Sunday, 2 March 2014

The Ritual Extract and Outtakes (I)

The Ritual was my fourth novel and one of my best reviewed. 

Set firmly in the horror tradition, it told the tale of a mother and daughter from Dayton, Ohio, who visit England on family business and find themselves hunted down by the members of a neo-colonial Satanic cult intent on re-eneacting an ancient Ritual.

I withdrew the book from sale in October last year. 

Well reviewed by certain readers, to my eyes, it had two major flaws.

One, it is too long by half for modern pop kids. It is 130,000 words long and spends 40,000 words setting the scene. 

As was pointed out for me, today's modern Indie would have set up a premise, introduced ten characters, six sub plots, four murders, two beatings, nine torrid encounters, five betrayals, a dozen explosions and held a grandstand finish in 4o,ooo words. 

I hadn't even started by that point.

(Oops, a bit ambitious there, Marky).

The second problem is Chapters 9 to 12.

In the writing process, I didn't do what I intended to do and changed course. Introduced a character who has no place in the book. Messed about with tenses and flashbacks. Panicked like a rabbit in headlights. I needed a Matt Perkins big time, but what I got was Mr Chuckles staring at me telling me to go ahead. 

I read it again in October last year and immediately pulled it. 
Those chapters were not good. 
Wobbly, floppy, slow, nonsensical and difficult to read. I am embarrassed by them. 

The people that read and reviewed the book, luckily, concentrated on the last half which is some of my best writing - I may have bollocked horror, but I got the essentials of thriller bang on.

So, bearing this in mind, I am planning to rewrite the middle and keep the second half exactly as it is, and I am going to release it in June as a six part series revamped to the max. It's an experiment. 

Not enough people read it for it to be a problem to them and too many people would miss out on Part II (to be Part 3-6 in the new series). 

On Unearthly Encounters, my late friend Mackenzie Knight's brilliant radio show, Mackenzie and I were going to discuss The Ritual and my time as a Thurible-bearer in an upper class Satanic cult. 

I'm going to post some sample stuff from The Ritual in her honour.

Here's one of my favourites, the tale of David Johnson the ex- alcoholic bus driver caught in the middle of the hellish vortex inspired by the Church in the town of Wheatley Fields - Southwell, near Nottinghamshire in real life.

Hope you enjoy it.


The Amulet story wasn’t the strangest thing to happen in Wheatley Fields that day, though it must be said that it was strange enough and a source of general bemusement enough for a month, never mind a single day.

In fact, in overview – and hindsight - it may be said that the Amulet triggered a whole series of events which even the most rational would struggle to explain.
For instance, that morning, a case in point, something odd happened on a commuter bus from the town to the City, something that those who experienced it, much later, had no explanation as to how it could have happened. None at all.


David Johnson was late.
Scheduled to arrive at The Three Steeples bus stop at nineteen minutes past eight, he didn’t make it until twenty nine minutes past.  
Ten minutes late, a crucial ten minutes.

If there was one route in the City Bus Transport Network that he detested working on, it was the Wheatley Fields - City route, despite the beauty of the town and the country nature of the route.
The people, you see.
The people of Wheatley Fields are hard work.

He pulled up to the stop. 
Sparrows and Starlings chirped on the adjacent stone church wall. Finches perched on the oak trees. Shoppers waited for Dorothy’s to open, a sale on cocktail dresses, fifty percent off. A queue of irate passengers. 
In a world full of fragmented, apocalyptic weather, endless roadworks and rich mothers taking their kids to school in miniature tanks, a driver was bound to be late on occasion and the vast majority of people who caught David Johnson’s bus in the City understood that, even those who stood in the wind and the rain waiting for his bus to arrive.

Not the residents of Wheatley Fields.
They would give him hell for it.

As part of his Twelve Steps programme, David had been reading about the way people relate to each other.
The way people communicate.
The hidden meanings. 
Their interaction strategies.
Their perceptions of the Other. 
Their personal modus operandi.
He had also been working on himself, his feelings, his emotions, the way he operated understanding the reasons why he often drank up to a hundred pints of lager and a bottle of Bells over a weekend.
Acting Out, for example, which, he realised, was something he used to do with his ex-wife after a lot to drink. 
And Projection, which he also practiced on his ex-wife, blaming her for most of his problems.
He understood that now. 
His sponsor had made sure he understood that he was responsible for all his problems and blaming other people was counter-productive. 
“It’s your fault, Dave,” his sponsor said. “Not theirs. Take responsibility for your actions.” 
Blaming others was Projection and he spent each waking hour trying not to project his stuff onto other people. He learned from his meetings, and nights with his sponsor, that almost everything in life was his fault and once he realised that, life would become plain sailing. 

