1. What can you tell our readers about your new book The Desolate Garden?
It is a twisting murder mystery centred on a secret Government bank known as Annie’s, which is situated in Queen Anne’s Gate, Westminster. The bank has been managed, since its inauguration in the fourteenth century, by one family; the Earls of Harrogate and always by the youngest son born into that family.
Shortly after taking over the bank, in 2007, Lord Elliot Paterson starts to ‘modernise’ its affairs, leading to the discovery, in a hidden 1936 ledger, of an address in Leningrad, Russia. As he digs deeper he finds some unexplained initials, and an unaccountable missing fortune.
He suspects that his deceased grandfather, Lord Maudlin Paterson, has been funding a Russian spy and the family will be disgraced.
Six months after telephoning his estranged eldest son Harry, and telling of his suspicions, he is found murdered in his London home, in Eton Square.
Harry, already working for the Secret Intelligence Services, is recalled from the family home, the grand Harrogate Hall, to London to meet with the head of that mysterious department.
He stays at The Duke’s Hotel St James’s and on returning there, from that prearranged engagement, seemingly meets by ‘accident,’ an attractive women; Judith Meadows.
“Tell me a joke,” she says, enticing him from the lobby into the Martini Bar. “I’ve had a really shitty day and need cheering up,” she adds.
She plays him, until he believes that his luck is in, and then she destroys his hopes of bliss.
Calling him chauvinistic, she discloses that she works for The Home Office and is to be his case officer, in trying to unravel the circumstances of Elliot’s death.
As the story unfolds, the rubber band relationship between the two is paramount to the tale. Harry knowing more than he is willing to reveal and Judith having more knowledge of his family than he knows!
2. Where did the idea for the story come from?
My wife and I were given as an anniversary gift, an invitation to a dinner and wine tasting event at Berry Bros. and Rudd, in St James’s Street London. Knowing that I would be drinking that night a booked a room at The Duke’s. One night, after returning home, I dreamt of such a meeting and built the story out of that.
3. You are a London cab driver by day, so when did you decide that you wanted to write?
I was at work one sunny November day in 2006, minding my own business, stopped at a red traffic light when a van, driven incompetently, smashed into me. I was taken to Hospital and kept in for while, but it was not physical injuries that I suffered from; it was mental.
I had lost all confidence in myself, let alone those around me. The experts said that I had post traumatic stress disorder, which I thought only the military or emergency personnel suffered from.
On good days, I attempted to go to work, sometimes I even made it through Blackwell Tunnel only to hear, or see, something that made me jump out of my skin, and the anxiety attacks would start.
I told my wife that I was okay and going regularly but I wasn't, I could not cope with life and thought about ending it.
Somehow or other with the help from my dear wife, and professionals, I managed to survive and ever so slowly, rebuilt my self-esteem.
It took almost four years to fully recover and become what I now am, somewhere close to what I was before that day, but it was during those dark depressive days that I began to write.
My very first story, Look Both Ways, Then Look Behind, found a literary agent but not a publisher. He told me that I had a talent, raw, but nevertheless it was there. After telling me to write another story, he said that there were two choices open to me: One, wait for a traditional deal. At sixty-two, with no literary profile or experience; little hope. Two, self-publish through New Generation.
This, I'm delighted to say, I did.
4. You are involved in many face book groups so how much does social networking matter for you as a writer?
It takes up all my waking hours, apart from the few that I now am able to devote to work. The only way open to me for the promotion of my work has been predominately through either face book or twitter.
I joined face book five or six months before the publication of The Desolate Garden, and was told by my agent that I had ‘peaked’ too soon, but I believed him to be wrong.
I was noticed for being sociable, commenting and joking with people there, interacting well. That, and the fact that I had been a Metropolitan Police Officer once arrested for attempted murder, got me invited on to many internet radio programs and a part in a thirteen week American comedy spoof of Sunset Boulevard, scripted and produced by Colin Lively, a New York celebrity hairdresser.
