‘Ivory’ was the first novel I wrote. It’s about Martin, an artist and family man who has lost his passion in life. That is until the fateful night he runs down a young woman with curious features–white skin and hair, and black eyes. She should be frightening, yet Martin becomes obsessed with her unnatural beauty, ignoring the warnings that lust, corruption and death walk with her…
The story has evolved over the years, but essentially the plot has stayed the same. It’s also been a little bit like marmite–people either really like it, or they hate it. Because of that I was keen to have the input of an editor, and she advised that too little of the questions surrounding Ivory and her keeper were answered. It was intended to be the first part of a series, and I had held back some of the answers, so I decided against a series and fleshed out the back story and mythology around Ivory in the rewrite so ‘Ivory’ can be a standalone tale to be read and understood on it’s own merits.
Now, ‘Ivory’ has been unleashed for over a year on Amazon… and… she’s not getting much love. Very few sales, and only one (precious and appreciated) review. So, let’s see if I can tempt you into reading about the mysterious Ivory and leave you wanting more…
“Beauty is mysterious as well as terrible.
God and Devil are fighting there,
and the battlefield is the heart of man.”
Dark bloated clouds swathed the night sky in a low crawling ceiling. They haemorrhaged their substance over London. The rain glossed the rough dark grey stretches of street. The lights and neon signs infused and splashed the roads surface with vivid colour in the dark. Martin Roberts’ Volvo estate hit a puddle with the impact of a hydroplane touching down, sending fans of silvery water into the air like wings. The lights of the streets distorted in the vertical veins of rain and the watery pearls that twitched across the glass away from the direction of the car.
The outside world was a blur in Martin’s peripheral senses, swept away by the trudging march of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A that strained the speakers of his music system. The music blocked out the sound of rain rattling on the roof and the hiss of the tires thrashing the puddles. Its steady climb to a crescendo imitated the rage that built within him at the red lights and busy junctions that seemed to conspire against his need to get home and end his evening. The track came to its quiet close but instead of another pounding classic taking its place, bouncy notes and saccharine voices romped their way into the car—The Tweenies. One of the boys’ CD’s had been left in the CD changer. Ditched by the powerful classic tracks his mood suddenly had nowhere to go, and he had been so enjoying his anger. Passionate rage, instead of the usual constant mire of hidden melancholy and frustration, was a refreshing change.
A clear stretch of the Charing Cross Road presented itself to him. The Tweenies would have to stay for the moment, he decided. He gripped the wheel and aimed his car at the night-time streets, and The Tweenies sang as he floored the accelerator and charged to gain some ground on his trek across the city.
He had been forced to take an indirect route home due to the major water pipe and sewer restoration and replacement project taking place at various points across the city. The road works had forced drivers into unfamiliar territory and they hesitated and changed their minds and directions. As a result, they snarled the roads with traffic even at this late hour. He slowed as he approached a queue of glaring red-eyed brake lights. He had gained a couple of hundred metres. Hardly worth breaking the speed limit. Guilt soured his gut before being diluted within his stagnant reservoir of other unpleasant feelings. He decided that the journey and the nightmare driving conditions were the crown on a shitty day.
Martin stabbed a finger at the CD player and switched to the next classical CD. His red mood reared from the murky depths of his depression with Wagner’s Valkyries. The point when the evening had become a write-off with his hopes strangled and his pride smothered had been when the little wanker Richard Hadleigh won the award for best piece at the University Departmental Achievement Ceremony. The “UDACs” as they were called on the campus, were the university’s equivalent of the Oscar’s. The judges had said that Hadleigh’s work “conveyed the artist’s struggle with repressed emotions and hidden desires”. It was a piece that had symbolised his “coming out” in his second year at university.
Everyone knew Hadleigh was a raving woofter. It wasn’t a secret; it wasn’t even something many people batted an eyelid at these days. It was almost fashionable. The amount of lads that he had seen hanging from Hadleigh or locked to his face over the last three years didn’t seem much of a “struggle”.
