Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. How did one crazy night of excess end up with 25 years behind bars?
Convicted for the brutal murder of an ex girlfriend, JD Smith is back on the streets a bitter and broken man. Now in his fifties, the once good looking, carefree, former musician in a post punk R & B band is left to reflect on the bizarre events that led to his long incarceration without right to appeal, where, despite maintaining his innocence, all the evidence continues to point to his guilt.
Out on licence, Jack Smith is determined to find the real killer and bring them to justice. But before he can pursue the quest to clear his name, he first has to assuage the demons that reside inside his head and haunt his nightmares; rid himself of the darkness that continues to taunt, torment and test his sanity.
Other distractions come in the shape of a sultry female lawyer whose practice methods aren’t always entirely ethical. And a trip to India in search of an elusive butterfly, the daughter he hasn’t seen since she was two.
Mistrusting of a legal system that has already failed him, Jack decides to take the law into his own hands, but unbeknown to him, someone else is on a mission to catch a killer…
Scrapyard Blues is a pulsating story of one man’s quest for redemption and reconnection with a life lost.
“Scrapyard Blues is a gritty yet uplifting tale of redemption, renewal and perhaps most importantly self-discovery.
Derryl Flynn has captured the pathos of ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ and the verve of ‘Get Carter’.
Not only is the tale beautifully told, but a bluesy backbeat permeates the writing from start to finish, ranging from slow, brooding delta to hard-driving rock.
I had tears in my eyes when I got to the last page and that is the finest compliment I can pay.”
Terry Murphy, author of Weekend in Weighton
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
The Genesis of this story came about one cold and crispy New Years Eve back in the mists of time.
All the planets must have been aligned that night because it shaped up to be the most bizarre, surreal and yet thoroughly enjoyable evening.
The Melbourne was one of those tatty but warmly welcoming waterholes, loved to bits by its regular patrons. The Exterior was fashioned in a faux Art Deco style, all stucco walls and glazed tile. The landlord was a feisty Irish character called Eamon, purveyor of fine ales and excellent live music. Eamon addressed everyone as “brother”, even the women.
The band that evening was a bunch of gnarly looking dudes who kept everyone happy into the small hours with their own brand of tried and tested, no-nonsense R & B standards. The punters on this particular Old Years Night were having such a good time that midnight came and went in a alcoholic haze of happiness without anyone resorting to that God awful “Auld Lang Syne” crap. No fall-outs, no fights – even the wife was behaving herself.
It was during a bladder-bursting bog break that things became predictably hazy. I remember being stood at the urinal admiring the 1930’s craftsmanship in the shape of cracked glazed porcelain that adorned the Gents in vivid bottle green and brick-red and cream colours, when some guy, a total stranger in the adjacent trough sparked up a conversation. He started by asking me if I was enjoying the band. I replied in the affirmative.
“I used to shag the singer’s missus,” he confirmed, swaying happily. “I hope he don’t recognise me else I’m f***ed.”
“How long ago was this?” I enquired.
“Oh, ages ago – not even sure if they’re still together.”
“Would he still be bothered after all this time?”
“Course he’ll still be bothered, he’s a Marsden lad,” he said indignantly. “The whole f****ing band comes from Marsden.”
I raised an inquisitive eyebrow, at which he proceeded to quote John Wesley, word perfect and at great length about what the Methodist Theologian and lay preacher had to say of the wild and nefarious ways of the Godless people of Marsden. He was still at it long after I’d emptied my bladder, but I was so impressed by his recitation I didn’t want to appear rude and Interrupt.
I never saw the guy again after that. Whether or not he’d decided to stagger home early, jump in a taxi out of harms way I’ll never know, but that fascinating and surreal conversation will stay with me forever.
So, bizarrely, that’s how the idea for Scrapyard Blues was born. Ironically, on the weekend that I completed the first draft of SB I attended the annual R & B fest in Colne, Lancashire and quite by chance bumped into the hairy lead guitarist of the band that played The Melbourne on that NYE. We whiled away the early hours of that late summer eve outside my tent drinking cheap red wine and eating Polish kabanos sausage, debating the universal merits of the wondrous element that is Carbon until the sun came up. I never brought up that New Years Eve gig or the mysterious stranger who once shagged his missus.
