I replied two days later and dropped the formalities completely and began with “Yo!” –he always liked colloquialisms and I thought that would make him chuckle.
Sunday, 28 August 2016
Behind The Writer's Eyes
He knew how to make a first impression despite being just over five foot high. His silent, intense gaze surveyed the room like an x-ray as he stood facing us at the end of the classroom. Once he was sure that everyone had arrived he sat down behind the desk. He disarmed us with a smile but his eyes never left us; it was impossible to stare too long into them.
Having sat at a convenient desk I unpacked my small rucksack. The confirmation slip awkwardly stuffed into one of the smaller side pockets and I fished it out to double check I’d picked the right room. This amiable, well dressed and bespectacled chap seemed a far cry from the blurb that had caught my attention in the adult education syllabus, and he looked to be the last person that could teach a class on writing horror stories.
Quite what a horror writer was supposed to look like I didn’t know, but after seeing photo’s of Stephen King; Clive Barker and James Herbert it wasn’t easy to lump this guy with them; his light curls made him look more like a sociology teacher. It was hard to make the connection, but then I suppose they said the same thing about Ted Bundy.
I made sure that I was in the right classroom by nervously looking at the number on the still open door. The man noticed by nervousness, smiled and nodded once as if to reassure me. This one was not disarming though, it was slightly cold and calculating as if he was measuring my every gesture like an undertaker.
It felt surreal sitting in the same classroom, albeit fifteen years later. Ironically this used to be where I had was taught English and I had to resist the urge to sit in my old seat. I had watched as the other members of the class drifted in and picked their places. Even though there was no designated seating I was fascinated by where each person sat and I wondered how much of the choice was coloured by past experiences and behaviour. No one sat in the front row and few people sat together.
What if this classroom were suddenly captured and transported into an alien world, I wondered. Would body language and role types be determined by the seating arrangements? Would those sitting near the front of the class be the natural leaders? Would those at the back –the shy retiring types- be the first to be eaten?
The man at the front looked at his sleek, expensive wrist watch, walked to the classroom door and, without even checking to see if anyone else was coming, shut it.
“Are we sitting comfortably?” He asked, his voice warm and genial, perfectly cultured and reassuring. “Then we’ll begin.”
He was one of Britain’s foremost horror writers with five best sellers and even a television mini-series, that had starred Peter Davidson, under his belt. I hadn’t read any of his books and hadn’t even heard of him before finding the adult education listing in the local paper.
Upon sitting down again he addressed us all. “Right! Close your eyes and keep them closed for three minutes. I want you to pay due attention to everything you hear, everything that you smell; everything you feel and even any memories that are conjured up. At the end of the three minutes I want you to write it all down. You’ll have ten minutes to do that.” He looked at his watch again. “The three minutes start….. Now – close your eyes.”
I did as I was told: this seemed a strange way to begin a writing class but once the novelty of effectively sleeping in class subsided I was surprised by what I could actually hear. There were the obvious sounds of the fellow classmates, the consciously shallow breaths and awkward shuffling of feet, and the occasional but inevitable throat clearing, but I was able to go beyond that. I could hear the wind and rain whip the exposed windows of the classroom. I could hear the footsteps in the corridor outside as the person scuffed up the stairs. There was the sound of scraping chairs from above as a class finished. There was even the rote mutterings of the class below us, a bizarre chanting which must have been a foreign language class –either reciting an alphabet or an ancient creed.
The smells I found harder to quantify; they were more elusive but proved to be far more emotive. I smelt the classroom of my memories; the chalk dust and stale sweat odour of the teacher, the stogid, pungent reek of the canteen which was further down the corridor (the smells that hung in the memory most were the limp, tasteless cabbage; the rank tomato and pilchard surprise and the sickly sweet and milky rice pudding.)
