaway. But I was hooked.
The daily strips were painfully brief but the stories were long-form, often lasting several months, with complex plots and great scrapes. The set piece captures and escapes were thoughtfully put together. Most of all, the characters were compelling and the relationship between Modesty and her sidekick Willie Garvin completely unique and intriguing.
Soon I was clipping out the strips and collecting them as graphic novels in mismatched binders. In time, O'Donnell's actual Modesty Blaise novels would follow. And although their quality would fall off somewhat as I brought myself up to date with the classics from the 60s and began waiting for new releases in the 80s, these more sophisticated and substantial versions of the stories – and their influence, which is what this is about – would stay with me all my life.
Was it just me? I was able to pick up those earlier titles because every secondhand bookstall was full of them back then, usually with embarrassingly unrepresentative sexploitation covers courtesy of the unscrupulous Pan Books. But then there were the quotes from the superfans, of course. Like Kingsley Amis calling Modesty and Willie "one of the great partnerships in fiction, bearing comparisons with that of Holmes and Watson". Quentin Tarantino would later join in too and in fact you see O'Donnell's peril/resolution set pieces influencing thriller writers and filmmakers up to the present day, more often than not unacknowledged.
Much more importantly, there were girls who liked Modesty and who saw her as a progenitor for female characters from Buffy to Lisbeth Salander, not just as a bit of ill-cast cleavage on a Pan cover. Yes, she was written by a male author, but somehow (even if in other respects Modesty is admittedly a product of her time) he had gone far beyond the Male Gaze and won plaudits for it. Anyway, it was a female-male partnership he was writing, so there was justification aplenty.
So there you are. The seeds were sown. One day, I would create a series of action adventures that would be inspired by (or reflect, or reimagine...) the Modesty Blaise comic strips and novels. And because I first came to them not as contemporary thrillers but as period pieces (the mid 60s is literally a lifetime away when you're an 11-year-old in 1976), I would set them in a historical context. Which would let me throw in other influences from my content consumption as a young man, from Bond and Le Carré to Where Eagles Dare.
That's how the Chasing Mercury series was born. I thought it might be useful to describe it in terms of its inspirations rather than purely as a reaction to a perceived market opportunity – as I began to do when I asked recently Why are my novel's influences not the same as its comps? And I wrote this follow-up post, too, because I have been thinking about how to address the issue of comparison titles for a blurb, if I decide to self-publish – and because I have to say something that means something to me as well as to the Amazon algorithms...
So thank you for bearing with me, if you have. Now you know where it all started.
No. Not every example of a spy novel has the word 'Spy' in its title.
Some use the word 'Agent' instead.
But seriously... it does seem as though publishers of espionage fiction have stopped crediting readers with the initiative to identify a spy novel as a spy novel unless it literally spells it out and, as the ads for a certain brand of wood preservative always say in the UK, 'does exactly what it says on the tin'.
Now let me be clear, I'm not blaming the authors, the editors or – ironically – the agents. My guess, from personal experience, is that this trend (if it is a trend) emanates from the dark arts practised by marketing departments, who will always be quick to cite metrics, analytics and that deathblow to interesting writing, Search Engine Optimisation, to support the deep dive down to the lowest common denominator.
But here's an example. See what you think.
Alex Gerlis is one of those authors of spy fiction who is touted as a successor to John le Carré. His first book series, Spy Masters, comprises The Best of Our Spies, The Swiss Spy, Vienna Spies and The Berlin Spies. His next, Prince of Spies, Sea of Spies, Ring of Spies and End of Spies. And perhaps that really is the end of spies, because his current series so far comprises Agent in Berlin, Agent in Peril and Agent in the Shadows... ah, collectively known as the Wolf Pack Spies books.
Or you might choose Tom Bradby's latest novel, Yesterday's Spy. Or, as I have just done, Manda Scott’s move into WWII espionage fiction, winner of the 2019 McIlvanney Prize A Treachery of Spies. Or perhaps continue reading the novels of that stalwart of the genre, Alan Furst, who used to publish books called things like Dark Star and The Polish Officer but whose more recent titles have included The Spies of Warsaw and Spies of the Balkans.
But hang on, I hear you cry, le Carré himself was responsible for The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (and, by extension, all the imitative titles, like Len Deighton's Twinkle, Twinkle Little Spy a year or so later).
Yes, but le Carré published something like 26 novels, of which four had spy/spies in the title. Ian Fleming 13, plus short stories, with only a single example (yep, nobody did it better). Helen MacInnes 26, no spies, one agent. Anthony Price 19, no examples. Eric Ambler something like 18 novels, with only one example (Epitaph for a Spy), and an anthology titled To Catch a Spy. And call it 27 actual Robert Ludlum novels and 19 for Tom Clancy, with absolutely no examples between them.
Then let's look at the aforementioned Len Deighton. Yes, there's the example above, together with Spy Story and (another) Yesterday's Spy. And there's the clunkily branded Spy Hook, Spy Line, Spy Sinker series, which certainly feels like another progenitor of the current title trend (if it is a trend). But that's it, out of 27 novels or so. And The IPCRESS File alone absolves him from Title Shame.
So is it a trend? I don't know. Among currently active writers in this genre, Joseph Kanon has contributed only The Prodigal Spy out of ten novels, Charles Cumming A Spy By Nature and A Divided Spy from 11, and Mick Herron nothing save a 'spook'.
