Authors: Carl Neville
Tags: #Resolution Way
To Betty, for reading to me.
In memory of Brian, who made me read to him.
Alex Hargreaves first heard the name Vernon Crane at a party held out at a warehouse conversion in Hackney Wick with the twinned themes, 60s/90s and 80s/00s. The flier, which he kept hold of, was a Mobius strip with the dates written on it in a continuous red and blue band, the backdrop black and speckled with stars.
The event was the launch party for a series of books under the limited edition Spirals imprint which, rather than simply analysing a given epoch or movement, claimed to trace and tease out the “echoes, misreadings, gaps and sutures” between an original scene and its later reiterations as Retro. It was the first time Alex had made it out of the house for a few months, Seasonal Affective Disorder having laid him low during the winter. Now, with the coming of spring he felt his energy returning. He was intrigued by the project and wanted anyway to support Roz in his latest undertaking.
The next morning, up early and feeling lucid despite his hangover, rooting through his jacket for his phone, he found the flier and saw that he had scribbled the name
on the back. His first impulse was to send out a tweet asking for information, but instead he Googled the name, found several sites connected to a children’s author who had died a century ago, then, eventually, a page on
set up twelve months before, with the title
Dedicated to the Works of Vernon Crane
He clicked through the different tabs, sounds/images/text/web/social, finding that no content had been uploaded yet, then clicked on the
link. There was an email address. He sent a message to
My name is Alex Hargreaves. I’m a London based novelist and writer who recently published his first book
A friend mentioned that I should check out Vernon Crane’s work. I wonder if you could tell me where I might be able to get more info as I noticed you had set up a
site for him.
The rest of the weekend passed pleasantly enough. In the evening they went out for Korean food with Dominic and Jaqui, on the Sunday to his parents’ place for lunch. They mentioned again that they had read the reviews of
and felt they’d largely been positive. His father said for the thousandth time that if he had listened to the critics when his first play came out he would have given up there and then.
Karen went to bed early. Alex was restless and sat down to watch a film but found it hard to concentrate. Twenty minutes into
The God of Pomegranates
he decided to check his emails. There was a message from Paula Adonor.
RE: Vernon Crane.
Thanks for getting in touch. I keep meaning to upload stuff to that site, but the pressure of time has made it impossible, so far at least. Who mentioned Vernon to you? It’s funny, the idea that he might be getting known after all this time, but he was brilliant and so sweet and troubled and it’s just such a tragedy that he’s not around anymore. I’m London-based too so if you want a coffee and a chat, I’m sure we can arrange something.
He had work to get through that he’d been putting off, deadlines for book, film and music reviews, opinion and comment pieces looming, not to mention the long article he needed to finish on the enduring influence of Paul Henry Garig. He’d been neglecting all his online and social media commitments of late, maintaining an intermittent presence on Facebook and Twitter and virtually disappearing from Qwote and
. He knew he really ought to be focusing on the next novel too, coming up with ideas, sketching things out, getting started, researching, thinking about something light, lithe, streamlined, keeping his mind on what his agent had told him just before Christmas as they discussed his surprisingly poor sales. People will not read a long book anymore. This is not the 19th or even the 20th century; avoid subplots, the superfluous, redundancy. Compendiousness is out, think hyper-compression, accelerated pace, think film rights, think dramatic conclusions. Think Thriller!
What about the latest Diana Hustrev? Alex had asked. That did well.
A prestige buy. It sold a lot of hardbacks, a lot of paperbacks, but e-books? Middling. People bought it to leave lying conspicuously around. No one
it. It’s not a
. Life’s too
. Think Alan McFarlaine’s
series. High concept. Detectives. The multiple worlds hypothesis.
He should have been focusing on all that, but there were several things in the e-mail that intrigued him, and his instincts told him that there was a scoop here, of a sort, a story.
Thanks for getting in touch. To be honest at this point I know absolutely nothing about Vernon or his work, just that a friend recommended I check him out. Any chance of filling in the rather large blanks for me? (In fact all I have at the moment are blanks!)
The email he got back sketched out as much as Paula Adonor knew of Crane’s life. He had been born in the north-west of England in 1970, had attended Manchester University for a year before dropping out, was heavily involved in writing and music-making through the late Eighties and on through the Nineties up to his disappearance and probable suicide in 1996. He published a series of short stories and essays in various fanzines and underground magazines. He also wrote and produced a large number of electronic-based pieces of music, much of it put out on ultra-obscure labels or distributed privately on cassettes among friends.
Alex sent back a message asking if Paula had any work of Crane’s, and a node request for
, which it turned out she wasn’t signed up to. Work, however, she had: all the things she had saved to
, but would have to dig out. There was a box somewhere he had given her, old ideas-books of his, tapes filled with music.
