The girl who saw a man fall under a train
Fiction is much harder to write than fact. So says author Toby Faber, whose new thriller Close To The Edge enthralled Dan Carrier
11 April, 2019 — By Dan Carrier
Dartmouth Park author Toby Faber has turned to fiction with classic page-turner Close To The Edge
STANDING on a platform at Euston, Laurie Bateman hears a scuffle next to her – and watches as a man falls into the path of an approaching train…
Laurie, a woman with a job that doesn’t fulfil and a social life that could do with a boost, is the creation of author Toby Faber – and she stars in a new book that is a classic page-turner. It has the added bonus of being set in Camden and Islington and the area’s landmarks provide a stage for the drama to unfold – including a passage where our protagonist calls on the services of the reporters at the Camden New Journal to help crack the mystery of the man on the tracks.
Called Close To The Edge, Toby, who lives in Dartmouth Park, has previously penned non-fiction works as well as been the managing director of his family’s publishing firm, the renowned Faber and Faber.
We meet Laurie, a single woman living in a shared flat in Tufnell Park, as she heads to work.
Laurie witnesses what at first appears to be a tragic accident – but is compelled to find out more when she notices the victim dropped a metal disc in his final moments.
Close To The Edge had a long gestation period. Back in the early 1990s, Toby was living in Clapham and travelling in to work each morning. As he stood on the station platform, the idea for a thriller began to build.
“At Clapham, you had island platforms with trains coming in each side and it felt every exposed,” he remembers. “I had this idea of someone seeing this incident, so I wrote a couple of chapters.”
Laurie is helped by her father and cousin to unravel the mystery and it leads them on a cleverly created trail, wrought with danger.
“I had an idea of creating a relationship with her father, and that her mother had died – and that would give her the motivation to explore what had happened to the person going under the tube train,” he adds.
“I didn’t slavishly plot the twists. I set off writing and looked where the characters would take me.”
Laurie is a likeable and believable lead, and Toby has created a voice that the reader roots for. Despite having taken around 10 years to complete, it feels very much a story of London today.
“My book could have been called Girl On The Platform – I wrote it long before Girl on the Train – and it fits with this modern genre,” he says.
“It is about how extraordinary things do happen to ordinary people. These thrillers have leads who are not policemen, or spies, and don’t have almost super hero powers like Lisbeth Salander [from Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo].”
Laurie’s adventure marks a break with his previous works, which have been non-fiction. In 2001, Toby left the family firm to concentrate on writing books instead of publishing them.
“It was at a time when the genre of narrative, non-fiction histories was incredibly successful,” he says.
He struck upon the idea of telling the story of Stradivarius, the master violin craftsman.
“I wanted to look at why they became the best in the world,” he says. “The Stradivariuses stretch across different eras and each have stories to tell – they have been lost, found, stolen, and played by a vast number of people.”
After writing about Stradivarius, Toby’s next book was on Fabergé eggs – “another valuable object you could tell a story about”.
The background work for writing non-fiction was immense, he said: “For the proposal, you do need to do a lot of research beforehand. It has advantages and disadvantages – you have done a lot of the work if you get a green light to proceed. It makes it easier to write. But it is a lot of preliminary work for something that may never get published.”
Yet despite the research required to produce a comprehensive story of a violin or a priceless, jewelled egg, Toby says he found writing fiction harder.
“The writing process is tough,” he says. “It can sound like a very attractive lifestyle if you can make the money out of it, but it is also lonely sitting at your desk.
“I have found it easier to write non-fiction. With fiction, you have to make it all up – with non-fiction, it is out there to find.”
From the streets of Tufnell Park to stops on the Northern line, the wide spaces of Parliament Hill Fields to the office of a local newspaper in Camden Road, he has drawn a picture of our neighbourhood for the action to play out on.
“I have written about a place in London I know and love,” says Toby.
“It is the classic write about what you know. If you can give your story a sense of place, then you can ground it in reality.”
And that is one of the books many strengths – a contemporary thriller with brilliant leads, set in a place we recognise.
• Close To The Edge. By Toby Faber, Muswell Press, £10.99.