STOP THOSE PRESSES!

CAST ADRIFT shortlisted for world's leading humorous crime award

Well, okay, the world's ONLY humorous crime award. But still...

Yes, Cast Adrift is on the shortlist of this year's Lefty for the funniest crime novel of 2005. It almost didn't qualify since there was a mix-up over publication date. It should have been published in November 2004 but publication had to be delayed until February 2005 - largely because I didn't finish writing it until September 2004...

CAST ADRIFT

The backstory

It began four years ago with me doodling with some silly lyrics for an imagined musical about Blackbeard, the psycopathic pirate who terrorised the coast of Carolina and Georgia back when.

I liked the idea of writing a novel based around Hollywood's two least popular genres - the musical and the pirate movie. At the time there hadn't been a successful film in either genre for decades. (The most recent pirate movie, Cutthroat Island, a vanity project for Geena Davis directed by her husband, had sunk with all hands.) For various reasons I got diverted from the novel. (One of the main reasons was the work I was doing on a straight crime series set in Brighton - or perhaps I should say non-comic as straight and Brighton might seem like a contradiction in terms.)

By the time I came back to Cast Adrift, Moulin Rouge had been a hit musical (though a one-off) and the wonderful Pirates of the Caribbean had been a box-office smash. Suddenly, Cast Adrift is relevant! Well, maybe... Happy reading.

Cast Adrift

Chapter One

"Don't be irate
I'am just a pirate
It's what I was destined to be
I've pillaged and killed
I'm rather self-willed
But there's also a nice side of me"

