I also write under two pen names, but this page is about the contemporary fiction I write as John Lynch. Two things that have been said to me about my books have stayed with me. One was from another writer who said, ‘Whatever your books seem to be about, in the last resort they are all love stories.’ I think that’s probably true; these books do not belong in the Romance genre, but they all reflect the idea that love between humans is the most important motivating factor in life. Without it, what’s the point? And the other is something that’s been said to me several times: ‘However serious or even grim the subject matter may be, somewhere in your books there is always humour.’ I think that’s true, too, and I can say only two things. The first is that anyone who can look at this world we live in without laughing just isn’t paying attention. And the second is that, as Woody Allen said, “Life is hard, and then you die.” Yes, life is hard, I think my books reflect that, but as humans evolved they developed a sense of humour and I don’t think there’s any doubt that there are good evolutionary reasons for that. But don’t buy my books thinking you’re getting a comedy, because nothing could be further from the truth.
This book was first published as Zappa’s Mam’s a Slapper. When I was writing it, I typed the opening line:
All I’d said was, I wouldn’t mind seeing her in her knickers.*
After I’d written that line, I sat and stared at it for ages. Where on earth had it come from? And where did a story that started like that want to go? I had no idea. But I need not have worried. Billy, the protagonist, stood over my shoulder and kept up a running commentary the whole time I was writing it. “Poppy wouldn’t have said that.” “Don’t forget the anger management.” “It didn’t happen like that, it happened like this.” Now, Billy was a character out of my imagination. He didn’t really exist. So when I say that, in a very real sense, it was Billy who wrote the book, you may get the impression that I am, to put it no stronger, differently sane. But that’s all right – I know a lot of writers and some of them are very good and I doubt that any of the good ones could meet a psychologist’s definition of sane. I’m not saying they’re all nuts, but… Well, perhaps I am saying they’re all nuts. Perhaps that’s what it takes to be a writer.
Here’s the synopsis I sent to the first publisher I interested in this book:
Zappa’s Mam’s a Slapper says we’re all in this predicament called life together, and only together can we hope to get through it. Zappa McErlane is one of six children born in Newcastle to a mother who has no use for them except as a source of income (thieving, prostitution). He should be a dead-ender, a no-hoper. When he is framed for the murder of his stepfather, his life seems over at 14. Zappa has other ideas. He changes his name to Billy and then, as a successful photographer, to BL McErlane. With a career, money and a new set of friends, he turns his back on everything he has known. But then into his life comes Dillon, a young boy from the same doomed side of the tracks, and Billy learns that the past does not let go so easily. Zappa’s Mam’s a Slapper is a story of love and its power to change things. It’s about learning to forgive, and to take responsibility for yourself and for other people. It says that what matters isn’t the cards you’re dealt but how you play the hand. It’s also about the state of Britain today and how we arrived where we are.
My target reader is people like me, who like a story (beginning, middle, end), get emotionally involved with the characters and are ready to laugh and to cry when that’s what the story demands. They don’t have to agree with me that we all need to take responsibility for our own actions and choices but I’d like them at least to think about it.
The Making of Billy McErlane was the first book I published in what I think of as my modern era (Yes, like tennis). That is, the first book when I came back to writing after a stint as International Sales Director. That had started with a three-month consultancy contract at the end of which I told the company, “If you want to survive, this is what you have to do and this is how you have to do it.” They said, “We will – but only if you stay for two years to see it through.” By the time I left, I’d been there for seventeen years. Darkness Comes is my latest book, published in April 2020.
Ted Bailey has never seen the inside of an earthly courtroom, but now he faces an altogether higher judge. This is how the prosecutor opens: “The story we’re going to hear today is one of murder, fraud, the bribing of foreign officials and the smuggling and sale of proscribed drugs. And the way the accused treated women was a disgrace.” As St Peter himself says, it doesn’t look good for Ted. But Alex, whose love for Ted got her murdered, knows the rules for entry into Heaven and the prosecutor doesn’t. John Knox didn’t make it, even in his latest incarnation as Gordon Brown. Alex knows she can’t get Ted in first time round – but she’s going to have a damn good try at winning him a second chance.
No-one gives Sharon a chance. Except Sharon.
In Sharon’s deprived childhood, Buggy was Top Cat – the one everyone went in fear of. Buggy ruled the roost and Buggy’s girlfriend could be the Number One female. So she married him. Of all the mistakes she could have made, that was the biggest. But mistakes don’t have to be final.
All Sharon wants is a better life. A husband who takes care of her, the kind of food they have in magazines, and civilised conversation. Is it her fault that she is in the middle of a plot involving two hitmen? Well, yes, actually, it is. But Sharon is a survivor who makes her sure-footed way in a man’s world. And when she woos Jackie Gough, she does it the way a female mantis might, knowing that when she’s had enough, the male may have to die. Until then, she lets him think they are equal partners and will share the money she sets him up to steal. Poor Jackie.
It takes a long time to write a book. By the time I’d finished Sharon Wright: Butterfly, I knew my star character so well we were on snogging terms – except that snogging Sharon would be a risky thing to do. Jackie Gough tries it, and realises too late that the dumb blonde is no more dumb than she is blonde. My sympathies are with Sharon. She is born in a rundown place into a family that doesn’t care. Because she’s female, she is expected to accept that her place will always be second to a man’s. She learns to hide her intelligence, but hiding it is not giving it up. She is surrounded by South London criminals and assorted lowlife who would kill her without a second thought if they thought she posed a threat. And still she survives.
(Or does she?)
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