Coming back to a piece after a lay-off is always a dodgy business. Either you start off full of optimism and end up giving mouth to mouth or you drag yourself reluctantly to the desk only to find the thing kicking into life as soon as you start reading. This morning I finally got to sit down with the thriller again. Thinking about it over the weekend I’d convinced myself it needed a new angle. What was bugging me was the thought that if I solved the immediate problems I’d end up with a conventional genre piece. But then reading it through I found myself hooked. And actually I think I was wrong. There is already something that (potentially) makes it more than the usual serial killer-tracked-down-by-worryingly-odd-undercover-cop. It has to do with the setting – a vast abandoned mental hospital with a tiny corner that has been opened up, given a lick of paint and some new carpets and pressed into service as a High Dependency Unit. The modern hospital facilities are grafted onto the wrecked Victorian complex of buildings. Chaos is just a step away through a locked door. There may be something predictable in this bricks and mortar representation of the inner chaos of the characters but I still think it can deliver something powerful. Inevitably the action takes us out of the everyday and into the labyrinth. This isn’t an excuse for wobbly camera work and schlock horror effects. The world beyond the doors has to be as solid and clearly drawn as the brightly lit corridors we’ve left behind.
Where it really helps is in the task I set myself at the outset – to try to create a credible explanation for why someone like Shipman acted the way he did. One that makes sense psychologically. This is dark territory of course and it’s somehow easier to explore in the corridors littered with junk where the rats live than under the harsh glare of the NHS lights. At the centre of the ruin is an old conservatory. The glass is covered in green slime. One of the roof panes has gone and directly underneath a plant has seeded itself in the acres of neglected parquet. It’s spindly etiolated form rises up into the underwater gloom. I like that. Something twisted and unnatural but rooted in solid ground, alive and growing among the ruins.
The morning session was cut short by the need to respond to the note from J at R4. Tomorrow we start again.