Today I am pleased to be taking part in the blog tour for Welcome To The Heady Heights. My post is presented with thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me on the blog tour and Orenda Books for providing the extract.
It’s the year punk rock was born, Concorde entered commercial service and a tiny Romanian gymnast changed the sport forever.
Archie Blunt is a man with big ideas. He just needs a break for them to be realised. In a bizarre brush with the light-entertainment business, Archie unwittingly saves the life of the UK’s top showbiz star, Hank ‘Heady’ Hendricks’, and now dreams of hitting the big-time as a Popular Music Impresario. Seizing the initiative, he creates a new singing group with five unruly working-class kids from Glasgow’s East End. Together, they make the finals of a televised Saturday-night talent show, and before they know it, fame and fortune beckon for Archie and The High Five. But there’s a complication; a trail of irate Glaswegian bookies, corrupt politicians and a determined Scottish WPC known as The Tank are all on his tail…
A hilarious and poignant nod to the elusivity of stardom, in an age when making it’ was ‘having it all’, Welcome to the Heady Heights is also a dark, laugh-out-loud comedy, a heartwarming tribute to a bygone age and a delicious drama about desperate men, connected by secrets and lies, by accidents of time and, most of all, the city they live in.
It had been four months since that New Year’s Day shift. Barbara Sherman’s police colleagues had held her down, lifted her skirt, pulled down her tights and knickers, and branded her backside with E-299; her collar number stamp. ‘Just a daft wee Ne’erday prank,’ in the words of her commanding officer. ‘Let it go, fuck sakes. High spirits,’ he had continued. ‘The men needin’ tae let off some steam after the pressure ae a tough Hogmanay shift.’ Platitudes and worn clichés from a sergeant who seemed to base his policing on the new TV series The Sweeney.
WPC Barbara Sherman had filed a complaint, against her commanding officer’s advice. ‘Dinnae go makin’ a target ae yerself, hen,’he’d cautioned, his complicity only making her situation worse.
In the weeks that followed, none of the men she’d cited would speak to her. Her daily beat was still limited to the streets around the station HQ. She was paired with the same ‘buddy’, Don Braithwaite.
Don cared less that she was a woman than he did about her being yet another of the ‘Heilan Mafia’ – the influx of new cops from the Highlands and Islands. In his view, if she’d been born in a tightly packed Tollcross tenement, like him, she’d know the rules of the game here. But she hadn’t been, and she didn’t. If Barbara Sherman had grown up in Barra, then the vast open spaces of the Western Isles are where she should have been sent, not straight into the scalding sectarian heat of the former second city of the empire. In some respects, though, he could understand Sherman’s desire to escape the quiet of her home. The tedium alone must’ve been like a five-stretch in the Bar-L, but with fresher, colder air. He just didn’t see why it should be his responsibility to show her the local ropes.
Barbara Sherman did want to escape, that much was true, but for reasons that Don Braithwaite couldn’t have begun to comprehend. Her father, Edward Sherman, was the chaplain on Barra. He had come to the island in 1949 as part of an Ealing Studios production crew shooting the movie, Whisky Galore! Edward was a close friend of the film’s director, Alexander McKendrick, and having visited the island once previously on clerical duties, was invited to accompany his friend to provide ‘spiritual reinforcement’ for the Christians in the crew. When filming was complete, Edward surprised everyone by electing to remain. He took on the official responsibility for developing a Presbyterian foothold across the islands. He uprooted his wife and their baby daughter from their London home and moved them to the tiny village of Castlebay on this remote island in the Outer Hebrides with its population of less than a thousand, all of them smelling of liquor and smoke and coal and horses, and speaking a language neither he nor his wife understood.
The island was only six miles wide and eleven miles long; physically bigger than the centre of Glasgow. But if divided equally, each inhabitant could’ve had a hundred square feet to themselves. All the places where a person might hide were natural, not man-made – the clefts and coves of the eastern edges, and the brochs and Iron Age ruins higher up towards Heaval. Barbara knew them all like the smoother terrain on the back of her hand. Apart from the infrequent summer visitors, the faces – pitted and ravaged – she saw only changed with the passing of their allotted time. So Barbara Sherman grew up knowing everyone in the wild and lonely island community. All the women. All their offspring. The fishermen, the shopkeeper, the doctor, the teacher, the handful of farmers. And she knew Albie Grant, the local policeman.
