The early Eighties, and I was still trying to write a novel to make literary agents swoon. But was there really a market, then or now, for chick lit about a young girl working in a library (On The Shelf (And How To Get Off)) or an almost-crime novel about a struggling artist who paints an ‘undiscovered masterpiece’ to foil a drug-smuggling plot in West Wales (Kate’s Cezanne)?
Remember “Shoestring“, the BBC tv crime series about a private eye with his own radio show? Broadcast in 1979 and 1980 and starring Trevor Eve in his first big role, the series was set in Bristol – a city I’d fallen in love with as a teenager. I also fell a bit in love with Trevor Eve, he of the floppy hair and then-slender build. Eddie Shoestring was quite a character, irreverent but not cocky, solving a case in the space of each show, with the Bristol cityscape – with a few London locations too – playing as significant a role as any of the rest of the cast.
When the second series proved to be the last, I was reluctant to let old Eddie go. I suppose, had the internet been around then, I could have cashed in on the ‘fan fiction’ craze, carrying on the story even after the “Shoestring” script writers had turned the lights off and shut the studio door. But instead, I simply re-imagined Eddie as a London-based clerk working for a company that supplied office stationery.* My “Eddie Andrews” – who pretty swiftly took on a life, and look, all his own – has a row with his boss and walks out of his job, vowing to his colleagues that he’ll make as much money during the next year as he would have done if he’d stayed in his job.
What’s he to do? He answers small ads in the newspaper, deciding to try anything that looks as if it’ll be a ‘nice little earner’. The assignments he takes on become increasingly risky, increasingly close to being illegal. His adventures lead to misunderstandings with his girlfriend, an upset with his mother and encounters with some Very Strange People.
When I’d finished The Small Ads Man, I sent it off to agents but – because it was written from the point of view of the young male hero – I adopted a suitable pen name. Months later, at the end of a long day, I took a phone call at work. “Is Mr Coppersmith there? Mr Nick Coppersmith?”
There followed days and weeks of walking on air: a heavyweight literary agent was tickled pink to discover that the ‘picaresque romp’ (his description) he’d retrieved from his slush pile was written by a thirty-something library lady – and he was sure he’d be able to place it!
I carried on writing while he tried to sell The Small Ads Man, but nothing else created as much excitement in me (or in him). For a delicious few days early in 1985, it seemed that a major publisher was interested, but it came to nothing. A few months later, my mother died suddenly, and nothing else mattered for a while. My agent kept in touch, still keen to know what I was writing (truth was, I wasn’t), but after a while, understandably, we drifted apart.
Still, my affection for my steadfast Eddie Andrews, my Small Ads Man, remained, and I realised how much I’d enjoyed writing from his point of view. I owe such a lot to Eddie Shoestring, that hapless hero of Bristol local radio! A few years later, I’d be creating Detective Inspector Jeff Lincoln, and everything changed. I expect if Eddie Andrews ever met Lincoln, they’d pace round for a bit, sizing each other up. Lincoln would find Eddie exasperatingly naive. Eddie would think Lincoln a bit of an old fogey. Then they’d go down the pub and have a pint together.
*When I first saw Martin Freeman in the television series, “The Office”, I had an incredible sense of deja vu…! If only…
My crime novel, featuring D I Jeff Lincoln, The Shame of Innocence, was published last year as an eBook and in paperback, by SilverWood Books, encouraged by Frome Writers’ Collective and Silver Crow Books. A Jeff Lincoln novella, A Saintly Grave Disturbed, set just before The Shame of Innocence opens and available as eBook only, was published earlier this year. I am currently rewriting the very first Jeff Lincoln novel, and hope to publish it in 2018. I have no plans to rewrite The Small Ads Man!