It is Monday August 13th 2012, the morning after the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games in London. The city is relaxed as rarely before, delighted with itself at how spectacularly - and how securely - it has hosted the uplifting event.
The capital, however, will be rudely and brutally awoken from its self-congratulation by a horrific attack perpetrated by a young man who enters unchallenged the London Central Mosque in Regent's Park and burns to death with a flamethrower five Muslims in the prayer hall.
How could it happen? Why did it happen? Is the atrocity political, religious or personal?
THE OUTER CIRCLE - which has at its core a focus on relationships amid the cultural concerns of modern Britain - follows five people caught up in the event and its aftermath of anxiety and reprisal as the story unravels over the next five days.
Saul Bradstock, a 59-year-old semi-retired book editor, living alone in Primrose Hill and undergoing radiotherapy treatment at the Royal Marsden Hospital for prostate cancer.
Tom Judd, 25, a musician and languages graduate from Birmingham. How did he get to Regent's Park, why does he look so lost and what is he doing sleeping rough in the undergrowth?
Rashid Johnson, a 23-year-old working in the Mosque's bookshop. Raised a Jew in Stanmore, North London, and secretive about his recent past, he has not long 'reverted' to Islam.
Deena Campbell, 19, a policewoman based at Paddington Green and native of South London, where she lives with her parents, whose own parents came to England on the SS Windrush.
Jan Mason, 42 years old, single, living in a flat in Maida Vale and just about clinging on to her job as a news reporter for a mid-market national tabloid newspaper.
As the hottest week of the year unfolds, fate will throw the five together, along with a strong supporting cast of family members, police and the media, until a dramatic Friday denouement in Regent's Park.
THE day after used to be follow-up day for newspapers. Having reported the event and what everyone said about the event, and publishing pictures of the carnage - and rejecting plenty on the grounds of public taste and decency - this was the day for filling in the gaps, for giving context and background, drawing it all together.
Newspapers had changed, though, in the internet age. Print journalism's follow-ups were happening even as it was all unfolding on TV, radio and now the web, where conspiracy theorists, crackpots and trolls shouted loudly on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and vied to be heard with those directly involved or who had witnessed events, making it ever more difficult to find the truth amid the clamour, the light amid the heat. This was supposed to be where the papers came into their own.
There would also be an act today to fan the flames and force the media to change direction in pursuit of the fire engines.
In previous times, Jan would have been cursing that yesterday had been a day off and she had missed all the action. Actually, she wouldn't have missed it. She would have rung in to tell them she was on her way, then spent 12 unpaid hours on the story. Once upon a time, in fact for a good 20 years after leaving school to join her local paper in Yorkshire, she loved newsrooms on such days and nights; chasing the story, selling angles on it to a news editor, watching it roll off the presses near midnight. Seeing it in the paper under the byline: Janet Mason. The combination of adrenaline and coffee, with lunch and dinner at your desk and a late-night lock-in at the local at the back of the office by a landlord whom they rewarded with tickets to film premiers and football matches, was her very lifeblood.
These days, though, she felt emptily disengaged with the paper. She came in and did her job, to the best of her ability, but at the age of 41 it was more about keeping earning to pay off as much of the mortgage on the two-bedroom flat in Maida Vale as she could before the inevitable redundancy as the industry contracted - in terms of numbers of people, that was, though not in its ambition. Fewer were just spread more thinly. She was a high earner, too, having been hired in the halycon days, and thus vulnerable.
On top of all that, she was treading thin ice these days. The verbal warning had come when she had refused to accept the positive spin on a government press release that said fewer hospitals would need to be built as we were all getting healthier and then write the subsequent puff piece.
BACK in 1973, as a naif coming to London, all long hair and flared cords wondering how to get tickets for Led Zeppelin and Arsenal, I turned up to start a French degree at Bedford College in Regent’s Park, part of London University.
There, I was given a list of books I needed for the course. It was going to be expensive but in those misty-eyed fortunate days, I had a grant from Dorset…
THE DUST has settled on last week’s terror attack in London but for many, specifically those directly involved, the wounds will forever leave scars, mentally and emotionally.
In the immediate aftermath, as the details began to emerge along with the timeline of the attack, I couldn’t help but be enveloped by the whole narrative. After all, I had imagined just such a scenario for my novel…
LAST NIGHT was the British Sports Journalism awards in London, for which I was a judge. It was a chance to catch up with old mates and colleagues, some of the best in the British press, radio, TV and websites.
The big winner was The Guardian and Observer’s very fine football writer Danny Taylor, who broke this year’s big story – one which went from sports page to front page, as the very best can…
AS I watched an abject Arsenal surrender to Bayern 5-1 in Munich last night, I couldn’t help wondering – WWTT. That is to say, What Would Tony Think?
Back in the last century, I worked with Tony Adams - Arsenal’s legendary captain who won league titles with them in three different decades – on his autobiography Addicted.
And over the last two years – alongside completing my novel, The Outer…
These are dark days for peaceful, law-abiding Muslims simply seeking to worship in freedom and live decent lives without fear of violence against them.
There was the setting on fire of a Mosque in Texas, followed over the weekend by the shocking tragedy in Quebec City where six Muslims were shot dead in an Islamic Cultural Centre. The terrorist attack, for which a white supremacist is being held…
SO, my novel, The Outer Circle, has gone up on Unbound. The first thing to say is thank you to Unbound for helping me get it here - particularly Phil Connor in the office and Mark Bowsher for his smashing video - and all who have made it to this page, especially to those who have pledged so far.
I am - I'm going to say it - proud of this manuscript. I have worked long and hard on crafting and cajoling…
These people are helping to fund The Outer Circle.