It didn’t seem that many years since I was last in the classroom, but all the teachers I had known had either left or died and I now felt like a disembodied spirit. If time had a smell then I guess it would have been one similar to what I was experiencing: tinges of lost innocence, past opportunities and future promises, stale luck and forgotten loves. It’s school where you feel the pressures of growing up; in puberty you’re no longer a child and each day you feel the innocence drip away whilst the weight and expectation from the future threatens to mould and crush you before you have time to assimilate the multitude of changes that assault you….
“Three minutes are up!” He said, breaking me out of my reverie. “Pick up your pens and write down exactly what you smelt, tasted and felt. I’ll ask you to stop in ten minutes.”
I had never realised that three minutes could feel like that. On the one hand it was fleeting, over before I’d even drawn breath, but on the other hand I had lived and experienced every moment.
That was the first time that I met Daniel Paige and he taught me more in those three minutes than the whole school had in the all the years I had gone there as a pupil.
I went to his evening classes for a further three years after that initial term. The syllabus was exactly the same, year on year, the pieces of paper he used as lesson plans became more dog-eared and thumbed, but the classes were always fun, informative and helped serve as a refresher for me.
In that time Daniel never changed, not in any literal sense. His hair style differed: long and curly, short and frizzy or short and straightened, slicked back; but he was always affable, charming and as confident as ever.
The second year I went back to the class he remembered me. The class only ran for ten weeks but he could still remember details about me, even after a year.
The other members of the class could never understand what such a well renowned author was doing running an adult education class. To me it was obvious: he was gathering material for his characters. Here he could study the minutiae of someone’s personality, their mannerisms, ticks and traits that only close scrutiny can reward. My theory was proven about a year later when I finally picked up his latest horror novel “Spoken”, which was about a case of supposed demonic possession of a young girl by a deceased serial killer. One of the consultants in the book had a surname of Sampson (which was also my surname). Was this a co-incidence? Not when the character shared many of my own behavioural ticks, even down to the way that I become overly animated when I’m excited, or chew on my pen when agitated. All of that Daniel could have easily noted on that first night I met him, but he had the rest of the ten weeks to hone that character.
(I must admit I was flattered by that and actually own an autographed copy of it with an inscription “To Dr Sampson, all the best Daniel”.)
After the last class had finished I rushed out and bought a couple more of Daniels best sellers and voraciously read them. I now wish I hadn’t.
The central idea to his novels was always unique and breathed life into a somewhat one-dimensional genre and the plot was always sound. But it seemed to me that Daniel was always trying so hard to keep away from the clichés that were associated with slasher fiction, that they became a parody themselves instead.
If the cliché was having an innocent virgin survive then he would do his utmost to kill her off in a particularly nasty fashion in the first fifty pages. In a way they became formulaic, the stories were cold and calculating –like his killers.
Daniel was always brilliant at setting the scene, describing in vivid detail the murders and the ensuing crime investigation, it was almost meticulous. But, for me, the story and characterisation always let the novels down. It wasn’t that he didn’t understand human psychology; he could observe it and wrote down perfectly what he saw, but he couldn’t deduce motivation from that or get to grips with any real emotion, except for the nasty side of life.
I never told him how I felt, obviously. I was in a minority, but that was fine. I was also unsure how he would react to my opinions and might actually consider it extremely presumptuous (not to mention extremely rude). Although I suppose that many people would have jumped at the chance to prove their worldliness, superiority and vulgarity by carping on, but not I.
Years later I would become the hypocrite, but in completely different circumstances, and with greater conviction.
I read four of his horror novels, each one as predictable as the last. He made a habit of never revealing the killer at the end of the book –an act designed to thwart the machinations of the pessimistic reader- but by unmasking the antagonist with up to fifty pages to go it often meant a long, bland summation and exposition where even the most asinine detail assumed gargantuan significance.
However I still went back to those wonderful evening classes. But, like everything, they soon ceased and after five years we lost contact with each other.
