About a month ago, I did a signing at Forbidden Planet to coincide with the new edition of Doctor Who: Touched by an Angel being published. I didn’t mention it here at the time, but I plugged it repeatedly on twitter so you have no excuse. And what else can I say about the book? It’s still probably one of the best things I’ve ever written, certainly the best book, the story draws on my own life so is quite personal to me (and was cathartic to write) without ever being autobiographical (or anyone-else-ographical).
Anyway, you can find my original announcement about writing it here, the blog about it being published here (which includes a link to my fabulous Spotify soundtrack playlist) and there’s a deleted scene here. So today, inspired by the brouhaha about twenty years of Britpop, I thought I’d share with you my original notes for the novel.
As you’ll see, it’s more-or-less a list of contemporary references; not because I planned to include them all (though very nearly did, but wise heads who suffered the first draft told me to take them all out, thank you Matt Kimpton) but simply as triggers for my own memories, my own sense of what ‘then’ felt like at the time.
It also, of course, includes several ‘spoilers’ for the book, so don’t read it if you haven’t read the book yet (seriously, it’s been out for 3 years, in two different covers, on Kindle, on CD and in Italian, you have no excuse). And what’s interesting for me, if for no-one else, is all the bits that got changed or omitted along the way (i.e. one of their university friends coming out as gay, another one committing suicide, an appearance by the Angels on Bonfire night ). But the main thing is that in making these notes, it really helped me get to the heart of the characters and put flesh on the bones (sorry about the metaphor crunch); it was incredibly useful for me to write stuff knowing what was going on ‘outside’ of the books remit, both in the world and in the characters’ lives. I recommend it, as an approach. Anyway, here goes:
Mark Jason Whitaker (born 23 November 1973) and Rebecca Annabel Jones (born 12 August 1974)
1993 May – So Young
Meet at Warwick University, Labour club, mutual friends party, hall of residence. Mark is going out with Sophie Kendall, Rebecca is going out with Dennis McCormack (and called Bex). Get on really well, each pretends to be single when they both have significant others. Become friends. Dennis possessive, patronising, Sophie jealous, insecure. Bars at WU: Mandela’s Bar, Harvey’s Diner, Loxley in Westwood, Wayne’s World II, Tocil Lake, Saturday whip-round, The Airport Bar, computer rooms near library, Warwick Boar newspaper. Echobelly playing at Saturday whip-round, going to be bigger than Suede or Blur; Oasis played there the previous year, Sophie didn’t think much of them.
Events: FA Cup Final replay, 19 May, Arsenal 2 Sheffield Wednesday 1
Newbury by-election, Norman Lamont ‘Je Ne Regrette Rien’, unemployment 2.9million
Death of Charlotte Hughes. John Major prime minister. Sonia Better The Devil You Know Eurovision party. Adverts Reebok, Hale & Pace Clorets, Weetabix Robin Hood,Tango, Lion Bars, Wayne’s World video, Heineken. Boddingtons.
Shop at Safeway, Kwik Save. Usenet email internet.
Films: Groundhog Day, Indecent Proposal. TV: Press Gang, Men Behaving Badly, The Chart Show, Spitting Image, Going Live. Computer game Sega Megadrive. Mr Blobby. Tongue/lip studs. Shaved patterns on heads. Paintball. Chris Evans on The Big Breakfast. Steve Coogan. Jonathan Ross’ Saturday Zoo.
Other hits: Spin Doctors Two Princes, New Order Regret, REM Everybody Hurts, UB40 I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You
1994 June – Don’t Turn Around
Club-night, Friday. Mark living with Sophie, Rebecca (now single), Rajeed and Lucy Fisher. House in Leamington Spa, student digs, terraced house. Night out clubbing at the students’ union, rave music. Marketplace. Mark falls out with Sophie, walks home with Rebecca through campus to get night bus. Drunken kiss. Future Mark comes back, this is first time he sees them, earlier self, Angels in the club and on the campus. Both still in Labour club, have been on demos, also go to gigs together.
Reading Trainspotting, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Yellow pages advert JR Hartley. Michael Barrymore live. Bodum coffee makers. Levis shrink to fit. Olde English Cider. Portable CD player top present. Films: Four Weddings And A Funeral, The Hudsucker Proxy, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective
TV Brookside Beth Jordach, The Day Today, The High Life, Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush, X-Files Adverts for National Lottery. Wonder Bra. Magic eye pictures. Fridge writing. Cilla Black. Michael Barrymore. Smell Of Reeves And Mortimer. Run up to European elections, after John Smith’s death, Tony Blair, John Prescott leadership election.
Other hits: Let Loose Crazy For You, Grid Swamp Thing, Wet Wet Wet Love Is All Around, Dawn Penn You Don’t Love Me (No No No)
1995 April – Back For Good
Mark still with Sophie, falling out, Rebecca now with Anthony, final year, exams, Lucy now with Jane, lesbian couple. Anthony rugby type, glowing red, cheeks, public school. Mark now in love with Rebecca, Sophie jealous about this, Mark has to deny it, he talks to Rebecca (now called Becky) about his problems with Sophie, just mates, best mates, asks her advice.