Footnote: Sadly, The Melbourne no longer exists in its boozy R & B manifestation. It’s now a shop that sells saris.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Most are amalgams of people I have met on life’s meandering path. Others are the pure invention of my imagination. The JD character in Scrapyard Blues is a focal representation of the late great musician Steve Marriott as is evident in the book.
THE PRISON OFFICER walks briskly down the narrow corridor with a sense of purpose, shiny boots marching out time along polished concrete. I follow a couple of paces behind, at my own speed, not quite lethargic but almost. Inside my head I instinctively apply a twelve bar rhythm in order to mellow out the kerlunk-kerlunk regular beat that leads the way. He casts the occasional backward glance just to make sure I’m still with him. I send him a little reassuring smile in return. He frowns slightly and it’s like he’s a bit puzzled as to why I don’t want to get this short journey over with as quickly as possible, only for me, this journey has been anything but short, and even now I can’t be certain that it’s at an end. After all this time, I’m in no rush.
At the end of the corridor the kerlunk-kerlunk stops abruptly, and the accompanying rhythm inside my head fades into the ether. I casually swing my bag of meagre but precious belongings over my shoulder and patiently watch the screw punch numbers into an electronic keypad on the wall. Patience is a virtue. He takes a key card, which is attached to a chain, which is, in turn, fastened to his belt, and swipes it in another machine. LED’s twitch and beep, electronics click and whirr and metal bolts slide neatly back into their hollow shafts with satisfying clunks. A green light above the door flashes. He pushes it open and ushers me through.
‘This is as far as I go, Smithy.’ He offers me a look that says he’s sad to see me leave, like we’ve been best mates for years, and like he’s about to burst into tears and give me a hug. But the guy’s a virtual stranger, hardly knows me. The walls know me better; I’ve been here longer, a hell of a lot longer. My eyes show the same sentiment as the walls: fucking none. He passes me my release papers with one hand and offers me his other. I shake it loosely. ‘You take care now, and make sure you stay out of trouble. You hear?’ He gives me a condescending slap on the back as I turn away, and for the millionth time a voice inside my head screams out in protest, because the fact is I’ve never done anything wrong in my life, not criminally wrong anyhow, but no one has cared to listen for these past twenty-five years. So the scream of protest stays inside my head where it can’t fall on deaf ears like it has a million times before.
I cross the dry moat and look up into a clear blue sky on this January morning. Crisp, cold, my breath forms puffs of vapour as I walk. Waiting for me at the small gatehouse office is an overweight screw in an ill-fitting uniform. He takes my papers from me and we go inside where he hands them to a colleague sitting behind a desk. He checks them over briefly before looking up.
‘So, the big day arrives at last, eh, Smithy?’
I look on impassively. Say nothing.
‘You should’ve pleaded guilty mate; you’d have been long gone.’
Such sound advice, what the hell are you doing working in the prison service pal? A guy like you ought to have been a lawyer. Why on Earth did I never consider that after all this time? The misanthropist I have become wells up inside me. I grit my teeth but my features betray nothing but well-practiced asceticism. I humour the jocular fool.
‘Yeah, you’re right,’ I nod in mock hindsight. ‘I should’ve done.’
The officer somehow senses I’m not in the mood for farewell banter and quickly rubber stamps the official end to my incarceration.
The fat screw does the business with his key card. More electronics beep and click. I get the green light for go. The small door set into the giant gate opens and for the first time in twenty-five years I step back into society.
I stand there waiting for a sensation, a feeling that heralds a fresh start, a new beginning. It doesn’t come. I pull air deep into my lungs and try to savour freedom. It tastes bitter. Taking a final backward glance I see the two officers chatting behind the glass. I can’t hear what they’re saying, but I can guess…
‘Who was that then?’ Fat Bloke asks his mate.
‘That was JD Smith. Lifer. Murdered some young lass in pretty gruesome circumstances, so I’m told. Maintained his innocence throughout. He’s done the full stretch. Twenty-five years.’
