Sunday, March 8, 2009

Nightingale - the rewrite

It’s been a busy week and I seem to have spent most of my time at the laptop! I’ve pretty much finished the rewrite of Nightingale. It’s gone up from 85,000 words to 101,000 so I’ve increased it by almost twenty per cent. I think it’s much darker now, with more menace. Here’s one of the extra chapters that I wrote:

Nightingale parked his MGB in the street in front of his uncle’s house, a neat three-bedroom semi-detached in Ealing. He climbed out and lit a cigarette. His aunt and uncle were both ex-smokers, had been for twenty years, and refused to allow anyone else to light up anywhere near them. Uncle Tommy’s blue Renault Megane was parked in the driveway. Nightingale locked his MGB and walked slowly down the path to the front door, knowing that he would have to extinguish the cigarette before ringing the doorbell. The garden was well-tended, with two large rhododendron bushes on either side of a neatly-mown lawn, and there was a small water feature with a twee stone wishing well and a bearded gnome holding a fishing rod. The gnome had been there for as long as Nightingale could remember and as a child he’d always been a little scared of it, half convinced that it was moving whenever he took his eyes off it. Nightingale flicked ash at the gnome. ‘How are they biting?’ he asked. The gnome stared fixedly ahead at the hook on the end of its line. ‘Maybe you should try somewhere else.’ He tossed the remains of his cigarette into a flowerbed, then went up to the front door and reached out to press the doorbell. He heard a rustling noise behind him and his heart raced as his childhood fears flooded back and he turned around half expecting to see the gnome coming up behind him, but it was only Walter, his aunt’s black and white cat. The cat brushed itself against the back of Nightingale’s legs and meowed. Nightingale lent down and rubbed it behind its ears. ‘Long time no see, Walter,’ he said. The cat arched its back and purred loudly.

Nightingale straightened up and rang the doorbell. He heard a chime inside the house. Walter continued to purr and run himself against Nightingale’s legs. ‘What’s wrong, Walter, you starved of affection?’ asked Nightingale. After thirty seconds he rang the bell again but no one came to answer the door. ‘Where are they, Walter?’ said Nightingale. ‘Are they in the back garden, is that it?’

Nightingale walked around the side of the house and opened a wooden gate that led to the rear of the house. That was where Uncle Tommy had his vegetable patch and where he grew his prize-winning roses. As Nightingale closed the door behind him, he noticed a red smudge on his hand. He held the hand up to his face, frowning. It looked like blood. There was no cut, just a smear of red. He checked both hands, and then the latch on the gate, but there was only the one smudge.
He walked down the path to the garden. ‘Uncle Tommy?’ he called. ‘Are you out here?’

There was no answer. He knocked on the kitchen door. ‘Aunty Linda, it’s me, Jack!’

Walter meowed and looked up at Nightingale. Nightingale knelt down and stroked the back of the cat’s neck. ‘What’s going on Walter?’ he said. There was a glistening red smudge on the cat’s nose. A sudden panic gripped Nightingale and his heart began to race. He looked across at the kitchen door. Set into the bottom was a cat flap which Walter used to get in and out of the house. There were red smudges on the bottom the flap.

Nightingale stood up and banged on the kitchen door . ‘Aunty Linda! Uncle Tommy! Are you in there?’ He pressed his ear to the wooden door but heard nothing. He hit the door again with the flat of his hand.

He moved over to the kitchen window and stood on tiptoe as he peered through. Beyond the sink he could see a bare leg, a shattered plate and a pool of blood. Nightingale banged on the window. ‘Aunty Linda! Aunty Linda!’

He looked around, wondering what he should do. He saw his uncle’s shed and he ran to it, throwing open the door and grabbing a spade. He dashed back to the house and used the spade to smash the window and knock the glass out of the frame, then he climbed inside. His aunt was on the kitchen floor, her head smashed open, brains and blood congealing on the tile-patterned lino. Her mouth was wide open and her eyes stared glassily up at the ceiling. Nightingale knew immediately that there was no point in checking for signs of life.

He walked carefully around the pool of blood. There was no sign of a murder weapon and the back door had been locked which meant that the attacker had either left by the front door or was still in the house. There was a knife block by the fridge and Nightingale pulled out a large wood-handled carving knife.

‘Uncle Tommy, are you in the house?’ he shouted.

He went through to the sitting room. There was an unopened copy of the News Of The World on the coffee table, and an untouched cup of tea. Nightingale went over to the table and touched the cup. It was cold and there was a thick scum on the surface of the tea.

He moved slowly back into the hallway, listening intently. He started up the stairs, taking them one at time, craning to look up at the landing above. Halfway up the stairs was an axe, the blade covered in blood. Nightingale didn’t touch it but stepped carefully over it. As he reached the top of the stairs he heard a soft creaking sound and he froze, the knife out in front of him. He took another step. There was something moving on the landing. Something just out of sight. He crept up, his mouth bone dry, his heart pounding. He stopped again when he heard another gentle creak and then he saw something move. It was a foot. A naked foot, suspended in the air.

Nightingale took another step and saw two feet, and then pyjama bottoms and then as he reached the top of the stairs he saw his uncle, hanging from the trapdoor that led to the attic. There was a rope around his neck and from the unnatural angle of the head it was obvious that the neck had snapped. Nightingale realised that Uncle Tommy must have sat in the trapdoor and dropped. He was naked from the waist up and there were flecks of blood across his chest. There were no wounds on him so the blood could only have been his wife’s. He must have battered his wife to death in the kitchen and then come upstairs and killed himself.

The rope creaked as the body moved slightly. He was dead but the fluids within the body were shifting as the organs settled. The pyjama bottoms were wet around the groin and there was a pool of urine on the floor. Nightingale took out his mobile phone and dialled 999. As he waited for the operator to answer, he turned around. The bathroom door was wide open and through the doorway Nightingale saw the mirror above the sink. Scrawled across it in bloody capital letters were seven words. YOU ARE GOING TO HELL, JACK NIGHTINGALE.

I arranged another 3000 copy print run of Private Dancer last week which takes the book up to 32,000 copies in print, which is really good for a self-published book which is sold almost exclusively in Thailand.

Some time ago I helped Warren Olson write his autobiography – Confessions Of A Bangkok Private Eye. It turned out to be one of my favourite books, and it’s selling quite well. Warren has now written a sequel, without my help, and it’s another good read. You can find out more at

Like Confessions, it has been published by Phil Tatham at Monsoon Books in Singapore. I think they’ve done a great job with the cover, too. It’s very atmospheric! Unlike Confessions Of A Bangkok private Eye, where we roped in my pal Andy Yates and two bargirls for the cover photograph, this time the craggily-handsome Warren has decided to use his own picture. Don’t let that put you off, it’s still a good read! Phil also published Private Dancer in Singapore, and if you buy your copy through Amazon then the chances are that it’ll be a Monsoon copy!


Anonymous said...

Hi Stephen
Loved Solitary Man and Bombmaker (always love a happy ending) will start on Tango One tonight!

Stephen Leather said...

Cheers, EShan! See you in May.