The Death and Life of Red Henley

By Philip Wilding

A contemporary noir novel set against the decaying façade of 1980’s New York and a religious commune staked out in the Tennessee countryside. But what connects them both and who killed Red and why?

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

As Not Seen On TV. Death and Life In The American West

So just over a year later after I handed over the manuscript of my second novel, The Death And Life Of Red Henley, to some North American producers (film and TV, but more latterly TV, as that’s where the money is, though not in my case), they’ve handed it back. In truth, I’ve missed her, I’ve gone back over the pages many time, tinkering here, readdressing there, I spent a few months crafting a TV pitch that ended up using the characters from the book and transplanting them a few years into the future, created eight episode arcs and a new world that was set some time after Louis Green first ever discovered the story of Robert Walker, a preacher called Blue, pool balls as instruments of torture, the fire in the Tennessee countryside and Red Henley and her strange demise. In essence, and really without thinking, I created the sequel to a novel that had yet to be printed. The idea was (we were so knowing), that book 1, with its magical/grotesque reveal about Green and Walker’s backstories and relationship, would eventually become season 2 once we got picked up as a show in the US.

Except we didn’t. Which happens a lot, or doesn’t happen a lot, depending on how you look at it. The manuscript floated around the WME office in LA and then floated back. It wasn’t quite the heartache I’d experienced on Cross Country Murder Song, which went briefly to Miramax, Jude Law and a handful of others who all decided it wasn’t quite what they were looking for. TV and film people, I’ve found, are a bit like old A&R men; they’re not sure they want it until someone else does.

And that’s where it sat, I re-read it occasionally and was still stirred by the power of the prose and its sometimes fantastical darkness. I did a few edits (for no good reason other than I was unhappy the way some of it sat on the page), put it back in the drawer and then I started on book 3. And then I was asked to write the liner notes for the Manics reissue of Send Away The Tigers. There are two renowned musicians who really like CCMS (most just say they like it and put it down after page twenty-three, but that’s okay too), one’s retired and the other one is MSP singer James Dean Bradfield. While we chatted about Tigers, he told me that his wife had taken the family away for a few days not so long before and how he’d settled down with CCMS for the third time and read it in less than 48 hours, which I only recommend if you like scream-filled, fitful sleep and bad dreams that haunt you long into the next day. It was, he said (god love him) the first time the book had truly opened up and revealed itself to him. It’s a dense read and I admire anyone who can get through it once let along go back for more of the same. Where, he wanted to know, was Red? He’s been asking the same thing since the manuscript went off for its gap year in the US. I had no answer and so I took it out of the drawer and read it again and decided there and then (after speaking to ever eloquent David Quantick, a man more enshrined in cynicism than even me) if self-publishing/pledging worked, if Unbound was a worthy platform or a waste of my time. To my surprise, he was all for it, after the success of his first book on there he’s about to publish his second.

So, I stepped out on that road and I’m still on it. We reached a remarkable 34% in four days, which I think even surprised some of the people at Unbound. And here I am shaking my collecting tin of coins at you. If it’s on any interest at all, then pledge or just go and read about the lonely polar bear for free, it made one of my dearest friends cry on the top deck of a bus on Oxford Street, but in a good way. Do what you can or do nothing at all, I’d just like to see Red live.

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