My guest blogger today is the amazing Jake Barton, enigmatic author of Kindle bestselling thrillers Burn, Baby Burn, its sequel Blood and a number of others (one of which is FREE currently). Do go and look him up on Amazon or at his blog: Ramblings of a Deluded Soul
The following bio is written by Jake at my request:
Jake Barton lives a determinedly unpredictable life. By design. He makes minimal use of planning, acts on impulse and yet, somehow, manages to make it all work. Most of the time.
He used to be someone completely different – this present incarnation is a massive step down. Jake was known by another name for many years. He was younger then, clever, hirsute, handsome, good company, sensible and superbly fit. Sadly, none of the above apply now.
He writes crime fiction with a hard edge, making use of a life which frequently brought him into contact with major drug dealers, gang leaders, heroin addicts and many other denizens of society’s underbelly. Many of them were fascinating company and regarded him as a friend, albeit a one-sided friendship doomed to be short-lived.
During the course of an unconventional life, touched by wanderlust, involving much movement around the globe, he has been a labourer in a steel-works, taught English and History, been a work-study engineer, a restaurateur, civil servant, Nightclub bouncer, antique dealer, owned a small French vineyard and also had another job that he’s not supposed to talk about where most of the background for his crime novels was learned the hard way over the course of twenty hard years.
To define Jake Barton in one word would be difficult. “Wastrel” comes pretty close.
He writes, sporadically, but doesn’t think of himself as a writer, even though he’s somehow managed to sell in excess of 60,000 books, so far, in 2011. He’s about to set off again, wandering the world, sans map, compass or any idea where he’ll end up. As plans go, it’s rubbish! Sounds about right, then.
The Black Mist.
I used to have a very stressful job. A very specific job for which very few are suited and even fewer stay the course. It involved undercover work, befriending criminals and drug dealers to gain access to gang bosses and major importers. Myself and my colleagues worked in different areas to avoid become known and I met my fellow workers perhaps only once a year. There were eight of us at the ‘sharp end’ and about fifty behind the scenes. Of the eight who did the job at the same time as myself, over a period of twenty years, only three are still alive. Including me, well, obviously!
The constant danger, the retribution meted out if the carefully planned cover failed, the difficulty of adapting to life after the job ended all contributed to this high level of attrition.
I wrote in my own blog recently about meeting a former colleague in Stoke Mandeville Hospital, the spinal injuries unit. He’d been beaten so severely he’d been presumed dead and thrown from a speeding car by his assailants. Despite being paralysed from the neck down his positive attitude was massively uplifting.
‘I’d kill myself, if I could’, he said to me, but then laughed out loud. ‘Nah, I wouldn’t. I couldn’t stand the idea of my wife finding me and thinking, you selfish bastard, what’d you do that for?’
Selfish. The word he chose resonates with me even now. My friend died, in his sleep, three years after I last saw him. His wife gave me his watch, ‘to remember him by.’ I can’t imagine ever forgetting the bravest man I ever met.
Depression has been in the news lately, prompted by the tragic death of a fine man, Gary Speed. I’ve known a few people who’ve taken their own life. In only one case can I honestly say I ever saw suicide as a possibility. That exception was a young man I’d met when I was still playing rugby. Jason was nineteen and a prodigiously gifted athlete, but in desperate need of direction. He’d never played rugby, but I persuaded a friend to offer him a job and begged him to come to training, learn the rudiments of the game. Within two months I was picking him in the first team, on the wing where his inexperience would be less obvious. His pace and enviable fitness stood him in good stead, but it was the friendship of his team-mates, the social aspects of the sport, that made the biggest difference. He was a changed person; no longer drifting through life, but happy and contented with a new job, a girlfriend and a group of mates who thought the world of him.
On Boxing Day, on a pitch that was beginning to freeze, he turned, slipped and tore his cruciate ligament. I’ve had the same injury. It’s painful and restricts your movement for a long time. Unable to play, he came to the clubhouse less and less often. I was worried about his fragile nature, but had, myself, received a serious injury, and was out of touch with my team for a few weeks. When I was fit enough to get out I went to see Jason at home and found his mother in tears. She’d found his body less than an hour ago and the doctor had just arrived and pronounced him dead. I stayed with her, trying to find words suitable for occasions like this.
There aren’t any.
‘He’d been so good,’ she said, ‘then the black mist came down again.’
The black mist. Depression. We don’t understand it; can’t rationalise it, yet it can disrupt a person’s life to such an extent they can’t bear it any more.
Two former work colleagues took their own lives. Apparently, without anyone close to them having the faintest idea of how bad the situation had become. I knew them both and was shocked to the core when I heard the news. Yes, the job played a part. I’m sure of it. Twenty years on, some memories will never leave me. I’ve recently started to write, in very general terms, about my work experience. It’s hard. The recollections are buried deep. That’s my safety valve. I’m a positive person. I don’t ‘do’ depression, but I understand it. As for suicide; I can’t imagine the level of despair that brings about this decision.
Is it ‘selfish’ as my friend in Stoke Mandeville said? In a way, yes. Of course it is. The people left behind. Those closest to you who love you, care for you. Their despair, that feeling they could have done more, prevented this. I know they feel that as I’ve felt like that on three separate occasions. The problem is: the decision to end one’s life is made under conditions where all rational thought has fled. The ‘black mist’ is control.
I’ll never forget my friend’s cheeriness as I fed him a meal. His nature wouldn’t permit regrets or sorrow at his condition. He shamed me. I’ve never felt so inadequate as I did that afternoon. He was bearing up under conditions that would surely have battered me. We laughed, a lot. He told me everything I needed to know before I took his place within the group of men who’d almost killed him. He also told me about a prominent disk jockey who worked part-time at the hospital and also died recently. My friend said, ‘never met such an arsehole in my life.’ Ah well, there you go!