Early drafts of novels are written for you, the writer, in order to get to know the story and especially your characters. Rarely does a published novel reflect a first or second draft, often entire chapters removed completely.
A case in point is the chapter below, which never made the final cut of The Village in the Woods.
It was invaluable for me as the writer to better understand the main protagonist, but showed too much to the reader, slowed the pace of the novel, and jarred with the overall tone and feel of the book.
I never met my grandfather and people rarely spoke of him whilst he was alive, and never after he died. But I felt that I knew him better than I’d known anyone my entire life. The letter he wrote to me on my thirteenth birthday told me everything I needed to know, about him, about life, and sometimes I wondered about me too.
He was dead by the time I read the letter, dead the same day he sent it.
According to my mother, the one and only time she relented and answered my questions about him, my grandfather was a drifter of no fixed abode, in and out of prisons and odd jobs. But I knew in fact he was a used car sales man, selling write-off vehicles patched up with paint jobs and falsified documents and doing very nicely until the HMRC caught up with him one particularly cold Halloween, when the kids were high jinxing around his lockup and the man in the long coat who came knocking he supposed was one of them.
The hiding he inadvertently gave the man from customs and excise did nothing to help his appeal against the thousands he owed in unpaid tax.
Some years before he had married his perfectly nice, but woefully dull, second wife after his first wife, my grandmother, had divorced him in an acrimonious spilt that took everything from him but his dignity. He gave his new wife everything she wanted; a reliable car and sensible home, a thick girth around her middle and a small lap dog called Chowie, who ate the furniture and holidayed with them at the coast two times a year.
That Christmas, the one after he beat the taxman senseless and before he wrote me his letter, he stopped off at an off-licence on the way home after working a late one at his garage, picking up a bottle of Johnnie Walker and drinking half of it from the front seat of his car, whilst watching each of the houses in the road slowly shut down for the night, till the only lights he could see were the street lamps and the sickly looking moon above, half shrouded in the grey slush of winter sky. Checking his wife and Chowie were snuggly tucked up in bed, he doused everything with petrol, before returning to his car and enjoying the fire show of devil reds and twisting plumes of hell black, long enough until the fire brigade and police turned up. He then drove away, as far as the tank in his car would allow, leaving just enough within it to get to a post box to send me his letter and then gas himself on the last of its fumes.
I suppose that was why we never spoke of him as a family afterwards, but why I’ve always kept his letter and his memory with me ever since.