I have made a commitment, for about five years now, not to expose myself to the daily news. I neither listen to it, nor watch it. If a news bulletin begins, I immediately switch over or mute the volume until it’s over. Because the news is always bad news, I find it has a toxic effect on my mood, and since I discovered that my success in life is significantly dependent on how joyful and positive I feel, I recognised that banishing the news was an essential career move. I balance my need for positivity with my need to know what’s going on in the world by subscribing to The Week – a condensed, politically-neutral overview of current affairs that brings considerable pleasure to my leisurely weekend breakfasts. I often get a whiff of what’s going on via Twitter, but as I’m now fully immersed in the writing of the next novel, I’ve been deliberately working in the library these last three weeks in order to escape the distraction of Wifi. Thus I had no idea until today that a five-year-old girl had been abducted, and that her name was April Jones.
I saw it as I was leaving the gym after my morning swim – they have News 24 permanently on one of the monitors there, spewing out its subtitles under the tedious moronically-lyricked dance music. And as I was passing there appeared on the screen ‘police have arrested a man suspected of murdering missing 5-year-old April Jones’. I stopped dead. April Jones is the name of the central female character in my new novel.
My first thought was, how long has this been a news story? How long has she been missing? Did the news somehow break into my subconscious awareness without my noticing and write itself into my book? I’ve just checked online and the answer is, no, April Jones only disappeared (and appeared in news feeds) five days ago. April Jones has been the name of my protagonist since the beginning of September.
My April Jones, like the real one, is at the centre of a horrendous (murderous) crime. I wouldn’t normally share any part of a novel in progress publicly, especially when that novel is at such an early stage, but here is what I wrote about my April Jones (who is 20, not 5) four weeks ago:
‘Named by parents ashamed to be ordinary, she has made them anything but: creators of a girl – for she is barely a woman – whose name and face now sell newspapers.’
I’ve had spooky writing experiences before. A particularly powerful one helped me get unstuck when I was writing The Marlowe Papers. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. Fittingly, this next novel is partly exploring the nature of human consciousness.
There’s not much more I can say until I have had a chance to process this experience a little, except that clearly I’m going to have to change the name of my April Jones to something else. Whatever name she ends up with, lets hope anyone sharing that name remains out of the news.