Years ago, before we were married, Miranda and I went on holiday to Italy and while traveling between cities on trains I started to write a novel in the back of my sketch book. The story was a mash up between the ‘The Godfather’ and ‘Day of the Jackal’ set in Italy and New England. After a day of writing I proudly read it to Miranda. She patiently listened to the whole thing and when had I finished, I asked her excitedly what she thought of it. She said, I quote
‘That’s the biggest pile of crap I have ever heard!’
‘Well that’s honest… I suppose… not the reaction I wanted but fair enough.’ I thought.
I am not particularly literate and I don’t often read novels so my attempt to write one was like a child on an ice rink for the first time seeing someone doing a pirouette and thinking ‘how hard can it be’. I put it away and never really thought about it again.
Cut to a decade later, Miranda and I are now married with three small children and I’m trying to amuse them by drawing cartoons. I could not think of a subject for a comic strip and then I remembered that story I had written all those years ago.
I found the sketchbook and started to draw it out as a comic. Once I started writing I could not stop, I found it extremely addictive. The result is below and is called ‘Looking for Spinoza’ although it’s has nothing to do with the famous philosophically inclined lens grinder from Holland. The plot instead follows my alter ego crossed with Tintin who falls into Italy’s dark criminal underbelly after finding his uncle murdered in a suburb of Milan. As the story unfolds, he encounters a tattooed sword swallower, an incompetent assassin, a corrupt chief of police and an exploding shark all in his search for the illusive crime fighting mastermind…Ben Spinoza.
Despite its initial frosty reception, Ruth Gilding of ‘Bible of British Taste’ fame was very taken with it and she passed it on to her husband, the great A.N.Wilson who described it as
‘Suspenseful and with a nail-biting plot reversal on almost every page, Looking for Spinoza is both an exciting graphic novel in its own right and an amusing parody of the fast moving thriller.’
Generous praise indeed! He felt it deserved to be published and he put me in touch Dan Franklin, the publishing director of Jonathan Cape. Had I known that he worked with some of the biggest names in contemporary fiction including Ian McEwan, Julian Barnes and Martin Amis, I might have taken it more seriously. I met him at his office in Pimlico and he seemed interested and I remember him saying dryly ‘I think it’s very funny’ without cracking a smile. Much as he liked it, he felt it needed better structure, a proper beginning middle and end. I tried briefly to do as he said but I realised it would mean rewriting the whole thing and so I just left it, perhaps to be resumed when I have more time on my hands.
‘What has this got to do with architecture?’ you might say. Not much, but it’s nearly Christmas I thought I’d post something lighthearted and I am sure we all need cheering up as it’s been a tough year for everyone. Also, if you look carefully you will see works by Bramante, Palladio and Raymond Erith, as well as views of Udine, Milan, Venice and Verona which all go to provide a classical setting for a highly unclassical story.
Download the Looking for Spinoza pdf