In a small town at the foot of a mountain on the edge of the world, Michael Pollard’s unremarkable life is about to get interesting. Having just completed his PhD in Sydney, he arrives in Tasmania to take up the job as secretary to Lucian Clarke, an internationally renowned author whose work is the subject of Michael’s thesis.
Clarke once travelled the world living a life like Hemingway but now lives as a recluse in his hometown of Wood Green – an eccentric town with a cast of characters quirky enough to rival Twin Peaks.
Both men, the young apprentice and the aging master, have hidden agendas of their own. As their relationship evolves, Michael realises, too late, that he has been drawn into a dangerous game...
Wood Green is at once a love letter and a hate letter to literature, writing, writers and readers. Michael and Lucian might disapprove of such prosaic reasoning, but in the end, its success comes down to the ultimate test of any novel: could I easily put it down? Reader, I could not.
The extract below is taken from a scene where Michael has recently moved into Lucian’s home and the two men are starting to get to get to know each other....
Michael stepped back to inspect his effort. The kidney-shaped desk definitely looked more attractive beneath the window at the front of the house, and now he could glance over the verandah and down the mountainside as he worked. The sight of the windowpane cleaned of its layers of dirt continued to give him pleasure, and with the flyspecked roller blind banished to the garbage Michael could imagine morning light pouring across the wooden desktop that he had carefully polished free of all dust, mildew and mouse droppings. A manual typewriter sat on its right side, for aesthetic effect, while opposite was an electric lamp – the only one of four in the room that still worked. Between them, under the desk, stood a captain’s chair with a broken swivel mechanism that caused it to lean suddenly, and dramatically, to one side. Twice Michael had almost been tipped onto the floor, however Lucian had given strict instructions to throw away nothing unless it was particularly foul.
Along the adjacent wall were suitcases and boxes containing manuscripts, letters – professional and personal – birthday cards, reviews of Lucian’s books, the few efforts of journalism he had not bothered to publish, tax returns, love notes, essays he had grown bored with, as well as hundreds of notebooks containing ideas jotted down while composing his novels. Access to such an abundance of information made Michael giddy with the prospect of becoming the world authority on Lucian Clarke’s life and work, and persistently distracted him with dreams of writing a definitive biography the moment his own novel was complete.
On the opposite side of the room were three closet doors that concertinaed open to reveal a row of tightly packed plastic suit covers containing items of clothing from what appeared to be every stage of Lucian’s adult life. Below them were thirty-nine shoeboxes of corresponding historical relevance, while at the back of the closet stood tall stacks of foreign language editions of Lucian’s books.
Against the fourth wall of the room was a daybed that Michael had emptied an entire can of bug spray over to kill the colonies of insects infesting its wood and caned panels. The floor underneath had turned black with their tiny carcases, yet fear that some survivors might be lurking in a protective crevice meant that Michael still remained hesitant to sit upon the divan’s cushions.
Lucian appeared at the doorway, leaned through, apparently hesitant to enter the room, and nodded approvingly at Michael’s work. I seem to remember it being this neat once before, but it must have been twenty years ago. Typewriter looks good there.
Yeah, I thought you’d like it. I found two others in the closet, but that was the only one that still was working. Looks like it’s never been used.
I remember buying it off the back of a truck on Portobello Road in London. Always kept it in reserve in case my machine broke down, but it never did. Feel free to give it a spin if you like.
That’s ok, I have my laptop.
Oh, right, of course, I’ve heard of those. Could never bring myself to use one though. Always scared I’d hit it too hard and break it. I prefer the way you can be physical with a typewriter, as if you’re actually building something. And it’s noisy, so you can hear the rhythm of what you’re writing. Best way I can tell a sentence is working is if it sings when I type it. Computers are designed to be quiet, aren’t they? And don’t all the keys sound the same? Did you know that Flaubert would tap out the rhythm of his sentences on a piano to check their melody was right. Can you play? Me neither. But I reckon a typewriter is pretty close to a percussive instrument. Hard on your fingers though. Got to keep your nails short. And I won’t deny it causes me to make a hell of a lot of typos. But I think that’s where the best accidents occur. Missed words or punctuation as a page is retyped for the tenth time can take an idea in a completely unexpected direction. Computers automatically correct mistakes, don’t they? Well now you know why so many writers sound the same these days. And I suppose it’s done away with handwriting as well. Seems a shame. Nothing more beautiful than a page covered with crossed out words and alternatives inserted. The only way I know a page is ready is when there are no more pen marks on it. Lucian felt his stomach rumble. But enough of my proselytising. Dinner is ready. And now this place is cleaned up we can get you started on the work I’ve actually hired you to do.
At the end of each day I want you to write a summary of what you’ve learned about my life as you’ve sorted through and arranged my papers.
Michael looked up from the flecks of parsley lingering at the bottom of his bowl. Lucian’s beef cheek stew, served with gremolata, had dominated his attention to the extent that it was difficult to accept the meal was over. You’re writing an autobiography?
Thinking about it.
But I thought you didn’t believe in them. Aren’t you quoted as saying that autobiographies are the greatest dishonesty a writer can commit. Not only to his readers but also himself?
Lucian shrugged. That’s what comes from not giving interviews for thirty years. The things you let slip when you’re a young man tend to follow you around for the rest of your life.
You mean you don’t believe it anymore?
Let’s just say I’m now an old man and I’m allowed to change my mind. That’s why I’ve hired you. I need someone who’s familiar enough with my books to be able to recognise the parts of my life that were relevant to my work. Don’t worry, I’m not expecting Proust. Just take it down in note form if you like, then hand it to me at the end of each day.
Michael returned his bowl to the coffee table as his own biography of Lucian Clarke vanished before his eyes. Sure. No problem.
Marvellous. Well then, shall make a start on the washing up? That way you can have an early night and be fresh for tomorrow. Lots of work to do, said Lucian as he stood up. I’m quite excited. Aren’t you?