GUEST POST: FROM DEREK TAYLOR
I was born wanting to make stories out of what went on around me. From the cradle words fascinated me – the sound of them, the meaning of them and the fact that you could make them rhyme. Poetry was my first love, I think because it was the fastest route to doing something with words. I didn’t come from a particularly erudite family, so was rather alone in my love of words. Words for me were a performance thing and although my family were amused by my word-spouting antics, they didn’t take it particularly seriously. In fact, I was often told to pipe down and stop showing off, which did put a bit of a dampener on life for me.
There weren’t a lot of books in our family, but there was music. Pop music. The radio was always on and it was full of what we now call the American song book. And it was the 50s: the great age of popular music, the time before rock. Songs were full of meaning, the lyrics practically always rhymed, or half rhymed, and they nearly always told a story of some sort, usually a love story, but nevertheless a story.
On the banks of the river
Stood Running Bear,
A young Indian brave.
On the other side of the river
Stood his lovely Indian maid.
Little White Dove was-a her name,
Such a lovely sight to see,
But their tribes fought with each other,
So their love could never be.
(1959 JP Richardson aka The Big Bopper)
I was fascinated by ‘maid’ being made to rhyme with ‘brave’ and sang it over and over again. We were living in Northern Ireland at the time and for some reason my twin and I went to a convent junior school. We were the only boys. I sang all over the school and, even though I didn’t have much of a singing voice, I became something of a star. My English teacher, Miss McGoldrick, noticed my love of performing and began to put me forward for poetry recital competitions, most of which I won. It
was she who gave me my first real grounding in poetry, as opposed to song lyrics.
We moved to England and I moved up to secondary school. There was no one there to nurture my love of poetry but I did discover children’s adventure stories. I particularly remember a series of books about the Canadian flying-doctor service. Although I don’t remember the name of the series or it author/s, I remember the stories were full of drama and heroism. I loved them. Then I discovered the Bull Dog Drummond series of spy stories. Bulldog Drummond was a swash buckling hero in a line of comic book-like heroes that led in the end to James Bond and, for me, Dan Brearley, the hero in my book BREARLEY’S ENCORE. I still loved poetry and recited it whenever I could, but I had discovered real adventure and I couldn’t get enough of it.
Before long there were the James Bond films. These introduced me to Ian Fleming and the James Bond novels, which I devoured as quickly as they came out. I read them over and over again. Now fast forward forty years. I found myself living in a formerly very grand hotel which had been converted into apartments. They were sold on long leases, mainly to retired people, but the owner of the freehold remained in situ, taking charge of the day to day management of the building and responsibility for its maintenance. He was not a pleasant man, was less than honest and failed miserably to meet his obligations. The building began to fall into a state of disrepair and life for me and my fellow lessees became less than comfortable. I began to wonder what was to be done about the man. He was not open about his business affairs in general and I began to wonder what he got up to. Then I began to wonder who could find out. A private detective, I thought, or, better still, a super comic book-type hero. A James Bond! What if a retired secret agent were to move into the building? What would such a man do about our rogue landlord? And Dan Brearley was born. I had been writing western novels – the only sort I could get anyone to publish – and it wasn’t much of a leap to start writing a spy story.
I no longer live in the converted hotel mentioned above and I wouldn’t want the owner, who is still in situ, to in anyway think BREARLEY’S ENCORE was about him and his building, but our life’s experiences do sink into our subconscious and inform our artistic creations. My book is really about what could happen to a retired-secret agent, rather than a rogue landlord. Leasehold as a form of residential property tenure is a peculiarly English means of home-buying but it is fraught with problems and lease holders often find themselves living with bad landlords. I wanted in the book to highlight this fact. Changes in property law have tried to alleviate the problems but not with total success, and they are
hard to enforce if you are saddled with a non-co-operative freeholder. I wanted to highlight this fact in my story.
But still I wanted more to write an adventure story. I was writing westerns, they were being published, but their appeal was somewhat limited. I wanted to reach a wider audience. I suppose, given my love of Bulldog Drummond and James Bond as fictional heroes, it was natural that I should follow in their authors footsteps in creating my own fictional hero.
I still recite poetry and sing pop songs but mainly to myself or in the shower, when I know the whole world is listening.
You can download Brearley’s Encore here