At least this time I didn't have a lobster clamped to my testicles. Instead, I was 30 feet underwater looking at a fast-approaching sea monster. An enormous fish, six feet long, heavy, its cruel teeth bared. It was scything through a mass of brightly coloured snapper and surgeon fish en route to me.
Ask me again, Bridget, I thought to myself. Ask me again how I'd like being in the movies."How would you like being in the movies, Nick Madrid?"
Bridget Frost, aka the Bitch of the Broadsheets, my best friend, constant goad and accomplice in many an unlikely adventure, leaned over the table, grinned and smacked her lips. I looked at her then past her to the long white curve of beach below. The sun was bright, the sky was blue, it was too hot to do anything but sit here in the shade, drink pina coladas and smile at the perks of being a freelance journalist with a best friend who is also a commissioning editor.
I waved my hand vaguely around. "Bridget, you got me down here to write a movie location piece. Now you're suggesting I could be the next Jude Law."
"You wish," she said, leaning back and stretching, thereby attracting rapid eye-swivels from every other man in the bar. "No, what I was suggesting - what I've already suggested in fact - is that you take over as stunt man." She leaned forward to display her breasts in a different way as I choked on my pina colada. I know it's not a fashionable drink these days but when in Mexico the Caribbean shores of the Yucatan to be precise you drink the local grog. I was saving the tequila for later.
"Yeah right."
"You know how to use a sword well, after a fashion and since this is a pirate movie there's going to be lots of that. You're supple because of that stupid yoga you do."
"Astanga vinyasa is NOT stupid."
"Yeah, yeah. Plus because of your quote yoga breathing, you can stay underwater for a long time which is definitely a plus for a pirate movie."
"Are you saying the movie doesn't have stuntmen?"
"Stuntman this is low budget movie-making remember."
I raised an eyebrow.
"We did have a stuntman, big hunk called Larry, but he upped and went two evenings ago. Nobody's seen hide nor hair of him since."
"Why'd he leave?"
"No one knows just disappeared. I was talking to Dwight and suggested on account of the fact he's desperate that he use you. At least until a real stuntman can be hired."
"You know how to build someone up and put them right down again don't you? And Dwight is up for it?"
"If I suggest it, why wouldn't he be?" she said, with what could only be described as a leer.
Time for a bit of what the movies call back-story.
Bridget Frost, deputy editor of a magazine in New York invites me to write a location piece about the making of a movie in Mexico. Fair enough. I'm in New York anyway and in no hurry to go home since a woman called Mara I'm keen on is pissed off with me and my flat in London's Shepherds Bush has been trashed by the Russian Mafia you really don't want to know. Hanging out on a movie set for a week or so in Mexico is not my idea of hardship. Then it turns out that Bridget is actually going to be in the movie.
"One minute you're a magazine editor, the next you're a movie star. How come?"
We're sitting in the restaurant of MoMa in New York, Bridget idly clocking everybody who walks in, giving them the old up and down look then, having judged them, dismissing them.
She's wearing a tight-fitting top and skin-tight trousers but they're not right on her because Bridget is best described as voluptuous and she's bursting out all over. She is, of course, totally oblivious to how she looks.
"I didn't say I was the star," she rasped always a bad sign, Bridget rasping "I just said I was in it."
"How do you know this director?" I said, suddenly suspicious.
"How do you think I know him?"
I pondered for a moment.
"Married then."
She sighed, twisted a ring on her finger.
"Nick, it's something I do. You know about me and commitment &"
My turn to sigh.
"Only too well."
"So anyway, he discovered I could sing and got excited about giving me the part of the pirate's mistress a hostage but one who's up for it."
"How did he discover you could sing?" I said absently, still digesting the thought of Bridget with yet another married man. "Bridget?"
She harrumphed. I'm glad to know people still do.
"I'll tell you some other time."
"But Bridget I have to ask a low budget pirate movie? Geddouttahere."
"Why?" she said sharply. "You saw what a hit Pirates of the Caribbean was."
Oops. I'd assumed it was some kind of joke.
"That was a Disney movie with a big budget based on a successful theme park ride. "
"Master and Commander?"
"Cost a lot of money but I don't think it did that well at the box-office."
"No sex in it, that's why."
"Several pretty young boys for a niche audience though."
"Mind your manners," she said, forking a big piece of lamb from her tagine and putting it in her mouth whole. "Go on," she said, whilst chewing. Nothing but class our Bridget.
"Low budget and films made on water just don't go together. Big budget and films made on water usually don't."
"Titanic?"
"Massive exception."
"Jaws?"
"The film company was all for throwing in the towel it was such a long shoot and went way over budget. But so far as pirate movies go, until Pirates of the Caribbean had come along there hadn't been a successful pirate movie since Burt Lancaster sailed the seven seas in the nineteen fifties."
She stifled a yawn, which is tricky when you're still chewing. I ploughed on.
"Remember Cutthroat Island, the multi-million pound project for director Renny Harlin and his wife Geena Davis? Hit a reef and sank with the loss of all hands. "