At the end of those five years I had actually written my own novel which had even been published. Admittedly, it had been a self-published affair, sold only to a few local bookshops, but Daniel somehow found out, insisted on buying a copy and wanting it both inscribed and signed.
A few months before that I had spoken to him about a scene I had written in which the protagonist had visited a seedy brothel. The character in the story was at the last edge of desperation and needed to reach out to someone, anyone. (in an ironic way I had been in a similar situation, so this was art imitating life for certain.) He was a great exponent of “Write what you know” and asked me, conspiratorially, whether I had indulged in that particular experience. When I replied in the affirmative he seemed pleased that I had followed through and showed the “testicular fortitude” needed to be a writer and go that extra mile. I wondered how far he had travelled down that particular route himself. However in amongst the obvious confirmation of his teaching ability there was also a hint of sadness in his eyes.
After a while I lost my drive to become a published writer and soon my ability to turn a polished phrase dried up, save for writing in greetings cards or the occasional speech. I became fascinated with photography after discovering a talent hidden in various holiday snaps. Buying a digital camera furthered my creative ambition and within a year I was exhibiting a selection of my best photo’s in the local library.
Two years passed, one national prize winning photo, and two further exhibitions later, I browsed the shelves of one of the many charity book stores that lay strewn like the illegitimate children of our town.
“Dying Tonight is a real Paige turner.” Read the reviews of Daniel’s latest novel. It wasn’t a huge departure from his previous genre of writing: he had shifted from the writer of gory slasher novels to the, slightly more subdued, who-dunnits. I’d not seen him in a number of years and had totally lost track of his exploits after the writing classes.
“Dying Tonight” was an intriguing title. I read the synopsis and checked the author photo on the back, and taking the book home I vigorously devoured every page of it. Daniel had taken yet another overtly clichéd genre and breathed fresh life into it.
The story was written from the point of view of a would be murderer who had planned the death of his boss. When the time comes for him to actually commit his crime he is horrified to discover that someone has actually beaten him to it. The man is already dead, murdered in exactly the same way he had planned, but with all the evidence pointing to him. He has to find out exactly who framed him before he, himself, is arrested.
It’s a masterpiece of storytelling where the readers loyalties are confused between being on the side of the would be murderer, knowing him for what he is, and the actual murderer.
I was actually disappointed upon finishing the novel so quickly –I wanted more. Gone were all the traits that bored me so much with his slasher novels, instead there was depth of maturity and an understanding of human nature that was non-existent with Daniels earlier works.
On the biography on the back cover was an email address to contact Daniel: email@example.com. This was an ironic homage to his writing roots. In fact, the subject matter hadn’t really changed, it was still death and murder, just the emphasis and perspective had shifted.
I had to email him, if only to congratulate him on a masterful piece of storytelling. It would be doubtful that he’d remember me after such a time though. I was careful to keep my email short and succinct and didn’t want to appear overly gushing. I knew he had an irreverent sense of humour, like mine, and did my best to play to that. I began the email: “Dear Boss.”
To my surprise he replied the very next day. There was the same warmth and humour that I remembered, but the email seemed hesitant as if he was expecting me to ask something of him. The tone was one of trepidation, the humour measured.
He asked after me, enquired after my writing and wanted to know whether I had published any more novels. I was pleased he had remembered me and I fought the urge to reply straight away. I didn’t want to appear too eager. If he did have apprehensions about talking to me then I didn’t want to fuel them by incessant emails.
I replied two days later and dropped the formalities completely and began with “Yo!” –he always liked colloquialisms and I thought that would make him chuckle.
I replied two days later and dropped the formalities completely and began with “Yo!” –he always liked colloquialisms and I thought that would make him chuckle.