The car’s burst of speed was halted as he reached Oxford Street and even though the lights were in his favour, he was forced to inch himself across the street traffic. This award meant that Hadleigh had won the university’s art prize two years running, which was a rare event that had only been achieved by Martin himself.
Martin’s second win had been in Hadleigh’s first year at the university, after which they had met and forged a relationship of mutual admiration; Martin for Hadleigh’s developing talent and passion, and Hadleigh for Martin’s generous teaching of his own honed skills. Their needs had been mutually met within the role of student and teacher. It had come just when Martin had first sensed his own creativity being stifled from a long tenure as lecturer, and he had found Hadleigh’s passion for art infectious. Their shared bond through canvas acrylics and oil had been broken when Hadleigh defected to sculpture—a sudden and mysterious coup that had left Martin without a protégé.
A vintage route-master bus lurched out in front of him, patently disregarding of Martin’s existence and right of way, causing him to suddenly punch his brakes, leaving him with his heart in his throat from the narrowly avoided collision. Scantily clad girls hung out of the rear door. One of them waved a bottle of champagne at him. A hen-night hiring. That meant the party girls would be a fixture in his view and the bus an obstacle until their paths diverged from Tottenham Court Road.
They raved and jeered at the world.
Martin was an artist. A painter. In his mind a traditional artist. He didn’t understand sculpture—especially metal work. He could become one with the paint and command it with a subtlety or a passion most canvases were not fortunate enough to be graced with. In the past he had created portraits with a photographic realism that captured life and emotion, and landscapes swept in bold strokes that emphasised their drama.
Sculpture could complement its subject and be both beautiful and inspiring of emotion, but its tangible reality in the three-dimensional world had a brutality and force that Martin struggled with. Hadleigh’s work in metal sheeting and salvaged machine parts was not what Martin considered to be sculpture. It required skill, though it was that of a welder or engineer, not the finesse of an artist. For Martin, Richard’s medium flirted with two schools of art that he could not reconcile himself with: Modern art and installation art. Where a stack of bricks or some frozen animal halved and suspended in formaldehyde could be regarded as art. In his opinion they were the Emperor’s new clothes of the art world.
The traffic lights were out at Euston Road and he pushed the nose of his car hesitantly forward, trying to measure the approaching gaps in the oncoming cars to see if he could risk pulling out onto the road he wanted.
The sudden loss of the flattering draw on Martin’s knowledge and Martin’s talent being the catalyst for another’s inspiration, and the sense that his opinion and approval were needed to validate Hadleigh’s success, had caused the smouldering embers of Martin’s creativity to cool and his talent had gone into remission. He found himself in a state of impotence. He had tried his best to resurrect his muse, working all year in his loft studio, mixing subtle hues and vibrantly skilful strokes to create life like some gothic necromancer. Yet what he had created had been a Frankenstein’s bastardisation of his previous works. An imitation of his past glory that wasn’t strong enough to sustain a soul of its own. He could, and would, blame Hadleigh, but it was a demise that had only been delayed by his brief work with his student. Martin was losing his art. For that reason, Martin decided that he hadn’t deserved to win the award.
Martin slammed his foot on the accelerator and the car lurched into a tight gap between cars on a spray of surf. He held his breath as the headlights of the Mini Cooper he had cut across filled the car and blazed angrily in his rear view mirror. When there was no shunt from a collision he puffed out a breath he hadn’t realised he had been holding. He needed to calm down, although he was definitely not going to put The Tweenies back on to help him.
He was a son, a head of department, a teacher, a husband and a father, and each of these roles conspired against him with their own conflicting demands and responsibilities, and held a mirror against his failings in each, and drained his creativity. With the lack of his art, he more than ever believed himself to be an intellectual hypocrite in his role as art lecturer and head of the art department, since he was teaching to create from the soul and from the passion within. All this, when his own inspiration and feeling were so diminished he barely had enough to sustain him, despite having a wife and two children who loved him. It was difficult to admit but he found that his family to be equally unsatisfying to him. His life was not how he had expected it to be; although if he were asked to imagine the details of what he had wanted it to be like, he wouldn’t have been able to answer. All he had ever wanted was his art and to be a master of it. He often struggled to understand how this life had even come about.
