A ladder to the sky, p.36
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       A Ladder to the Sky, p.36
 

           John Boyne

  The afternoon that the Guardian article appeared, the police showed up at my door and arrested me on suspicion of murder. I protested that I had never committed such a heinous crime, that the two most obvious deaths on my conscience had been manslaughter, but my claims were rejected by the CPS and I was sent for trial. The jury didn’t believe my story either and sent me down for life. I think that’s highly unfair.

  Perhaps I should mention that Edith’s family, whom I hadn’t seen in so long, showed up at the trial. Her mother had died a few years before but Rebecca was there – minus Arjan, who had left her for a much younger actress in Hollywood – along with her sons, Damien and Edward, who had grown into handsome young men and spent every day glaring at me as if they would like to be left alone in a quiet room with me for half an hour. I spotted Robert too, seated in the back row, and wondered how he felt about being back in a courtroom. He’d been released from prison after five years but was forced to be on the sex offenders list, poor man. There was another man sitting near them, one I vaguely recognized from Edith’s and my UEA days, but I couldn’t recall his name. He became very upset when the details of my wife’s death were recounted. I can only assume that they were particularly friendly in some way and I admired him for still caring after all these years.

  Of course, my publishers were left in something of a dilemma. What do you do when one of the most famous writers in the world – if not the most famous – is in disgrace but everyone is desperate to read the offending books out of a macabre fascination? This is what you do: you reprint all the books in new editions – except The Tribesman, of course, which is now only printed under Edith’s name – and donate thirty per cent of the royalties to charity. And you pocket the rest.

  Now, my health. Naturally, I went through some major withdrawal symptoms from alcohol, and the prison authorities, to their credit, were extremely sympathetic and helpful in this. But the damage had been done. My liver is destroyed and my kidneys are in pretty bad shape too. The doctors say that one more drink would kill me, but that’s obviously nonsense. It would be too much of a coincidence if the moment I was forced to give up was exactly the moment that I would have been teetering on the edge of death. Anyway, I drink regularly in here – although obviously not at the same levels as I did during my later London years – in my cell with King Kong, of whom more in a moment. You’d be surprised – or maybe you wouldn’ t – at how much contraband is available in prison. Everything is banned, of course, but most of the inmates have a phone, a television, cigarettes, drugs, alcohol. There are prostitutes for those who require such services. Men or women. Whenever there’s a big boxing match on television everyone knows whose cell has the subscription services. Honestly, it’s not a bad life.

  And I have a job! My first real job since I worked in the Savoy Hotel in West Berlin back in 1988. I teach a creative-writing course and conduct a bi-weekly two-hour session with fourteen inmates of varying ability. They’re a rough bunch, of course – murderers, for the most part, rapists, violent offenders – and they all like to write about crime. All but one, the aforementioned King Kong, who has been given that name because of an uncanny resemblance he bears to that cinematic simian. For almost a year he was working on a novel about an heiress in nineteenth-century Boston and, quite honestly, it would give Henry James a run for his money. He was too nervous to show it to the other classmates, but he gave it to me and I was amazed by his skill with language, his gift for characterization and his witty dialogue. I encouraged him, mentored him, supported him, and he’d just finished his fourth draft when he got into an altercation with another prisoner, leading to a dust-up in the prison yard where he was stabbed in the neck with a toothbrush that had a Stanley blade taped to its end. He bled out in minutes, poor chap.

  Which left me with his manuscript. And it was eminently publishable. Really, the kind of thing that wins awards and hits the bestseller lists. So, I did another draft or two, tidied up some of the language, and sent it to a London publisher, being quite clear who I was and admitting that I would never be able to promote the book in person as I’d been committed to Belmarsh for the rest of my natural but that I had found something to fill the time while I was here, the thing that I had always enjoyed most.

  Writing.

  And, despite the public outcry, they published it. And, against all the odds, it’s been one of the bestselling books of the year. The longlist for this year’s Prize is being announced tomorrow and, quite honestly, I think I’m in with a very strong chance.

  Acknowledgements

  For all their advice and support, many thanks to Bill Scott-Kerr, Larry Finlay, Patsy Irwin, Darcy Nicholson, Fiona Murphy and everyone at Transworld; Simon Trewin, Eric Simonoff, Laura Bonner and the team at WME; and all my publishers around the world, who publish my books with such enthusiasm and commitment.

  About the Author

  John Boyne was born in Ireland in 1971. He is the author of eleven novels for adults, five for young readers and a collection of short stories. Perhaps best known for his 2006 multi-award-winning book The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, John’s other novels, notably The Absolutist and A History of Loneliness, have been widely praised and are international bestsellers. Most recently, The Heart’s Invisible Furies was a Richard & Judy Bookclub word-of-mouth bestseller.

  His novels are published in over fifty languages.

  Also by John Boyne

  NOVELS

  The Thief of Time

  The Congress of Rough Riders

  Crippen

  Next of Kin

  Mutiny on the Bounty

  The House of Special Purpose

  The Absolutist

  This House Is Haunted

  A History of Loneliness

  The Heart’s Invisible Furies

  NOVELS FOR YOUNGER READERS

  The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

  Noah Barleywater Runs Away

  The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket

  Stay Where You Are and then Leave

  The Boy at the Top of the Mountain

  SHORT STORIES

  Beneath the Earth

  TRANSWORLD PUBLISHERS

  61–63 Uxbridge Road, London W5 5SA

  www.penguin.co.uk

  Transworld is part of the Penguin Random House group of companies whose addresses can be found at global.penguinrandomhouse.com

  First published in Great Britain in 2018 by Doubleday

  an imprint of Transworld Publishers

  Copyright © John Boyne 2018

  Cover design by Jo Thomson, TW

  John Boyne has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.

  This book is a work of fiction and, except in the case of historical fact, any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

  Every effort has been made to obtain the necessary permissions with reference to copyright material, both illustrative and quoted. We apologize for any omissions in this respect and will be pleased to make the appropriate acknowledgements in any future edition.

  A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

  Version 1.0 Epub ISBN 9781473526310

  ISBN 9780857523495

  This ebook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorized distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author’s and publisher’s rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

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  John Boyne, A Ladder to the Sky

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