5. How much research was required to write this book?
Really quite a lot. It refers back to the 1960’s and all the Philby scandal of those days. Also it has mentions of the Spanish Civil War, the War in Ireland and locations in Russia, of the past and present.
I have a Swedish friend who helped me. He travels regularly to fish for salmon in Russia and he was able to confirm dates that occurred through the early parts of my story.
I used Wikipedia a great deal in my research and some knowledge of my own in regards to place names for events in Germany and Italy.
Political references were from memory, confirmed online, and the London locations I knew from driving a London taxi cab.
6. Although your book is set in contemporary London, many reviewers have commented that it has a feel of a previous era, so how did you capture this in the novel?
I’m not sure how to answer, but I’ll have a go. I grew up during the 60’s in London so I had a ‘feel’ for that period and the effect that the detection of spies and traitors, being everywhere in our upper society, had on us all during those years. We lost trust in politicians and it has never returned since those days.
There was an imaginary ‘Clock,’ always mentioned in the Press, showing how many minutes we were away from self-destruction. It was the days of the Cuba crises and the uncertainty was constant when the world almost imploded.
‘Ban the bomb’ marches, bellicose rhetoric from the then Soviet Union, followed by the Vietnam War. Tension was always there in everyday life and this, I hoped to capture in my novel.
I tried to use that overlying sense of fear and mistrust and lay the basis of the story, bringing it forward to ‘today’ but with its origins set firmly with all that in mind.
I hope I have achieved this, but I cannot say too much and give the plot away.
7. The book is a combination of a thriller, romance and historical fiction, so how did you manage to gather all three genres together?
I think that was the most enjoyable part with the three genres coinciding and running together. The historical background, I have mentioned before, with the suspense and intrigue being built around my two central protagonists.
I have always been fascinated by women and the word love, it means so many things to each of us. In real life it is a complicated issue leading to happiness; but also despair.
I lived in my characters, Lord Harry and Judith Meadows, and wrote how I felt they would interact, with the dialogue between them being the complete essence of the story.
There is a romantic connection between the two, but again I cannot divulge too much, other than to say that the novel is suitable for all ages, having no graphic sex in the script. I hope I achieved what I set out to do without the need of that.
8. Who do you most like to read?
I read a wide range of authors, but two would stand out: John Fowles, with ‘The French Lieutenant’s Women’ and ‘Daniel Martin,’ and John Le Carré, with all the ‘Smiley’ novels.
On two occasions I picked up the late Sir Alec Guinness who played the part of George Smiley in the BBC production of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
9. Which authors have been the greatest influences in your own writing?
The two above and maybe I combined parts of both those writers in my tale. I would love to think that was true.
10. What is next for you?
I was writing another story, titled Mitzy Collins, and had completed about 56,000 words of it before the publication of The Desolate Garden but all my time is taken up by promotion of that novel now, so I have stopped writing.
It is a moralistic tale of how lies, told by influential people covering up the death of a seventeen year old, affect the life of Mitzy, a successful photographer, told by her dead twin brother in a third person narrative.
If the film, for which I have been paid for the option, is made, then I will be able to afford time away from driving a cab and then, maybe, I can continue.
Danny Kemp, who once in his wide and varied life was arrested for attempted murder, self-published a novel at the age of sixty-two in March of this year. Within a month he had been paid for this story to be made into a film.
This, part of a forthcoming radio broadcast review, may be one of the reasons.
‘The Desolate Garden is especially for readers who like a story, largely rendered through dialogue because it was the dialogue that pulled the work off the page and onto a movie set. This political thriller resonates with charm, deft touches of satire, and romantic entanglement and where the promise of rampant sex is a turn of the page away. As the story unfolds, the relationship between the two, both sexually and intellectually, ricochets back and forth like a train driven by a teenager, stuck in first gear. Lord Harry knows more than he is willing to reveal, and Judith Meadows knows more about his family than Lord Harry does.’
