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Saturday, 21 April 2012

I took time out yesterday - time out, that is, from puzzling over how to spread the word about The Red House On The Niobrara and gain followers on Twitter. Yes, a break: I went to York to meet Mike Pannett and discuss the next two books.

As I may have mentioned earlier, they are to be set in London - at least, we think they are. As yet we have no publisher, nor even an agent - although representatives of both are eager to meet. It’s still three months till the fifth of the Yorkshire series, Up Beat And Down Dale, comes out, and we are busy planning ‘Mike Pannett’s Yorkshire’; but we need to know where we’re heading next. We decided that I would plough ahead with a couple of sample chapters about Mike’s early days in the Metropolitan Police: training at Hendon, starting work on the beat in Battersea, and doing his first drugs bust, which resulted in him staring down the barrel of a sawn-off shotgun.

This is where the collaborative part of the deal is so crucial. In this regard I am grateful for my experiences of writing for TV. (I’ve done scripts for over 200 documentaries, as well as a handful of soap episodes.) In television you realise pretty quickly that you are part of a process. Your words are not precious. They are meat, and they will be fed into a sausage machine, mangled, mixed, re-worked, thrown back at you to be seasoned, cut and chopped, kneaded, until they become a smooth, pale pink paste. You hope, of course, that the odd little gem, wrought from your mind at such cost, will survive - and sometimes it does.

Collaborating with Mike and his missus isn’t quite like that, but it does involve me making up scenes in which there are gaps, interspersed with questions: ‘Mike, what’s being said over the radio here?’ ‘Are you arresting this guy or cautioning him?’ ‘What exactly is in your locker?’ ‘Are you being compromised by having a free coffee at the back door of that restaurant?’ At the same time, he will mark up the various drafts with vital procedural points, or put in mini essays explaining why he was doing this or that. It’s almost like rendering a wall, I guess, or creating a three-dimensional figure out of clay, one dollop at time in successive layers. (Forgive me: it’s only a little after six in the morning and the good folk in the metaphor department haven’t had their porridge yet....)

After we’d had our talk, and a large fried breakfast in St Helen’s Square, I strolled around town with my camera and took one or two pictures. That felt distinctly odd, because I have lived in York for two eight-year periods, and if there was one thing that blighted my life in those times it was tourists with cameras obstructing the pavements as they tried to frame a shot of the Minster (above) or a detail of some characterful building, like the old Yorkshire Bank (below).

I soon ended up back in my favourite spot, the Museum Gardens. This is where history comes to life, for me. We learned at school how, back in the 1530s, Henry VIII took against the Church (for obstructing his will in re divorce) and dissolved the monasteries, laying waste to them. Yorkshire is home to so many ruined priories and similar establishments, and here in York we have St Mary’s Abbey - or what’s left of it. It says a lot about architecture then and now that a building which was sacked almost 500 years ago is still among the most photographed in England.

While we’re touching on antiquity, here are a couple of Roman caskets, casually put to use as garden ornaments. (Yes, the Romans came to York - and another time I may post a picture of the statue of Constantine, the Emperor who was crowned there in about 279 AD).

But right now I need to take a weather-check and decide whether it’s good for another training run on the bicycles. And then, this afternoon, to the radio, and commentary on another York City game, their last but one - which is at Braintree. Win there and a top-five place is effectively secured, meaning that next week’s home fixture against Forest Green (which I will attend) could be a bit of a stroll in the park, a warm-up for the rigours of the play-offs. Rigours? I correct myself: torment.

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