Free to download
Original publishing date (2001)
This novel does not form part of the TotenUniverse
In Prague Helen Siebert is handed secret plans of a new parliament building. In England investigative journalist Jay Marshall is on her way to the York Storytellers Festival convinced there are clues to the assassination of the British prime minister. The two women cross paths and begin to piece together a conspiracy involving ultra-nationalists taking control of Europe. But as Jay closes in on the truth she starts to question the identity of Helen, or even if she exists at all.
The Excitement of Solitude mixes bizarre storytellers and demonic marionettes to create a strange world of corruption, hidden identities and literary puzzles.
“To this mantra she had added her own rule: be who you want to be and let others worry about who you really are.”
“So Philip Hunter is wrong then,” said Helen as she weighed potatoes.
“Why do you say that?”
“According to Philip Hunter the security services know everything about everyone, but they didn’t know Dennis Malahide was seeing a prostitute.”
Jay wondered how heavy her own brain would be if she plopped it onto those scales. Half an ounce maybe? Perhaps it wouldn’t register. “Back in the Czech Republic, Helen, you don’t by any chance work as a private detective, do you?”
She looked up and beamed a smile so beautiful, so innocent and happy, that it lit up the shop and made everything shine. “No. I just take photographs.”
Before the internet, before self-publishing and ebooks, before smartphones and mobile devices authors were at the mercy of mainstream publishing and postal submissions. Writing was even more frustrating and expensive than it is today, but being published back then was a big deal.
The Excitement of Solitude was the final book in a flurry of novels I wrote between 1996 and 2001. In some ways it became the progenitor of what was to become. A world within a world, a wider conspiracy beyond the visual limits of everyday life and characters who may or may not have been what they claimed. Even the name of the protagonist (Helen) Siebert would re-emerge twelve years later.
In a previous novel, Headshrinkers, the story contained an episode in which an author called Amanda Lea Harley was forced to escape seven characters she had created. One of those characters was called Helen Siebert and I think my intention back then was to write a series of novels in which these literary inventions would run amok through the real world.
Of course the hoops and hurdles of mainstream publishing put the lid on all that. A ring file bursting with rejections eventually made me question the logic of spending a year on a novel only to have it roundly rejected with the usual ‘standard replies.’
But in hindsight, reading this novel again I’m surprised how well it has stood up to the test of time, and its central premise of a huge database on every European citizen has resonances in the 21st Century as we become increasingly concerned about pervasive eavesdropping, the revelations of Edward Snowden, internet tracking, data theft and what have you.
Mainstream publishing in 2001 was about to be devoured by the internet, along with our privacy. Two reasons why The Excitement of Solitude is both a curiosity and an unwitting prediction of things to come.