‘Do you think he done it?’
The guy behind the desk blows air from his cheeks. ‘Yeah, course he did.’
Mandatory: full tariff. No remission, no parole, not when you deny your guilt, not when you’re In Denial of Murder. The system rules; the system will screw you into submission. You don’t fuck with the system. Mandatory: full tariff. The words rattle around inside my head and I try to summon up some sort of defiance, try to claim a victory of sorts. I took the full weight of the law and came through, survived. But, try as I might, I feel no sense of victory, just emptiness. Resilience and defiance when all is stacked against you becomes just a survival instinct, a necessity you build into your psyche to prevent you from going under. There’s no sense of achievement, no feeling of winning. The emotions of hate, of anger, frustration, loneliness, despair and injustice have all been absorbed; I’ve given them their head, they’ve all had their time and time is all I’ve had. I’ve trodden a path towards a horizon I know I’ll never reach. The path might look different from today but the horizon stays as distant as ever.
Traffic roars on the streets; people getting on with their lives, coping with the daily grind, week after week, month after month, year after year. No past, no present, no future. And I’m invisible. I only exist in a parallel universe, forced to observe a world I’ve learned to hate, from a bubble. Through the privilege of a TV screen I’ve seen the results of wars and pestilence on a grand scale. I’ve learned new phrases like Tsunami and Nine-Eleven. I’ve watched politicians from all parties wringing their hands and paying lip service to an ever more frightened public in an increasingly sick world. New legislation is in the statute book. In future the likes of JD Smith will never be let out. Life must mean life. Then, over time, I’ve watched, sometimes with envy, other times with hope, the release of The Birmingham Six, The Guildford Four, The Bridgewater Four, and more recently the likes of Stefan Kiszko, Angela Cannings, Stephen Downing, and many more like them, all finally have their convictions quashed on appeal. I was never given right to appeal. There was never any new evidence in my case. I never had politically motivated celebrities or probing journalists fighting my corner. I’m not really a free man; I’m still a convicted murderer out on Life Licence, so the papers I’m clutching tell me. But now I have a choice. I can live out the rest of my days with this stigma attached to me, with this heavy burden weighing down my soul, knowing twenty-five years of my life have been taken from me by someone who might be still out there, and do nothing. Or I can search for the truth; dig up the past and clear my name.
A car horn sounds from the other side of the road. I light up a snout, sling my bag over my shoulder and cross. I’m almost killed at least three times before I reach the other side of the street. I’m not used to traffic like this. I open the passenger door of the car. It’s an Audi or a Merc, I think; some posh German number anyhow.
‘Fuckin’ hell!’ exclaims Digweed as I bounce onto the leather and sling my bag in the back.
He looks at me wide eyed and gob-struck. ‘Well, that would’ve been a waste of time, wouldn’t it? All them years inside and then you come out and get flattened by a car. I thought you had a death wish or something.’
I give a shrug like I couldn’t have cared less and admire the smart, state of the art interior of his motor. Cars have changed a lot since I remembered them.
‘Very nice,’ I purr, sinking comfy into the soft leather. ‘Somebody’s done all right for themselves. Very tidy.’
‘Yeah, and I aim to keep it that way. No smoking, if you don’t mind,’ he remonstrates, looking nervously at the inch of ash that sits precariously at the end of my roll-up. I make a fruitless search of the door for a window handle. Then, as if by magic, the glass drops into the door with a soft, almost silent sshhh. Digweed notes my surprised expression, takes his finger off a button and shakes his head. I flick my smoke, sparking onto the pavement. ‘Oh, by the way; what you just did constitutes a fifty pound fine these days,’ he says as a matter of fact.
‘Fifty fucking quid?’ I exclaim disbelieving. He nods gravely. Things have changed. I have a lot to re-learn. ‘Start your engine then, pal. Let’s be off, I’ve hung around here long enough.’
‘The engine’s already running.’ He smirks, puts his foot down so that I sink into the back of my seat, and expertly manoeuvres the silent beast into the manic flow of traffic. ‘Where’s it to then, old man? The world’s your oyster.’
