As Time Goes By - March 1982
The glasses will have to go. Let them see the sexy eyelashes. Then, maybe, a pipe. Not one of those curving professorial types. A straight pipe. Assertive. Smouldering. Or, maybe, black Russian cigarettes would be better. Yeah, and a gold lighter.
And then something quaint, someething with heart. Maybe a jotter and one of those old pens with a wooden handle and you have to dip the nib in the ink bottle after every two words. Nice touch, that.
Becoming a best-selling novelist ain't all peaches and cream. Was a time when you finished the last page of double-space, sent it registered post, and maybe after the fifteenth rejecction slip you got a publisher who told you that if you rewrote the whole thing, changed the hero from optician to lumber jack ... and it was just a matter of time before you were sendding a copy to your old teacher, inscriibed with some sentimental crap like, "To Mr. Mac, who taught me more than he knew."
These days you have to think furrther ahead. There's the paperback rights. The movie contract - or mayybe a TV mini-series. The TV talk show circuit. Have to work out a schedule of book shops where you sit and sign the opus. What I'm working on now is the Rolex advert. Kind of thing Fredddie Forsyth makes the real money on.
Full page colour of me looking assertive, sleeves rolled up, Rolex sparkling on the wrist. A blockbuster needs pace, timing, split-second acttion. "I'd be lost without my Rolex," says bestseller Kerrigan. Something like that.
You make some money from book sales, but the spin-offs are where the real folding green is picked up. Which is why the image to go with the advert is something you have to spend a lot of time on. Assertive, masculine, knowing. But, human. (Godamn, that jotter and pen idea is a nice touch!)
After that you start thinking about writing the book.
The kind of thing I'm thinking offused to be called a thriller. But nobody reads thrillers these days exxcept me and two guys in Brooklyn. So what sells is a blockbuster. A blockkbuster is an obese thriller. Instead of sending your hero across town to get slugged in an alley you send him to
Geneva or Naples to get slugged in an alley. It takes a couple of extra chappters to get him there and maybe you throw in a chase across the Alps and an affair with a French countess and this fattens things out a bit more. Then he picks up a clue in Geneva or Naples and in a thriller this would lead him to a bar on 42nd Street where he'd meet a little guy with one arm who would give him an envelope with a key to a left-luggage locker in the East Side Terminal. But in a blockkbuster the clue leads the hero to a bar in London where he meets a little guy with one arm who gives him an evelope containing the address of a guy in Iceeland who sends him to a woman in New Zealand who used to work for the CIA (we get another couple of chapters here while the hero has an affair with the woman before she's killed by an old KGB agent) and who passes the hero on to a bar in Paris where he meets the guy who gives him the key to the left-luggage locker in the East Side Terminal.
People who read blockbusters like to travel in their heads. They also like to feel they're getting value for money, so they need a book as big as a brick. They also wouldn't be caught dead reading a thriller, so out go titles like Plunder Squad or The Sour Lemon Score or Butcher's Dozen - and you have to give it a title like The Geneva Sanction or The Naples Quadrant. As soon as I get the Rolex advert shippshape I'm starting on The Celtic Facctor.
If I had my dru thers the hero would be a Dublin private eye and he's got his feet up on the desk in his second-floor office in Dorset Street, his cap tilted on the back of his head, a .38 stuffed into his wellington and a bottle of Guinness in his filing cabinet,
But a PI doesn't cut it these days, Hero has to be a Joe Soap, an accounntant or something like that, who stummbles into a byzantine plot. (What is a byzantine plot? A grave in Byzantium? Where's Byzantium? Should I send the hero there for a chapter or two to have an affair with a Byzantine countess? Anyway, the plot should have more twists and turns than a Fianna Fail leadership challenge.) And merely finding a maltese falcon or putting Canino down for the big sleep is small beer. A blockbuster hero has to save the world.
So, what we got so far is an accounntant who saves the world. (It's not all that far-fetched. Check out your TV screen any night for the parade of ecoonomists who want to save the world, By putting 18% on the price of clothes. Yeah, talk about suspension of dissbelief.)
Write what you know, they say, so my accountant lives in Dublin, Name is Shawn McPatrick. (Have to keep it pretty basic for the Yank marrket.) Looks a lot like Robert de Niro. With red hair.
