View of Auvers-sur-Oise by Paul Cezanne.
The Noir short story stands at 15714 words, without any major edits.
It took me just over a week of dedicated writing, with an awful 3 day break just before the finale, that almost derailed the entire story.
The main reason why I wanted to write this short story is because I wanted to elevate my writing to a more useful and functional level. I wanted to treat writing as a job not a hobby that I indulge in.
This created a rather surprising mental shift in my attitude to the story, with certain plot elements worked on, thought on, and dismissed on before I put hands on a keyboard.
This is very bizarre for me, as I almost exclusively never plot out a story before I start writing. I tend to just let the story write itself out. I have a very empty mind when writing, only really engaging it to describe or look up a better word to describe what I want.
Thesaurus.com is easily my best friend when writing.
My biggest challenge though was actually learning to use “said Alex” at the end of each string of dialogue. It is one of my great weaknesses, to craft interesting and compelling dialogue and I found myself scratching my head often, how to end dialogue sentences with something other than “said Eveline”. It is definitely something I have to work on.
In a lot of ways, this was a return to my roots, when I used to compulsively write as a younger man, and my early obsession with film noir.
The whole endeavour was also made doubly difficult by my return to noir story telling.
I used to write heaps of noir style fiction in my earlier years, but for some odd reason, this time it was a lot more difficult. I know that traditionally, noir is set during a time period (the 1920s) but when the greats like Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett started writing, for them it was relatively contemporary.
I adopted a similar attitude, preferring to set all my stories during the present time, of 2020s. It only seems quaint for us reading back, but for them that was the time they lived in and they reflected that.
I was pretty influenced by both those greats up there whilst writing the story, as well as the book The Midnight Promise: A Detective’s Story in Ten Cases. by Zane Lovitt.
It was that book in particular that drove me when I was younger, as Lovitt proved successfully that you can create a noir/hard-boiled story in Melbourne.
Speaking of Melbourne, I really did try my best to showcase my home town as best I could, from personal experience. All the black and white photography were taken off Google Images, and in some cases, I used a black & white converter online to transform the images into the moody ones you see on all my posts.
The locations that Alex Ryder visits are relatively varied and I definitely wanted to ensure all the places were described as accurately as possible (without the stolen art of course).
The 1st iteration is a simple image of a North Melbourne tram line, which I wanted to establish as the main mode of transport for a poor guy like Alex, as not only is it cheap, it is also slow, moody and easy to cheat the system and never pay for a fare.
The 2nd image features one of my favourite places in Victoria, St Kilda. It is a very strange place, with a lot bizarre architecture and an extremely unique beach culture. It is situated on a beach, that is more or less exclusively used a backdrop for more interesting things like fusion Japanese restaurants, or a gorgeous theatre that Dita Von Teese loves to perform in.
In other words, if you find someone trying to surf there, let me know … because that’s as rare as a comet flying past.
The 3rd post has a photo of the Melbourne Citylink Sound Tube, which is a fascinating piece of architecture for what is essentially a freeway. It’s very attractive at night, with its rainbow spectrum of colours, and is a great backdrop for Alex’s home, which is literally maybe a 5 minute walk away.
The 4th chapter features a legitimate interior shot of the now-closed Pink Palace, which was as I described, a 70s style brothel that closed around 2 years ago. I have long had an interest in the lives and workplaces of working girls, and while I didn’t tour this particular brothel, I was given a tour of a similar establishment nearby. It was as eye-opening and interesting as I hoped. Many brothels in Melbourne, especially the more expensive one, feature some truly incredible interior design.
The 5th section is all about Collins St “The Dome.” I don’t need to elaborate much further than the description I placed in the story other than it also features one of the most gorgeous alleyways I have ever walked down.
The 6th part is a rather sombre image of the Docklands’ Central Pier. It is actually currently closed, as the entire pier needs to undergo structural integrity work, as a lot of the wood has warped after years of neglect. At night it is probably as moody and quiet and desolate as the image presents.
For the 7th stage, it is actually one of my favourite places in Melbourne. Collins Place features one of my best rated Japanese restaurants, my absolute favourite cinema, and the perfect transit atmosphere in the city. It is always quiet, clean, comfortable and beautifully tranquil there, and the exclusive Sofitel Melbourne hotel only enhances that vibe.