Albie was the person who had put his comforting arm around her shoulders on Christmas Eve ten years ago as he informed her that her parents were dead. Albie Grant, the white-haired old copper who assured her that it was fate … ‘the Lord’s will’; a tragic accident in which a fisherman’s truck had ploughed into her dad’s car on the dark, single-track dirt road up to Brevig. Albie Grant, the head of a tightknit community that conspired to shift the blame onto her outsider father and his ‘reckless driving’. Albie Grant, brother-in-law of Angus McNeil, the driver of the truck who, by common acknowledgment, had been in the pub all that day – and part of the previous one – because his fishing boat couldn’t put to sea in the tempestuous winter North Atlantic swells. Albie Grant, the policeman who covered up a crime
that resulted in the deaths of two innocent people and put the wheels in motion for something with much more sinister consequences.
‘You’re on these, doll.’ Davy Dodd handed over a large cardboard box. The corners of it were scuffed and torn, and the edges bulged with the pressure of too many files having been jammed into it.
‘Take yer time. Nae rush,’ he added.
Barbara heard sniggers coming from behind her. The box had the initials M and P marked on it in handwritten black marker pen. The box had been in Sergeant Dodd’s room for as long as Barbara had been at Tobago Street, and almost certainly far longer. She had tripped over it on her first day, its normal job being to hold his office door open.
‘Missing Persons, sir?’ She wasn’t that green that she didn’t appreciate the dead-end connotation of a Missing Persons detail. If someone reported missing wasn’t picked up in the first twenty-four hours, the likelihood of a successful outcome dropped in direct proportion to the
police interest in the case.
‘There a problem wi’ that, Sherman? This assignment no’ good enough for ye, after yer bloody Jamesie Campbell stint?’
Barbara was aggrieved that having instructed her to respond instantly to any requests from upstairs concerning Big Jamesie Campbell, she was now being castigated by the entire Dodd squad for it being the ultimate in cushy jobs. Ironically, she was fulfilling the only type of task her male colleagues assumed her capable of. WPC Sherman’s on-off job was to chaperone the Labour MP’s ditsy wife on various trips when he had ‘official’ business, especially if the venue for it was his Mount Vernon home.
Barbara lugged the heavy box back to her desk. She had to lift it by the base for fear that the bottom would give out.
‘Meals on wheels duty, is it now Sherman, ya lucky bitch?’
‘Naw, The Tank’s just havin’ tae sort through aw my fan mail, Des.’
Raucous laughter from the assembled plod.
‘Haw, Sherman, stick my letter tae Santa in there afore ye go tae the Post Office. Ah’m hopin’ for a shag affa yon Anthea Redfern.’ Guffaws, farts and belches.
The jokes continued but Barbara Sherman had zoned out from the buffoonery. She despaired at the sheer number of open files in the first box. And another two that accompanied it. All representing the not knowing that was making someone out there distraught.She flicked through the files – aimlessly at first. But then, beyond a sequence of middle-aged wives claimed as ‘lost’ by fraught husbands, no doubt unable to switch the cooker on, a different pattern emerged. As she scanned the basic details of each case, Barbara totted up twenty-eight young missing males in a six-month period. It was hard not to conflate these with the current spate of suicides from that same demographic. But as far as she knew, no one in this station had yet made what was now, to her, an obvious link. For some months now, the lifeless bodies of young men of no fixed abode had been washing up on the banks of the Clyde. George Parsonage, the riverman from the Glasgow Humane Society who recovered them, had observed the worrying upward trend in a recent report in the Scotsman. He’d talked about the life and mood of the city, and of how the numbers of people attempting to kill themselves escalated in times of war or economic downturn. Having patrolled the steep sides of the dirty, freezing-cold river scything through the city for almost twenty years, George Parsonage was genuinely stumped as to what was prompting the current spate.
Barbara Sherman was lost in the possibilities that these files offered. So many stories. So many tragic people feeling like there was only one way out of their various traumas. She hadn’t noticed the hours passing.
Her shift was nearly up.
She was about to pack up for the day, when, near the back of the second box was a file that rocked her – suddenly and almost physically. A nineteen-year-old man had been reported missing six months earlier by his worried mother, Esther. The boy’s name was Lachlan Wylie. His last known address had been in Dowanhill. The first eighteen years of his life had been spent living on Barra.
She lifted the file out of the box and took it home.
Welcome To The Heady Heights is available from Amazon.
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