I met up with Danny this week and asked him “How has your life altered since all the changes in it have occurred?’
This was his answer to that question.
What started off as a dream, with my customary reply of; ‘Thank you for your follow. I’m following a dream, and as far as I know there are no rules in a dream’ to those that ‘followed’ me when I first joined Twitter in January this year, soon shortened to become, and remain, my signature motto that appears on my business cards. I’m following a dream..etc.
That dream, with no rules attached, took on substance with the meeting of a Film Producer three or four weeks after the publication of The Desolate Garden. That is when my life changed, and the life of my wife. Now, for various reasons, it will never be the same.
We both decided that our future rested on the fortune, or not, of my book.
We had incurred a huge debt as a result of a road traffic accident, that I was involved in six years ago, and had no way of repaying it before that Film Producer hailed my Cab, that rainy day in April this year. Driving home, in a state of utter shock and disbelief after that contract-signing lunch meeting a few days later, was both euphoric and frightening. That feeling hasn’t changed much, except perhaps both ‘spectres’ deepening.
Virtually every minute of my life now is spent either thinking of ways to promote my work or, in the actual process of promotion. Including when I’m asleep. I dream in 140 characters, as if on Twitter!
For the eighteen years that my wife Patricia and I have known each other, I have cooked all our meals. I did, once upon a time, do it professionally and found that I liked it. Now, I have no time for that, and she has taken over that role with most of the other jobs that I would do before all this started. She now washes the London Black Cab that I drive……How lucky am I!
Working hours in London have been drastically reduced from eight hours, plus an hours traveling in and out-of-town, down to five, including that hour. Consequently we have less money but, as I have said, there is that dream. One day of course it will be for others to comment on whether the choice we made was correct or not, that’s to come though; we have nine months before that judgement is necessary.
I have now become a kind of sage, on face book, with people seeking my opinion on self-publishing and asking questions about internet sites and how my book was listed on there. How I managed to get publicity for my novel and such like. In one of the social groups I'm in, I'm referred to as...Dad! Yet I now never visit my own grandchildren, only seeing them if they visit me.
The novel is carried on forty-one internet sites and in all the major bookshops in the UK, but that was not enough.
Through the wisdom of my publisher, Mr Daniel Cooke of New Generation Publishing, ‘Pay Pal’ buttons were added to my website with the offer of signed copies of The Desolate Garden tantalizingly advertised on social networks. Now I have become a small business, sending 20 to 30 autographed books out across the world each week. This, again, aids that enemy of mine; time.
I have put on weight, maybe as much as two stone. I never move from a sitting position, either at home doing all that promotional stuff that I have mentioned, or at work. I tend to eat as a form of comfort, whilst thinking of what next to do. I smoke more than I ever did, again as a distraction from the tedium of 'paste and copy' on twitter. The only creative exercise I have now is my poetry. Where before publication I would make notes whilst at work, on a notepad that I carried about the then 'work in progress' my next novel, now I occasionally jot down lines ready to be converted into rhymes when I get home and posted onto my poetry page.
I think of all the occupations that I've had in my life, from being a Police Officer, a 'Public House' Licensee and a London Taxi Driver this, now, is by far the most consuming and intense. If the filming of my story does not come about, it won't be for lack of trying on my part nor will I regret all what I have done. I have followed my dream and broken no rules in doing so.”
The first time I saw her was three days after I was told that my father had died.
All the national newspapers had carried the story in their first editions; most describing him as a private banker, others as simply a financier. All had speculated as to why. The majority of the more respectful had suggested pressure, and stress in the current financial world. However, the most popular tabloids had repeated the accusation for which he had successfully sued them, that his money had come from unscrupulous and tyrannical rulers of various African countries. Only this time they glossed over some previously mentioned names, and added the word ‘alleged.’ They had not known that he had been murdered.
“Tell me a joke,” she said. She was seated at the table nearest the bar in the Dukes Hotel, in London’s St James.
