Nothing Ever Happens In Clacton
Like Whale Soup, Nothing Ever Happens in Clacton was inspired by a real-life episode. As a schoolboy on holiday with my parents, I had regular conversations with a fortune teller in Clacton, and we formed a friendship like none I have had before or since. Decades later, that relationship was the starting point for a seaside thriller, interlaced with a coming-of-age tale. Giving the fortune teller a backstory whilst weaving him into what I hope is an exciting narrative proved remarkably easy. The story was written as a novella of 26,000 words and finished in 2013.
From the beginning of my fiction writing, I was lucky enough to have half a dozen excellent beta readers, i.e. helpers who read and make constructive criticisms. They said they would love to read more about the characters I had created; hence the novella grew into a novel. The original story now forms Part 1 of the book; its title is the same as the title of the whole book.
Part 2, Flight of the Swallow, focuses for much of the time on a different character: one of the young Clacton girls who embarks on a modelling career in swinging-sixties London. This storyline is interspersed with the tale of a small-time criminal from the fortune teller’s past who threatens to ruin him. A chase sequence takes the reader through the most enchanting areas of the Isle of Wight.
Part 3 – Whose Mind is it, Anyway? – grew, like Part 1, out of a true-life experience. While in San Francisco in the 1970s, I was lured by an extreme religious sect to a remote area in northern California, where I spent several bizarre days. Luckily, I had the strength of will to escape. Many didn’t, and the consequences were sometimes tragic. I didn’t talk about it for many years. The novel has given me the opportunity to offer a fictionalised account of what life was really like in an indoctrination camp.
Oh, and then there’s romance..,but you’d expect that, wouldn’t you?
Location, Plot, Location, Character, Location
There are great debates in creative writing circles about whether novels should be plot-driven or character-driven. Such debates are usually fruitless, since it’s obvious that stories can be either – or both. There is much less talk of whether a book can be location-driven, yet for me the choice of fascinating locations is just as important as plot or character. Authors are advised to write about what they know, so the more intimately one knows a location, the more likely it is that the reader will be drawn into the author’s world.
Before the days of package holidays in Spain, Clacton – along with places like Broadstairs, Scarborough and Skegness – was one of the prime summer holiday destinations. The atmosphere of those family holidays in a B&B by the sea was unique, and I have tried to encapsulate it throughout the novel but especially in Part 1.
I have had a lifelong love affair with the Isle of Wight, often justifiably cited as being “Britain in Miniature”. Long walks in the trackless wildernesses of the Island, notably in the Landslip areas of the far south, have rewarded me with experiences that few holidaymakers enjoy, and I have tried to capture some of that magic in Part 2.
Other locations I have used to add vibrancy to the narrative are London (especially Soho in the 60s), Manchester (when it was home to Top of the Pops) and San Francisco (always fascinating and full of surprises).
Is That You?
All fiction writers are at some stage confronted by eager readers saying something like this: “You know old So-and-so in story So-and-so? That’s really you, isn’t it?” Or: “Did you really do what old So-and-so did at the end?”
If people know you, the author, they are determined to identify you in your book. They are wasting their time. Consider these two statements:
(1) An author is all of the characters in his/her book.
(2) An author is none of the characters in his/her book.
Both statements are true, but for most authors (2) is truer than (1). Fiction is Mutilated Truth. You may start with a real event, but your imagination works on it so hard and for so long that the original truth becomes buried. Look for me in the Clacton novel at your peril.