I told him of my photography and even attached a couple of my favourite photo’s. I asked him when his next novel was going to be published and wished him well. I didn’t hear from him for a couple of weeks and wondered if I had pushed too far this time with over familiarity. Then one morning I received a black envelope with my name and address written in silver ink. Inside was a very smart and ominous invitation to the book launch of Daniel Paige’s latest novel “Dying To Meet You”. The invite was for a couple of weeks time and included in the envelope was a map with directions to the venue and a small written note: “Yo! Apols for the short notice but would love it if you could come. All the best, Daniel!”
I was awestruck and dumbfounded –this was amazing! I had been invited to an official book launch in Horsely, on the top floor of one of the local bookshops (which actually featured in the novel). I felt honoured to be invited and immediately fired off an email of thanks.
The two weeks trudged passed but I used the time to read up on Daniels recent past. “Dying Tonight” was actually his first foray into the who-dunnit sub-genre. The sales of his slasher novels had gradually declined and for two years he hadn’t written anything. Then, out of the blue, and with little publicity, “Dying Tonight” was released. It spread virally through word of mouth and the internet. Daniel was one of the first authors to really understand the power of the net. Within weeks it became a hit and Daniel became a guest on radio stations and chat shows alike, but now all eyes were on his latest novel “Dying To Meet You.”
On the night of the book launch I was apprehensive and nervous. The invite was for a “plus one” as well, but I had only recently moved jobs and didn’t know anyone well enough to invite, so I went alone.
It had occurred to me that Daniel had always been a successful novelist and actually world famous, but to me he had been a somewhat quirky and cool writing teacher, someone I could have a real laugh with. I was now seeing him in a completely different context now and I was more than a little star-struck. I now wonder that if I had kept my feet on the ground whether some of the unpleasantness that came later could have been avoided.
I’d arrived far too early for the launch and wondered around an icy and foggy Horsely, but became very cold very quickly and resided to wait inside the bookshop itself. There was only twenty minutes to go and I like hanging round in bookshops anyway.
I was so engrossed in perusing the latest novels by Jim Storrington that I wasn’t aware he was standing behind me until Daniel clasped me firmly on the shoulder. My “Whatthefuck” outburst amused him greatly and he said, “Its funny, that’s what people used to say to me after they finished one of my slasher novels!” I turned round and shook his outstretched hand. His grip was firm and confident, mine was clammy and limp. He looked no different to the last time I saw him except his hair was slightly longer and more curly, but he no longer wore glasses.
“Contact lenses.” He replied to my unspoken question. “They make me look more approachable, doncha think?” He smiled and winked. I laughed rather timidly. I was starting to feel like a goldfish in a shark tank, a child amongst adults. “Have you ever thought of wearing contacts?” He asked.
“No.” I replied quickly. “Well… yes, I’ve tried.. but I didn’t like the thought of having anything touch my eyes… It’s icky.” Icky? I said Icky? I felt like a schoolboy talking to the headmaster.
“Indeed.” He replied, smiling. “How are you getting on?” He asked, genuinely interested in what I had to say. I felt like a fraud talking to him. I could see people gathering behind him and he was wasting his time talking to me. I quickly gabbled something about the exhibition I was preparing for and he seemed really pleased by this and congratulated me on the photos I had sent him. He noticed the beads of nervous sweat that had started to coalesce on my forehead and clapped me on the shoulder before saying, “I’m really glad you could make it. We’ll have to catch up soon. I may even have a commission for you.” I didn’t know what to say about that so I gushed a bit more. He seemed disappointed and simply wished me well.
I couldn’t understand what was wrong with me; I had never acted that way before. Now that he was a celebratory I felt in awe of him and somehow second rate yet he was no different from when we first met those years before, and nor was I.
He was a literary star, on his second wind and had even worked in Hollywood producing films for Robert De Niro and James Woods.
I was… well, what was I? - An aspiring photographer and a failed novelist. (Although I hadn’t failed exactly, I never believed in what I was doing so never followed through on the opportunities that were handed to me). I couldn’t understand why he’d invited me to the book launch and gone out of his way to meet and greet me. Surely I was an embarrassment to him, and I felt embarrassed for him.
