Dead Birds

Added on 17 March 2010

The short list has been announced for the CrimeFest Last Laugh Award, the prize for the best humorous crime novel published in Britain in 2009. As one reads down the list, one can't help but notice the bizarre omission of the seventh Barney Thomson novel, The Final Cut, widely regarded as the funniest crime novel ever written in the entire history of mankind. There was me with my acceptance speech already written, my bow tie dry-cleaned and ironed, and a fresh pair of underpants expectantly folded in the drawer.

I presume any chance of a Barney Thomson novel winning anything generally crashes and burns on the back of the fact that I own the publishing company. That's frowned upon in this business. The Crimefest website states that publishers were asked to submit books for nomination for the award. Not me they didn't. I haven't read the books by Colin Bateman, Josh Bazell, Chris Ewan, Suzette Hill, Malcolm Pryce or Len Tyler, so can't even make a prejudiced judgement on how Barney compares, but I would have ballsed it out anyway if I could have, and submitted it...

Anyway, back writing a novel, and not a comic one. No jokes in this. A few weeks ago I posted a short story, A Room With No Natural Light. It's all romantic tension and unspoken desire. I first conceived it as a film starring Ewan MacGregor With A Beard. (He'd need the beard so that he looked a bit older and more miserable. Too pretty otherwise.) Then I wrote the short story, because it was quicker. Now I'm writing the novel because the short story didn't really give enough scope to address all the issues and tensions that are implicit in it. One day, however, I can still imagine the novel falling into the hands of Ewan, and perhaps he'll be old enough by then to not even need a beard.

One of the principal allegorical aspects of the novel is the fact that all the birds are dying around the vineyard, and there doesn't seem to be any reason for it. I've always liked this side of the story. Then last week this news item appeared in the local rag. Around a hundred starlings mysteriously fell out of the sky onto someone's front lawn, dead, with blood coming from their beaks and their feet curled in agony. It's one of those great* weird stories that you get in local newspapers that never get near the nationals, with no explanation at all; and, of course, in itself much stranger than the fiction I'm writing at the moment.

(*When I say great, obviously not so great if you were one of the starlings, or one of those starlings was your mum or your sister or something.)

Today's a bad day for writing however. One of those down days when two words don't string themselves successfully together. The writing equivalent of Brazil in the 1998 World Cup Final. On days like this, when writing a Barney Thomson novel, I'd just throw in a conversation about Chelsea getting knocked out of the Champions League, or kill off a subsidiary character in a brutal yet humorous manner. It's a bit more difficult when writing a book about people who don't talk to each other.

Onwards and downwards...