The following transcript records a short interview between Harry Bingham, an author, and Fiona Griffiths, a young detective with the South Wales Police.
Fiona Griffiths is – allegedly – fictional and exists (again, according to the allegations) only in the pages of Harry’s books. Today they meet face to face for only the second time, this time in a central London coffee shop. Harry’s literary agent is sitting quietly in the corner keeping an eye on proceedings.
Harry Bingham: Hello. Lovely to see you again.
He rises to kiss her. But she avoids the kiss. Just sits abruptly.
HB: Can I get you anything?
Fiona Griffiths: (shrugs, blinks, waves her hands.)
HB: Don’t tell me. That’s Fiona-speak for ‘I’d love a peppermint tea, please.’
FG: You’re ‘my author’, right?
HB: No. I’m your author. No inverted commas. I. Am. Your. Author.
FG: Fine. So let’s go with that. Let’s just say you’re my no-inverted-commas author. In which case, I’d presume you know that I don’t like coffee. That I don’t drink any kind of caffeine. And that my hot beverage of choice is peppermint tea. So why ask?
HB: (Snappishly) Just there’s a thing called politeness, and . . .
Agent flashes HB a warning look and HB trails off. The agent goes to get the drinks. HB tries small talk, but FG makes it very hard going. The agent brings the drinks and goes back to his corner.
HB: You know why we’re here.
FG: You’ve got a book out.
FG: One that exploits my personal story for your commercial gain.
HB: OK. Don’t want to bang on about this. But I am your author.
FG: So – what? That means I have no will of my own, does it? In which case, I have to say it sounds like a pretty terrible book.
HB: It’s not a terrible book. Look, you’re a remarkable woman. In the course of your investigation, you experienced – and you achieved – some remarkable things.
FG: I’m a detective, yes? I did my job. I was called to a crime scene. I found the body of a young woman –
HB: In a country churchyard. At midnight. And the corpse was wearing a thin white dress on a wild October night.
FG: That is an accurate, if limp, summary of the facts, as they intially presented.
HB: You investigated further –
FG: Because it’s my job –
HB: And you discovered that the woman died as a result of natural causes. Fibrotic lungs and some kind of heart attack.
FG: Yes, and then I followed a clue – a barley seed – that led me to the Monastery of St. David at Llanglydwen. I also discovered that a girl, a teenager, had disappeared from the same valley some eight years before. Although she was presumed dead, no body was ever found.
HB: Which is a good dramatic set up, right? You find a corpse without a crime and, eight years earlier, in the same place, there was a crime without a corpse?
FG: So you’re praising yourself now? Telling me you’ve created an amazing plot.
HB: Look, I think the set-up is pretty good, if you really want to know. But I’m just trying to do my job. I’ve got a book out. And it’s not enough writing the damn thing, I’ve got publishers who want me to help market it. They want you to help market it.
FG I’m a detective, remember? A detective, not some kind of marketing person. What do you want me to do? Wear a short skirt and a satin sash and stand in the centre of Cardiff, handing out samplers and shouting, ‘please buy that man’s book’?
HB: Well, you know what? That might actually help a bit. And I’m not that man. I’m your author.
FG: My author, right. So you claim that this is your book? Your story.
HB: I don’t just claim it, Fiona. It’s my damn name on the cover.
FG: And mine.
HB: Right, and yours, but –
FG: But you want to tell me that you’re my author. And that it’s your book. And your story.
FG: In which case – you sent me there.
HB: What? To the monastery?
FG: There, yes. But I meant up that hill. To that little pool which never emptied, no matter how much you drained it. And it was you who sent me into that tunnel. That cave.
HB: (Gently) Look, I know. I know that was hard.
FG: And I did it. I entered that cave, because it was my job and my duty to do so.
HB: (Still gently) Your job and your duty, yes. But perhaps it was also your compulsion. Your obsession. Because I’ve never known you let an investigation drop.
FG: Yes. My obsession too, I know that. But it was frightening in there. Very frightening. And when the collapse happened, I didn’t know if . . .
HB: I know.
FG: And that wasn’t even the worst. The worst was in Llanglydwen later. When the walls started rising around me and I saw that ring of faces and I thought . . .
HB: I know.
FG: And I do all that for you. I go to those places and I do what I have to do and I solve the case and I nail the bad guys. But oh no. That’s never enough, is it? You want me to sell your damn books. Books that I never even wanted you to write.
HB: You do know I would never abandon you? I take you to some scary places, I know that, but I have always got you out. I will always look after you.
FG: I have shotgun pellets in my leg. Little embedded pellets that I’ll have in me for ever. That’s what looking after me involves, does it? That’s your version of nice?
HB: Fiona, I . . .
FG: OK. OK. (She stands abruptly. She hasn’t touched her tea.) Please buy this man’s book. (To the agent) What’s it called?
Agent: It’s called The Dead House. It’s available in all good bookshops and, I hope, plenty of bad ones too.
FG: Right. So: please buy this man’s book. It’s called The Dead House. It’s got corpses and it’s got me and it’s got some of the scariest things I’ve ever been involved with. And if you’re worried that this whole thing might actually be a really crappy way to treat somebody, you don’t have to worry because I’m just a fictional fucking character and nobody actually has to give a damn.
(Long, long pause. Her eyes shine as though close to tears.)
FG: So. We’re done?
HB: We’re done. Thank you.
FG leaves as abruptly and awkwardly as she arrived.
HB: (In a whisper) And sorry, Fiona. I’m really sorry.
The Dead House is available:
In the United Stateshere In the United Kingdomhere In Canadahere
And a whole lot of other places too: please consult your local retailers.