‘The Man Who Took Down the Great Pitpat’ by Victor Hadley

I quoted Jones/Baraka in the introduction to my own anthology britpulp!, a cross-generational anthology of short stories by writers who’d emerged in the 1990s including Nicholas Blincoe, Stella Duffy, Tim Etchells, Catherine Johnson, and Stewart Home, and a previous generation of authors who had inspired them: Michael Moorcock, Ted Lewis, Richard Allan, etc. I really wanted to include Victor Headley, whose 1992 novel Yardie had helped redefine the British literature of the period, as well as being a signpost to the more diverse aspirations (and achievements) of today’s literary scene. But Yardie had been a few years ago by then, and it seemed that Headley was no longer writing. It was incredibly exciting when word eventually came back from Victor in the Congo that he was interested, and would try and send me something. One evening the fax machine in my Whitechapel flat started spooling out page after page of typed prose. At the other end of the connection was Victor, who had got a fax machine linked up to a satellite phone and was feeding in manuscript pages. It was a thrilling moment, reading new work from him that maybe no-one else had seen before, what would become his 2001 novel Off Duty. Of course, the relationship between short stories and novels is not cut-and-dried, not simply a matter of word-counts. Sometimes what starts out as a short story can turn into a novel. Here it worked the other way, and as I read – agog! – through the scrolls of fax paper, I could see that one chapter really stood out as a standalone short: a pivotal and transformational episode, a police interrogation with a difference set in Half-Way-Tree police station, Jamaica: ‘The Man Who Took Down the Great Pitpat’.

First published in britpulp! Sceptre, 1999, subsequently Chapter 7 ‘The Showdown’ in Off Duty, Sceptre 2001

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