Looking back on it now, as I write this, I might have offered him an alternative to the other star-struck fawning fans that dogged his career. I was a link to a time before he was famous and was able to see Daniel as he really was, or at least a truer reflection of the darkened mirror he allowed the public to see. So when I didn’t offer that to him he was a disappointed. He didn’t need another gushing fan, he needed a friend. It’s taken me a long time to realise that, I’m sorry to say.
I tried my best to enjoy myself for the rest of the evening. I talked to many different people, having a unique perspective on Daniel, being a pupil to his teacher, but I was still haunted by his disappointed farewell and went home early.
The next day I sent him an email thanking him for the invite. I bought a copy of the hardback novel, of course, and he wrote an inscription inside: “To my star pupil!” I still have the book, and all those that he signed for me. The email was short on length and gushing, trying to keep it to the point. I said that I enjoyed the evening, which was the truth and that I was enjoying “Dying To Meet You” which was a half-truth.
The novel had started well: Daniel always knew how to hook the reader and the central premise was strong, but I had guessed who the killer was within the first fifty pages. I didn’t receive a reply from Daniel for weeks afterwards, and nor did I expect one. When one did arrive in my inbox he asked me whether I would like to take his photo for the next novel.
I couldn’t believe what I had just read and had to reread it twice before the truth sank in. He liked my photography so much, especially the portraits I had sent him, that he’d persuaded his publishers to use me for the next photo-shoot. He apologised in advance by saying that it wasn’t company policy for the publishers to pay for the photograph, but he hoped he could make amends by buying me lunch. He asked me to think about it, and hoped to hear back from me.
Think about it? I didn’t need to think about it, this was a chance in a lifetime! I whizzed off a reply, thanking him for the opportunity. I then browsed the web for other author portraits, paying attention to poses and settings. I knew that Daniel based his stories around the local towns and knew that the last novel was based around Horsely so I thought it would be a good idea to build on that. I loved driving around anyway scouting for locations so knew a few good places to take his photo. I sent the list to Daniel and was surprised to find he replied instantly. The email had just three words: “Leaf Hill. Fab.”
Leaf Hill had been my initial choice, call it a gut feeling. There were so many opportunities for moody shots: the dense woods leading up to the top of the hill; the wonderful view from the top itself, which, being the highest vantage points on the North Downs, boasted stunning panoramic vistas. And then there was the Tower.
The Tower was an imposing folly built by “Mad James Fillier” on a whim. No one really knew much about it, but it made a perfect backdrop with the Weald behind it. The next day he emailed me with the list of dates he was free and I picked the soonest date which was less than a week away. It would mean taking a days holiday but it was more than worth it, as there would be less people walking.
Of course, the weekend before the shoot I scouted around for possible locations and felt safe in the knowledge that I had made the right decision: there were so many wonderful spots there that I knew we would be spoilt for choice.
The morning of the shoot I met Daniel in the car park. Me, standing in front of my fading Micra as Daniel pulled in with his Aston Martin.
“A little clichéd.” He said upon greeting me, “but Bond was one of the main reasons I became a writer in the first place.” He shook my hand firmly again. I smiled and looked at my watch. I knew that the best light would be at mid-day, but that still gave us plenty of time to take photo’s on the way up the hill. The wood would give us plenty of opportunities.
I was pleased to see that Daniel was wearing his brown leather jacket as I’d asked him. He also had on a dark navy jumper and black trousers. I wanted a look that suggested a gritty and earthy presence whilst remaining contemporary. He understood me perfectly and the brown leather jacket was the piece-de-resistance. He also had a pair of shades which added a menacing quality.
We walked up the hill making small talk, my words stumbling out like an amateur. I’d known him for years, but all that time it had been as a pupil to his teacher. Now I was the one that was telling him what to do and how to pose, I felt very uneasy. I know that he wanted to see me as an equal but I was so insecure I never gave him that opportunity.