He Googled her name, surprised he hadn’t thought of doing so earlier. There were lots of hits, several denunciatory articles from tabloid websites, sympathetic interviews and columns from the broadsheets, video clips of her speaking outside court and at meetings. How had he missed this? Perhaps among the welter of disturbances, complaints, trials and sentences, this had passed him by. He clicked on
and scrolled rapidly down the page but all the photos were recent, and there were a small number even of these.
Her son had been injured by a Met officer in the riots almost three years ago now. The trial had resulted in acquittal, and was now heading for appeal. Perhaps his period of withdrawal during the winter months, between
coming out and the emergence of Vernon Crane, had left him lagging behind current events. Paula Adonor was apparently a noted campaigner and a leading light in
, along with other groups fighting the Government’s Market Britain agenda.
He decided it might be good if they met up. Even if this current lead turned out to be nothing, it would still be good research if he wanted to write something zeitgeisty, dark, urban. And if he did want to see Crane’s work, it was important that he won her trust. He smiled to himself. Time to turn on the famous Hargreaves charm.
When Paula Adonor arrived at the pub on Deptford High Street he was sipping a surprisingly decent Double IPA from a co-operative microbrewery up in Woolwich called Hard Left. He glanced towards the door as it opened, a shaft of sunlight momentarily obliterating the phone display. A few seconds later she was extending her hand and smiling warmly.
You must be Alex.
Paula, nice to meet you. Yes, yes, I’m Alex. Can I get you a drink?
She asked for a sparkling water and sipped it, sitting straight-backed, legs crossed opposite him, healthy and athletic-looking in a grey-green suit, her long, plaited hair held back off her face by a black headscarf. They made small talk. He said he lived in Clapham. She said it was a lovely part of town, that she had lived there for a while in the mid-Nineties and that she was from Wimbledon originally. He mentioned that he couldn’t imagine living anywhere other than London. She said the way things were going, soon she wouldn’t have any choice in the matter.
There was a slightly awkward pause. He fiddled with his phone, gestured to the DictaFone app.
Do you mind if I record this?
Paula shook her head.
Later, he stretched out on the sofa searching through forums and blogs, posts, tweets and Qwips to see if anyone was discussing or had reviewed
since he last checked a few hours before, listening back to the interview through his turn-table speakers.
As he had talked to Paula Adonor, phone recording, he had paid almost no attention to what she said, taking the opportunity to gently scrutinise her, note tics and gestures, the tautness of her skin over her cheekbones, the signs of age, only really visible on her throat and the back of her hands, the elaborate interplay of her voice and face under pressure from memory as she reminisced. She was, he could tell, naturally talkative, and kept biting off her words, slowly closing her eyes, reining herself in when she felt she was about to reveal too much. Alex Hargreaves was, after all, a writer, an occasional columnist. Not entirely to be trusted.
So what was your relation to Vernon Crane?
Well, we had a relationship. Actually, we were a couple for a few years. We met at University. We had a mutual friend. Vernon was doing literature and history I think, in his first year, before he dropped out
And this was in Manchester right?
Alex went to get a beer out of the fridge, stood in the kitchen picking the label off the back of a bottle of Nut Brown Ale, listening to the voices in the other room. Should he be drinking on top of the Deveretol? Probably be alright.
He lived in the Crescent for a few years, Hulme Crescent. I had moved back up to London by the time they got kicked out of there and he went travelling, drifted around and then just disappeared
The beer was cold and rich. Karen was moving about upstairs, footsteps on the landing, the toilet flushing.
So this was around the same time as the whole rave scene?
Oh yeah. Yes. (Laughs). There were a lot of parties, a lot of events, a very optimistic time. We thought it was the start of something but really it was more like the end in a way (pause) and I guess it was hard for some people to accept that, to move on to other things
He should get her to send any photos she had, it would be interesting to see what the early Nineties looked like, the clothes, the hair, authentically, up close, find out what she looked like, back in the day.
He had a sudden strong sensation that he was being looked at, watched somehow, and came cautiously out of the kitchen into the living room and pulled back the curtains. A police drone went over the house, a routine patrol but unusually low, perhaps tracking someone, a stolen car. The skies over South East London were thick with them these days. Just that morning he had read that
had finally admitted that the drones they claimed had been shot down over Lewisham had in fact collided, that the photos in the tabloids, of youths with caps and covered faces holding one and throwing gang signs, was just a bunch of kids who had found it spitting sparks and smouldering in the local park. The BBC News website carried a short video clip of an angry mother saying that instead of USG locking up kids for their own mistakes they should be apologising to the community for putting lives in danger.
Interesting, the drone going over, the sense of some other presence, an eye, a recording instrument, focused on him. Perhaps he was starting to develop a sixth sense. Perhaps it was the Deveretol, the wonder-drug, the panacea. Wild claims were made for it online. Alicia Stones had written a novel about it a year or so ago, before it became available in the UK, a riff on and re-tread of
with the clunky title,