This leads me onto what music I listened to whilst writing this. Music, obviously, plays a big part in any creative endeavour. For this story, I was almost exclusively listening to Dr. SaxLove’s excellent Jazz Noir – 1 Hour Jazz Noir Saxophone Music playlist on Youtube.
When I got bored of that, I would switch over to Blade Runner 2049 soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch which I have adored since I watched the film in cinemas.
Additional crucial tracks also include Andrew Hale’s definitive L.A. Noire theme, which if I am honest, you cannot avoid if you are writing crime and Bye Bye Blackbird by Diana Krall which of course is referenced in the final words of the story.
Overall, I was pretty happy with how the characters turned out, especially Eveline who I hoped, I created right by other femme fatales. It was extremely difficult to create her, as a complex and layered character, capable of manipulation, vulnerability and desperation.
Alex, more or less, is a straight man to all the more interesting characters in the story. Much like Batman, he will always be overshadowed by the other people in his story.
Francois was a genuinely turn I didn’t anticipate. When I originally created the character “Joel McNamara” I was going to make him a thief on the run, after a robbery gone wrong. Eveline, his lover would request the services of Alex and that was where the story was going.
However when I described the interior of his house, Joel became Francois and I found myself shocked at where I conjured this twist up from. He was always a tragic figure in my mind, and a bit of a lost soul, a guy who had everything, but never appreciated it.
I was honestly surprised at how much life Liverpool and Flat Cap possessed when I wrote them. I didn’t think I would grow to like them as much as I did. The obvious inspiration for them came from the show Peaky Blinders and my love for memorable henchmen, which stemmed from watching too many Bond films as a younger man.
Speaking of Bond, the Jackal is a direct inspiration from Mr Big in the novel Live and Let Die by Ian Fleming. I have always admired Fleming’s ability to create memorable villains (even though other aspects of his writing are deeply flawed by today’s standards) and I sought to emulate that aspect in the description of The Jackal.
His name is also a reference to the brilliant film The Day of the Jackal which I loved, and of course the villain in the Bourne books (not the films).
Whilst I am on a roll explaining all my references and loves in this story, I might as well touch on the concept of Caesar’s cipher. I love encryption and the science and inherent secrecy of it. Fans of Dan Brown‘s Digital Fortress will obviously see the parallels I drew in my own story. However, I will also admit to being a huge history nerd, and that my all-time favourite ancient civilisation will always be Ancient Rome.
So I just had to include something Roman in the story. But it was definitely a late inclusion. I actually forgot about the encryption in the excel sheet, so it was a late scramble to come up with Caesar’s Cipher.
Speaking of antiquities, I think it’s time I touched on Cezanne.
After burning through every single book written by Daniel Silva in his amazing Gabriel Allon series, I grew to appreciate art better and the skill on display that all the Old Masters generated in each of his paintings.
I genuinely despise contemporary art and their quasi-bullshit attitude in explaining literal heaps of junk and crap. If you look up the word “sanctimonious” in the dictionary, there should be a picture of some incredibly air-headed individual studying “modern” art.
But I digress … I used Paul Cezanne’s View of Auvers-sur-Oise because it was actually stolen in a similar way to how Francois described. Obviously I added some extra elements, but the smoke grenade, the timing of the heist are all factual.
I was very lucky to have found such a theft that matched perfectly to what I wanted in the story.
The Venus de Milo was actually placed in there, as an interesting interior design, that I ended up using more than I thought. It also helped tie in the idea that if Francois could source a replica of the Venus, he could also commission a fake Cezanne. This of course led to me referencing Twin Peaks and its’ infamous Red Room in the Pink Palace.
Another lucky coincidence if I am honest.
Anyway … Alex Ryder, is a sneaky reference to one of my favourite Young Adult series, Alex Rider by Anthony Horowitz, and Francois’ surname, Dujardin was directly stolen from Jean Dujardin, one of my favourite French actors, whose work in OSS 117 and The Artist still make me smile to this day.
(Also, the OSS 117 theme is also one of the best spy themes ever made.)
Overall, I was pretty happy with my first draft of this story. It was a struggle at times, but it wasn’t as horrible as I thought it was going to turn out.
I will probably keep at this, writing more and more, until hopefully I can turn out a proper novel. My retail job is now essentially paying me to write, since there are so little customers in my shop, so I might as well keep going.
I hope this was as fun for you to read, as it was hard for me to write!