A twenty-first-century casino is often too well lit. The result of the overlighting is a distinct lack of atmosphere. In the Marina Bay Sands Casino, located in Singapore, there are no dark corners and no concealed faces. No private detectives are walking out of the shadows, and no eccentric villains are stepping out of secret doors.
In the casino, I’m standing at a roulette table. I’m also watching delicate and slightly nervous hands hold two crimson gambling chips. The hands belong to a Japanese colleague whose thick glossy black hair is held in place by a tortoiseshell brown hair clip. She looks up at me, smiles, and says: “Are you sure?”
“Quite sure,” I reply.
She places the chips onto two red numbers: nine and three. As the croupier spins the wheel, events from eighteen years before begin circling in my mind. You see, back in ninety-three, I was asked to leave A-level English literature.
Shortly after my English literature redundancy, I thumbed through a magazine. On one page was an interview with a movie producer. He was asked how someone could become a writer. His response went something like this: “They need to get out in the world and have a life.” I have never forgotten that sentence. It gave me hope that my dream was not completely over.
A month later and now an ex-English literature student, I started to write poetry. Within a year I published a poem and was invited to a reading event where I got quite a nice round of applause.
Years later, I wrote a children’s book which no one wanted. The story was about an unemployed dragon called Felix. He meets a young girl called Lucy Kerrigan and his luck starts to change.
One morning, I walked into my manager’s office and she asked me to take a seat. The news is that we are all being made redundant. The payout, to me, is a huge sum and comes with several months of gardening leave. And I don’t even have a garden.
Not long after, a friend tells me about a company abroad. I submit a script to them. They never used the script but they did need more editors. My friend asked if I wouldn’t mind being an editor. My office would be located in Hari Nagar, you know… that place in Ashram? They were effectively talking about New Delhi in India.
From that point on my life became a high-speed blur. It consisted of two years working in Delhi, then six months travelling around India. Work then followed as a display fitter in Boots stores all over the UK. My day at that point involved being in a small van. At high speed I passed through parts of the UK I didn’t even know existed. I seem to remember once seeing a sign for a village called Ermington.
My life is then punctuated with a month in Malaysia, a month in Shanghai, and a year working in Singapore. It is also littered with characters right from out of a film noir. A lot of femme-fatales come and go. The friend I’ve known for ten years betrays me over a not insubstantial amount of money. I meet them for the last time in a club filled with mannequins. Rather like the climax of Stanley Kubrick’s Killer’s Kiss.
I suppose these incidents are examples of having a life. Just like my mind, yours will also be filled with small images. Some of those picture fragments will be sad, some disappointing, but hopefully many will also be joyous.
I see a cinema screen in my head which shows me a curtain wall of water, out in a bay, which has a musical sequence projected onto it. I’m watching it with someone I’ve fallen in love with but, disappointingly, no romance will follow. Then there are the joyous images: a decorated elephant trudging down the third lane of an Indian motorway. A night spent in a mirrored nightclub, once a bomb shelter, under a street in China. There is also a vibrant canvas where I’m holding someone’s hand in Rajasthan while looking for tigers.
Some of these images of life made it into my latest book: Rita Wong and the Jade Mask. The secret (and this is just between you and me) is that Rita Wong used to be called Lucy Kerrigan and Lester Thyme the dragon, well he used to be called Felix. Also, the colour of his eyes used to be green but they are now tortoiseshell brown.
The book that no one wanted is rewritten from top to bottom in twenty nineteen. My changes include a villain called Ermington. He likes to gamble, particularly Roulette. Chess is also something he’s good at, and the colours of the playing pieces mirror his thinking: black and white with no compromise.
Oh, and one of our heroes, Lester Thyme, meets a close friend who once betrayed him. Then there is a vampire in the story who never got the break or the man she wanted. She’s become bitter and desperate. And her eyes glow crimson in the night as she finally succumbs to the lure of crime.
You can see where this is going, can’t you?
They say that you should always try to stay out of the red and in the black. Yet life is such a random game, that either of those two colours are a possibility. In a nutshell: I am trying to say that if you feel you are not getting the breaks you want as a writer, then get out in the world and have a life. Because then the breaks, and the inspiration they provide, will come and find you.
(c) Mark Jones
About Rita Wong and the Jade Mask:
Rita Wong leads an ordinary existence sipping hot chocolate in Morecambe. That is until a dragon called Lester Thyme crosses her path. He leads her to a place known as Neon City where the streets are dark with magic. Between the two of them, Lester and Rita become detectives for hire. Their case involves stolen goods, and will see them meet femme fatales, crime bosses and a whole host of monsters. Although amateurs in the crime detection business, Rita and Lester will need to learn fast if they want to survive the week. A fast detective story set in a landscape studded with danger, the unexpected and lots of humour.
Order your copy online here.