Kenny Everett dies of AIDS. Oklahoma city bombing. Adverts Organics, Chicken Tonight, Dime Bars with Harry Enfield. Ferrero Rocher. Cellnet. Reading Virgin Suicides. Internet yahoo, ebay, amazon. Films: Outbreak. TV A Bit Of Fry And Laurie (final series) Supermarket Sweep, Friends, Roseanne, Fast Show. Army surplus clothes, combat boots. Chris Evans morning show Radio 1.
Other songs: East 17 Let It Rain, Boo Radleys Wake Up Boo!, Corona Baby Baby
1996 February – Don’t Look Back In Anger
Wintry weather, living in Coventry, Mark splits up with Sophie at last, she’s already started going out with someone called Daniel. Mark working in telesales/data entry, having graduated, Rebecca doing a Phd in Ancient History (or Rubble). She’s still with Anthony, not working out, they sleep together, when drunk, Rebecca the next morning says she’s with Anthony, doesn’t want to hurt him, pretend it never happened.
Reading High Fidelity. Docklands bomb DLR. British rail privatisation. Scott Report - Arms to Iraq inquiry – Matrix Churchill. Take That announce split. Diana and Charles announce divorce. Eurostar break down. Deep Blue beats Kasparov. Adverts Eurostar. Eurotrash presenter guy Antoine Des Caunes. Crunchy Nut cornflakes. Mobile phones everywhere from now on. Mercury Phones. Hooch popular from now. Film: 12 Monkeys TV Our Friends In The North, Ballykissangel, TFI Friday, Frasier, Game Sony Playstation, Father Ted, Alcopops, Stack trainers, Floppy White Hats, Inflatable chairs. Eddie Izzard. Mark & Lard in the afternoon. Zoe Ball.
Other songs: Lighthouse Family Lifted, Joan Osborne One Of Us, Robert Miles Children
1997 December – Angels
Run up to Xmas, Mark working in administration for Housing Association in Coventry, Rebecca away, Mark now with another girl, Kathy, not really working out. Depressed, is this all life is, but then his future self starts helping him out and improving his life (somehow!). Bumps into Rebecca in the shops, she’s now engaged to Anthony, congratulations, going away for Christmas, Mark going back to his parents, his dad’s not well, might have to spend Christmas in hospital, difficult time.
Britannia decommissioned. Reading Bridget Jones Diary. Kyoto protocol. Adverts Royal Mail. Megane Classic. Allied Dunbar. Churchill Insurance. Carphone warehouse. Sony Minidisc. Internet websites start taking off. Reading Island of The Day Before Umberto Eco. Film posters: Titanic, Tomorrow Never Dies, in cinema Bean, Good Will Hunting. TV Robot Wars, Channel 5 first year, Fifteen To One, World In Action, This Morning With Richard And Judy, Computer Game Tomb Raider, Nintendo 64, Teletubbies, Henna tattoos, black-rimmed spectacles, mini rucksack bags. Tamagotchi, laser pens. Lily Savage, Jack Dee.
Other songs: Spice Girls Too Much, All Saints Never Ever, Teletubbies Say Eh-Oh!
1998 August – Perfect Ten
Rebecca and Anthony have split up shortly before going on holiday to Rome together, so Mark, who split up with Kathy back in February, around the same time as his father’s death, agrees to go with her. They’re sharing a room, visiting sights, doing the tourist thing, platonic. Future benefactor still helping him out, wallet stolen by Trevi Fountain, finds another, Angels in the Capitoline Museum, late evening, they see the sun setting over the forum, remark that for the first time both of us are single, shall we fix that? Kiss, fall in love, this is the moment their story begins. Rebecca is now called Rebecca.
News: Iraq disarmament UNSCOM teams; Monica Lewinsky Bill Clinton news breaks. Improper physical relationship. Opal fruits become Starburst. Internet Google starts. Reading The Beach, reading What A Carve Up by Jonathan Coe. Film: The Truman Show, There’s Something About Mary TV So Graham Norton, Time Team, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, South Park, Ally McBeal, Harry Enfield, Zoe Ball in mornings.
Other songs: Boyzone No Matter What, Stardust Music Sounds Better With You, Corrs What Can I Do
1999 November – Love’s Got A Hold On My Heart
Mark and Rebecca moving in together in flat in Kensal Rise, North London. Still very much in love. Renting a place near the station. Saving up for a wedding. All very stressful, moving house, but they’re okay, not falling out. Fireworks night. Angels visible on the street, in adjoining garden. Millennium approaching.
Gary Glitter in news. London eye in position. Christmas present, first three Harry Potter books. Mars probes lost. Adverts Woolworths. C & A. Cocopops. Barclaycard.Vodafone. Sony camcorder. Natwest. Kit Kat chunky introduced. Reading Underworld by Don DeLillo: Films: Fight Club, The World Is Not Enough, posters Sleepy Hollow, Stuart Little. TV Walking With Dinosaurs, Cold Feet, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, Can’t Cook Won’t Cook, Sex And The City, Pokemon, Folding scooters, Red Bull, text messaging, Bill Bailey, Ali G.