“What?” I replied, in complete surprise.
“I’ve had a really shitty day, and I need cheering up. Come and join me,” she suggested, enticing me in from the lobby.
She was about thirty but, in the dim seductive light of the world-renowned Martini bar, I could have been wrong by ten years either way. She had long curly dark hair, penetrating large eyes of an indeterminable colour, and a very attractive face. As to her figure, I had no way of knowing for sure but, from what I could see, she was quite petite. A colourful shawl draped from a glimpse of bare shoulder, and the cut of the red dress she wore was modest and high. What stood out was her perfume. The clear, smoke free atmosphere carried an array of sweet aromas, mingling with the gin and lemons and the fresh damp air of the outside night, but hers was the sweetest. It reminded me of raspberries ripening on autumn canes, mixed with jojoba oil and honey. I smelled of whiskey and tobacco; not the catch of the night, I supposed.
“What makes you think I’m here on my own and not with my wife?” I replied flattered and interested, but guarded, unforthcoming to her obvious appeal.
“Well, you’re not wearing a wedding ring for a start. Want me to go on?” My new friend said archly.
I nodded my acquiescence, adding, “Why not...I’ve got nothing better to do with my time,” trying to seem disinterested, which I definitely was not.
“Your shirt could do with an iron and the suit has seen better days, your hair needs a trim and, quite honestly, you look out of place. Not a local...by many a mile. Up from the country for a day or perhaps two, no more than that I’d say. You’ve been dragged here reluctantly and want to get back to the farm as soon as you can. Anyway, I only asked for a joke not a page by page description of your inactive life.”
“Perhaps my lady friend is equally unattractive,” I responded to her accurate assumption and correct observation.
“That’s an old-fashioned expression but at least it establishes that you’re not gay, plus you’re not pretty enough anyway. I’m Judith by the way. What did those lady friends of yours call you, when you were younger and playing the field?”
“Am I that ancient? Thank goodness I left my bath-chair back in my room then. I would have felt embarrassed had I have brought it.”
This was the second invitation I’d had in three days to have a conversation with someone I had never met. All of a sudden my hitherto selected social circle of friends was widening; and one of those acquaintances was not welcome.
Joseph, my butler, had answered the front door to the knock I had heard, and was now standing in front of me announcing the arrival.
“There is a police officer wishing to see you, Sir. Shall I show him through?”
“Lord Paterson? I’m Detective Chief Superintendent Fletcher of the Special Branch. I’ve got some news for you about your father...may I come in?”
It had been the previous Sunday, around about three in the afternoon, and I had just driven home from my local pub after spending all morning blasting crows out of the sky. I reeked of alcohol, sweat, and cordite. The twelve-bore ‘Purdy’ shotgun lay dismantled on the gun-room table, and the rest of my gear was scattered around the floor. He glanced at the gun.
“Been busy, Sir?” He asked, in an official police tone.
“Yes. One of my tenants keep sheep, and they’re lambing. The crows pick out the lambs’ eyes almost the minute they’re born, nasty creatures, so I lend a hand killing as many we can. My license is in the estate office, if you want to see it? Incidentally I’m not a Lord, only a lowly Honourable.” I replied, without looking at him.
“I never knew that about crows. As for the license, that won’t be necessary.” He paused. “I’m afraid that your father was found shot in the head by the housekeeper at his home in Eton Square, London, at ten past one this morning; so, as I understand it, you are now a Lord,” he stated, in the standard perfunctory, manner that the police inform relatives of the unfortunate...“Can you think of anyone who may have wanted to kill him?” He enquired, without a change of tone to his voice or any pretence of remorse.
The shame of it was that I could not. However, that did not imply that he had no enemies; only that I had been unable to discover them, and I should have.
“Absolutely none. He was the last person I would have thought of to have had enemies. It might have been money they were after...he had plenty of that,” I declared, not trying to hide my indifference.
