Thursday, April 4, 2019

Another Hundred People

Another hundred people just got off the train
and came up through the ground
While another hundred people just got off of the bus
and are looking around
at another hundred people who got off of the plane
and are looking at us
who got off of the train and the plane and the bus
maybe yesterday

Those lyrics appear in “Company” by Stephen Sondheim, and they are (for me) the most perfect encapsulation of midtown in New York City on a fall morning at about 8 a.m. The commuters flood from the subway filling the streets around Times Square, the Bridge & Tunnel brigade who’ve come in to Penn Station trek four or five streets over to jobs in the Garment District or the Theatres or further over to the palaces of Madison Avenue, while those who came into the Port Authority by bus join their fellows in the same trek.

At the same time, an army of tourists, jetlagged and bedraggled from their red-eye flights, drag wheelie-cases behind them and stare around with a mixture of awe and exhaustion, and the locals – the one’s who were once this wide-eyed – tut and swerve around them, occasionally muttering “It’s a fuckin’ sidewalk Bozo. Keep movin'.”

And amongst them all – coming by train and plane and bus – are the people who aren’t visiting on vacation, who don’t live here yet, but who have arrived, and who have decided that this, right here, is where they were always meant to be.

I love New York City. It’s the place where I am most energised, most creative. I have a friend - an actress - who lives in Britain. Every few months, she throws her arm across her eyes in a decent approximation of Theda Bara and announces that she needs to “Go to Glastonbury to recharge my batteries in the solitude,” which I used to lightly mock as the affectations of a creative til I realised I do exactly the same in the buzz of NYC.

And I have a lot of creative friends in NYC who – like almost every single person I know in that great city – came from somewhere else.

Some came for a one-off project three decades ago and are still there.

Some followed a lover, and many of those can barely remember the lovers they  followed there.

Some of them moved in search of fame or fortune, and for many that fame and fortune never came, but still they stay, working away at day jobs, meeting friends for coffee, making art, making contacts, having moments of ecstasy and despondency and just, as my mother would have said, getting on with it.

And I think about this – about the insanity of living in a place like New York City when The Big Success is someone other than you – from time to time.

Actually, I think about it a lot.

My first book was published three and a half years ago. It was a one-off about a gay everyman forced to solve a murder, and it was set in South London (a far less glamorous milieu than Manhattan, but one I felt more comfortable writing about). And just before it was released the publisher asked when he could expect “The next in the series.”

I had an idea for another story of course, but I’d simply assumed that there would be no need for the next in the series; because this first one – Death of a Diva – would be a Gargantuan international success, translated into two hundred languages, optioned for Movies, Stage productions, a musical version would be written by Kander & Ebb (or, if John and Fred were otherwise engaged, Andrew Lippa), a computer game would sweep all competition away, and the graphic novel would be acclaimed as great a piece of work as the Sistine Chapel, and I would use the income from my masterwork to end world hunger, crowsfeet, fascism and to employ a fleet of Swedish personal trainers.

Long story short: That didn’t happen.

My fourth book just came out and I’m working on my fifth.

And in that time, another hundred people and another hundred people and another hundred people just arrived and staked their claim. And some of them have had debuts that were international hits, generated millions of dollars, will soon be made into dreadfully miscast movies and none of them are me.

It’s easy these days to become despondent. The world is melting, the Fascists are not only on the streets but in some cases in government, young boys and girls are told that “Influencer” is a valid career choice, racism is resurgent and everywhere LGBT rights are either stalled or under threat of being rolled back.

And it’s easy to become bitter. Especially when the latest MISS (that’s Massive International Success Story to you) isn’t your book, and isn’t actually as good as your book, and isn’t even written by a decent person.

But easy isn’t what we do. If it were, we would never sit down in front of a blank page and write. We would never stand up from the dinner table, stretch, and leave our families to go to our workrooms and create. If easy was what we did, we would consume the creations of others, never taking that terrifying leap into the unknown to make our own art.

So what – if we’re trying to avoid falling prey to the easy dismissive cynicism of the modern world – can we do?

I’m a therapy bore. I never realised how much of who I am and what I do was encoded without me knowing until I had therapy a few years ago. I saw the temptation to compare, the natural impulse that probably had the first protozoic slime going “I’m not staying here with these losers; imma grow legs and drag my slimy arse out of this swamp.”

I recognised the insecurities that mean that no matter how hard we try we – in many cases – will not ever feel entirely good enough.

And I saw the structure of a capitalist society that places an inordinate amount of value on wealth. Oh don’t get me wrong – I like money. I like nice things and the freedom that money brings. And if Netflix wanna option The Danny Bird Mysteries for a vast sum of money I will not argue.

But I also see that the danger of many of these constructs is that one fails to see success in terms other than those defined by others. And, at times like that, I remember finishing the first draft of my first book, and feeling like I had achieved the impossible. I remember selling that first book, and feeling like my life was about to change. I remember reading at my first Noir at The Bar and afterwards Jay Stringer of this parish telling me he’d loved my reading and that I’d sounded like I’d been doing it for years, and the glow of that – someone who had no need to acknowledge let alone compliment my work doing so and doing so very generously – is still with me.

And I look at the fourth book in my series – Death of an Angel – which has had the best reviews of my career so far (ahem Netflix, ahem) and at the plotting post-its for the fifth book, and at the fact that I’ve been booked for NATB in Newcastle in May, that I’ve been asked to be on a panel at the NewcastleNoir Festival, and to read again at Morecambe in September, and I know that these are all Successes, and more importantly all my successes.

And while I’ve been writing this, another hundred people just got off of the train/plane/bus, and some of them will have the MISS I wouldn’t say no to, and some will never even complete their manuscript, but there’s room for all of us, because the being here, the being in this hive of creatives, the staying here and working long after the project / lover / dream that lead you here has gone, is perhaps the biggest success of all.


Derek Farrell is the author of Death of an Angel and three other Danny Bird Mysteries.

The books have been described as "Like the Thin Man meets Will & Grace," like MC Beaton on MDMA," and - by no less an expert than Eric Idle - as "Quite Fun."

Farrell is married and lives with his husband in West Sussex.

They have no goats chickens, children or pets, but they do have every Kylie Minogue record ever made. 

No comments: