My new novel, The Last Stop, has arrived. Here are some thoughts on how it happened.
I walked into the sunshine from the old East German airport, still called Schönefeld. (Beautiful Field). It shouldn’t still be there. It has long ceased to be fit for purpose. Late evenings, when the charter flights to Istanbul and the beaches of the Black Sea and Turkish Riviera leave, it is a hellhole. It takes one back to the days of the terraces at football matches. You have to hope that the direction of the crowd is the right one. I’ve been assaulted by angry holiday makers, when I once overtook them to get to the Liverpool gate. Nerves are always tense. Staff shout at you and call you an idiot for doing what the indicator screen instructs.
‘Any fool can see that is wrong,’ I’ve been told.
That day in 2012, was much calmer. A young woman approached me and asked for €3 for a subway fare. She was dressed OK, not fashionable, but tidy. I tried to help her, but she was so distracted that she ignored my advice.
When I arrived at my apartment, I sat down and imagined what a twenty-something woman was doing outside an international airport, with no money, no credit card – just a few stray tears in her eyes. I think she was Polish. I called her Maria.
During the next two years, I finished the first draft, had an edit, was told to increase the slapstick, doubled the manuscript in size by adding scenes and characters, reduced it by 10000 words by banning adverbs, the conditional and passive tenses, (things I still cannot resist) and gave it to an editor at New London Writers.
Alice at New London Writers liked the the manuscript, but suggested a few changes – no problem – she also suggested the cover picture I had chosen could be improved. OK. I liked it for its bleakness and for the fact that it is the view from a bridge mentioned in the novel, and of the railway lines that play such an important part.
Yet, the manuscript had become more than just few notes about a begging woman. It had become a high-tension plea for the economically exploited and their fight back. Alice helped me fix the dialogue, some of which was indeed sounding a bit monotone.
I hoped the manuscript was ready. In search of a decent cover, I took my ancient Fotopix and cycled to the Kurfürsten Strasse, one of the main kerb-crawling streets in Berlin, where the practice is still legal. I was only testing the water, but one of the girls standing looking for a customer, spotted my camera. She was perfect for the cover, but was on to me.
‘What are you doing? Don’t photograph me unless you pay.’
That’s fair. She was standing in a bitter January wind, trying to earn a buck.
‘How much do you want for a few pictures?’
‘For a couple of pictures?’
‘If you want me to get undressed, and it takes time.’
‘Er… who said anything about undressing? Two pics at the roadside. That’s all.’
I harvested that ‘you perve!’ look of incomprehension.
‘How much do you want to pay.’
‘Where shall I stand?
I parted up with the twenty and for the first time in my life, paid a prostitute for a service.
March I was in Weimar. Alice suggested I hire a professional model, with contract and release document, lots of close-ups, around Berlin stations and the Schönefeld airport. I thought I ought to use a professional photographer, too.
Before I left Weimar, I went on line and found Bodyliciouz, not too far from my Berlin apartment. Bodyliciouz. The name is unpronounceable. Is it supposed to
sound like ‘delicious bodies’?
The boss was a star. I knew he would soon spot I was clueless, so I told him the truth. I was clueless. He talked me through how the trade worked, how the contract operated and what I had to do to get a world-wide copyright release. He was completely cool about the shallowness of the business. He told it how it is.
‘Chose a model,’ he instructed.
The information available on the 56 models was amazing. Country of birth, height, hair colour, hair length, vital statistics, bra size, dress size, shoe size, and work they were prepared to accept. Most of the 50 female models were taller than me. Many would have a full diary for months and I had a three day slot, the day after tomorrow. That left me with Vanessa. Fortunately, she was perfect. I booked her. She had just signed on at the agency and I could see her as my protagonist. We arranged everything and met up for a shoot.
I hadn’t the courage to turn up to photograph a professional model, with a Fotopix. Another major expense was a decent camera. It was worth it. I put it on auto-settings and it forgave me everything – including my shaking hand, the dark January weather and a photo model with a clueless photographer. Vanessa should have stayed in bed. I asked her to look frightened for the shots and her flu symptoms helped. I grabbed the camera and shouted, ‘perfect,’ as I began to click.
I thought I would be nervous, sitting on a packed train, photographing a twenty-something amazing woman. None of it! I enjoyed the envious stares. How shallow is that?
Text ready, cover decided – we are ready for the off; let’s publish and be damned.
Montag Publications has a new title. The Last Stop is their latest imprint.
This is the story about Maria, an innocent linguist from Poland, who becomes embroiled in the Berlin sex industry. The only way she can survive, is to fight back. Short term her tactic works. Once she is on their radar, the chase is on.
She recruits Jack, the artless retired tax inspector from sleepy Leamington Spa, who thought he was on holiday.
The Last Stop by Clive La Pensée. Available through Amazon (initially). Paper £8.99. Kindle £3.49