“He was alone in the ground floor sitting room. There were signs of a forced entry Sir, and the housekeeper says that he was alone that night. He had no company.” His monosyllabic style of speaking was beginning to annoy me.
“Was there anything missing?” I asked, knowing exactly what the housekeeper meant by company.
“No, Sir, nothing that the housekeeper or his valet knows of. I was hoping you might be able to provide some information, throw some light on it. Has he been in touch with you lately?” He asked, fingering the bespoke carved stock. “Very lovely gun. Expensive, I expect,” he added.
“Yes to the gun, and no regarding him being in touch,” I curtly replied. I had never had much time for the police and he was not changing my opinion.
“Has he written at all, or perhaps telephoned you in the past with any worries he had...any problems he was having with anyone?”
“Can’t help you there. A private man my father, not one to wear his heart on his sleeve.”
“You wouldn’t have any of his old letters to you, would you?”
“No, sorry. I don’t keep things like that.” I took a sip from the glass of whisky I had poured myself in readiness for the gun cleaning ritual that I always enjoyed doing myself. I had not offered him anything, nor was likely to, even though he looked the drinking type, grey inanimate eyes, a bulbous red nose under which was a nicotine-stained moustache and, even further down, a fat rounded beer belly. I was not in a social or generous mood, and had no wish to adjudicate on the innate evils of modern society as seen through the eyes of the law.
“It’s just that we could not find the exchange number for the home here in Harrogate on any telephone records of his. Clearly he didn’t like the phone or is it you that’s got an aversion to telephones?” He asked, smiling, as if attempting to ingratiate himself. But I was not in any sort of a jovial conversational mood, either.
“Look..he and I didn’t get on. We haven’t spoken to each other since he left before my mother died. I haven’t spoken to him or seen him in almost two years and, quite frankly, I don’t give a toss that he’s dead. If that’s all, Detective Chief Superintendent, I’ve got a lot more important things to do than discuss the personal relationship the two of us had or didn’t have.”
My abruptness and directness had shocked him, or perhaps it was my inhospitality and his need of a drink that hastened his departure, I was not sure which. However, before he left what he considered to be an unfinished conversation, he summoned me to London the following Wednesday to meet with a Government Official. He did not name him, nor his office, but declared. “You will be met at the station, and we will expect your full cooperation in all of this, your Lordship. It is, as you will appreciate, a matter of great importance. I look forward to your collaboration at our next meeting.” Irascibly, he stressed the ‘next’, as I closed the door behind him.
I had no qualms over the forthcoming journey to London, other than my complete distaste of that city and all who traversed its capricious streets. What did worry me though, was the question of who had shot my father? I could think of a reason why it had happened; but had no idea who could have done it!
“The names Harry, and I think I must be the joke after how you’ve described me. Harry Paterson, how do you do Judith?” I shook her proffered hand, adding as I did so, “You certainly don’t look out of place, and you are far too beautiful to be on your own.” I had decided that diffidence was no longer necessary. A shield and a sword would be better if all conquering I would go.
The waiter had arrived and was hovering with his drinks menu, and the obligatory bowl of nuts. No everyday peanuts for the ritzy clientele of this bar oh no, here they were offered salted macadamias and olives, with crunchy pretzels in various shapes. I would have preferred the roast spuds at ‘The Spyglass and Kettle’ a pub back home. For the prices they charged here they had to appear more chic than wholesome, I supposed. I ordered another gin martini for my new companion and asked for my 40 year-old Isle of Jura single malt. I had checked before I had booked that they stocked it otherwise I would not have been a this particular hotel. However, with hindsight, given the cost that they charged per glass, a more frugal man would have brought it with him. ‘Mean, I may be, but never to be seen,’ was an old maxim that my father had many occasions quoted in my presence; I wished I had never heard and remembered it!
“Call me Judy, and I’ll call you H. Never had a drink with a Harry before, or at least, anyone by that name that I can remember. What’s your joke?”
