Best-selling author DAVID MARK lays bare the bleak origins of his latest novel, DARKNESS FALLS.
Many years ago, in the midst of one of my bleaker depressive bouts, I took myself off on a walk to the Humber Bridge. I lived a couple of miles away and the forested area nearby was a favourite haunt of mine – a place to sit in the dark and the cold and drink whisky from a hip flask and smoke cigarettes until my ears tingled.
Those familiar with suicidal ideation will be aware that the Humber Bridge is something of a magnet for those who like to see how close they can stand to the edge of their sanity without toppling into the darkness. I wasn’t trying to do anything final, but, well, maybe there was no harm in teetering for a while. This was one of those nights. I was 26 or 27, I think. The baby hadn’t come along yet but she wasn’t far off. I wasn’t ready for any of it. I’d been desperately happy to learn I was going to be a dad, but that feeling died away as soon as I started questioning what precisely I could offer a child. I wasn’t any of the things I wanted to be. I was a failure. I was a journalist instead of an author. I owned a house but it didn’t really feel like home and had just traded in a car I loved for a people-carrier ahead of the arrival of the nipper. I was married, but she didn’t look at me with awe in her eyes, and given where I was at in my mind at that time, anything less than absolute wonderment may as well have been outright apathy. I’d tried writing a couple of books but nobody was interested. My poetry was so bleak it could have been written using the oozings from an adder’s bile duct. I was drinking too much. I was looking for dangerous situations to put myself in. I was picking fights and telling people where they were going wrong in life. And now I was supposed to teach somebody else how to live. I was supposed to provide and nurture and stick it out for however many decades it was going to take for my offspring to be emotionally robust enough to deal with my abandonment.
So, the Humber Bridge. I wasn’t going there to do anything drastic. I was just, sort of, going there. I was going to amble about in the woods in the dead of night. Scare myself into valuing life. I was going to see if I could make my heart beat hard enough to actually feel it.
The idea came as I was passing the road that led to my mate’s house. I was ten minutes from the bridge, or a couple of minutes from his house. It wasn’t a thunderbolt moment – just a little flash of an idea.
What would a suicidal person do if they were attacked by a killer?
It was one of those questions without a real answer, but it was interesting and I started to think about it. I wondered if, on my way to throw myself off something, I’d fight for my life if it was threatened. Then I wondered who might do such a thing. Who would this killer be? Why would they be lurking in the woods. What sort of a man would even be ambling through the woods on a moonless night and contemplating whether or not to off themselves or commit to fatherhood. And it became a story. Honestly, that little mental querying session became a story. I couldn’t not write it. What if the suicidal bloke just needed to change their circumstances and somehow stumbled into the middle of something that made them less eager to end their days? What if they were a journalist, a drinker, a smoker, a con-man and philanderer, who had been driven slightly barmy by their involvement in the hunt for a serial killer?
I figured it was a case of ‘write the book or jump off the bridge’ and writing the book would probably hurt less. I was wrong, of course, but there you go.
I turned away from the bridge. Turned away from my mate’s house. Went home, and started to write.
That book became Six Shots at Happiness. It kept me alive long enough to realise that my baby daughter was easily the greatest person in creation. She’s 17 now, and still is. The book didn’t get published (it nearly did) but one of the characters in it was noticed by one of the commissioning editors who turned it down for being ‘far too dark for a mass-market thriller’. He liked the red-haired policeman who loved his wife. He liked the setting too. It was a great read – just horrible.
I wrote a follow-up with the red-haired copper as the leading man. That became DARK WINTER, which has been adapted for the stage and has sold 500,000 copies and been translated into lots of languages.
A decade on from the publication of Dark Winter, I revisited the book that I knew as Six shots at Happiness. I re-read it, and agreed with the editor. It was horrible. But it was good, too. Good enough to take another look at.
The final result is DARKNESS FALLS, a prequel of sorts, a standalone thriller of sorts, and a collaboration between my 26-year-old self and the slightly less insane 43-year-old version. I could tell you what it’s about but it’s complicated and dark and bleak and hopefully rather beautiful here and there. It’s set in Hull a decade back and if I’d written it the way it finished up, I might have got a book deal a lot sooner and not had to spend so many years drinking my way into oblivion and feeling very sorry for myself. But y’know, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, although that isn’t necessarily true with long-Covid or osteoporosis.
Sorry if this was all a bit bleak. I actually think of it as a bit of a triumph, to be honest. It could have ended in death, and instead it gave birth to my career. If that isn’t an uplifting yarn, maybe the psychiatrists are right and I really am irredeemably bleak.
Anyway, hope you enjoy it.