When I was 10 years old I acquired an ancient Barlock office typewriter and started tapping out stories. I was quite sure I was going to be a writer. I searched for a hero, and for a name; for the euphony of a name. I was very keen on a series of adventure books by Reginald Maddock concerning the activities of one Robert Delight Corrigan. The Corrigan canon was substantial – over a dozen books – I guess now out of print. They are no longer on the shelves of public libraries and, strange thing, you can’t even find them beside Biggles and Jennings in the second-hand book shops. Maybe they are so politically incorrect that there only remains, for the aficionado, a Corrigan black market.
Corrigan was a very big man – the biggest man in Malaya. He was the son of a rubber planter, and heir to a big and prosperous business, but he spent his time going round the country curtailing the activities of various gangsters and master criminals. This all took place during the “emergency” and I am sure the first time I encountered the word “terrorist” it was in a Corrigan book. Yet there was no sense that the sun was about to set on empire, that the people might have to pack up and go home. Corrigan was a very confident man. He had a pal named Peter Bradley, aka Shrimp. Shrimp was a scrum half and Corrigan a wing three-quarter. Life in the jungle was a game of rugger. You played a clever but clean game, got into a few scrapes, and trounced the oppo.
Why couldn’t I invent a Corrigan? I kept searching for my Corrigan character. Mulligan, Flanagan, Borodin, Spilikan, Hooligan…
Then, simultaneous with adolescence, I hit writer’s block. I became confused and directionless. I would wind a sheet of A4 into the Barlock and stare at it for an hour and then abandon it with the sheet still blank.
I counselled myself. “You have nothing to say because you have no experience. You have not lived. You have not loved. You are ignorant, you have no skills. You are untravelled. Your own life is like a blank sheet of paper. So put the Barlock away for a time and go and live.”
Wise council. I took up, with varying degrees of facility or ineptitude, running, music, flying, and medicine. I accrued the experience I had craved as a child.
There is a problem with all this, which every writer manqué (oh yes I am not alone; we are a broad church) will recognise. We engage with every walk of life, and we commit to none. We can be interested, we can be enthusiastic; we can’t be obsessed, we cannot devote ourselves. We are bespoken. We are reserved for letters, even if the Muse has deserted us. We are like a rejected lover, unrequited, cuckolded, and unable quite to let go. We may simulate another passion, we may even succeed in the world. Yet at heart we know we are fake.
So from time to time I get out the ancient office Barlock, and wrestle the best of three falls with words. I return to the search for le mot that is juste, much as Monsieur Manette, Lucie’s father in A Tale of Two Cities, returns to his cobbler’s last. My tome, Click, Double-Click, comes out on August 1st. Even if it were a one off, and I relapsed into silence, I could say, “Je ne suis pas manqué, je suis perdu.” I would regard that as a promotion. (Why do I keep lapsing into French this morning? I sound like Samuel Pepys. “Lord’s Day. Met Mistress X… did quoi que je voudrais…“)
I’ve started the sequel. The name’s Uiop. Qwerty Uiop. This is a life sentence. Without parole.