Second Thoughts / Phoenix from the ashes: Bryan Forbes looks back on the genesis of his novel, The Twisted Playground (Mandarin pounds 4.99)

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The Independent Culture
IT IS always difficult to remember the genesis of a novel. Why did a particular idea come into one's mind at a given moment?

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.