Money Laundering - Jo Carroll

I can't quite believe I'm writing this - it's one of those situations that 'happen to someone else'.

Well, buying and selling property is something many of us have to do from time to time. We don't have to like it, but sometimes we do have to do it. It is, we are told, one of the most stressful processes - but mostly we just get on with it, with the help of a whinge or two to friends and family.

Last year I tried to sell my house and buy a flat. It was time to downsize. Buying the flat - that was the easy bit. I found somewhere lovely, the offer was accepted ... so all I had to do was sell the house. Maybe I should have been better prepared for the house to not sell. But, after a few sleepless nights counting pennies, I boxed and coxed money, bought the flat and found a tenant for the house. That, at least, gave me breathing space.

And all was hunky dory. My lovely tenant renewed her contract, I had an income and a lovely new flat. But - out of the blue - my tenant had to move. She was responsible for bills and rent to the end of her contract, but I was bothered that the house - a beautiful, listed, Regency terraced house - was empty as winter approached.

Then, out of the blue, the house-buying fairy waved her wand! Oh joy, a buyer - with no long chain to consider and ready to proceed quickly. My problems would be over. I could bounce into the Christmas holidays knowing it was only a matter of time and all would be well.

And here's where it went a bit odd. There had been talk of exchanging contracts before Christmas, but I didn't think twice when that was delayed - it would have been a bit of a rush. And of course it takes time for everything to swing back into gear once the holidays are over. So when the promise to exchange on a Friday was postponed till the Monday, I didn't sweat. But when that was postponed till the following Friday I began to quiver.

And on the Friday came the phone call ... everything is probably fine but ... we are just checking your buyer isn't ... money laundering.

Money laundering! Surely it's Russian oligarchs or bigwigs from criminal gangs who go in for money laundering? Not ordinary women who are moving to the country from South London?

We can't say any more, I was told. But don't worry about it - I'm sure we'll get it sorted.

Don't worry about it!! What else am I going to do? I had a whole weekend to not worry about it. In the cold light of day I made a plan B: go back to the agents, cry, and ask them to help me. It was as good a plan as any. In the cold hours of the night, my lovely, empty house filled with mould and rats. Wind howled through its ill-fitting windows and rain dripped down its chimney. The basement flooded. Japanese knotweed ran rampant through the garden, trampling roses and snowdrops and all things beautiful.

Monday came. It was sorted. My buyer had legitimate reasons to have money in China. I flopped back and ridiculed my fretting. We exchanged. By the time you read this the sale will be complete.

Why am I telling you all this? Because crippling anxiety that can happen to any of us. Anything that keeps us awake becomes ridiculous in those bleak night hours. And if it can happen to us, it can happen to our characters. They can sweat, and be unable to eat, or think. My story ended happily - but in our stories we cannot allow matters to be resolved so easily. And so, in a novel, the buyer would be guilty but disappear, the house would be falling down, my bank would be unforgiving, the agents would go bust, my flat would catch fire, I'd be accused of arson (not guilty of course) and be thrown into prison, where ...

As writers, we can use anything that happens to us and transform it into fiction. I tried to keep a diary through it all, mostly to notice how that level of anxiety ate my everyday functioning - all that might, one day, be useful in my writing. But I'll do that another day. Right now I'm popping the champagne.

If you want to read about the challenges I threw at a character, please read The Planter's Daughter


Enid Richemont said…
My first thought on reading this bog was to wonder if that kind of disaster thinking might be characteristic of writers, because I so clearly recognise it in myself. I suppose the converse might be counting chickens before they're hatched - equally fanciful and imaginative.

I then couldn't resist clicking on The Planter's Daughter and reading the reviews - it sounds absolutely fascinating. I haven't bought it yet, because I'm deeply into a second reading of Michelle Lovric's THE REMEDY, but I've made a note to self, and will. Enjoy your new flat, Jo - where are you?
JO said…
Many thanks, Enid - and I'm now happy in Newbury!
Susan Price said…
Glad you got moved and are happily settled anew in Newbury, Jo. What you say is so right. Someone said, 'Things don't happen to writers. They just collect material."
Sandra Horn said…
Oh, you had me right on the edge of my chair and forgetting to breathe for a while there! Phew! A useful store of bits and pieces, eh?

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