The first thing I ever started writing was a (hopefully) humorous weekly column about family life. Eighteen years on I’m still writing it although, with the children having left home, these days it’s far more about the minefield that’s married life.
The problem is, once you start writing crime thrillers, you see everything through that prism. Although this column is humorous, it does illustrate that point (and another important one – that being married to a writer isn’t easy…)
Friday night and I had violent stomach cramps.
There was only one possible suspect!
DIAL M FOR MUSHROOM
The Roman Emperor Claudius was, according to legend, murdered with a mushroom. A poisoned mushroom, lovingly offered to him by his wife, Agrippina.
As I clutched my stomach on Friday night, I asked myself a simple question. “Was the same thing happening to me?”
Surely not? Thirty years of bliss with never a cross word? Then again…
“All you ever talk about is your books.”
“Do I want to discuss your next plot? No, I want to watch Silent Witness.”
“A day out? Lunch at a country pub? It sounds lovely. What? After we’ve driven round the Moors? So you can…”
Had I gone too far? Given my wife too much of a good thing?
“What do you fancy for dinner tonight?” I said on Friday morning.
“I’m going to do mushrooms on toast.”
“Oh. Cool. Haven’t had that for years. Are you going to do them in a sauce?”
“Duh…” And I was ordered out into the rain for garlic and parmesan.
And very lovely they were too: generous sauce, parsley sprinkled on top, just the right amount of garlic. And there’s no toast like the toast from home-made bread…
Then it struck me. Eight o’clock that night. Stomach ache. Cramps. I didn’t feel well. Anywhere near well.
I put my head round the lounge door. My wife was watching Gardeners’ World. Chatting to the Beloved Daughter. Telling me that, no, I couldn’t watch football because Gogglebox was coming on…
Looking remarkably chipper. Not like a person with stomach cramps…
“As if I wanted to watch football,” I said without a hint of bitterness. “When do I ever want to watch football? I’m off to bed. And I’m feeling sick.”
I wrapped my arms round myself and stumbled upstairs. Threw an extra blanket on the bed and crawled into it.
Inevitably, started thinking about storylines.
No question, it would be a good ’un…
‘He went for a walk in the woods, officer. It’s full of wild mushrooms. He told me they were safe to eat. Said he’d seen it on ‘Countryfile.’ He insisted. Ordered me to make him mushrooms on toast while he drank beer and watched football. No, I can’t show you the pan. Or the plates. I put the dishwasher on…’
What was that Agatha Christie book? Dial M for Murder? There you are – I’ve brought it up to date: Dial M for Mushroom.
And that’s the problem. Once you start writing crime thrillers it takes over your life. You see everything through the plot prism.
‘Hang on,’ I thought. ‘Maybe there’s a series in it…’
The Strychnine Steak? The Cyanide Surprise? The Poisoned Pizza? Given the number of blokes whizzing around town on bikes and scooters that one could be a series on its own. Memo to self, ring Netflix…
After I’d finished groaning.
I read some more about poor old Claudius. What do you know? Modern historians now believe it wasn’t Agrippina. Far from his wife doing him in, it was his own greed and stupidity. ‘Don’t eat that, Great Caesar! Not until the slaves… Oh, too late.’
Greed and stupidity.
Sadly, that rang a bell…
“I’m hungry,” I’d said, some time around three. “Forgot to eat any lunch.”
“Well don’t have any now. Remember I’m doing mushrooms tonight.”
And I’d found a packet of dry-roasted peanuts in the cupboard. Sat at my desk scoffing them. A quick check on Google confirmed it. ‘Digestive reactions can take a few hours to occur after eating too many nuts. It’s common to feel nausea…’
Forget Dial M for Mushroom.
It’ll be Dial P for Peanut.
Or a couple of other words beginning with the same letter…