I got the idea for a book about the night in 2008, and envisaged taking a similar approach to the one I took in Parallel Lines and The Longest Crawl. This is to say, I’d travel and I’d do a huge amount of reading around the history of my subject before I started writing. The travel would be easy; I’d visit, oh I don’t know, criminals and prostitutes, go to a sleep clinic, and fill a few shelves in a supermarket at night, that kind of thing, and then use carefully chosen historical examples from the hundred or so secondary sources which I’d read to illuminate my experiences.
I’d pitched and sold the idea before I found that, rather than hundreds of secondary sources, there is, in essence, just one, A. Roger Ekrich’s astounding history of nighttime, ‘At Day’s Close.’ I found that on day one. I also found Al Alvarez’s marvellous ‘Night’, where he did something pretty much identical to what I’d had in mind; and Sukhdev Sandhu’s ‘Night Haunts’, a fascinating and contemporary series of psycho-geographicalesque accounts of how people spent their nights in London. All on day one. Unhappy bunny.
Although I had access to some excellent primary sources, I didn’t feel that I wanted to go over the same ground as Alvarez or Sandhu, and I certainly didn’t want to regurgitate huge chunks of Ekrich’s masterpiece; and I wasn’t sure how to avoid it. So I did something else. I wrote the story of my nights, my darkness, and hoped that it would resonate with readers. Set across the course of an intoxicated night in West Cork, it starts light, gets very dark, and ends with a ray of light (I hope). So it’s a memoir, with some travel, rather than a travel book with a bit of memoir. It’s the most close-up and personal thing I’ve done, and I think that makes it all but uncategorisable. Which is good, if you’re a writer, because it makes you think you’ve pulled off something original; but annoying if you’re a bookseller, maybe. I hope readers like it, and forgive me the crimes, stoned theology, attempts to visit hookers and night sweats; and I hope that if they go on to read Ekrich, Alvarez, and Sandhu, they agree, at least, that I tried to do something different with my nights.