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  • Writer's pictureRobert Ellis

The Falling Man a novel by Rob Ellis

The Falling Man is a crime thriller set around the events of 9/11 and I've been working on the draft script for about 6 years.

So, what made me decide to write the book? Well, there are a couple of reasons. In the first instance, I was living in the US at the time of 9/11, and was in New York a week or so after the attack on a pre-planned research visit. Put simply, the memories of that time are etched in my memory.

Visiting Ground Zero shortly after with a colleague (who had witnessed first-hand the events unfolding from her office on the 53rd floor of the Rockefeller Center) brought home to me the horror of the attack.

My colleague and I were sat in a coffee bar across the street from a boarded-up and heavily patrolled Ground Zero. Ribbons, flowers, and many, many pictures of those missing were being placed all over the tall perimeter wall. Even a week or so on from the attack, columns of smoke were still rising out of the vast piles of rubble, and you couldn't help but smell, and worse still, taste the large amounts of grit hanging in the air.

As we sat there, watching the world go by, we saw an endless stream of vehicles ferrying debris from the site. It was then that a large flatbed truck passed by. On it lay a huge 'H' steel girder, pristine in every way until, when the rear of the truck passed by, we saw that the tip of the girder was twisted and molten as if it had been made of wax. The memory has stuck with me.

On 9/11, the day itself, I watched the live coverage of the event from my office in Iowa. Blanket coverage documenting every terrible moment, as it happened. As many people remarked at the time, it was like watching a horror or a sci-fi movie - but this was real, making what was happening all the more horrific.

These moments, I believe, were the genesis for my writing this book. I wanted to document my memories of that day in a way that meant something to me. At the time, I remember thinking that maybe, by writing about the attack in a creative way, it might prove cathartic. Today, upon completion of the first draft of the novel, I can confirm that it was.

Of the memories I have of the attack itself, there is one that stands out above all others, and one that haunts me still. During the blanket media coverage, I was, as were many others, introduced to the term 'jumpers.' It's an innocuous enough word until used in the horrific context in which it was being used at the time. One 'jumper' in particular, had special resonance for me. The Falling Man, as he became known, was the name given to an unidentified person jumping from the North Tower in a photograph taken by the Associated Press photographer, Richard Drew. A person who to this day remains identified. I could not, and cannot, come to terms with that.

I was, and still am, very much haunted by what I saw and what I listened to that day. I cannot fathom the absolute terror and the fear felt by those who, rather than face the flames and chocking smoke, opted to jump upward of 90 storeys to their inevitable deaths. The tragedy, the horror, is utterly inconceivable:

…There were sudden gasps from people gathering to watch. A woman cried, “God! Save their souls! They’re jumping! Oh, please God! Save their souls!”
Brennen and Hulce looked up and to their horror saw that people had begun jumping from the North Tower, appearing out of the smoke and flame, tumbling earthward.
The unimaginable was unfolding before them and all those gazing upward.
Presumably, they jumped to escape the smoke and the fire. They jumped consecutively, one after another. And they fell with an eerie silence while those on the ground screamed.

…Ortiz went to the window and pressed his face against the glass, looking down and then upwards. There was another person falling, then another, and another. Sequentially, one after the other, they jumped, and they fell, silently, dropping to their deaths on the city streets far below.

Ortiz staggered backwards in revulsion and disbelief. His mind was a torrent of horror and fear as he tried to take in the true extent of the horror unfolding all around him.

Extract, The Falling Man by Rob Ellis

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