Looking back at THE WANNABES, ten years or so after I wrote it, I find – with a baffled smile – that I’m not quite sure where it came from.
Whereas for my other novel, HELL’S SECRETS, I can remember the exact moment when I started to type down the story, for THE WANNABES it’s a strange blank.
I can certainly recognise some of the inspirations that wind through the pages. Undoubtedly, there’s a bit of Patrick Hamilton’s HANGOVER SQUARE, which is a book I loved at the time; there’s a great dollop of THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, although – if I’m honest – probably more of the Roger Corman film than the Edgar Allen Poe story. I saw that movie on BBC2 when I was about fourteen and the images have never left me. The character’s lead name comes straight from William Faulkner’s LIGHT IN AUGUST. Although, since Stephen King made the same steal for THE GREEN MILE, maybe it came from there too. I had read both, after all.
There’s a lot of that’s autobiographical within the pages. People I knew who made their way into the book, stories from my own life, things that were happening to me which barged their way in.
Then there are the pubs.
Both THE WANNABES and HELL’S SECRETS feature a hell of a lot of pubs, and back then – I will confess – I was something of a frequenter. Today, as a new dad, I imagine my fiction will contain noticeably fewer public houses.
Write what you know, they say. So if you are someone who frequently has a pint in their hands, write about someone who frequently has a pint in their hand.
What I don’t remember though is where the story came from. I don’t recall any moment of inspiration. I just remember writing it and it suddenly being there.
However, what I do remember is the moment before. That flash of realisation when I decided to become a genre author.
Until then I’d been scribbling away with a mindset that was self-consciously literary. With a mind full of Philip Roth and Richard Ford, I was trying to write books that said something.
This period went on for a while, as when you’re young you have a tendency to self-importance and can easily convince yourself that you do have something meaningful to say. But when I wrote in that way I could never create anything I truly liked. The stories I wrote were okay, but they were not brilliant and what I really wanted to do – with my self-important literary poseur head on – was write something brilliant.
Something brilliant and something important and something meaningful and something poetic and all so many somethings.
But one day I took a step back and looking at my bookshelves and saw the Raymond Chandlers, the Stephen Kings, the James Herberts, the Agatha Christies and wondered what the hell I was doing. Yes, I liked reading literary fiction, but what I really enjoyed – what really gave me pleasure – was horror, mysteries, crime, thrillers.
This was not only the stuff I liked, but in odd idle moments I would write little sketches of stories designed to be as scary, creepy and gruesome as hell.
What I needed to do was so obvious that I was annoyed at myself for weeks for not thinking of it earlier. I needed to be writing horror, to be writing mysteries, books with a crime at their centre, which wanted to do nothing more important than thrill.
That’s what was going to make me happiest.
And THE WANNABES is the first full-length ripe fruit of that realisation – a book where I tried to cram in so much of the stuff I liked, that it can’t help but amuse me as I read through and see a check-list of all the things I was into and how I reinterpreted them.
It’s a supernatural thriller, certainly, but it’s also a genre compendium – one shot through a psyche just excited to be bringing all these things together.