Victor’s working life in journalism has been wide ranging. He began as a copy boy at the Express in 1945 moving to a reporter’s job at the weekly Streatham News (a London Weekly) in 1950 and then to the Daily Sketch in 1956; he was later night news editor of the Daily Sketch and (simultaneously)The People, Sunday newspaper. From 1960 to 1962 he was a foreign correspondent for the Express, reporting events in the Congo. He became night news editor from 1962-5 and worked in the paper’s New York Bureau from 1965-7. In 1967 Victor was appointed Express’ Show Business editor and finally moved to the Mail on Sunday in 1984. From 1968, Victor wrote under pen names for various magazines around the globe and also found time to publish three novels for Victor Gollancz, titled The Ghostmaker, Queens’ Ransom and Getting Away With It. Here he talks about his latest book, Life Sentence.
The signs of anguished yearning are all around us. The whole world wants to freeze-frame itself in youthful vigour and live forever.
The glossy magazines throb with unobtainable desires. Is it too much to ask? Try this cream, this unguent, this diet, this exercise, this therapy, this cast of mind.
My Daily Mail has a picture of Jane Fonda clawing back the years, replicating her sexy Barbarella pose of 44 years ago. Elsewhere, that WikiLeaks chap, Julian Assange, is quoted as saying, ‘Everyone would like to be a messiah figure without dying.’
Have you really thought this through, pal?
I sigh and head for Homys, the hairdresser’s on Notting Hill Gate, for a twelve-quid trim. In one chair is an actor, fortyish, his head wrapped in shiny foil like a Christmas tree. His mousy hair is being painted a dense black that swallows light.
Afterwards, he says, ‘Gotta stay young in this line of work.
On the way home I pass a shrine to the god Pilates. The door is open. I stop, open-mouthed. The place is filled with women who hereabouts are called Yummy Mummys. They are stretched, gasping and straining, on rack-like devices. The atmosphere is sacrificial and devotional. An instructress spots me gawping and slams the door in my face but not before I’ve had a glimpse of the hellish lengths to which people will go to fend off the Grim Reaper.
These snapshots of life today bring me to the essence of my fourth crime novel. Its title is Life Sentence (Pen Press) and focuses on a British journalist named John Wellington based in New York, as I once was, whose wife is beginning to overdose on beauty treatments and bad temper. When her beloved queries this lack of esprit on the home front, she drags him in front of a mirror and demands to know what he can see.
Of course, the big dope can see nothing unusual – until his magazine writer wife points out that she is ageing in the normal fashion while he has - apparently - stopped ageing at 38 without benefit of airbrushing.
She’s so upset she writes about it. Appalling decision.
When the world learns that hapless John Wellington appears to have something they all want, things turn very nasty indeed. There’s murder, kidnapping, rampant sex, governmental misdeeds, and religious frenzy. Oh, and The Beatles.
Did you think the poor sap could go unmolested while there was a chance that the whatever-it-was keeping him young could be bottled and sold across a counter.
So how did this bizarre scenario occur to me? I hear you ask.
The first sliver of curiosity about such a dilemma occurred in a bar in Central City in the Rockies of Colorado, an old gold mining town.
Me: ‘Whisky and splash of soda, please.’
Barkeep: ‘Uhuh. Let’s see your ID. You don’t look old enough to me.’
Me (taken aback): ‘But I’m 35 years old.’
Barkeep: ‘Yeah. Sure. I’d still like to see some ID.’
It is a fact that I was a fresh-faced fellow as compared with the leathery denizens of Central City. And men discussing WWII would sometimes say to me, ‘Of course, you’re too young to remember.’ Which was fine when I had my evil eye on young women present.
Ultimately, though, my perennial springtime was more embarrassment than comfort. I still shudder at an incident when my first wife took me to a cocktail party of her friends. A woman came over, champagne in hand, and said, ‘Oh, this must be your son.’
My poor wife. I felt sick on her behalf. She was actually just fifteen weeks my senior. So I’ve imbued John Wellington’s wife with something of her distress.
Time eventually got round to adjusting my face more appropriately to my age. My present wife says that if I buy a white skull cap and a white silk robe I could make a living as a Pope Benedict lookalike.
So bless you – go forth and buy Life Sentence. You’d love to know what eventually happened to John Wellington, wouldn’t you?
LIFE SENTENCE, published by Pen Press, November 2010
SUPPORT SHOTS & BUY IT HERE