When I was invited to submit a short story for an anthology of crime stories based on songs by Joni Mitchell, I was intrigued by the idea. I chose: ‘The Gallery’ on Clouds (1969). This was a song that I used to listen to endlessly as a teenager. I wanted to catch some of the flavour of what it was like to be young at the time when this album came out, so I decided to set the story partly in the past – when a young girl goes missing – and partly forty years later, when her friend discovers the truth of what happened.
The song fascinates the two girls just as it fascinated me (and still does). The girls discuss it. ‘Was it a kind of Bluebeard story about a man who collected and destroyed women? The refrain “Lady, please love me now I am dead . . .” was deliciously creepy . . . One thing seemed clear. The woman in the song was trapped. She had become just another picture on the wall like all the other women in the man’s life . . .’
There is no friendship quite like the friendship of teenage girls and I drew on my memories of that and of the clothes we worn and the things we did, lolling around with face packs, trying to read our fortunes with Tarot cards, reading and rereading copies of Jackie magazine. The chocolate brown mini-dress with a gold zip and a mandarin collar and the burgundy corduroy trouser suit in the story are what I was wearing as a sixteen year old and I can see them in my mind’s eye as I write this.
Like the girls in the story, I grew up in the north-east and the holiday in North Wales where Yvonne goes missing is like the one I went on with the Methodist youth club. Of course the actual events of the story are all made up, but this was the fertile ground from which they sprang.
I am still very much in touch with my dear friend Pauline from those days and she is a great fan of my writing. I hope she’ll enjoy reading this story as much as I enjoyed writing it.
The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Joni Mitchell, edited by Josh Pachter, is published on 7th April by Untreed Reads in ebook, paperback and hardback. Great cover and great title!