The photo’s that I took that day count as some of my best work. The publishers used one of the photos taken in the woods as there was a sinister undertone to them. As much as I liked those that were taken atop the hill itself they seemed too exposed, and didn’t suit the subject matter: Daniel was swamped by the beautiful view. Had the photo been taken on a foggy morning then it may have been different. (I silently cursed myself about not thinking about that earlier – a foggy morning would have been even better for such a shoot)
The day had been useful, but strained. Daniel had bought ice-creams at the top of the hill and asked a passer-by to take a photo of us both. He grinned inanely in the photo and attempted to stab me with his cornetto whilst I guiltily nibbled my Fab-lolly. His smile was genuine enough, but there was also an element of frustration. He saw that day as a complete break from his crushing routine, a chance to chat with a friend and be himself, but it turned into yet another shade of work.
Of course I was overjoyed when I received the email from the publisher thanking me for the photo. It would be used as the promotional image from the next novel onwards. This was, by far, the highest point of my photography. In many ways I should have capitalised on it and sent off emails to other publishers asking for more opportunities, but I didn’t. I’m not sure whether it was due to a fear of failure or of actually succeeding.
A bottle of champagne was sent by courier from Daniel with a hearty letter of thanks. The bottle sits unopened in the kitchen as a reminder of happier times. When the inevitable launch came I eagerly received my invite and took relish in inviting my, then girlfriend, Claire to the occasion.
“Dying Solo” was written purely from the victims point of view as he pieces together the murder scene –in a similar style to Sunset Boulevard. The novel featured the same Paige turning attention to detail, especially when detailing the murders, told now from a unique perspective –that of the dead man, himself. Daniel must have enjoyed flexing his creative muscles on that one. The attacks were all visceral and I wondered how he’d managed to write them, considering one of his maxims was “write what you know.”.
There were far more people at this launch as Daniel was no longer the “rising literary star”. His last novel had cemented his reputation as one of the countries leading crime writers. The launch was held at one of the larger Horsely hotels, out in the country, and had actually featured in a previous slasher novel of his: “The Butler Did It” about a series of brutal murders that took place in a training school for butlers.
Claire was awed by the occasion, but I was daunted by the size. The venue was twice the size of the previous launch and I really wondered what I was doing there. I used Claire as a shield so I didn’t feel quite so insignificant and kept me sane for the night.
I had a hard time spotting Daniel as he crowd surfed, something that he actually felt uncomfortable doing. He was whirled around by his agent and publisher, meeting and greeting. No one else would spot the signs of his discomfort, but I recognised it from some of the photos I had taken of him. I resided to keep my distance until the book signings where I hoped he would allow me to take a photo of him with Claire.
When the time finally came he seemed really pleased to see me and was only too happy to pose with Claire. Unfortunately none of the photos from that night came out well, all were way too dark and under-exposed due to me getting to grips with a new camera. (Something I bitterly regret now as those would have been the only photo’s of Claire as the relationship only lasted another two weeks.) When Daniel signed the novel he wrote “To the world’s greatest portrait photographer” and we shared a conspiratorial wink. My photograph was THE publicity photo for a couple of years afterwards.
Over the next two years we both kept in touch via email. I went to the annual book launch with a different girl each year, Daniel rarely batted an eye during the launch but remarked about the change of scenery in one of this emails. I replied simply saying that it wasn’t a matter of choice for me, it just seemed that most of my life was down to a poor choice of back projection.
With “Dying Is Easy” our relationship changed. On one of our many email conversations I asked him how his latest novel was shaping up. Not too well was the three word answer. When pushed he replied that one of his characters was physically disabled and an artist –he was also under suspicion of being the killer. Daniel wanted to really get into the mind of the character but didn’t know how to do it, he was really stuck. As luck would have it, I had a close friend who was disabled and, bizarrely enough, also an artist. I was sure that if John was agreeable, Daniel could interview him and possibly even base the character on him. Daniel was over the moon with this, but it turned out to be one of the worst mistakes I ever made, losing two friends in the process.
