Green Wizard 5: Carla (Reprise)
I wrote Carla after coming back from a family holiday in Tenerife and shortly before the launch of Green Wizard. I wasn't in the best frame of mind. My depression was at its very worst - post holiday blues, but also life's reflections - and I needed to write to get it all out.
The idea for Carla came to me two years ago in a pub called the Old Coach House in Southwell, the prosperous English town fourteen miles north of Nottingham where the book is set.
I saw a beautiful barmaid in there. Well out of my league and worse, at least twenty years younger than me. I got talking to her and discovered she was a student at Brackenhurst College. She was extremely friendly and had that wonderful, bland, middle class accent most girls seem to have round here, with plenty of likes, oh my gods, stuffs and the other fashionably irrelevant connectives which you either love or hate. I'm the former.
On a site called Tumblr, student girls sell pictures of their feet, panty photograph sets, old flip flips, shoes, bras, panties and other items for a tenner or so in order to help their education.
When I was growing up, this was unheard of.
It borders on prostitution and it would be seriously frowned upon.
Don't believe me? Type in Ilsealcorta into your Google and have a look.
How times have changed in just twenty years. You would have to be a seriously immoral old scrubber to sell your knickers through the post and here we have beautiful young girls doing the same thing through a Donate button to pay for their education. It's a headscratcher
So, being aware of this,half way through the conversation, I had this idea:
I wonder if she would sleep with me once per week if I paid her student loan.
Say, £200 per week.
A debt free education in return to fulfilling a middle aged man's fantasies.
I thought it an intriguing proposition. Naturally, I did nothing about it and walked home alone as usual and then, because I was on the sick from my then employer and living hand to mouth on ESA and the generosity of my family and friends, I shelved the idea as it was too far fetched.
I may as well have been writing about fifty games of hungry twilight thrones off Bixby Bridge or something for how realistic the idea was.
But the idea wouldn't go away. It kept hanging around in my head.
That first weekend back from Tenerife this year, I dug out my notes and the ten thousand words I had already written. Salvaged about a thousand of them and came up with an intriguing premise.
What if the barmaid fell in love with the older man?
And what if the man was a nutcase with some non-specific mental illness who had just been released from an asylum?
And how good would it be if I wrote it from a first person perspective. Of the lunatic himself?
To get context, I reread Jim Thompson, the master of the deranged anti-hero. Specifically, A Swell Looking Babe, which is just madness, utter madness from the maestro himself.
The idea had serious weight. I haven't read anything like it and I might have been onto something.
So I started to write. On Thursday April 19th.
By Monday, I had written 42,000 words of Carla. I finished it a month or so later.
I think its my best book.
Other Wizardwatchers disagree. Its my most personal book at least. Stuff happens in there which has happened in real life, if not to me, but to my friends and acquaintances. It draws on my experience as a lecturer in Criminal Profiling in the late nineties. It draws on my time on The Nook in America, dealing with the break up my relationship with a sufferer of Borderline Personality Disorder/Psychopathy, which left me a wreck. It deals - quite openly and non judgmentally - with mental health and it deals with love. It's written in a funky, eclectic, in and out, interactive style which involves the reader - makes the reader complicit in the relationship. I experimented with the technique in my football hooligan novel UV (not altogether successfully), but every experiment needs its trial and error and I think it works here.
"It was extremely hard to write, coming at a totally miserable time in my life and yet, readers have noticed a deep strain of black humour all the way through the book."
If you read any Thompson - and I hope you do - all his books are flecked with an absurd, surreal sense of humour. You shouldn't laugh but you can't help it.
At heart, I'm an optimistic sort of bloke, but I suffer from sporadic bouts of hardcore Clinical Depression and that kind of vacuums the jokes out of a man.
It is without doubt my most female friendly book. Its a romance, pure and simple. A love story, a bleak love story.
I'll talk about it some more later, but here's what my good friend, avid reader and Wizardwatcher Carolyn had to say. She couldn't get the review onto Amazon, so I put it on the back of the book.
I downloaded this book to my phone using the Kindle App and really enjoyed it. It tells the story of John Dexter, a complex character who has a history of ill mental health (to put it mildly) and his never ending struggle with everyday life, and in particular his intense feelings for a local barmaid named Carla. The story is written from his perspective, and with the exception of his time with Carla is very much about the internal dialogue he has to endure on a minute by minute basis. There is also some reference to life in institutions and the episodes that have lead him there, as well as his dealings with his mother and father.
The book is intense and sinewy as it weaves its way through a few months of John’s life. You find yourself fearing for him and fearing for Carla. I was torn between feeling a great deal of sympathy for him but on the other hand I was also angry at his clumsy and dangerous interactions with the world around him, especially as his feelings for Carla grew and other characters became more involved in the storyline.
The writer’s take on a character like Dexter appeared to be very informed, respectful, and sensitive whilst peppered with a brutal honesty that at times was difficult to read. I particularly enjoyed being spoken to directly by the central character especially when I was directed to do a personality disorder test myself, the results of which I found fascinating!!
I would recommend this book to anybody who has an interest in the human psyche, anybody who knows how love can consume the soul and is in itself a form of mental torture, people who live locally to Nottingham and in particular Southwell; might be an interesting insight in to such a place and also this book would appeal to people who aren’t afraid to read material that is not all hearts and flowers but instead is pulsating with a chronic and unrelenting narrative about the inevitability of the central character’s fate.
Hope you enjoy it. You can buy it here. The paperback is pricey at £9.99 which I apologise for, but the Kindle download is £3.08 and you can get free apps for your phone and laptop which translate. You don't need a Kindle.
All the best,
PS: Apologies for the bit in the middle above. I did something and no matter how I try, I can't get rid of that pesky HTML! Grrrrr....