Working for the Northampton Herald & Post (the ‘HP’) is little different from working on any other local paper. Small ads, schools, hospitals, local councillors, fun runs. People are generally nice. And you quickly learn to cope with the certain number of local “characters” (nutjobs) you repeatedly find yourself crossing paths with – bit of colour in a drab world, I say.
It’s true – running a paper just gets more and more difficult in this day and age (even since I started). Skeleton staff cut right back to the bone, and we’re very much dependent on the readership contacting us rather than good old roving reporting.
But it does have one big perk: interviewing Alan Moore. Local landmark. Born, bred, lives (loves) and very probably going to die local.
Not everyone sees eye to eye with him and his “ways”, but we’re glad we have him. And he seems to like talking to the HP. We’re probably not as devious as the nationals or glossy magazines – he knows we’ll treat him straight.
(He’s not one of the local “characters”, by the way. He writes characters. He’s not one. Not in that way).
The Alan issues are always popular. (“Alan issues”: I call them that. Not that he’s on the cover or anything. No special banner headlines, fanfares or ticker tape parades of shredded back issues. No, he always ends up back on page 23. And the articles are never long in the grand scheme of things. I checked – the last few have all come out at exactly 487 words.
I’m not 100% sure how the sessions are arranged – whether the editor calls him or vice versa. Some form of summons or contact behind the scenes. I wouldn’t know. I’m just a humble scribe.
The bump in sales we get isn’t all about him, I’d add. There’s more to the HP than the esteemed Mr Moore. Those issues also tend to coincide with a lot of birth, death and contact notices being placed, so that contributes to the increase at least as much as his hardcore local support and all the special overseas orders we get from Alan fans (long may those handwritten SAEs roll in. Blotchy, scrawly things. Don’t tell them they can get it online whatever you do!).
My old colleague Charles, prior to moving to the Algarve (Or was it Spain? Greece?) Made a remark about the “Morval equinox issues” when theorising about the spike in births one Friday lunchtime in the Wig & Pen. The Alan issues usually happen around mid spring and mid autumn – which is nine months after the longest day or longest night. People get tired, or careless, or jolly, or lonely at the extremes of the year. Lots of babies.
The deaths? Well, people always seem to die in clusters – but that’s mainly just one of those cognitive tricks your mind plays on you. Making sense of and finding meaning in data which doesn’t really have any. Maybe they’re just holding on until the babies are born. The birth brings relief, with relief they stop fighting so hard to keep going.
Whatever the ins and outs of the arrangements (and I’m always the last to know), you arrive at work, and you just know that it’s an Alan day. The air in the carpark is cooler and crisper; and the smells wafting across from Yu’s Chinese are keener, less greasy, more subtly aromatic. The coffee is sharper; the fonts on your monitor clearer.
Sometimes he’s already there, prodding at a pot plant or leafing through stacks of years-old magazines. At other times, you go to the kitchenette to make a cup of tea or coffee, and when you get back, there he is, clasping that big tartan Thermos of his own herbal brew. You learn not to offer him anything. Hospitality seems to be an imposition.
The details at that point always become vague when you try to describe them back (other than by looking at your notes). He sits there, the frizz of his great mane of hair and beard almost seem sort of greenish in the fluorescent light against the office-beige walls, and he draws you in.
He’s such an engaging speaker. Charismatic. Not strictly a melodic voice or way of speaking, but it carries you along. Lifts and drops, resonates. Piercing eyes and a very, very captivating manner. Sometimes he sings. Soon the interview proper starts, on whatever topic of the day is exercising him. He talks, you write, you talk, he talks some more. Talking and writing. Some arm and hand gestures. Glinting canetop, rings and bangles. Knowing laughter. Thumping of blood in your ears, flushed cheeks. More talking. Pen on paper.
And then he’s gone. Leaving behind a faint scent of sweet pipe tobacco (which I don’t think he smokes) and the smell of moustache pomade (which he most definitely does not use – I realised I recognised it – it’s a very specific one I once had demonstrated to me by a local, old-school Turkish barber when researching a male grooming article).
You then usually have a slight headache centred just here, behind the left ear for a day or two. The photographers sometimes have nosebleeds. They’re not full time press photographers, so it’s made for an awkward weddings and christenings afterwards. But we sort out the rotas accordingly.
He is unarguably one of the great British writers and that really rubs off on the interviewer. Brings out the best in you. Once the air clears and the lights stop flickering, you look down at your notepad or laptop, the piece is basically done. Just a bit of the normal editing & tidy-up (take out accidental rhymes, modernise some of the English). Then it’s off down the butchers to buy some thick, prime juicy steak for dinner. Or kidney. Occasionally sausages or black pudding.
An eldritch beacon of transcendental illumination and truth in this corrupted, misshapen world of shoggothic shades and untruths.
You might say.