Granville Street, Vancouver, 1951
Here is a long-forgotten early post on what I thought Terminal City might become. It didn’t. But this is what I wrote all that time ago, and how long ago it seems now, when the story first came jumping out at me and demanded to be written. Some things have changed… Mia is no longer married, a crucial change… but not much else, for it always had a fully-formed feel to it. All that time since has been putting down, re-writing, polishing, polishing, polishing.
But this is what my very first mention of it was like, warts, flaws, single ill-chosen photograph and all:
I’m very excited about Terminal City, the working title for the book I’ve just begun to write.
The facts: fading Hollywood movie star Errol Flynn came to Vancouver in 1959 to attempt to sell his last possession of any value, his yacht the Zaca, to a Vancouver businessman. Aged fifty, an alcoholic, riddled with diseases from malaria to gonorrhoea, he was in the physical condition of a man many years older. With him was his blonde, Lolita sunglasses-wearing, seventeen-year-old girlfriend Beverly Aadland. The yacht sold, on his way to the airport Flynn complained of severe back pains, and died in the apartment of Dr Grant Gould, uncle of the pianist Glenn Gould. In the scandal and upheaval that followed only Beverley Aadland kept any dignity, refusing to talk to journalists or sell her story.
That was the nugget that triggered my interest. I soon saw that it was the end of the same noir period for Vancouver as it was for LA and San Francisco, the other great West Coast cities of North America. But they had been written about, from James M Cain and Raymond Chandler on. Vancouver hadn’t found its author. And what an intriguing period it was, of bank robberies, murders, town hall, police and business corruption, scandal, and of campaigns by the ‘right-thinking’ to establish law and order and conformity.
What if I united the criminality of the pre-war years with the white bread and complacency of the fifties? What if a fading Hollywood star returned to where he had begun, met an old girlfriend, now happily married, disrupted their lives…? What if a murder long forgotten was now uncovered? Where might that go? What might all of them be hiding from the wilder days of their youth?
And, from the example of young Beverley Aadland, it would be a story that must contain a variety of forms of true, if sometimes unconventional, love.
That was what I began with. It was a good start. But only a start.