Is David Seabrook dead? This is a question I’ve heard again and again in the past two days. What started as a trickle of email and phone call rumour yesterday, had by today turned into a flood of conversation. The first message was from true crime author Neil Milkins: “Are you able to tell me if David Seabrook has died. I have had an email saying he died January 2009.” When Cathi Unsworth contacted me about Seabrook today, I was able to trace the rumour mill carrying this story back through a network of my friends via novelist David Peace to film director Paul Tickell. So I called Paul to get the story.
Paul Tickell told me David Seabrook, age 48, had died around 18 January 2009. On that day, Seabrook had told his closest friend Nigel Pittam that he’d been suffering from pains in his arms and chest. Pittam rang Seabrook the next day to see how he was feeling but couldn’t get a reply. He knew Seabrook had an appointment with an optician so he called on the eye specialist to see if his friend had kept it. He hadn’t. Pittam then went to Seabrook’s flat at 2 Westside Apartments, Station Road West, Canterbury, CT2 8AN. When he knocked at the door he got no reply, so he went to the police. Either the cops or Pittam phoned Seabrook’s parents who gave them permission for a break-in. Having got into the flat, Pittam and the old bill found Seabrook dead in bed, he’d apparently suffered a heart attack. It appears there were no suspicious circumstances.
Tickell got to know Seabrook when he was pitching a TV documentary on the unsolved Jack The Stripper murders (not made), and they subsequently stayed in touch, mainly by telephone, with the crime writer making long calls to the film director at odd hours. After a while the timing of the calls became more predictable; settling into a routine of usually being after 9pm on a Sunday night. Tickell was away in the US filming a TV documentary about work place murder sprees when Seabrook died. A week or two later he received a phone call from his friend John Fitzpatrick who lives in Canterbury and teaches in the Law Department at the University of Kent. During the conversation, Fitzpatrick mentioned a report in a local paper about the death of a ‘controversial’ writer called David Seabrook. Tickell drew a blank from web searches but phoning around got the story I’ve repeated above.
I can’t say I got on with Seabrook. When I was doing research into my mother’s life there proved to be some cross-over between the people I was contacting about her, and those Seabrook was talking to about the Jack The Stripper murders. Various people told me that Seabrook had asked them not to talk to me because I was ‘encroaching’ on his patch. Obviously virtually everyone but Seabrook found this ridiculous. I was interested in my own family history, and had no intention of attempting to solve the Jack The Stripper murders. While Seabrook devoted some space in his subsequent book Jack Of Jumps to my mother’s friend and love rival Trina Simmonds – as background material on 1960s London prostitutes – he appeared to know very little about Simmonds, her subsequent evolution or the beatnik scene to which both she and my mother, Julia Callan-Thompson, belonged. When I met Seabrook I didn’t like him, and when I read his book Jack Of Jumps I thought it sucked. You can read my review of that here.
Seabrook published his first two crime books with Granta, and then jumped ship to Faber and Faber where his new editor was Neil Belton. Seabrook’s editor at Granta was George Miller. At the time of his death, Seabrook was researching a book on the life and mysterious suicide of showbiz lawyer David Jacobs. If Seabrook had completed this book it would have been the third to bear his name, and his first work for Faber. Rumour has it that Seabrook had obtained copies of various Jack The Stripper scene of crime photos that should have been destroyed, but apparently someone had hung onto them thinking they’d be worth money one day. What will become of the photos (if they exist) and unfinished book is currently unclear. Seabrook appeared to me to be a lonely figure who seemingly lived much of his life vicariously via the telephone. He was unable to forge close friendships with anyone active in the culture industry. That is why news of his death has spread so slowly. Many of those who’ve asked me about his death in the past few days didn’t like him, and some seem to feel a little guilty about that, although I don’t see why they should. He is survived by both his parents. I guess everyone’s thoughts are with them, losing a child is a very tough form of bereavement. Seabrook’s funeral was at at Barham Crematorium on 4 February.
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!
Comment by Christopher Nosnibor on 2009-03-04 21:00:37 +0000
Never read any of his books… but I am rather partial to Seabrook’s crisps. The Worcester sauce flavour ones are particularly tasty.
Comment by Msmarmitelover on 2009-03-04 21:10:33 +0000
Rather sad really. And a shame he hadn’t understood how important it is to you to find out everything about your mother and her life.
I’m a big fan of crime fiction and can understand obsession with certain crimes. I was obsessed myself with the Madeleine McCann mystery for almost a year.
Comment by Bridie O’Hara on 2009-03-04 22:27:13 +0000
I felt that Seabrook indentified with the killer in his Jack The Stripper book, and was less than sympathetic to the victims…..
Comment by The Almost Real Iain Sinclair on 2009-03-04 23:01:06 +0000
I heard about Seabrook’s death first from an anonymous phone message, left when I was out. And later by way of a postcard from Neil Belton. With the details of the research he was undertaking (ripe in conspiracy potential) delivered by Paul Tickell. It was certainly a Seabrookian conclusion, in the right territory; and a stepping out of history that he might have authored. Much of his work is reverse pathology, the dead stepping back into their skins. Ventriloquised skulls. Tattered underwear interrogated.
I know David carried on, at various times, intense correspondences with David Peace and Gordon Lish (he relished the whole business of Lish having been responsible for much that went into print under the name of Raymond Carver).
