David Mark on how the red stuff that courses through our veins and a very macabre daydream inspired A RUSH OF BLOOD.
Well, it’s rather hard to be a crime writer and hear about people experimenting with blood transfusions, and not to let that turn into something very grisly. We live in a very secular age and so few people are given comfort by the notion of an afterlife and it rather got me to thinking about the nature of grief – about the departure of what we call the soul.
I wondered about whether or not true comfort could be found in knowing that a loved one’s heart still beat in the chest of a recipient after organ donation. And what about blood? We talk about it a lot, have strange reactions to it, but previous generations had a very relationship with matter and flesh and the stuff in our veins. They experimented with it. They imagined that the blood of the lunatic could be cooled by being mixed with the meeker blood of the lamb. It all rather got me thinking about how a person in the throes of grief could convince themselves that as long as a heart was still beating with a loved one’s blood, the person they mourned would not really be gone. All of this came to me when I was spending a lot of time in the Whitechapel and Bethnal Green areas in London.
I’ve always had a hankering to write a novel set in the capital, having always used the North as my preferred canvas. I wanted to try and tap into the grittiness of a city with such a wonderfully squalid neighbourhood, where people could point to upstairs windows and say ‘that’s where Jack the Ripper’s third victim lived’ or ‘Reggie Kray took a bayonet to our Frank’ in that pub. It’s such a wonderfully cinematic environment, and there are these old pubs that don’t seem to have changed much since Victorian times that always look so inviting on a wet November evening.
I spend a lot of time sitting in bars watching the world go by and I have to confess that much of this rather dark and grisly tale did evolve from a very macabre daydream involving a tall, cadaverous gentleman with a droopy moustache and a briefcase full of old medical pamphlets. I found myself transforming him into a character, and did the same with the table full of rather Gothic-looking ladies who wore lanyards showing they worked at the nearby hospital. They were talking about a new show on YouTube that explored the fascinating world of morbid anatomy: blood and gore and autopsies and discussions about the most fascinating things removed from the human body.
It all became background to what I hope is essentially a story of how an ordinary person can find themselves entangled in something unspeakable, and how grief can poison the soul. I scared myself a bit writing it, which has to be a positive sign.
A RUSH OF BLOOD is out now in the UK and from 7 January in the US. Read more here.