Frank Westworth: A Last Act of Charity

Written by Frank Westworth

FROM FACT TO FICTION

 

With the launch of the explicit and idiosyncratic crime-thriller, A Last Act of Charity, editor and technical writer Frank Westworth makes the change from writing fact to fiction. Not, it transpires, that there’s a vast amount of difference between the two in his world…

 

 

‘The naked, hairless woman stared hard at the broken, bloodied man, wondering whether he was alive, conscious, and if so what he made of the sight he saw. He blinked again, just the right eye, and from that eye there rolled a tear. Just one.’

 

 

When a scribbler who’s been scribbling for decades in what is humorously known as the ‘non-fiction’ world decides to write fiction instead, what happens? I’ll tell you what happens; suddenly that scribbler is unable to avoid the sad recognition that a scary proportion of his ‘non-fiction’ is in fact entirely fiction. And that proportion steadily increases.

 

It surely is a good idea for a wannabee fictional author (take that as you will) to try out their creative scribbly skills on a real, live, genuine audience. And of course a successful magazine journalist already has a real, live genuine audience, an audience he knows are prepared to hand over their heard-earned in exchange for his jottings. Because they do that. They do that every month, often more than once, and the scribbler knows this because his scribbly outpourings support his jolly lifestyle, buy him mainly black motorcycles, mainly red guitars and ensure that a profoundly black cat need not catch mice to survive. So, reasons journalist, how will the audience react to great attempts at added creativity in the technical magazines they pay to read?

 

Which produces an opportunity to try out some enjoyably bonkers writing. Any magazine scribbler reading this should try it at once – if they’re not doing it already under the table, as it were.

 

The first opportunity to flail the creative approach at a mundane topic arrived while gazing limply at the wordy-gurdy screen and pondering how to write an event report. An event report, in case you’re in delightful ignorance of such things, is exactly what it sounds like. One thousand or whatever words reporting on an event. Such is the  challenge of a non-fiction author’s world. So, instead of the expected routine, the reader received an almost entirely genuine series of conversations between an increasingly bizarre set of characters – and it should come as no surprise when I reveal that many of the characters who attend events featuring rows and rows and rows of old motorcycles on display are themselves pretty unusual.

 

The story went down a storm, as they say.

 

So there was a lesson. It’s not necessary to invent strange and unusual characters to populate a fictional world; the real world is full of them. The trick lies in recognising that strangeness, focusing on it and stripping away all the tedious nonsense like where they live, what they do when they’re not being insane, where they shop, which socks they wear and the colour of their furniture. So why do so many fictional authors describe the mundanities of their characters’ lives? I have no idea. I stop reading them as soon as they do. I want authors to provide entertainment which is better than watching reality TV. That’s what I want to write, too.

 

So the hypothetical successful magazine journalist under discussion (you get no prizes for spotting who I’m talking about here) starts to write a story. He tries very hard to write a novel. His magazine features are already infamous among their readership for being quirky, odd, personal, provocative and even eccentric. So why are the first 10,000, 20,000 words of fiction, where eccentricity and oddness are the purpose rather than simply a sideshow; why are they so dull? Because it’s easy to generate a snappy thousand words about a tiny subject in which your scribbler is already a noted expert; it is entirely not easy to tell lies in print. You know this already because you were here before me, I bet.

 

The answer is simple. Stop telling lies and tell the truth instead. Tell the truth – in a sense at least – and tell anyone interested that it’s all fiction. Instead of telling lies and pretending it to be truth, stand on your head and do the opposite. That was a blinding moment…

 

…actually, it wasn’t. It was a gloriously silly moment. I looked at several of the people I know and others I knew before in different contexts and times of life, and stripped bits of them away from the whole, mingled those strips together with strips ripped from other acquaintances and constructed characters who are at the same time wholly real and wholly fictitious. Then brought them together to see how they get on. And then put them in surreal situations, like a murder, where they might be a participant in some way. How would these composite but almost real characters react? Would they whip out their iPhones and take pics of the body for Facebook, to be shared alongside pleasing images of their cats? Or would they become fascinated by the coagulative qualities of blood on cheap carpets?

 

And then quite suddenly RealLife demands that this plainly fictitious scribbler returns to writing about old men and their obsessions with worn out and scabrous motorcycles. One of them approaches me as I stare in bewilderment at his immaculate 1962 Triumph Bonneville.

 

‘You look miles away,’ says he.

 

‘I was just wondering whether you’re a crazed axe murderer,’ I wilt, endearingly. He laughs anyway.

 

‘No. Detective Chief Inspector. Before I retired…’

 

‘Many murders?’ Before I could stop it, out it slipped. His eyes half-closed and he stared, scratching gently at his T-shirt, rumpling its ‘If Moses Rides A Triumph, God Rides A Harley’ message.

 

‘Not today,’ he smiled. ‘But there’s still time.’

 

------

 

A LAST ACT OF CHARITY by Frank Westworth is published by Book Guild in September 2014.

 

JJ Stoner once killed people: for the military, as a mercenary, for a living. Highly-trained, finely-honed and used hard, Stoner now seeks not to kill as he investigates underworld activities for the intelligence agencies, an entirely deniable operative in sleazy situations. Less the blunt instrument, more the swift stiletto...

A series of brutal, blood-soaked murders look to be right up Stoner’s street. When the investigation spirals in queasy circles, JJ seeks release in blues music and weird sex with treacherous women. An old army comrade, equally lethal, steps out of the shadows. Is he friend or foe? And who are the seductive killing sisters?

 

Find out in A LAST ACT OF CHARITY • ISBN 978-1-909984-42-4 www.murdermayhemandmore.net

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Frank Westorth



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