Have to get the North into it. So Shawn falls in love with a fiery rebel girl from the Bogside. With red hair. Her name is Shivawn.
However, there's two sides to it up there and they both buy books - so I have to work in a sub-plot about Shiiyawn's younger sister who falls in love with a Protestant boy. The old Romeo and Juliet, hearts-across-the-peace-line bit. The young lovers seek respite in Drumshanbo and, after a chapter and a half of erotic bliss in the bushes beehind the Mayflower Ballroom, they are kidnapped by a sinister blonde man in a black leather overcoat. This is a reelief to me - as they are boring as hell to write about - but it upsets Shiivawn and Shawn no end. They set out to solve the mystery.
I've yet to work out the minor plot details which will cause Shawn to scoot off to Geneva, Naples, Paris and the rest, but I already have the blockkbuster climax (there's nothing like a blockbuster climax, is what I say) marked down for Central Park. This is because when the movie is made I will be employed as technical adviser and will get to go on location and I fancy a trip to New York. (What the hell - throw in a chapter or two where Shawn gets captured by the baddies and taken to Philadelphia, give me a chance to drop in on Ray.)
Anyway, it turns out that the whole thing is being orchestrated by a nest of nazis working out of Fallfada. (Which, for the non-eulchies in the audience, is just a spit away from Kiltiimagh.) I'm not sure if they're neoonazis or crypto-nazis, Mainly because I don't know what crypto means hsounds like the place Superman comes from. (Wait a minute crypto ... Krypton ... Superman Nietzche ... nazis. Here We have an allusion. Let's make it crypto-nazis, If you got allusions in it you get to call it Art, and that gives us a shot at a grant. It all adds up.)
To cut a long blockbuster short, the nazis plan to make a comeback by standing Adolf Hitler as a candidate for the leadership' of Fianna Fail. He will then become Taoiseach and deeclare war on Russia. Dublin will get zapped by an SS-20, prompting a shower of Cruise missiles to fall on
Vladivostok. After the resulting holoocaust the nazis will emerge from their bunkers in Fallfada to rule the world and chuckle a lot.
Already the plan has advanced to the stage where Adolf is holding down a seat as a Fianna Fail backbencher, (Pedantic readers may imagine that here they espy a flaw in the plot. Wouldn't a corpse be kind of obvious sitting amongst a crowd of backkbench TDs? Not necessarily, kiddies. Try it, you'll find that the one that moves and talks most is the corpse.)
I have one rivetting chapter in mind - where a rival group threatens the plan by standing Dessie O'Malley for leader. But the neo-eryptos actiivate their sleeper in the O'Malley camp - Prof. Martin O'Bormann, mad genius of economics - and he pulls a night of the long knives on the Malleyyites and leaves the way clear for Adolf's rise.
The cliff-hanging final chapter has Ray McSharry screaming down the phone lines on Charlie Haughey's beehalf at 4 am, "There's room for only 'one Fuehrer in this party!"
Meanwhile, Shawn is strolling around Central Park, checking on his Rolex that he has time for a bourbon in his favourite Carmine Street bar before cracking the case.
Mind you, I'm not tied to Rolex. My agent has been inviting bids from the other quality companies, Omega, Incabloc, Acutron and the like. I'm nothing if not flexible - if the price is right. When I'm not writting blockbusters I wear a shockproof Corso which my mother bought for my birthday after Garret FitzGerald sat on my old Pierpont and smashed it. But that's another story (and a better one) and it's time to get back to my block busting.
My publisher has already been on to the Baltimore Tribune and the Newwcastle Gaze tte to ask for a supply of quotes like, "Nailbiting tension" and "gripping ... real as tomorrow's headdlines," to slap on the back cover. The front cover of The Celtic Factor will have a dinky little design featuring a shamrock being strangled by a swasstika. Cute, huh?
Main problem is deciding what to wear for the Rolex advert. A casual check shirt, perhaps, open down to here. Get them to retouch the- photo, add a few hairs to my chest. Then there has to be a subtle hint of the eleements of mystery, danger and violence in my life. Casual, downbeat, underrplayed. Maybe a strip of Elastoplast a couple of inches down from my ellbow. When this kid busts a block it stays busted. •