A series of 13 dramatic monologues about life and death. Please listen, enjoy and spread the word!
A one day SCRIPT EDITING course that I’m running at the Indie Training Fund in London on April 27th (and June 22nd)
This week, a guest blog by writer DAVID ARMSTRONG. Prompted by the tribute podcasts, David has sent me a couple of pages he wrote about his own father in 1993. I thought this was a lovely piece of writing and very much worth sharing with you.
It also serves as an introduction to, in my opinion, one the best and certainly most under-rated crime novelists in the UK. David has written an outstanding series of crime novels which I spent many years, frustratingly and unsuccessfully, trying to persuade ITV to commission. Incidentally, he is also father of Jesse Armstrong, novelist and screenwriter (mainly in partnership with Sam Bain) who has written one of my favourite TV screenplays of recent years, ‘The Entire History Of You’ in Black Mirror, series 1. Talented family!
Here is a link to David’s Amazon author page –
Among his book highlights are SMALL VICES – for me, his best crime novel (although UNTIL DAWN TOMORROW is the first in the ‘Frank Kavanagh’ series). The personal / relationship side of the story has real complexity, humanity and humour, and the crime story is compelling. NIGHT’S BLACK AGENTS is a wonderful stand-alone period crime novel; and HOW NOT TO WRITE A NOVEL is a really insightful guide for writers in any genre (including screenwriters).
‘November 1993, Birmingham.
Dad tells me there was recently a fight at The Sons of Rest.
It sounds like a funeral parlour, but it’s actually a social club for men of retirement age. Dad spends a lot of his time up there. Mum reckons it’s ‘saved’ their marriage. I’m not sure how much there was to save.
They say the worst thing you can have is a happy childhood: you spend your adult life trying to recreate that happy time. My adult life has invariably felt better than my childhood.
Anyway, The Sons of Rest is a big wooden shed in the middle of Lightwoods Park, and it has a snooker table, and the guys make some tea there, and there’s a committee, to see how things should be conducted. In a way, it’s like real life and a bit like the rest of the world, except I don’t think they talk much about Third World debt relief.
I suppose they talk about why the fuck everything’s down the tubes these days, just the same as everyone else does.
Dad’s on the committee. He’s a big man, and in spite of all the little very complex bets he always places, and buying the Sun every day, he exudes a certain gravitas.
When he was twenty-five, he came to work in Birmingham and lodged at my mum’s mum’s house. Maybe they had a relationship beyond paying-guest and landlady’s daughter? In any event, in 1940, right in the middle of the Second World War, they got married.
Mum looks pretty in her gingham dress, perched on a boulder by Dad’s side one Sunday up on the Malvern Hills. Dad has a kindly face, big trousers and lovely hair, and maybe they had some happiness in one another’s arms that day. I’d like to think so.
But in my childhood, it seemed that they were arguing all the time. And if they weren’t arguing with one another, they often argued with the people next door. We children were given to understand that our immediate neighbours, the Freemans, were strange, difficult people, but I always suspected they were very ordinary people and it was us who were odd, because there were either tense atmospheres in our house and unpleasant rows, or loads of kids playing in the garden and going on expeditions to the river Severn at Bewdley, or the Lickey Hills or Red House park. There weren’t many quiet, in-between times, which is what the Freemans seemed to have the whole time.
Anyway, nowadays, Dad spends a lot of time up at The Sons of Rest, except when he’s in the bookies or in the greenhouse that Mum had made for him for his seventieth birthday.
According to Mum, one day Dad said that he wanted to grow some vegetables, (I just don’t hear him saying this, somehow,) so Mum ‘gave’ him a little bit of the garden which she tends to think of as her own. It’s a bit at the end, up against the neighbour’s hedge. It’s very much in the shade, and there’s an apple sapling there, but it’s better than nothing, and Mum says, ‘It’s a start.’
I’m not so sure about this, ‘It’s a start,’ theory. I reckon that at the start you probably need all the help you can get, so you should be given some fine tilth and plenty of light, not some dank spot at the far end of the garden under the hedge where the snails lurk and all.
Anyway, Dad has this place about five-feet by eight, and he put a few beans in, and a few potatoes and some radish and a little row of peas. The few plants that germinated in the sunless chill were pretty spindly as they struggled up for the light.
And the peas that the slugs didn’t eat were more like pips than peas, really; the potatoes were small and had wireworm, so they were inedible.
Anyway, as a birthday gift and to give him the encouragement that he clearly needed in his late-blossoming horticultural career, Mum had one of the several men she knows who do jobs for her, make Dad a greenhouse. Then he could be at the Sons of Rest or the bookies or in his greenhouse near the bottom of the garden.
Dad is six-foot-two and a half. When we were kids, he was the only person in Great Barr who had a twenty-eight-inch wheel on his bike. He’d never learned to drive, but he knew that, compared with folk in the south, Birmingham drivers were slow-witted and would never survive driving in London.
So, we didn’t have a Ford Consul or a snazzy Vauxhall Cresta, but Dad did have a 28 inch Raleigh cycle, of which we could be – sort of – proud.
There was only his small patch of earth to put the greenhouse on and, Dad being tall, Mum decreed that the greenhouse be made high and narrow instead of the more conventional longitudinal shape.
The only problem Dad has with this vertical greenhouse is that, since the outhouse has been given over to the children’s tractors and trikes (used by the kids whom Mum, in her mid-Seventies, still child-minds,) Dad has to park his current bike (no longer a 28” wheel model) in the greenhouse along with his tomato plants and seed trays.
The cycle has its rear wheel on the ground, while the handlebars and front wheel are up in the air. It looks as if it’s peering out, waiting for Dad to come down and do some potting.
So, these guys had a fight. Dad’s told me about the one man before. His name’s Eric, and he’s always putting Dad off his snooker shot, just as he’s going to take it, by telling him what an easy shot it is.
One day, Eric said something equally irritating to another bloke, and this bloke clocked him one.
The guy who hit Eric was only little, but he gave a good account of himself according to Dad, ‘especially as he’s only got one leg’. (I hadn’t time to enquire how anyone can play snooker with only one leg,) before Dad added, ‘He’d have been alright if it hadn’t been for his heart.’
‘His heart?’ I ask.
‘He’d had a triple-by-pass,’ says Dad.
Eric was banned for a year (which, at that sort of age amounts to a lifetime ban, I imagine). And it transpired that he’d already been banned from a club in the next parish. The man’s a seventy-eight-year-old tearaway who’s picking fights with triple-by-pass amputees.’
A huge thank you to David Armstrong – and I hope this will make you want to check out his excellent novels.
The next newsletter will be on Friday April 21st.
All the best
April 7th 2017