The first two paragraphs of an abandoned novel called Ways and Means
The heating gave off a stink of burnt rubber and piss – the kind of smell that makes you curl your toes and wonder if you looked before you sat down. For Miriam Means, on an empty number 43 bus one Sunday in the middle of October, it was the smell of another year sliding into winter. She peered through thick layers of etched graffiti and grime into streets of shuttered garment shops and fast-food outlets; cardboard boxes, newspapers and plastic bags stirred fitfully on the pavements under a dirty sky. Black veiled women in thin sandals with chains of small children in tow processed slowly amid the detritus behind tall thin men carrying blue-striped carrier bags. She wondered about them, and if they longed for the bright, arid landscapes they had left behind for this damp urban waste. A few minutes later the bus swung into Upper Street. Here, trendy politicians, newspaper columnists and media types were spilling out of the pubs and cafes to mingle under blue and green awnings with TV actors and comedians and celebrity gardeners as if they were patronising a village fete during Harvest Supper. Miri couldn’t decide which scene was worse: each was as alienating in its own way. She got off the bus and elbowed her way through the throng, silently thanking providence for the cultural mix of the Holloway Road. But when she negotiated Highbury Corner, the Holloway Road gaped as grey and windswept as the mouth of the Styx and about as cheerful. She was beginning to regret that she come out at all and would have turned around if she hadn’t felt that enduring the return trip would suck the very soul from her being.
It was already two o’clock and she was late. After spending half an hour that morning sitting in her new ‘home’ – a small room in a flat in Shoreditch owned by the original Odd Couple – she had phoned her friend and work colleague, Deborah, and invited herself to lunch. The family was waiting to eat when she arrived and she hovered, glass in hand, between Deborah’s exasperated busyness in the kitchen and her husband’s barely suppressed impatience in the lounge. The children of the house, sensing a slight depression in the atmosphere at the table, did their best to compensate through the employment of diversionary behaviour tactics. As in previous visits, Miri marvelled at how the well-honed brains of two highly educated adults could be so easily blunted by two small children flicking peas at one another over a tablecloth.
Opening para of chapter 3 of same abandoned novel:
Even in the dark, the broad expanse of the Clyde exerts a magnetic pull on Helensburgh. Long and shallow, the town slides gently down to the sea from rolling green hills, with only the transverse flow of Clyde Street, a few municipal flowerbeds and the Westbay Esplanade between it and the strand. The esplanade in turn lips over onto the banked gravel, and the land slips unimpeded into the waters of the loch. Standing with his face to the Firth, Alistair could feel the familiar pressure of the town between his shoulder blades. Even as a child he preferred to walk down by the water’s edge rather than join his mother and sister window shopping above on the road. A few moments before, he had turned right out of the station, walked down into Sinclair Street, and crossed over to the shadowy waterside at the point where West Clyde Street meets Clyde Street East, an area of unlovely shops supporting the usual travesty of 1960s municipal planning: a squat bunker of a swimming pool and a vast car park blooming like a canker into the most beautiful estuary in Britain. He stood for a moment listening for the sound of the sea, but the tide was low and he could hear little apart from a cold hiss some way out and the ruffle on the water of some late sea bird. He breathed in deeply the old stink of the seaweed and turned towards Craigendoran to walk the few hundred yards to his mother’s house.