The local newspaper photographer who became a thriller writer

Adrian Spalding
Adrian Spalding was the photographer at the Mercury

Got some book tokens for Christmas? 853‘s special correspondent and turf investment adviser MERCURY MAN returns with a tale of an old colleague who has just released his first novel…

Mercury Man logoWe’re all guilty, aren’t we?

Of jumping to unfair assumptions. Making sweeping generalisations. Postulating when we should just be listening. Choosing conjecture when… (Okay, we get the point! Can we please get on with it? – Ed).

In journalism, for example, there’s this widely-held but unspoken belief that snappers just make up the numbers. We take them along on stories (The luxury! We have to take our own pictures now – Ed) and we recognise that the pix are important but, frankly … it’s the words what matter.

Snappers – like builders, electricians and plumbers – invariably have more technical ability than reporters. They can fill a frame every time and always come up with a decent exposure, but the prejudice persists.

And, like all prejudices, it instinctively goes further, ie, that snappers can’t do anything else on the creative front. So let’s bury that one straight away.

Adrian Spalding used to be chief photographer at the Mercury in Deptford High Street. He was the doyen of the dark room and a good lad to boot. But, prejudicially, one assumed that that was more or less that – good lad; great snapper; never read a book.

Sleeping Malice knocks that on the head in more ways than one Adrian’s 380-page thriller has just been published, he’s got another (a comedy about a detective agency) coming out in the spring and a third is with his editor, his wife Linda, as we speak.

My own little effort – liFe with a capital F – is now sadly out of print, so I’m more than pleased to promote Sleeping Malice to all of you out there, especially budding wordsmiths who think they’ve got a book in them and need a boost to go for it.

‘I wrote while commuting’

I met Adrian for a coffee in the Euro Café in Lee – where else? – and got the lowdown. “Sleeping Malice,” said Adrian, “started as a simple writing exercise that I set myself one winter’s day in January, which I thought was a stupid thing to say, January days invariably being in winter.

“It had to have two characters, one called the visitor and the other the inhabitant. One is killed for no apparent reason. I just got carried away as one idea led to another until I ended up writing a whole 120,000-word book. Not in one session you understand, MM, it took a couple of years, writing while I commuted. Thank goodness for all those train delays or else I might still be writing it.”

So when did it all start for him? Was it a result of the Dark Room Blues, which have claimed many an unsuspecting soul? “No, I have conjured stories in my head since I was very young. The problem at school was simply not being good at grammar. My educational qualification varies depending on which of my CVs you’re reading. In all cases they are not impressive. So it was not until I was a lot older, maybe less wiser, that I started to write stories. The grammar might have been bad, but the stories were great.”

Then he had a bit of what he calls a writing hiatus. “While I worked at the Mercury – snappers are not expected to be literate, so that was fine – I started writing dinner date features, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

“Never wanting to be boring, I became famous for writing a complete restaurant review without mentioning the food once. There was, of course, the added advantage that I could take my wife out once a week and get paid for doing it!

“I was encouraged to write by people who could write, getting all the reassurance I needed, so once again I started penning my stories. By the way, my grammar had improved no end during my time at the Mercury.”

Escaping an imaginary gunman

Authors that inspired Adrian? “To be honest, I never read a lot until I married Linda, who encouraged me. She is a book person and introduced me to some of the great writers, including Emile Zola and John Steinbeck, two of my very favourites. Their commentary on poverty and the struggles disadvantage people have, really hit a chord with me.

“You’ll see in most of my books a reference to either Steinbeck or Zola. Be it a simple quote or one of their books being on the bedside of one of my characters. I like to spread the word.”

So it was no surprise to Adrian that when he left the Mercury he worked for a homeless charity in Deptford, writing applications to secure funding. “Now, I’m not saying this helped my fiction writing but I had to portray the charity in the best possible way to secure funding.

“I have no idea where any of my ideas come from! It could be a simple news item, something someone says, or just my own slightly deranged mind. I’ll give you an example, which I hope does not end up with me being sectioned.

“I could be walking along a small wooded path, I enjoy walking in the countryside, when I think to myself, ‘what if someone comes out of the undergrowth, with a revolver and shoots at me? What would I do, how would I react?’

“So from that thought I work out a plan of action to escape this imaginary gunman, which of course I do. From that I then start to develop the story. I need to look into the reasons why I was shot at. I can’t go to the police as I have a dark secret of my own. There you have it. Just to be clear that was all imagination. I do not have any dark secrets … honest.”

Sleeping Malice
Sleeping Malice was released in October

Adrian touched on the point I started with. “I think a lot of people are surprised that I am such a prolific writer. Although Sleeping Malice is my first published novel, I have a number of other completed rough novels, all waiting to be polished into diamonds.

“People expect authors to be academics who speak in prose and have a vast command of the English language and grammar. So I come as a real shock! I might not be an academic, what I do have over qualifications are real life experiences.

“Being a press photographer sends you to the darkest corners of society, as well as the highest echelons. My other jobs, have brought me into contact with entertainment stars, UK security agencies, homeless, drug addicts, alcoholics, environmental campaigns, as well as serving the public in a department store.

“It is this wealth of experiences which I think makes up for any qualification I might or might not have, depending on which CV you look at. Linda has always been the one that believed I could write, and write well. So when I received rejections and got frustrated when I could not make a story work, she was the one who sat down and reassured me. Encouraging me to carry on.”

‘Non-poncy’ writing

Adrian has an undoubted gift as a story-teller. There’s a quirky, flowing, unaffected style – a Guardian reviewer once used the term “non-poncy” – to his work. Me and Mrs MM balk at ‘15’ films at the flicks so I had to skip the gory bits and even check with Gary Zukav’s point about the soul being unable to tolerate brutality (The Seat of the Soul).

Adrian’s rejoinder: “Thrillers and crime stories are a big-selling genre, so the temptation is to follow that storyline, which I did with a psychological thriller in which some people get killed and dark secrets from the past emerge and threaten to overcome the characters in the book.

“All well and good, but not everyone likes such stories, plus writing them can scare the heebie-jeebies out of the wife. So my next novel, planned to be published in spring 2019, is a crime story full of humour, which I’ve really enjoyed writing.

“I have never been an ambitious person. I’m more a ‘Wonderful Life’ sort of person. You can never really know what difference your life has made to others. So just do your best and don’t worry about it if people consider you a success or not.

“Having Sleeping Malice published and available to people around the world is enough for me. My family are proud that I am now an author, so that counts as a success in my eyes, and I love it. If I did become a best-selling author, then I would start my own charity, helping those in poverty. Now that I would consider a success!”

Mercury Man logoSo, Sleeping Malice, a psychological thriller where nobody is innocent, is now available from Amazon. The paperback is £7.90, or the Kindle version 0.99p or free with Kindle Unlimited.

Got a story or a tip for Mercury Man? Drop him a line at mercuryman.853[at]gmail.com or leave a comment below.

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