Last month I had the pleasure of reading a wonderful crime/coming of age book by Brixton Key. Mr. Key sat down with me to discuss the book. He did let me know that he was working on the second novel.
What was your inspiration for writing the novel?
Brixton Key:It really came from, a show I was watching about a woman in England after the war who had a bunch of childern from US service men. The last of the childern was named Charlie. All the kids, were named after air bases. So it just came to me as Charlie Six.
I grew up in that period, and my step son suggested I should write a novel. Once I started writing I took things from my life and from his and put it in the novel. When you take things from reality and out it into fiction it sort of becomes unreal.
I wanted a kid where he was put in a position with no controls, and see him come out as a decent person.
How much of it would you say came from your life?
Brixton:I would say about half the story came from real life. The character called Morris, was based off a man named Maurice. He was an interesting guy, he stole goods from London, but he was a smart man. He was a vegetarian too, which was bizarre to me as I had never heard of it. He also had some numbers on his arm, he had to have come from Auschwitz.
A lot of the later stuff, the night clubs, music biz was mostly real. People who went to see The Who, before they were famous, and you’d see the same people before time after time. Pete Townsend, you saw him all the time.
I really did get expelled from school for reading howl.
Did you ever see Eric Clapton?
Brixton:I was taking a shortcut through a graveyard and there was a young man, 17 and two girls around him. He was a young good looking guy playing crossroads by robert johnson. I then saw him later playing with, I think John Mayall. My ex-wife sold our old house to Eric Clapton.
You mentioned that you based a character on a mobster. You actually met the man once or twice?
Brixton:Yeah, when I’m writing a new character I like to be able to see their face. Sometimes those faces come from someone I’ve seen out walking, or in a supermarket queue. Other times I have them in my head already from people I know or have met. It was that way with Chins, I saw him looking like this London crime figure who was known as Jack Spot, who my Dad knew and whose pub in Holborn, London he bought. Jack Spot had this dreadful looking knifing scar on his cheek, but he also had a really friendly roguish face, which was weird because he was a fearsome man. Actually I was sort of scared when he was around, his vibe was quite violent. But I’d forgotten exactly where the scar was on his cheek. Which is great, because had I looked him up on the internet, I would’ve probably written a different Chins.
When writing, what are some of your habits?
Brixton:Writings just another job really, some people are good storytellers, others are not. So for me I just approach it like I used to when going into the recording studio to make records. I get up, drink a few espressos, sit down at the computer and start work. Usually I do what I call comping, recording jingo for editing the previous day’s work, which is sort of tedious and slow, and very methodical. I’ll rework a sentence ten or twelve times until I feel it has rhythm to it, and then if I still can’t get it I’ll just go on to the next one. Usually I do this for two or three hours pretty much solid until I feel hungry, then I drink another large espresso, a glass of soy milk, open a bottle of cheap wine, treat myself to a tailor-made Marlboro 72 cigarette, pour a glass and start writing.
I don’t work from notes. I never have been able to. Actually I wish I could because it would probably be a more effective process, but I sort like the stories to progress like real life. I always have a pretty clear idea of where I am going, but one little sentence can change a chapter, just like meeting someone significant in a bar can change the direction of your life. I think because I come out of a music background, instead of a literary one, I’m probably more like a guitar player writing songs than an author. You play around a lot and like Keith Richards says a song will come from it. For me I play around a lot writing and the story seems to develop out of thin air, and a lots of thinking when I’m not actually writing. Gawd, to tell you the truth, I’d hate to be my girlfriend, Josey, because when I’m working it’s all I do really. I’m always lost in thought, and in the middle of dinner I might just start spieling out a dialogue that’s absolutely nothing to do with what we were talking about.
Really, I don’t think art per se is all that romantic. It’s a lot work towards creating something you’d enjoy yourself. It’s just another job, but I’d hate to work for me, and often I do, because I’m very demanding.
Set in London during the transitional era between World War II and the sexual/musical revolution, Charlie Six, by Brixton Key, is a coming-of-age novel centered on a young boy – the title character—with a need to escape life’s daily challenges. He is being raised by an odd lot of characters; a gangster father on the run from the law, a mother with an addiction to nightlife and alcohol, and many ‘uncles’ and other relatives still struggling to cope with the aftermath of the war.
That seven-year-old Charlie smokes and drinks a sip of alcohol can be both liberating and shocking. It’s the way things once were.
There’s an uncanny truth between the pages. Charlie Six is not your normal coming of age story. It’s a tough, funny, and brutal story of an era that has now gone, although Key wonders if it really ever existed.
“I made it my business throughout the novel to create an imaginary world. It was never my intention to bring back to life a time that’s past,” says Brixton. Like other authors he admires, he wanted to blur ‘the realities of time and space until it seemed like everyday life.’”
Charlie Six does not believe in politicians or religious superstitions. Being around his family has proved old dogmas to be obsolete. He’s completely contemporary in his disdain of the way things are. The novel touches a nerve in people who lived through the 1960’s and the decades close to it. But equally important, Charlie Six speaks to a younger generation who are intrigued by the influences that shaped their parents and grandparents.
Despite the dysfunctional nature of Charlie’s family, they are driven by love; love for the world and for each other. It is this love that seeps into every crevice of Charlie’s upbringing, and it is this love that helps Charlie to realize his full potential during his teenage years, and eventually get out of the London slums, using his passion for music as his propeller.
“Everyone I knew was hopped on amphetamine,” says Key of his childhood experience, “when we weren’t out watching British bands playing rhythm and blues or soul music we sat in each other’s bedrooms playing the records we’d copped from America. This is what Charlie Six is all about. I funneled my growing up through him.”
With optimism and incredible honesty Charlie Six explores:
The 1960′s music scene in the U.K.
Dealing with drug and alcohol abuse
Love—the most important part of family
The power of imagination
Growing up during a cultural transition