Second Thoughts / Phoenix from the ashes: Bryan Forbes looks back on the genesis of his novel, The Twisted Playground (Mandarin pounds 4.99)
Saturday 07 May 1994
The Twisted Playground began as something else, another in the Cold War spy genre. I had written some 45,000 words and felt (with or without justification we shall never know) that I was on the home stretch when the icons tumbled in Moscow and I was left stranded. Writer's block is bad enough, but to be faced with junking six months' work was a hideous prospect. I put the manuscript to one side and began work on a second volume of autobiography, for like a pilot after a crash, it is vital to get into the air again or risk losing one's nerve forever.
Yet something continued to nag at me. I felt that the opening sentence of my aborted novel deserved a better fate than oblivion and I took the corpse out again. The sentence in question was 'It was a shock to sight Henry at Heathrow when officially he had been dead for over a year, found hanged in the closet of a Moscow Hotel.'
I still couldn't think of any way of using it, until we spent a weekend with my old friend Roger Moore and his wife in Venice. It was there, in the opulence of the Gritti Palace, that I chanced upon an article in a computer magazine that intrigued me. Delving deeper, my research led me down many uncharted backwaters until, with an increasing sense of horror I found my way to an underworld that traffics in children for sexual gratification with the computer modem as a passive, virtually undetectable accomplice. Once a paedophile has decoded his way into this maze he can order children as if by mail-order catalogue.
Thus far, armed with what I thought was the basis for a thriller with some moral content, I began again, able to relate the cherished first sentence to a character I could see in the round. Slightly modified, it launches the story - 'It was a shock to sight my old friend Henry at Venice airport when, officially, he had been dead just over a year, found hanged in the closet of a Moscow hotel shortly after the Cold War ended with a whimper.'
Shortly after publication I picked up Time magazine to find a centre-page spread mirroring, to an uncanny degree, my plot. Who can tell by what curious alchemy the writer's imagination sometimes anticipates events? I have no answers, but I felt a shock of recognition when my fiction was brought, tragically, to life.
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