‘I think the word is cloister. The world is my fucking cloister. You’d better take us up to Jeanie’s…’
As we stop, start and crawl our way through the city towards the motorway I curiously observe the evolution of English suburban custom and culture; the bed sheet cum banner strung across a roundabout proclaiming that some poor, unsuspecting individual is 40 TODAY. While two hundred yards further down the road and at depressingly regular intervals, bunches of dead and decaying flowers and the occasional weather-beaten teddy bear lashed to a lamppost with strapping wire and duct tape, serve as sad, sodden shrines to accident victims, casualties who have fallen to the scourge of the drug fuelled joy-rider and drunk driver.
The exterior scenes of organised chaos and bizarre ritual soon begin to make me bored and irritable, so I focus my attention on the knobs and buttons on Digweed’s flash dash. I press one at random and a disc silently spews forth from a thin horizontal slit. I take it from the unit and scrutinise it with interest.
‘It’s a CD,’ says Digweed.
‘I know what a fucking CD is,’ I spit back at him. ‘I haven’t been in solitary for the past quarter of a century. Who is it?’ He hands me the case. It’s a compilation of rhythm & blues classics and what I remember as being rare and obscure. My eyes light up at some of the artists and titles. ‘Bloody hell! Where did you get this?’ I ask, impressed.
‘Downloaded it,’ he says like it was a stupid question.
Download, MP3, I-Pod. There’s a technological revolution afoot where music is concerned. Nowadays it seems anything and everything is accessible with increasingly weird and wonderful ways in which to listen to it.
I offer the disc back into its slot and the machine impatiently snatches it from my grasp.
‘Crank it up, then.’
Digweed strokes something without taking his hands off the wheel and all of a sudden the car is filled with music from heaven. Magic Slim and The Teardrops playing a live version of Goin’ to Mississippi. Devil’s music. But I’m in paradise as the twelve-bar-beat envelops me, wraps itself around me like a warm welcoming blanket, making the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. And the sound is incredible, unbelievable, like I’m there in the hall three feet away from the stage and the blue neon indicator on the player says it’s not even at quarter volume. Digweed flashes me a big, daft, cheesy grin, like he knows all about the sensations that are coursing through my body. I nod and grin back at him before closing my eyes, sinking back into the leather in complete and utter contentment, surrendering totally to the sound. I put my other issues on a back-burner for a while and let the blues take control.
With my eyes still shut I half-consciously sense a change in the sound of the engine as we escape the confines of inner city and finally reach motorway. Suddenly free and unfettered, Digweed gives the German made beast its head and I sink even further back into my seat. On the car hi-fi John Campbell john is screaming The World Is Crazy, doing the business with his bottleneck; gliding up and down frets, frantic and fraught, rhythm section galloping alongside, keeping it all in check.
I cock open an eye just as we cruise past Hartshead Moor Services and I suddenly realise we’re travelling along my old section. I sit up and take in the once familiar scenery as we drop down towards Brighouse before commencing what is now a four-lane incline up to Ainley Top. And I start to drift again, back to a time and place full of happy memories, when the world truly was my oyster, a different world, a different time and place, and a very different JD Smith. Thirty-six years ago, the summer of Nineteen Seventy-Two…
Derryl Flynn grew up in a northern coal mining town in England during the fifties and sixties. He studied Film-Theatre & TV at Bradford College of Art in the early seventies where he developed a passion for writing drama for screenplay & radio. His debut novel The Albion was first published in 2008. Scrapyard Blues, his second novel has just found a home with Grinning Bandit Books.
Derryl lives with his wife, on the edge of the moors and just a spit away from Bronte country (not a good idea if the wind’s in the wrong direction) where he continues to work on his third MS.
Derryl Flynn is a guy who refuses to be pigeonholed. He writes fiction for any consenting adult who dares to take a look. His background is as eclectic as his scribbling: Art College drop-out, foundry worker, road builder, scrap man, curtain and blind fitter, and amateur philosopher, all accomplished with questionable degrees of success. He thinks he might be okay at making up stories.
Have you read this book or others by this author? Tell us in the comments how you liked it!