Other songs: Len Steal My Sunshine, Melanie C Northern Star, William Orbit Barber’s Adagio For Strings
2000 November – One More Time
Mark and Rebecca’s wedding in a church in a village near Chichester, where Rebecca’s parents live. Friends from university include Rajeed, Lucy and Jane, Dennis McCormack (now gay) plus other work friends of Mark’s, now working for a solicitor’s office (thanks to future self) and earning enough for a mortgage. Mark misses father, his mother is there, alone, plus siblings. The angels attack etc. during the reception in a marquee in Rebecca’s house – her dad’s the vicar, they live in the vicarage, a house with massive lawn etc. Rebecca now working for academic publishing firm based in Camden.
Michael Douglas marries Catherine Zeta-Jones. Raid on diamond at Millennium Dome. Adverts Budweiser Frogs, have a say in London Mayor. One2One. Direct Line. Wassup advert. Northern Lights by Philip Pullman. Cinema Meet The Parents, Bedazzled, Charlie’s Angels. TV BBC Breakfast starts, BBC News at Ten, Family Guy, Spongebob Squarepants, The West Wing, Ant & Dec.
Other songs: Madonna Don’t Tell Me, Toploader Dancin’ In The Moonlight, Coldplay Trouble
2001 May – Don’t Stop Moving
Where Mark works, there’s a fire, and he’s caught in the blaze, after helping one of the older partners. They’re trapped together, with the Angels outside – visible to Rebecca – and the fire engine arrives. Future Mark has arranged a way of helping his former self, he loses consciousness, the Doctor and company help him escape in the TARDIS after he’s knocked out. Angels in the building whilst it is on fire, waiting for a paradox. Future Mark’s folder is destroyed in the blaze.
John Prescott punches a protestor for throwing egg, end of foot and mouth crisis. Reading Timeline by Michael Crichton. Films Bridget Jones Diary, posters for The Mummy Returns and Shrek. Gets a DVD player for the first time. TV At Home With The Braithwaites, Big Brother, The Weakest Link, I Love The 80s. Frank Skinner. Sara Cox.
Other songs: Geri Halliwell It’s Raining Men, MOP Cold As Ice, Sugababes Run For Cover
2002 April – Fell In Love With A Girl
Mark and Rebecca still good, Mark’s doing extremely well in his job, looking at buying a place, Rebecca’s now got a lecturing job at UCL, thinking of children, trying but no luck yet, Lucy and Jane have adopted a baby, Dennis has settled down, Rajeed killed himself around Christmas, drinking problem. Apart from that, all very positive, though Mark has had an affair at work, complicated. Rebecca has been in a road accident, knocked over by a taxi, broken shoulder bone, otherwise fine, Mark worried about her crossing the road.
Queen mother’s funeral. Ipods launched. Reading Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman. Film Ice Age, ET re-release, The Time Machine. TV Footballer’s Wives, The Office, 24, Alias, What Not To Wear, Peter Kay, V Graham Norton. Digital radio.
Other songs: Travis Flowers In The Window, Will Young Evergreen, Natalia Imbruglia Wrong Impression
2003 April – Out Of Time
Mark and Rebecca still trying, no luck, have moved and have bought a place in Crystal Palace. Mark is at home, working, while Rebecca is visiting her parents in the village near Chichester. Dropping hints about grandchildren, Mark has ended affair, nothing really happened, Rebecca has been having bad headaches, undiagnosed... and driving home one night, she is killed in a road accident, head-on collision with a lorry. Funeral the following week.
Gulf war – Saddam Hussein’s statue toppled, Baghdad captured, British forces take Basra. Human genome completed. Film Bend It Like Beckham. TV The Osbornes, Spooks, Top Gear, Harry Hill’s TV Burp
Other songs: Christina Aguilera Beautiful; Busted Year 3000; Blue You Make Me Wanna
2011 July – No title
Mark is now a partner of the legal firm, thrown himself into his legal work, doesn’t quite make connections with women, has been on dates but no luck, still friends with Rebecca’s family, move on say his friends – Sophie is back in Mark’s life, she’s divorced, but there’s nothing there. Few friends, still hasn’t got over the shock, still misses Rebecca every day, thought it would get easier, living on his own in a flat in Honor Oak Park overlooking London, looking towards centre of town, Shard etc. People tell me it’s been eight years... it doesn’t feel like eight years. Has a photo of her on his desk, talks about her in the present tense, bit young for you, this was taken a while ago, oh I get it, my wife’s the same, once they get that ring on their finger they let themselves go. Gets a Chinese takeaway. Still in contact with Rebecca’s parents and younger sister Claire.
Newsreaders – check as and when.
Tomorrow I'll post a few other bits and pieces from the early stages.
Tomorrow I'll post a few other bits and pieces from the early stages.