Daniel met with John on several occasions, both heartily enjoying each others company. John and I felt sure that Daniel would show the physically disabled character in a true and sympathetic light. At the end John thanked Daniel for the wonderful opportunity but Daniel stayed strangely quiet.
On the night of the book launch I proudly wheeled John into the Waterside Bar in Festerham, a new hip and trendy location for such a literary superstar. We both bought copies of the novel and were surprised to find them pre-signed. However we were both mentioned in the credits at the end of the book. We smiled at each other, proud of our achievements. I was surprised to find that it was no longer my photo adorning the inside flap of the hardback –I had been usurped. I had always known such a time would come, but it still came as a shock.
We left early having missed the opportunity of meeting Daniel. I was disappointed, but John felt bitter. It had been unbelievably hot and cramped for him and we had to leave just after the speeches because of John’s medication.
Three days later I received a text from John that simply said “Bastard!” I had no idea what prompted that and John wouldn’t reply to any of my texts or phone calls.
When I finished reading “Dying Is Easy” I understood why.
Daniel had made the character that was wheelchair bound, the same character that both John and I had worked so hard on, into both the victim AND the killer. The character was dying from AID’s and sought to kill all those that had crossed him in his life.
I felt completely betrayed by this and knew that John would never forgive me. I finished the novel through gritted teeth and then threw it across the room. I couldn’t believe what I had just read. None of it made sense; Daniel had disregarded everything that John had said to him and played to the negative stereotypes.
In a fit of anger I sent Daniel an email and accused him of betrayal and of being nothing more than a hack, and in the circumstances he responded well. He couldn’t understand my concerns. Rather than being a victim, Daniel saw the character as taking complete control of his life, acting as the worm that turned, and thought of him as a positive role. He was sorry that I didn’t like the book, but said that it was only my opinion: other people liked the character and saw him as strong and independent. I was incredulous about this and sent him a particularly nasty reply. I never received an answer back.
Do I regret my hastily chosen words? Yes –yes I do. But I regret more suggesting that John be used as a research subject. I still consider what Daniel did a betrayal and I lost a damn good friend because of it, and that I don’t forgive.
Three months passed and I tried putting the whole incident behind me. I had hoped that John would get back in contact with me and be able to see that I had been used as much as he had, but that never happened. I received an untitled email from Daniel one day, completely out of the blue. There was no apology for what had happened and what he did, but there was an attempt at putting the past behind us. He wrote that he truly valued our friendship and didn’t want it to die like that. Nor did I.
I couldn’t truly forgive him but nor did I want to lose another friend. I replied and said that I was happy to start afresh now that this meant a level playing field between us. He replied instantly, via his Blackberry, and seemed really pleased. He was proud to be my friend and wished me well in what I was doing. That was the last time I ever heard from him.
I read on the BBC website that he died three months later from a cancer condition. I was shocked by this.
He had been dying for months but the cancer was inoperable. He must have been dying when he wrote “Dying Is Easy” and I wonder how much of the main characters bitterness was an extension of his own. He felt crippled by the pain and just wanted to lash out. I know now that he never meant for us to be caught in the crossfire.
It came to light that all the characters that were killed in the novel were all based on people that Daniel had known in his life. It was his way of getting back at the people that had crossed him, and speculation was rife as to who all the people were.
How do I feel about Daniel Paige now? I feel sad, I think, sad about missed opportunities. He was a great man, but most of the best bits were kept hidden behind his writers eyes.
I wish that I’d been more open to him. I let my own insecurity blind me to a great friendship. But I learnt a lot from him. He was a brilliant writer who sometimes gave into the pressures of popularity and convention. And even though I’m not as young any more, I’m writing now because of the big impression that he made on me.