"Nicely put," she said, still chewing.
"I'm a journalist. I'm supposed to be good with words."
"True - but I've read your stuff remember."
I took a sip of my wine and tried again.
"Fine that you're riding on the coat-tails of Pirates of the Caribbean and Master and Commander. But they were high budget, this is low."
"Are you done?"
Evidently I was. Bridget and I don't exactly have an equal relationship, caring though it is. Well, sort of caring.
"Yes," I said. "Go on."
"It's called Blackheart. It's about Edward Teach know who he is?"
"Neat." Mel Gibson's Braveheart, although old now, was still in filmgoers' folk memory. They'd make the connection with the titles. I nodded. "Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, terrorised the Carolina and Virginia coasts in the early 1700s in a boat called the Queen Anne's Revenge. Although why Queen Anne should want revenge and on whom I've never been absolutely sure."
"On whom, eh?" More lamb forked into gob. "I was certain you'd have heard of him." I could hear the sarcasm in her voice through the noise of her mastication. Bridget thinks I'm a bit of a know-it-all. Who muttered something at the back there?
"Didn't know he'd gone down into the Spanish Main," I said.
"Yeah, well, he didn't," Bridget said quickly. "But that's where people expect to see a pirate in the Caribbean. This isn't a history lesson, you know, it's a Hollywood flick. "
"Hollywood? On this budget?"
"Okay, off-Hollywood. Besides, Dwight says, how else is Blackbeard going to meet up with the French chap?"
"L'Ollonais?" I said, holding back the smirk. "You got Captain Morgan in this too?"
"You're such a fucking know-it-all, Nick."
Told you.
"Miserable childhood," I said gaily, though truthfully. "Best thing to do was keep my head stuck in a book."
"What the Encyclopaedia Britannica?"
"In this instance, The Boy's Book of Pirates actually. The main characters were Blackbeard; a French sadist called L'Ollonais, who roasted captured Spaniards to death on a spit; Captain Morgan, who ended up as governor of Jamaica and gave his name to a rather tasty rum; and Captain Kidd. Is Kidd in your film too?"
She shook her head.
"We heard Ridley Scott had a film in development about him."
"I remember all about Blackbeard," I said. "Vicious and bloodthirsty as most pirates were, Blackbeard was the worst. Psychopath. Used to liven things up on board his ship by setting fire to pots of sulphur or by firing his pistols under his dining table whilst entertaining his friends in his cabin. Did his best to keep his men drunk so they couldn't plot against him."
"So the guy played a little rough to get a few laughs," a deep voice said.
I looked round. Bridget got up and hugged the man who had appeared beside us.
"Hi, Esther," the man said to Bridget. Bridget glanced at me and looked a little embarrassed. Esther?
"Nick, this is Dwight Brooks." She nodded at each of us in turn. I stood up and we shook hands. He was tall, almost as tall as me and I'm 6'4". He was a craggy man, in his late forties I would judge, but in good nick. He was wearing a cashmere pullover over a pair of neatly pressed cords. He pulled over a chair, sat down and leaned back. "Gather you've heard of Blackbeard."
I nodded.
"He wanted to terrify his victims into thinking he was a devil," I said. "Maybe the Devil. He had this long black beard that he plaited and tied with ribbons and he stuck long, lighted matches under his hat so his face was framed in fire. Dodgy juxtaposition, hair and fire, but it seemed to work."
"He carried three pairs of pistols," Dwight said, taking back the story. "And a heavy cutlass. When eventually they took him after a major struggle they saw they'd inflicted 25 wounds on his body, most of them gunshots. He was still alive though not for long. They executed him, took his head back to Virginia and stuck it on a pole."
"I was wondering how you were going to do this story given that the central character is a double-dyed villain. You're going to make him a Hannibal Lecter and turn him into a loveable monster?"
"Not just loveable a lover!" Dwight said triumphantly. Adding: "He had 14 wives, you know."
"Wives is probably a bit of a loose term," I said. "So how you gonna do it?"
"I'm going to pit him against the Frenchie, who, believe me, was even worse."
He had a supercilious look on his face. He was holding something back, I could tell.
"There's more isn't there?"
He nodded.
"It's a story about a guy redeemed by the love of a good woman. And what has always been the best vehicle for that kind of story?"
I shook my head.
"Got me stumped."
"A musical."
Now I did laugh, a mixture of astonishment and, I don't know, admiration for his chutzpah. So that's why Bridget's singing had been a factor. But when was a musical a hit in the past 40 years?
From brain to mouth.
"But when was a musical a hit in the past 40 years?"
"Moulin Rouge?"
"That sold on Nicole Kidman's legs. And a pirate musical?"
Actually, why was I surprised? This was exactly the crass way film people thought. A pirate movie was a hit. Moulin Rouge had been a hit. Let's put the two genres together.
"This is a tax loss thing, right?" I said, not wanting to appear naive. He was offended. He sat forward in his chair.
"Certainly not. This will be a major hit and you know why? Because I'm going to redefine the musical." He paused and gave it the puffed out chest and tilted chin; the gaze off into the far distance. Well, into the corridor to the loos at least. "This," he declared in a deep basso, "is going to be the first brutalist musical."
"Brutalist musical?"
"Yeah - a musical with balls."
A musical with balls. How could it fail?
Now read on

1 - 4 / 4