A term existed that fitted the people of Wheatley Fields to a tee. 
He had been reading about it. When he embraced the meaning of the word and connected it to the people on the 101 bus route, he experienced a Eureka moment. 
He had never heard the term before he went to Alcoholics Anonymous, but he recognised it each time he was late on this route. 
Like today.
The residents of Wheatley Fields came with a strong sense of Entitlement. 
Rich, prosperous, successful, they told themselves that they were entitled to many things.
Great service.
Peace and quiet.
Prompt settlement.
Immediate attention.
Buses that are never late.

Entitled people are not slow to create confrontations with their sense of entitlement and that morning, ten minutes late, David Johnson took a shedload of abuse from the passengers going into the City. They called him everything from a pig to a dog. 

As they paid their extortionate return fare and passed their electronic cards over the card reader, each one of them made some sort of comment. Some muttered under their breath. One threatened him with a complaint. Another started to blame him for the latest, unjustified fare increase. One overweight woman - in spectacles, an ill-fitting purple pinstripe suit; harassed, carrying her phone, a personal organiser, a satchel, a document box and two lime-green carrier bags full of handouts and memos - accused him of sleeping at the terminus and his tardiness was, in effect, deliberate.
“You have made me late for work.  I deserve much better than this shit. I shall be making a formal complaint about you,” she said, before walking down the passageway in a huff, nearly tripping over one of her carrier bags as she did so.

Rather than point her in the direction of classic personal development Twelve Steps bible "The Road to Clear Thinking” by Donald Key, in which he discovered the term Entitlement, David Johnson stared at the steering wheel and said nothing.

When they had all accessed the bus, he pulled away from the kerb and drove off past Dorothy’s and The Saladin toward the City. He passed the agricultural college and picked up seven young people going to town. He picked up a further three passengers at the next stop.
Traffic was heavy that morning and the bus became stuck behind a tractor travelling at five miles per hour, then, when that had turned off toward Bullsby, the bus found itself behind a digger heading for the cement works at Halsingham. 
When David looked over at the driver as they eventually crossed, the digger driver stuck two fingers up at him. The bus driver had no idea why. 
Maybe the digger driver was Sublimating.  
That was another word he had to learn. Sublimation. And Denial. He was working hard on understanding these terms, but it confused him at times, all this personal development stuff. He was glad he had a good sponsor, and a Probation Officer who also understood the lingo.

Behind him, David could sense the growing frustration of the passengers. The delay - and his lateness - meant that they wouldn’t reach the City until ten past nine at least. Traffic on the City approach roads had been intense lately due to a water-main maintenance operation that extended the full length of Clapton High Street. To be honest, his ETA was likely to be twenty past nine. 
If he was an airline pilot or a train driver, he would have informed the passengers over the intercom, but because he was a bus driver, he would have to shout, and he hated doing that. Not since he became clean and sober.
Before that, he shouted every chance he got. 
The old David Johnson never stopped shouting. Always  getting in people’s faces. His masculine insults and bawdy jokes. In his salad days, he would have given the woman in the purple pinstripe suit a proper round of fucks. 
But that David Johnson had gone. 
With a relieved smile, he remembered him from a distance and was glad that it had been six months since a drop of ale had passed his lips. He wondered how many of his passengers were hungover. At least half of them, he suspected.

They passed Loudon and then Brunton Jallands. Despite full bus stops in both towns, there was little of the sense of entitlement he experienced at the beginning of the journey, even though quite a few of the new passengers would have to stand because the bus was full. By the time he reached Lingland, the bus was twenty seven minutes late already and cars stretched up to the roadworks. His passengers would be lucky to get into the City by nine thirty. 
David looked back in his mirror. 
The woman in the purple pinstripe suit was red in the face. Tears looked close. Her stress rose exponentially the later the bus became. Clearly, this wasn’t the first time she’d been late and she was in a bother.
Stress.He nearly felt sorry for her.
Then he remembered the bollocking she gave him and he smirked, just a little. His sponsor wouldn’t be happy about his reaction, but he couldn’t help it. 
Surely it was normal - she had started it.

