Bon viveur, drum supremo and – recently – web designer Ivan Zehdra-Maychayne quizzes Spike Evans about the genesis of Single To Morden.
Ivan: So tell me – what inspired you to turn your back on a life of shameless indolence and write Single To Morden? Not the prospect of becoming a literary billionaire, surely?
Spike: Not quite. It was just an idea I had about London. We were living right on the edge of it at the time, in a tiny flat on Stanmore Hill, and I guess I was just struck by the scale of the place, the way it could swallow you up entirely – and how impossible it would be to find someone in London if they didn't want to be found. And then I was struck by how that situation would change if you just had one piece of information about their whereabouts – the fact that they lived near a Tube station on a particular line, for instance. That's where the idea came from. And once I'd had the idea, I was compelled to write it – to see it through to its logical conclusion.
Ivan: It wasn't because you just wanted to find out what Morden was like? That fantasy all Londoners have about visiting all the stations at the end of the Tube lines?
Spike: That too. I used to live in Golders Green but work in Streatham. I was forever falling asleep on the Tube home and waking up in Edgware. I often wondered what High Barnet and Mill Hill East looked like.
Ivan: And now you know.
Spike: And now I know.
Ivan: So did you visit all the stations you describe in the book?
Spike: I had to. I spent two or three hours in most of the places I went to, wandering around, getting a feel for the area, taking pictures, jotting down notes.
Ivan: You weren't tempted to skip anywhere?
Spike: I didn't spend long in Elephant and Castle. Or Morden itself, actually.
Ivan: I'm not detecting a hint of anti-south London bias, here, am I?
Spike: Perish the thought.
Ivan: So which was your favourite station?
Spike: Erm... Totteridge and Whetstone's got a very fetching station, ever so slightly twee. Probably the best if you've an hour to kill and just fancy a nap. I don't live in London any more, but I often drive down to Whetstone and get the Tube into town from there. It's a dinky little place.
Ivan: I like Clapham Common. There's that cool dome-y thing at street level, and the 'island' platform between the north and southbound tracks. It's got a bit of 'old skool' charm.
Spike: Favourite Tube line?
Ivan: Picadilly. Handy for Harrod's and Fortnum's. I suppose yours is the Northern.
Spike: Afraid so. I moved down to London a year or two before they got rid of the old trains – the ones with the guard in the back carriage and the vomit-coloured seat covers. It was love at first sight.
Ivan: And now you've written a novel celebrating your love.
Ivan: So, Spike – let's cut straight to the chase – they say all debut novels are autobiographical.
Spike: Is that right?
Ivan: You tell me.
Spike: Erm... not in this case, no.
Ivan: Some bits seemed very... Spike-ish.
Spike: Well, a few things in the novel were inspired by real life. The bit with the watch seller in Leicester Square happened to me – almost word for word – about fifteen years ago, except it was at a motorway service station on the M6. And the incident with the old lady who's convinced that Tim is from the council at Clapham North station happened to my brother, when he was doing his A level geography field work. He was carrying a clipboard, and was followed round for a whole morning by this old lady who insisted on telling him all about the state of the drains...
Ivan: It's true that you lived in a Travelodge for a couple of months, though. I remember visiting you.
Spike: Uh-huh, but that was after Single To Morden had been written. We'd sold our flat but didn't have anywhere else to live, so we ended up in the Whetstone Travelodge. Life imitating art.
Ivan: Happy days?
Spike: It's quite refreshing not having to do housework for a couple of months.
Ivan: You're trying to be clever now, aren't you? Pretending to know what housework is.
Ivan: So... was Single To Morden an easy novel to write?
Spike: Not at all.
Ivan: Writers' block?
Spike: The opposite. I ended up with about three novels' worth of material.
Ivan: All about the Northern Line?
Spike: Not entirely. I wrote about one novel's worth of Tim's back-story, the entire doomed romance between him and Sarah. It took me about eighteen months to reconcile myself to chucking it all away.
Ivan: So it became a more manageable process.
Spike: It was still pretty awkward trying to make the plot fit the Northern Line stations. The whole 'one station per day' idea turned out to be a bit of a straight-jacket.
Ivan: I remember discussing this with you while you were writing it. I told you to write an introduction and an epilogue.
Spike: But I wanted to be true to the principle of only writing chapters related to stations. I'm quite proud I managed it.
Ivan: So presumably you're now considering a lap of honour – writing a novel for the Bakerloo or Victoria Lines, maybe? 'Single to Brixton?'
Spike: Perhaps not.
Ivan: So which were the hardest Northern Line chapters to write?
Spike: The ones where I don't say much about the area, I guess. There's still nothing whatsoever I could tell you about Woodside Park. It was exceptionally uninspiring.
Ivan: Presumably there's a park there. And maybe a wood, somewhere off to the side.
Spike: Presumably. Stations like Camden were the easiest to write. I think Camden Town was the first chapter I did, actually. Euston was very early, too. I had a big list of station names, and I remember writing 'drugs' next to Camden and 'insane sniffer dog' next to Euston.
Ivan: So you didn't write the chapters in order?
Spike: No, no. And when I'd finished, I had to go back and re-write about a third of them, because so many things had changed in the places I'd written about.
Ivan: Like what?
Spike: Erm... well, when I first went to Burnt Oak, there was a shop opposite the Tube called 'Big Girl', which I naturally thought was hilarious. So I wrote a large section about Tim fantasising about what went on inside this shop called 'Big Girl'. But when I went back there, a couple of years later, it'd gone. I had to come up with a whole new chapter.
Ivan: You could have just pretended that 'Big Girl' still existed.
Spike: It still exists in my heart. But what if you lived in Burnt Oak? You'd buy the novel and be devastated at the lack of verisimilitude.
Ivan: People living in Burnt Oak have more to worry about than the loss of 'Big Girl'.
Spike: Someone also managed to knock down the Swiss Centre in Leicester Square between me starting and finishing the book. And now I hear that the statue of Freddie Mercury's going to be coming down on the Tottenham Court Road. This sort of thing was a problem all the way through. London just kept changing around me.
Ivan: How bloody thoughtless of it.
Spike: It's a conspiracy.
Ivan: Doubtless. So, having finally finished it, are there any plans for a sequel? I've thought of a good title, if you do: 'Return To Morden'. You can have that for nothing.
Spike: Thank you very much. Actually, I think I'm probably done with the whole 'Tube' thing – and I'm quite happy leaving Tim languishing in Barcelona for the time being. Jeremy makes an appearance in my second novel, though. It's called 'Cheek' and it's about an unemployed doctor who discovers that a porn actress he's never met might have a cancerous tumour on her bottom. He ends up travelling to California to give her the news.
Ivan: So this is going to be your autobiographical novel, then?
Spike: Erm... no.
Ivan: Oh. Shame. Shame.