At the corner of the British Library, the amber traffic lights winked out abruptly and a red stop light burned in its place. He cursed and slammed his foot on the brake. The stream of traffic on the Euston Road tauntingly left him behind. Life, which for Martin was family and love, was meant to influence his art, and his job was meant to fund his life. Stripped back to basics they were relationships of necessity; symbiotic. Yet his family and his job were also distractions that drained his resources, creatively and financially, and without his art they seemed without function beyond meeting his basic need of comfort.
A green light allowed him to resume his journey, but the resentment generated through his self-reflection caused him to lose patience with the main roads. His thick fingers, whitened in their tight grip, yanked the wheel to one side and turned the car sharply off Euston Road and into a side road. He hadn’t travelled these roads for some time and he was sure their layout would have changed since the St. Pancras developments. He took road after road, as uncertain of the direction he was taking on these back roads as he was in life generally. At the age of forty-three he expected to be settled and taking life in comfortable strides, not stumbling and looking back, unsure what had tripped him.
The car continued its journey into a residential area and on a whim he pulled into a narrow street. Most of its streetlights were out and the shadowy houses crowded in on him. Some had the odd light on behind curtains, but the majority of them were dark. The occupants asleep or judging by the rundown condition of the houses most were abandoned.
The light from his headlights hollowed the road out of the night and the constant fall of rain was a dizzying glitter in the beams. Suddenly his lights pulled something stark white moving from the dark road ahead, like a ghost suddenly made manifest. There was a sharp noise, the sound of a thousand voices screaming out before being cut short by the crunch of metal and splintering glass. Martin lost sight of the road as he was thrown forward from braking and yanked back in place by the tension of his seatbelt. The white shape was gone and the light from his headlights returned to picking raindrops out of the dark before the now stationary car.
Martin felt an uncomfortable rigidness in his leg and relaxed his foot from pressing the brake-pedal to the floor. He still held the wheel, but the anger that had pressed his fingers to it dissipated. His hands fell trembling into his lap and he sank back into the seat. With a faltering hand he clicked the stereo off and thanked fuck that the kids hadn’t been in the car.
He didn’t know what had happened. A man in an alley-way parallel to the car seemed caught mid-motion, poised in a pose of running, before he turned on his heels and disappeared into the alley. Without the stereo the only sounds were the idle of the engine, the squeak of his windscreen wipers as they shunted mechanically back and forth, and the drum of a thousand fingers on his roof and buckled bonnet as the rain rattled down.
The bonnet had crumpled.
He’d hit something. Yet there was no car, no motorbike, there was nothing before him that could have caused the collision and that level of damage. A bollard? One of those wrought iron posts made to look like a cannon. That would easily have caused the damage, but it wouldn’t have been in the middle of the road.
His heartbeat drummed to the tempo of the falling rain; each quivering beat launched an unbearable shiver of anxiety through his nerves. He remembered that his headlights had caught something. The bonnet was buckled. He had hit something.
The rain drummed.
The wipers swayed.
His heart pounded.
He remembered the blur in his headlights.
The shape that had white hands and a white face.
He’d hit someone.
The headlight lit street, the memory of the moments before his sudden halt, the rain, the wipers, the tick of the cooling engine, the tremble of his hands, the echo of his heart all clambered around his head—and were then scattered by a pale hand that reached up from before the car and slammed onto the bonnet.
The slender feminine hand spread palm-flat, the fingers working and probing to gain some purchase.
Martin could only stare in shock and dread. His tongue trembled in his slack mouth. His heart’s uncertain beat pounded in his throat. Wanting for everything in the world for this to have not happened.
The hand tensed, as if braced against dragging its body upright and back to its feet. Then it went limps and slid on the slick surface. It abruptly disappeared back over the edge, out of sight.