I was looking at my photographs from the shooting of ‘The Cardinal and the Corpse’, when those 2 self-mythologising skinheads (Seabrook and Driffield) went at it, hammer and tongs, on the very patch of scabby ground where the Olympic Stadium is now unflowering. (Driff made his disappearance, talked of suicide, but returned as a ghost to West London.)
Seabrook arrived, shivering, on location: having sold his winter coat to make the
train fare. He wrote a close-argued and tar-knotted piece on ‘White Chappell,
Scarlet Tracings’ – which nobody would touch. (Probably the last book of mine to find his approval.) I have lost this literary gem. (An essay on the same subject, from the same era, by Kathy Acker, came to light recently. Gareth Evans is running it in the ‘final’ issue of ‘Vertigo’.)
For filming (a novel experience, then), Seabrook had leant by heart a diatribe on Pan Book covers and another on ‘Performance’. Which he delivered: with sneering, in character dialogue. Twenty minutes without a cut. (I hope Chris has the out-takes.)
A similar performance was produced for ‘Asylum’; first on Eliot’s Margate breakdown, then on the Richard Dadd’s patricidal murder at the roadside, beyond Rochester. Lines of quivering poplar trees at twilight, premature Thames Gateway traffic, a stile.
Comment by The Canterbury Spy on 2009-03-04 23:57:36 +0000
Well I heard it was blood clots that killed Seabrook, but then I guess blood clots could lead to a heart attack!
Comment by MIss Piggy’s Lessons In Anti-Sexism on 2009-03-05 00:46:19 +0000
David Seabrook was a sexist pig descending to the basement with a plasma tv, the views he expressed about the Jack The Stripper victims are awful – all rights reserved
Comment by Happy Jack on 2009-03-05 10:57:32 +0000
The kids couldn’t hurt David,
They tried, tried, tried.
The things he wrote made them livid
So they lied, lied, lied, lied, lied, about David.
Comment by Billy The Monster on 2009-03-05 11:39:59 +0000
Creepy Crawley… oops for a minute there I thought I was Boris The Spider getting upset coz someone was playing a Cure record…..
Comment by Constance Charmer on 2009-03-05 13:11:54 +0000
Seabrook dead? Why, I shared a chicken teriyaki with him last night!
Comment by Millie Small on 2009-03-05 18:03:21 +0000
White boys are so pretty/skin as smooth as milk/white boys are so pretty/hair like Chinese silk/white boys give me goose bumps/white boys give me the thrill/every times that they are near me I get a touch that kills….
Comment by Brian McConnell on 2009-03-05 19:36:48 +0000
Don’t be silly, old boy, put the gun down. There are no handbags in hell.
Comment by Loved Up Sexy Astrologer on 2009-03-05 20:14:36 +0000
Socialising via the telephone, communication without intimacy, without commitment, is about as Aquarian as it gets. “I love you all just don’t get too close!” Was Seabrook Aquarian?
Comment by Uncle Harry on 2009-03-05 20:50:54 +0000
When you take a walk on the wild side you have to make sure you don’t fall off the edge of a cliff, when you prefer to do telephone researched journalism then if you drop dead before your time then I guess it is just bad luck….
Comment by Nick The Prick on 2009-03-05 21:11:30 +0000
You’re ignoring me just like everyone else, I wish I’d never been born, and after all that attention I’ve lavished on you, so many words spent and links made! Why are you so cruel? And to add insult to injury you then write a blog entry about David Seabrook.
Comment by jlkjlk on 2009-03-05 23:29:07 +0000
WHO KILLED DAVID?
THE BRITISH POLICE
Comment by John Lennon on 2009-03-06 17:56:14 +0000
Britain killed Hanratty!
Comment by Gareth Hancock on 2009-03-14 04:59:47 +0000
It was my privilege to know David well from around the mid-80s to the early 00s, and I was closely involved in the research and preparation of his first book. We spent many weekends in his freezing Northgate flat; he dictated while i typed on an IBM laptop that had to be warmed by a hot water bottle before it would work. He often appeared uncomfortable in personal relationships, and reminded me of figures such as Julian Maclaren-Ross and F R Rolfe. His knowledge of literature was phenomenal, and he often spoke to me of the kindness of Iain Sinclair and particularly Anthony Frewin who generously nurtured his talent.
Comment by David Bingo on 2009-07-10 23:22:04 +0000
He was a figure who seemed to have stayed almost entirely still in biological life and it is strangely shocking to think of him anchored in his bed struggling with death.
Comment by Rob Thackeray on 2010-01-22 11:31:58 +0000
It is a great shock to read this news. I just did a web-search to see if Dave had published anything since ‘Jack of Jumps’ and came across this article.
Dave and I were friends during the 1990s, falling out of touch when I moved away from Canterbury. We last met when he was just about to publish ‘All the Devils are Here’. Dave’s knowledge of literature was panoramic – some years ago he was interviewed for Dispatches (Channel 4) as an authority on Marcel Proust.
I agree that he had a very sharp tongue and if you didn’t know him well could be a difficult person to like or get on with. However, he was excellent company, I have met few people as witty; his commentary on local characters in the ‘Bury’ (Canterbury) was incredibly well-observed and hugely entertaining (if sometimes rather offensive). I’ve spent many hilarious nights with Dave in Crotchets (now gone) and various pubs around Canterbury (and been thrown out of a couple because of some of his comments on customers/ service).
I believe he was lonely (not that he’d ever admit it in those terms) – indeed on occasion he said that his observations were to ‘distract’ himself. I hope that he had found some contentment (outside of writing) since I last saw him. To me this is a great tragedy. RIP.