Monday, March 2, 2009

Peace comes to TV and Cinema

I have followed the complex world of David Peace since he debuted with his ‘Red Riding series of “novels”. These books are a fictional re-telling of the Yorkshire Ripper case. I was impressed that it was UK independent publisher Serpent’s Tail that first published Peace. I was fortunate to interview David Peace a few years ago for Crimespree Magazine when he launched GB84, a fictional and politically charged look back at the British Coal Miner’s Strike in 1984. I interviewed David with fellow Northern Crime Writer Martyn Waites in the Yorkshire city of Leeds.

A section of my interview was featured at The Rap Sheet, and naturally I was interested in his response to my asking about the origins of the Red Riding series -

AK: So how did you get Nineteen Seventy Four published, as I understand you had a series of rejected books in your third drawer?

DP: Lots, in fact. ... In fact, one of the reasons why I went to teach abroad was that I couldn’t get my books published. I wrote Nineteen Seventy Four purely for myself, to amuse myself in Tokyo. My dad came out and he read it, and told me that I should give it another go and submit it. He also brought some books by some new British crime writers and told me that he thought that Nineteen Seventy Four was better than those he had just read. I read them too and felt the same. I went to Serpent’s Tail first, as I admired what they were publishing--Walter Mosley and George Pelecanos; in fact, they had just published the early Nick Stefanos novels at the time.

Now David Peace has been in the press a great deal of late due to the screening this week of the Channel 4’s adaptation of the Red Riding series, as well as the Film Adaptation of his fictional re-telling of the Brian Clough Management of Leed United Football Club – ‘The Damned United’.

The Observer’s Euan Ferguson meets the three film directors behind Channel 4’s Red Riding series –

The three individual directors of Red Riding, the C4 trilogy adapting David Peace's haunting evocations of 70s and 80s Yorkshire - interlinking tales of very fallible coppers, very noir hacks, very human killers - are sitting down talking about the process for pretty much the very first time. They had a couple of suppers together way back at the beginning, but today, they're talking, really talking, for the first time.

Julian Jarrold, James Marsh and Anand Tucker, three very different directors, were trusted by producer Andrew Eaton with his long-term labour of love: the on-screen evocation, after it had been wrestled into a blinding screenplay by Tony Grisoni, of Peace's sprawling, unforgiving series of books set loosely around the time of the Yorkshire Ripper. The result is whatever the plural is for more than one tour de force. We're only in March, but if it doesn't clean up at next year's awards I'll eat that chintz. The filming, of three discreet but linked films (1974, 1980, 1983), had, by definition, to dovetail, collide, overlap, but the directors didn't.
"We tried not to liaise too much, really," says Jarrold. "The freedom we've been given is incredible. But, in a way, the script was so strong that it would have been hard to misinterpret."

While The Times runs a profile on David Peace

Peace was born in 1967 and was raised in Ossett, near Wakefield, where his parents were primary school teachers. There was plenty to read at home, ranging from his mother’s “religious” books to his father’s library of fiction: “We had the Penguin Classics as well as things like Raymond Chandler and Ernest Hemingway, and local writers such as John Braine, Alan Sillitoe and Stan Barstow [who lived in Ossett].” He spent as little time as possible at Batley grammar school, diverted by mischief and comic books: “I would have wanted to be a comic-book writer if I could draw.”

He bought Das Kapital when he was about 12, “though I didn’t read much of it”, and subscribed to Soviet Weekly and Peace News. Clubs and drinking had more appeal: “I was the kind of person who was beaten up a lot. Usually it was brought on by the fact that I’d insist on having the last word on any subject.”

In the musical thrall of the Sisters of Mercy, at about 13 he joined a band, yelling his own lyrics in pubs and at gigs supporting the miners. Peace’s father was branded “Red Basil” in the local press for giving harvest festival donations to striking miners’ families rather than to needy pensioners. “[The Ripper] dominated the conversation. A lot of the time you were really sick of it; you just wished it would go away.” On the day Sutcliffe was arrested and charged in 1981, Peace bunked off school to witness the scene outside Dewsbury magistrates’ court, although he denied that he joined in the mob’s baying. After “a bit of messing about”, he ended up at Manchester Polytechnic in 1987, but left the following year to attempt the great British novel, roundly rejected by every publisher in the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. “At the time I thought I was the William Burroughs of Manchester. Looking back, it was pretentious rubbish.”

