A comment by Margo under Funeral in Berlin caught my attention:
Fantastically good read! Is this the new pornography? (An example of how if you ban something its appeal immediately doubles?)
Yes, I replied, it is. And carried on thinking about that for much of the rest of the day.
I could see a book beginning to take shape. There’d be a lot of the new pornography in it. In fact, it would be almost all pornography, held together by some sort of flimsy plot.
The hero would be a smoker, and his name would reflect this. He’d be English, and he’d be called Cloud. That seemed like a good smoky name. And he’d work for Big Tobacco in an undercover capacity. And the Bad Guys would be the antismokers working for Control. And the big shot in Control would be called Gland: Stanford Gland. It would be exactly the same format as a Bond book – or a Len Deighton spy story -, but with different forces pitted against each other. There’d be equivalent figures for M and Miss Moneypenny.
Cloud’s mission would be to go to San Francisco, and help to set up a smokers’ resistance movement. Or maybe to infiltrate Control. Or both.
And along the way he’d meet up with the girl. Or maybe several girls (after all, there used to be lots in Bond books). I haven’t managed to think of a girl’s name yet. But it’s got to be a smoky name. Like Nadia Tabac or Go-go Puff.
Cloud walked along the corridor of the Hyatt hotel to the door of the broom cupboard he’d noted earlier that day. He tried the handle, but it was locked. He took out a piece of plastic and slid it through the gap between the door and the jamb until the lock slipped open. In another second he was inside, and had closed the door behind him, and switched on the light.
It was much as he expected. There were brooms and mops and a couple a vacuum cleaners. Along the walls hung a set of smocks on coat hangers, with boots and overshoes under them. A small cupboard on the wall contained detergents and soap and spray cleaners.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out the cigarette packet and the lighter, slipped a cigarette into his mouth, and brought up the lighter to its tip.
The lighter flashed as he flicked it, but no flame came. He tried again and again, but it was obviously out of gas. He felt in his pocket for his emergency matches, but couldn’t find them.
‘Would you like to use my lighter?’ a voice from behind him breathed.
He spun round to find that one of the smocks on the wall was extending a long slim arm towards him, with a gold lighter between its bright red fingernails.
‘Why, thank you,’ he replied, taking the lighter and lighting his cigarette.
‘Aren’t you going to light mine too?’ she said, stepping forward out of the smock.
‘Why, certainly,’ he said, and flicked the flame back on, and held it to the tip of the long slim cigarette that hung from her languid, full lips.
There was hardly any space in the broom cupboard, and they were inches apart. Cloud hunted around for something to say.
‘Do you come here often?’ he eventually asked…
It wouldn’t just be broom cupboards. It would be fire escapes, alleyways, toilets, empty buildings, anywhere. And they’d be at it all the time.
‘How about a quickie on the back seat?’ Nadia asked, arching one eyebrow and grinning impishly, as Cloud steered the Prius round a sharp bend.
‘No, not here,’ Cloud said. ‘There are too many buildings overlooking us. We’d be seen. Wait until we reach the trees up ahead.’
They got out of the car under the tall junipers, and slid down the bank beside the road. There was a culvert at the bottom, with a big stormwater pipe that ran under the road. They squeezed inside.
Nadia was panting slightly as Cloud slipped a cigarette between her lips and lit it.
‘Boy, I needed that,’ she eventually said, exhaling long and slow.
Endless possibilities here. In these circumstances, it would be very hard to avoid getting physical. Far too hard. But the inevitable encounter might be delayed for a long, long time, ratcheting the tension slowly up to breaking point.
There would be encounters with antismokers from Control, of course. There might even be a car chase through the streets of San Francisco, a bit like in Bullitt, except in slow electric cars that tell their drivers when they’re speeding.
It might even be possible to get Steve McQueen in somewhere. Or Humphrey Bogart. Or Marilyn Monroe.
And there’d be lots of factual stuff as well, about eugenics and the Nazi origins of Control.
But the main thing would be the smoky pornography. Cigarettes and smoke are very sexy things. And perhaps that’s what the antismokers really hate about them.
But could I write a book like that? I’m not sure I could. I’m probably not sufficiently disciplined. I tend to write when I’m inspired, and inspiration usually doesn’t last more than a few hours. Okay for essays or short stories that can be written in an hour or two. But an idea that’s exciting one day very often seems tired and drab the next.
But maybe a book could be written very quickly? Funeral in Berlin struck me as a book that had been written in haste. I wonder how long it took Len Deighton to bash it out on a typewriter?
Anyway, does it sound at all promising? Would anyone want to buy it?