Jonathan Fryer

Stranger Than Fiction

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 13th August, 2007

bryan-magee-and-jf.jpgYesterday, I made a rare foray beyond the M25 to have lunch with Michael Bloch at the writers’ retreat, Mount Pleasant, in Reigate. Half-a-dozen at a time can stay there, at a very reasonable rate, be fed and watered (or wined) and have their beds made. When one is deep in producing a book, such things do indeed help. Other guests yesterday included the delightful Merseyside poet, Roger McGough, and Bryan Magee, the philosopher, broadcaster and former MP (Labour, then SDP) for Leyton, in whose steps I followed as parliamentary candidate in 1992. But the subject of most of the conversation over lunch was another regular at Mount Pleasant, who was not — and will not for the foreseeable future — be there: C.A.R. (Charles) Hills, who is currently serving Her Majesty’s pleasure in Belmarsh.

Five years younger than me, Charles has long felt frustrated that literary acclaim has ecaped him. He has had a number of rather good short stories published, but like so many creative writers, has had difficulty in getting his novels into print. His best work, as far as I am concerned, is his journalism for Prospect magazine. He used to have a column that was an engrossing litany of failure and dispair about the life of The Man on the Clapham Omnibus, which was at its best a rival to Jeffrey Bernard’s ‘Low Life’  in the Spectator. Now he’s back in print occasionally reporting from prison.

For a few years, he had been telling anyone who would listen that he wanted to have his aged mother’s much younger lover murdered, because of a disputed legacy. He even turned up on my doorstep once, and declared that as I live in the East End I must have connections to the criminal underworld (I don’t). He went on about this so often — including at Mount Pleasant — than nobody took it seriously — until he tried to enlist two undercover policeman to be hitmen, and got arrested instead. He was sentenced at the Old Bailey to a total of seven years. I wonder if he will now be able write the powerful novel that has so far eluded him, or maybe a comic-tragic autobiography?

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