Added to which, you could very well say it all started with The Spy; or, A Tale of the Neutral Ground by James Fenimore Cooper (1821) or The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad (1907).
Not to mention all those I-Spy books I grew up with...!
But my impression, even if only half-formed and half-substantiated, is of a gradual drift towards titles that contain the word Spy just for the sake of it and little else besides – sacrificing both nuance and drama for the optimised search and the quick, easy buck of the blatantly, blandly, boringly obvious.
And surely, unlike wood preservative, we want our spies and spy stories to be none of those things.
OK, first things first... I'm not speaking from any place of authority, just picking things up as I go along, but by 'comps' here I mean comparable or comparative or comparison titles – the ones we've been told to provide in our query letters to literary agents, yes?
And I don't know about you, but I found it very hard to come up with two or three examples of published novels that are sufficiently like mine to be cited as valid comparisons. Until, that is, I realised something...
The novel(s) that I want my novel(s) to be like are novel(s) that I like but are not necessarily the novel(s) I'd say my novel(s) are like because the novel(s) I'm going to say my novel(s) are like are not necessarily novels that I like.
Or to put it another, less feverish, way: I used to get hung up on thinking that my comps should be the beloved novels that inspired and influenced my writing, the novels I dream of one day seeing mine alongside in a library or maybe a favourite secondhand bookshop.
Whereas, of course, one's comps should be contemporary examples of novels whose readers might be tempted to pick up yours if they spotted them alongside their customary purchases in a modern bookshop, especially one like Amazon. That way, you can show an agent or a publisher that you've thought about where yours would fit in the market – and that you're familiar with the market – even if you think (as I do) that yours offers that market something different or (God forbid) that you could do it better.
I think that's a valid way of looking at it, don't you? Of course you need to understand what works and what might not work so well for today's readers. But surely it's still OK to be inspired in the first place by other, older titles than the ones you use as comps? I mean, if your inspiration comes from a novel you found on the bestsellers list a year ago, well, let's just say I'd hate to see you at your uninspired...
Now, in my case there's an added complication. I don't necessarily have a single target audience. But I can't be alone in this. Isn't that why there are all those easily mockable 'Finding Nemo meets Last Tango in Paris' type pitches? And surely that's why they ask for two or three examples of comps...?
So anyway, I reckon I've come to terms with why I might have to appeal to readers of x, y and z – and why I might be asked to specify who I think x, y and z are. I just thought it might be useful to share the way that I've come to terms with it.
Which is by holding onto my motivation to do it differently.
And maybe even better.
I was late to the party with Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, having only seen it recently on Netflix. But what a party! And what an unexpectedly poignant effect she achieved by linking the gaiety and naivety and anxiety and immoderation and sheer bloody fatedness of the ancien regime to the experience of any teenager who has had to grow up – and especially a teenager who did so in the late 70s/early 80s.
The astonishing sequence in the movie that begins with Bow Wow Wow's I Want Candy ends with a Kevin Shields remix of their Fools Rush In that is so fragile and intimate we feel that we have somehow tuned in and are hearing her sing it in her own head. But here's the thing: I think I can hear us doing the tuning-in too; and I think I've heard that before.
It's late October 1981. I'm sitting at the counter in our little kitchen in Hurst Park, listening, with Mum, to the charts on her old tube radio. I presume I'm taking a break from my soul destroying A-Level homework. Or maybe it's half-term. Mum is preparing the evening meal before she goes to pick Dad up from the station. The dog is mooching around at our feet. And, hard though it is to believe now, we're listening to Laurie Anderson's O Superman.
I'm looking at the names of faraway and fantastic places on the tuner. I'm checking the (more or less kaput) glimmer of the magic eye, tentatively poking my finger into its little votive niche... and what I'm getting, now, right now, is the same kind of indefinable ethereal resonance that's there in Sofia Coppola's movie. It's there in the Laurie Anderson piece, of course, of course, but also in the opening of its neighbour in the charts this week, Altered Images' Happy Birthday. It's there, especially, in a brand new entry to the charts, OMD's Joan of Arc, and it's even there in that deeply odd cover of It's My Party that's hanging on at No.1.
Not a message, not a signal, but a carrier wave, maybe. The promise of picking up something from the other side.
Hello, this is your mother, says Laurie Anderson. Are you coming home? And then, for God's sake, there's Andy McCluskey singing: say the right words and I'll be coming through...
So what is this random little time-slip telling us? That a bit of 80s reverb in a movie is enough to spark an almost supernatural Proustian rush in a basket case like me? Possibly. But also, I think, that there's always a way out of the echo chamber. That in supposedly familiar stories and even memories might still be hidden stranger truths, deeper layers and bigger meanings. That you have to be brave and ever so delicately retune your sensibilities. That even without moving on to fresh pastures, there are new revelations to be found out there, in the past, in the ether. That it's the job of creatives, through fiction, through non-fiction, through music and magic, though a whirling jumble of the lot, to reach for them, like Sofia Coppola did.
And our job too, to sing their praises for even attempting it.
Edited version of an original photograph by: mattbuck (category), CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
I've been writing for as long as I can remember (I think my first letter was a P). I got a degree writing about other people's writing and ever since then I've earned a living writing commercially, one way or another. But I never stopped writing and refining my own stuff. I just didn't do anything with it, until now.