This is about a small town debt collector who becomes indispensable when his community is threatened by a ruthless developer. Taffin himself – a looming, expressionless, monosyllabic character – is a mixture of two people I know, or have known, in real life; I don’t believe anyone invents a character from nothing. Taffin is the product of some personal experience of mine. When I write for him, I know what I’m talking about.He is not the average thug. Despite an intimidating demeanour, he prefers mind-games to physical violence when it comes to applying pressure. The story suggests that when the law is powerless, the public will can sometimes prevail. So far, so optimistic; but there is a darker subtext: be careful what you wish for – it may come at a price you’re not willing to pay. Taffin understands this, knowing that if he does what everyone wants, they will eventually reject him for it. ‘If I took this job,’ he tells the villagers, ‘you’d be begging me to stop within a week.’
The sequel to Taffin was commissioned and written within four months of the first book appearing. Carola Edmonds, my Editor at New English Library, felt we should address some questions left unanswered in the first Taffin story as fast as possible – and anyway, I was on a roll. The idea of a wealthy American trying to buy a deconsecrated English village church had a certain appeal. There is plenty of precedent – London Bridge was sold and reassembled at Lake Havasu City, Arizona. And it seemed to me that if a clandestine syndicate tried to sell the church in Taffin’s home village, the locals would have something to say about it. But before they could turn to Taffin I would have to bring him back from exile, and there’s no better template for that than ‘The Return of Sherlock Holmes’. Taffin – the dead man – makes his reappearance sitting in the pub… and they’ve all come to look…
Time has passed and Taffin has grown up. If he ever thought of himself as a hero, he doesn’t now. But the locals still find in his enigmatic nature something they need when they suspect their village is harbouring a child murderer. For the first time we see Taffin working in parallel – but not in harmony – with the police. There is a prime suspect but Taffin has his doubts. Not content to go along with the popular view he applies his mind to an alternative theory. What he finds nearly costs him his life.
London club owner Marcus Potterton has died, leaving his longtime girlfriend Rose (50 years his junior) in charge of his prime nightspot Pussywillow – a job that includes fending off a hostile takeover by gang boss Victor Dale. Unknown to Rose, Potterton bequeathed the club and the building to his nephew Leonard – who was a prim six-year-old on the only occasion Potterton ever saw him, many years ago. The bequest was not made in a spirit of generosity but as Potterton’s expression of contempt for the rest of his family. Leonard is now Headmaster of Cowleys, a once proud boarding school that his naïve management skills have brought to the brink of bankruptcy. A dedicated teacher, Leonard knows nothing of life beyond the school’s ivy-clad walls. He never wanted to be Headmaster; the job was thrust upon him by malicious fate. Aware of his own failings, he sees his windfall as salvation for Cowleys. To Leonard, Pussywillow is an asset that must be sold ‘for the good of the school’. To Rose, Leonard is just another ruthless landlord ready to sell out. Coming from different worlds, with only conflicting interests in common, Rose and the Headmaster face the underworld as an uneasy duo, as the pursuit of their separate ambitions leads them into territory neither of them knows how to cope with.
1960. A leap year in every sense – the dawn of an era that will rock tradition at its roots. In January, John Fitzgerald Kennedy announces his candidacy for President of the United States. In February, Harold McMillan makes his ‘Winds of Change’ speech. In August the Beatles play at the Indra Club in Hamburg. And in September 13-year-old Matthew Goodie begins his first term at boarding school, where tradition and ritual eclipse everything that goes on outside its walls. Here he will learn that in this enclosed world there is only one power that counts, and it has a name: BIG CHEESE.
Still reeling from a traumatic divorce, Rex Penfold moves into a rented room at Hare Lane bringing nothing from his marriage but a bird cage and confused memories. His new landlady is Jessica Haines, thirty-something and recently widowed. She has no experience of lodgers but tacitly assumed they’d keep to themselves. In this respect Rex is a disappointment. His relentless efforts to please make her want to hit him with a frying pan. Equally trying is her other lodger, Charles, who suffers no one gladly and regards paying rent as vulgar. Jessica thought he was a poet when they first met. He is in fact a charlatan with a superior manner. There is something vaguely Pre-Raphaelite about him, which prompts Rex to refer to him as ‘Byron’ in his diary entries. From an uneasy start the living arrangements slip downhill as Rex and Jessica live parallel lives in mutual ignorance of the one thing they have in common – the diary habit. Their daily commentaries show drastically different views of life. Where one is naïve, the other is knowing; where one sees hope, the other sees disaster. Living at close quarters, a kind of intimacy is forced on them. When Jessica accidentally discovers her late husband was a transvestite, Rex is there. When Rex loses his job, he has no choice but to turn to Jessica, who also has to fend off his unpredictable ex-wife. During an election, Rex accidentally changes his politics rather than let Jessica down. They are united in separate feuds with the neighbours. Jessica and Rex share each other’s lives by force of circumstance rather than choice. The Hare Lane Diaries is nonetheless a kind of love story, as knocks from the outside world inevitably drive them together.The Hare Lane Diaries has been adapted for radio and broadcast in 6 episodes on BBC Radio 4.
You don’t mess with MOONGAYTE residents. Theirs is a peaceful town and they would prefer it to stay that way. This is a place where the air smells fresh, rain or shine; where interesting clouds scud over wild greenery and the loudest unnatural sounds might be the scream of a buzz-saw or the drone of a distant tractor.If you come to Moongayte you’ll wonder why anyone would want to disturb it. A small voice might tell you, ‘I could be peaceful in a place like this.’ And so you could, so long as you learnt what not to know and when to look the other way. As the residents say, you either belong in Moongayte or you’ll never understand it.Moongayte is a fast moving story about what happens when corporate power and national government lock horns with the people who call this town home.
Ov Zvardo presents himself at Heathrow passport control. He carries no passport, no papers, no ID of any kind, and speaks a language no one understands. There is no record of him on any in-coming flight. His manner is helpful and engaging but he has no means of accounting for himself so his arrival remains unexplained. The most gifted linguistic minds are baffled. But the key questions have to be answered: who is he? Where’s he from? What’s he talking about? What’s his story? Lucy Lovegrove, a linguist from the Home Office, is charged with solving the conundrum. But Ov Zvardo’s story proves to be a lot more complex than anyone imagines.
THE ROAD TO AVERSAC is rougher and rockier than anyone thinks. When Jessica decides to leave England and relocate to France, her lodger, Rex, goes along to help her settle in. Their uneasy relationship, which began in ‘The Hare Lane diaries’, continues as they adapt to the French way of life in Aversac, a town where the shadow of the fountain is the fastest moving thing in sight. But Aversac is not as sleepy as it looks. The Mayor is determined to twin his town with a comparable one in England. He will not rest until his ambition is fulfilled and when the Twinning project starts, Rex and Jessica are drawn into a maelstrom of local politics for which nothing has prepared them. Note: Town Twinning – French, Jumelage – a strange habit that starts when a town feels lonely and wants to make contact with the outside world. At such times a small group of locals appoints itself to look for a similar community in some other country – ideally one that offers holiday potential. Invariably the group will thrust some poor sap to the fore, blame him or her when it all goes pear-shaped and take the credit in the unlikely event of anything being achieved.