As they approached the final crossing, near the Tescos - the last passenger pickup point before the City - he could see a queue under the shelter at least fifteen people long. 
Up ahead, at least half a mile worth of cars snaked up toward Clapton. Hyper passengers reached for their mobiles and rang bosses. The metaphorical muttering index rose toward the red zone.
Shoehorning all fifteen new passengers on, until the aisle was rammed full of standing passengers all the way to the back seats. Someone’s shoebag hit the stressed woman in the nose.  
David Johnson wondered if there was anything he could say to dampen the tension, but he decided there was not, so he just shut up and drove. He knew that some of the passengers - and their overseers - would be Acting Out at their offices and all of them would be blaming David Johnson rather than themselves.
He didn’t mind that.  
He made a point of remembering the way he felt now.
How magnanimous and calm.
His sponsor would be pleased to know this.

As they passed over Clapton High Street, after ten minutes, the angry woman somehow forced her way to the cab. 
“I’m late," she said.  "I’m late for a critical meeting. I’m going to lose my post because of you, arsehole. I am going to lose my post and I’m going to make sure you lose yours.”
“I’m sorry, madam. It’s the roadworks,” he replied.
“It’s not the fucking roadworks. You were twenty minutes late,” she said, her eyes bulging behind her fashionable spectacles, her wheezing, asthmatic voice raised. “It’s your fucking fault. Don’t blame the roadworks.”
“Please don’t swear at me, madam.”
“I’ll swear at you, if I like. I’m the passenger and you’ve fucked up.”
David, who had recently attended three seminars on Understanding the Passive-Aggressive Continuum, and had also attended a twelve week Probation Service course in anger management as a regrettable consequence of that disastrous Bank Holiday all-dayer in Ilkeston with his mates, merely pointed to the sign about abusing bus drivers. 
“No need for the language, madam. We’ll be approaching the City soon.”
Other passengers stuck up for the driver. 
Others didn’t, and as the bus made painful progress down Clapton Road, at least ten buses trapped in the bus lane, and commuters at a stand, the argument raged.

“It’s a disgrace.”
“I blame the Council.”
“Roadworks again. Health and Safety.”
“Political correctness gone mad.”
“I’m going to lose my job because of CNT.”
“This idiot driver.”
“It’s a disgrace.”

David tuned out, took slow, considered breaths, and dissociated himself from the melee behind.
It was nothing to do with him. He didn’t cause it. He wasn’t responsible for it. There was nothing he could do to change the situation they all found themselves in, so therefore, he cut off from it emotionally and waited for it to go away.

As he pulled up to the traffic lights before the terminus on the main High Street, he realised that it was soon going to be all over. It was nine thirty three and it had taken him an hour to get into town and he felt that was an achievement given the circumstances. The lights turned green and he drove forward slowly toward the bus shelter outside Peacocks, opposite Boots and the Ladbrokes. 
Stopped his bus. 
Made it safe for the passengers to alight. 

Before he opened the door, he looked into his jacket pocket and found his Twelve Steps notebook of reflection. David Johnson would write down what happened to him this morning, how he felt, how he reacted, his thought patterns, and he would talk to his sponsor tonight about how he could have improved the way he dealt with the entitled passenger.
He was looking forward to it. 
After all, he didn’t have much else to do in the evening now that he could no longer go down the pub for a refreshing pint after work. 

The passengers queued to get off the bus and he pressed the open door button.
The first passenger off started to shout immediately.
 A man with a blue suit and a trendy satchel briefcase.
“I don’t bloody believe it,” he said.
One by one they alighted.
“It’s a disgrace.”
“I don’t believe it.”
“What a driver! What a moron!”
“I’ll complain. I really will…I’ll have his…”

David Johnson was the last man off the bus.
He couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
Some of the passengers were shouting at him, but he couldn’t hear what they were saying. 
It was like white noise, the sound of an old-fashioned broken-down telly. The sound, which, he had been told, originated at the beginning of time.
He couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
Sparrows and Starlings chirped on the church wall. Finches perched on the oak trees. Shoppers waited for Dorothy’s to open, a sale on cocktail wear. 
New passengers waited to go to the City.
The 101 bus was back in Wheatley Fields.
Outside The Three Steeples.
At the bus stop, where he arrived ten minutes late this morning.

The woman with all the bags was in floods of tears and she was already reaching for her phone to call her solicitor
Dumbstruck, David Johnson picked up his phone too and dialled his depot. Halfway through, he erased the number and called his sponsor instead.

1 comment:

  1. Mackenzie would be proud. Looking forward to the series.