Here’s a sample of the first chapter of my first novel.
I started writing it in October 1998. I finished it on All Fools’ Day 2003. I was 21 when I began, 26 when the first draft was completed. Needless to say, I failed to snag that big publishing deal. However, I remember the morning I started writing it, before embarking on an early shift. I rattled these words out on my brand new, ruinously expensive Time computer while I waited for a taxi to arrive.
This is the big league, I thought. I’m in the game now.
The book is set in 1999, and follows the thoughts and experiences of a cultured, but ugly club doorman. We come to realise that he is a serial killer, with a very nasty performance art project under way.
I thought I was examining the decadent youth culture of the time, its bones picked clean by unscrupulous predators. In truth, the late 90s were a comparatively benign period. It’s not on par with the more interesting modern times; the Britpop explosion had tapered off into a thin fart, and reality TV was just about to creep into our lives. The music, fashions and preoccupations of 1999 in particular already seem naff.
I chose some big game to start off with. I should have targeted a squirrel or two first, instead of trying to bag an elephant. The novel is massive, mind-bogglingly big compared to what I’m trying to write these days. I thought I was being all zeitgeisty and edgy. Certainly the book is extremely violent; so much so that I had a near change of heart before the end. I got fed up spending time in the narrator’s head. Nowadays, I’m more interested in reading this to get a flavour of the young man I was at the time of writing, rather than the style or whatever I was trying to say.
If I am being particularly unkind to myself, I would venture that American Psycho has a lot to answer for.
Revisiting this text, possibly for the first time this decade, I’m most shocked by how readable it is… But don’t take my word for it.
The novel is called Meat, and it’s still lying on file. All 200,000 words of it… Here’s the first couple of hundred. Apart from the agents who binned it summarily, not another soul has had a chance to read it, until now.
There’s a world of lights, noise and confusion up the stairs. The music throbs through my flesh, my bones, into the very marrow, piercing my body right through to my boots and the floor underneath. There’s nowhere to hide in here. People everywhere, forced smiles, a group of girls heading up the stairs with fat thighs and pencil-thin straps on their dresses; now a couple of slick-haired boys giggling behind them, salivating at the raw flesh.
“Get me the President,” one of them says. “It’s an eclipse,” another one says.
They’re hardly the worst, of course.
It’s busy now and it’ll be even busier later on. This is the end of the month and a long weekend into the bargain, and all the kids come out; students, shop workers, older guys who should have girlfriends by now, schoolchildren. Tam and Dennis are IDing the nervous ones and the most shabbily dressed down below, picking on every fifth male when that gets boring. Company policy, sir. The management reserves the right. I’ve been sent out as the drone for the moment, which usually means collecting pint glasses and looking hard. Modestly forbids me to tell you how good I am at both.
It’s quarter to eleven and the dance floor should be filling up. I will have to push my way along the sides of the Pit to get to the balconies running along the walls of the great dance hall, to watch the groups of people attempting to secure a mate by dancing, the shiny clothes and bare shoulders.
Don’t misunderstand me this early on, please; I don’t hate these kids. They’re stupid, arrogant, greedy and offensive with the drink, that much is sure, but they are the plankton. The base of the food chain, big in number but small in importance.
By the cloakroom sliced into the wall there’s another group of lads talking while one of their friends waits to hand his jacket in to the girls at the booth. The music is a little louder there, and people skip up the stairs to the Light Corridor once they’ve put their coats in. At the start of the night this zone is a place of enthusiasm. The lighting in the cloakroom area is harsh and my shadow falls over the four lads, all quite skinny, aged about nineteen, one of them with the red tracks of a hurried shave under his chin. You’ve got to be slow with a razor under there, lad.
They stop talking and smiling when they notice me. I realise I’ve been staring. I fall back on a mantra. Daily prayers.
“If you’ve handed your jacket in, keep moving up the stairs.”
A boy with bright red hair and a sky-blue shirt points to someone in the queue. “Just waiting for our mate, there.”
My antennae twitch, and I move a little bit closer. “If you’ve handed your jacket in, make your way up the stairs please.”
I could be asking a shop assistant to put my receipt in the bag, or ordering a pot of tea at a cafe. One of the boys lets the friend in the queue know where they’re going and then they troop up the stairs.
A bit of proximity often does the trick. And this is not an ego thing for me, you must lose that idea straight away, too. They’re a blockage for the people coming into the building who want to put their jackets in, so you have to clear them.
Discipline. Good order. That’s the key.