She was an easy conversationalist but not, as I first suspected, an easy women. It would not have been the first time I had been approached by an escort in a hotel bar and I’d used a few bars, that is. I won’t admit to anything else, or deny that I hadn’t been tempted, but I had never succumbed. I had never needed to pay for what came easily to me.
“Let me see.” I played for time, searching my memory for amusing lines I could repeat to a woman who, in this light, was an extremely desirable and sexy young lady who I fancied as much as the scotch before me. I was out of practice, and having been drinking before I had arrived back in my hotel, was faltering badly at the first hurdle. I was more accustomed to ribald horsey female types, swigging beer and telling stories of successful matings of stallions and mares of one kind or another, usually as inebriated as I.
“Ever heard the ones that end ‘that’s how the fight started’? No? Then, if you’re sitting comfortably, I’ll begin.” I started the little anodyne tales of animosity between partners or family that I had heard somewhere in the past.
“One year I decided to buy my mother-in-law a cemetery plot as a Christmas gift. The next year I bought her nothing. When she asked me why, I replied, ‘Well, you still haven’t used the gift I bought you last year!’ That’s when the fight started.” There were several like this, and I found myself joining in her laughter as I recalled as many as I could.
She refused a third martini, opting for a mineral water instead, explaining “I’ll need a clear head in the morning.”
“I hope tomorrow won’t be as bad as you say today was,” I said, still waiting for her to expand on why her day had been as shitty as she had said.
“I’m not expecting any difference for a considerable time I’m only too sorry to say. Do you want to know why that might be Harry?”
“Thought you’d never tell.” I was on my fourth Jura and set for a night of bliss, as my undoubtable charms had obviously seduced her, or so I thought!
“It was because I was ordered to meet you, and you haven’t disappointed me. You’re exactly as your file reads. I can summarise it in one word: chauvinistic. Thought you’d scored, didn’t you? Shame...you couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve got to hold your hand all the way through the debrief. I’m your liaison officer, and I’m stuck with you. How did your reunion with our lord and master go? Was Trimble wearing that sarcastic smile of his? I find it so irritating, how about you?”
“Who are you?” I was completely thrown by this reference to Peter Trimble, my previous drinking partner, who I had left half an hour ago at Box 850. I had then arrived here for my final night, before I could return home and find the refuge it gave me.
“I’m in the same business as you, Lord Harry, except I’m across the river at Five. Did you and ‘C’ come up with any idea as to who bumped off Daddy? What’s the time of your train tomorrow? I’m to travel back with you, and can’t let you out of my sight. Lucky me, eh?”
“I’ve forgotten,” I lied. Trimble had said he was to appoint someone to run me through everything; only he never said it would be a woman!
“Don’t be such an asshole Harry, and take your thumb out of your mouth. It’s not very edifying for us serfs to see the nobility sulk. You’d better let them know back at your palace, so they can make up a room for me. Tell them to make it as far away from you as possible. No sleepwalking; it’s not allowed.”
“I’m on the 12:43. First class of course...doubt your expenses will cover that.” Slowly, I was recovering from the shock.
“No expense to be spared in your case H, orders from above. While we’re on the subject, can you claim for bedding all the virgins in the Kingdom of the Paterson’s? Do you still have that role to fulfil, or are there none left for the new Earl to indulge? Heard of your investiture and gone running off to the hills, have they?”
“Got me on that one I’ll have to check in Burkes peerage. If it is one of the privileges of office, can I add your name?”
“Most certainly not H. I’m past that painful stage of life but I’m glad you recognised that purity in me. See you at King’s Cross. I’ll be wearing a white rose and carrying a newspaper under the Station Clock. Look out for me, won’t you? I’d hate to miss you in the crowd.”
She left to catch a taxi, quietly mouthing the words and the tune to the song ‘Poison Ivy.’ “You can look, but you better not touch,” she murmured, looking pleased with herself.
Female First Lucy Walton
Tagged in danny kemp