Monday, 14 November 2011

Any resemblance is purely coincidental

When I launched Peril (original title The Rise and Fall of Ger Mayes - catchy huh?), a few early readers asked if there was an element of autobiography in the book. They were mostly people that knew me.

Of course there's an autobiographical element in most fiction. It doesn't mean that a thriller writer is a murderer (although it doesn't preclude it either!) but the author does have to have a mind that can conceive the murder. So, am I the philandering, hapless, conscience-free anti-hero Ger Mayes in Peril? If you've read the book then maybe we can meet up for a coffee, go for a few beers, get in a fight, visit a dodgy nightclub. A regular night out in Kilkenny. Then I'll let you be the judge and jury.

A little overseas incident came to mind this weekend and I thought I'd share it. Peril readers might recognise the behavioural traits.

About fifteen years ago I was working as export sales manager for a burglar alarm company in Rochdale, Lancashire. The boss was a millionaire megalomanic who made us park our green company BMWs with the bonnets facing out so he could drool over his fleet. Now, he was probably more Ger Mayes than I am.

Anyhow, I was secretly waiting on work permission for another job in Switzerland and tried to wangle some german language lessons out of my boss on the strength of needing to boost our sales there. He, being the smart business cookie that he was, did a spot analysis of export markets and concluded that I needed to improve my french instead of my german. So I found myself at the lovely Isabelle's language school and we happily conjugated together for a few blissful weeks.

The boss endured this as long as he could and then registered me for a local Chamber of Commerce business trip to France. It was all in modest northern style - take the train through the Chunnel, stay in a budget hotel, visit as many potential business partners as possible and bring back the wonga. My compatriots in the Chamber posse tolerated me as a young upstart, not quite fitting into the group profile. I didn't come from old merchant money (or any money, in fact), spoke with a slightly posh accent, didn't smoke and had all my own hair.

On the day of the adventure I woke up early to a sharp frost. The windows of my car were thick with ice so I let the engine run to warm up and defrost. After three minutes of scraping the outside of the car I heard a click. The doors had locked themselves, the key still in the ignition, engine warming up nicely. I didn't have a spare key.

It took a bit of pacing around the car for me to realise that there was only one option. I bunched my fist and gave the rear quarter-light window a sharp karate punch. There was a crack, but not of glass, of knuckle. My arm felt numb from finger to elbow. I picked up a rock from the flower bed and smashed the window with it, using my other hand. There wasn't too much blood.

The train journey went smoothly, thanks to a few cans of beer and some painkillers. I kept my swelling hand under a newspaper, read a book and made small talk when necessary. The guy next to me spent the entire time playing with some kind of gadget that he called a Nintendo.

'I've never read a book in my life,' he said in between games. 'I can't concentrate long enough.'

We hurtled down to the south of England and through the newly built tunnel that linked Blighty with the old foe. It was a strange feeling, travelling through a tunnel under the sea. The thought of terrorist attack or some kind of accident was never far from our minds.

Lille was our end destination and the hotel lived up to expectations. Greyish linen, small hard soaps and a breakfast to cry for. But at least the weather was like home - a constant, driving rain. I put up my British brolly and ran around the corner to the car hire place from which my boss had rented me a nice little Clio, the cheapest thing on the menu.

At that time there were no toll roads in the UK and the idea of paying to drive on a motorway was anathema to me (ergo my boss too). I drove up to the entry barriers in my entry-level Clio and pondered the situation in the ongoing downpour. My breath was steaming up the windscreen so I played with the air controls until it cleared.

There, at the side of the last, unmanned booth, was a narrow gap between some bollards. It looked small, too small for my BMW, but I managed to squeeze the tiny Clio through without scraping the bodywork. The road opened out in front of me, the sky cleared and I was free to ride the highways. All the way up to the next city where my first business meeting awaited.

At the required exit I came to another booth. This time there was no gap to sneak through.

'Billet, s'il vous plait,' the monsieur said.

Isabelle, help me now, I thought.

'Je n'ai pas le billet,' I said, hopefully, naively and then desperately.

'Impossible! Impossible!' the excited cashier shouted.

So, the company credit card was charged with the entire length of the Autoroute from wherever to wherever. I resolved to wear my gumshield and groin protector for the debrief with the boss back home.

The meetings went off okay that day and the next. I chattered animatedly, wanting to impress with my grasp of language and panicked by my lack of comprehension when my would-be business partners started to respond in their native tongue.

On the second night the entire Chamber posse got hopelessly drunk and I told my Autoroute toll story with great embellishment (unlike here, which is the bare bones).

We rose the next morning to find that a French lorry had caught fire in the Chunnel, blocking our exit from the country. Twenty-three hours wait for a place on a delayed ferry in choppy seas, then the slow train to London and on to Manchester.

These days I approach the Irish motorway toll booths with trepidation. I have a barely controllable urge to find an illegal way through. If I see a car parked with its engine running I have a strong urge to break the window with the nearest rock. And I've never been back in the Chunnel.

So, yes. I guess I am Ger Mayes, in parts. I've often found myself in some kind of peril.

But I'm definitely not The Baptist!


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  1. Hi, found you through your article on Multi-story. Really enjoyed this post...will now follow.

    Carol x

  2. @Carol, thanks for the follow. Glad you enjoyed it!