While the Guardian has a fascinating interview with Peace

He casts around a bit in his childhood. His parents were both primary school teachers, he went to Batley Grammar. Who knows? "Partly it was Yorkshire. Looking back, it often seemed tinged with violence to me somehow. It's quite a hard place, I suppose, and for a while I was the kind of person who was beaten up a lot. Just in pubs and wherever. And usually it was brought on by the fact that I'd insist on having the last word on any subject. Then further back there was all the Ripper stuff. I remember saying in an interview once that I used to worry that my dad was the Yorkshire Ripper. That is true, but only in the way that everybody feared their father was. That was the effect it had. What I was trying to convey was the level of paranoia it created."

To start with, Peace relieved his angst in a band he likes to think sounded like a cross between the Fall and the Birthday Party. He wrote the lyrics and screamed them, at local pubs and miners' benefit gigs. "And then there was an obsession with Joy Division, and all that, dead poets. My dad once pointed out to me that all the writers I admired had killed themselves. He was right."

In a sense, moving to Tokyo seemed to lock him into some of that gothic sensibility, at least in his work. He's charming, modest and relaxed in conversation, a good listener, but he describes himself as obsessive in some respects also. "If I like a certain writer or a band, you know, I definitely have to know and probably own everything they have done." That kind of obsessive tendency seems to inflect his writing in different ways. At times, he gets so entranced by the rhythm of a paragraph or the cadence of a phrase that he seems to want to keep turning it over, endlessly. It's hypnotic, crafted and sometimes alarming. I wonder if, to begin with, he thinks the style had anything to do with his day job, parsing sentences for uncomprehending Japanese students?

"Friends have said that. I don't know. My wife isn't a fluent English speaker. Perhaps that has made a difference to how I write. What I do know is I walk round this room and say everything out loud over and over to get it right. Or sometimes I'll get a kind of obsession where you will have to have in a sentence the first word as six letters, the second as five, the third as four and so on. Mad stuff. That became a problem. If you look in Tokyo Occupied City, there are bits that are left over from the months I was doing that. Balancing the number of words in a line."

Those months, he suggests, coincided with a period of depression that began around the time he turned 40, two years ago. "There were things going on at home, problems with being in Japan. But it was the writing really. One of the points I reached was a sense that language had no meaning." He laughs now. "That was quite disturbing." In the end he wrote his way out of it, tried on different voices. "If I had been in Britain, I would have sought some help, but that wasn't an option here."

While Peace wrote a fascinating article for The New Statesman about the case of The Yorkshire Ripper –

The hunt for the man who would become the Yorkshire Ripper began in Leeds on 30 October 1975 with the murder of Wilma McCann. His first four victims were described by the police and press as "good-time girls" - prostitutes. But then, in June 1977, the Ripper killed a 16-year-old shop assistant. This murder caused public outrage, bringing intense pressure on West Yorkshire Police, pressure that was to increase with each murder and assault. In April 1979, the Ripper killed another "innocent girl" in Halifax. It was in the aftermath of this tenth death that the police decided to release excerpts from a cassette tape and letters that they believed had been sent to them by the Ripper.

No one who heard the tape will ever forget the Geordie voice that taunted the police and threatened to kill again. Nor will anyone ever forget the siege of fear it laid to the entire north of England. The tape convinced senior Yorkshire detectives that the Ripper was from Wearside. They believed that the tape and letters contained information that only he, the killer, could have known. They also believed the Ripper had left behind clues that would eventually help catch him, and so launched a million-pound publicity campaign to "flush out the Ripper". One clue was the reference in the first two letters to the murder of a woman called Joan Harrison in Preston, Lancashire, in 1975. This murder was now regarded by West Yorkshire Police as the work of the Ripper.

Three murders later, two uniformed policemen approached a parked car in Sheffield's red-light district on 2 January 1981. Inside it were a prostitute and her punter. The punter was Peter William Sutcliffe, a 34-year-old, married lorry driver from Bradford. He was not a Geordie. But, two days later, he confessed to being the Yorkshire Ripper.

Twenty-two years after the arrest of Sutcliffe for 13 murders and seven assaults, there is no end in sight for the communities he terrorised. Uncertainty remains as to how Sutcliffe could have done what he says he did and why, and how the police could have let him and why. Sutcliffe's trial at the Old Bailey and the subsequent review of the police investigation by Sir Lawrence Byford, the chief inspector of constabulary for England and Wales, should have answered the public's questions. Neither did.

Look out for Red Riding on ITV this Thursday [in the UK] and I am pretty sure DVD releases will follow shortly.

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