They come at night.
They always come at night.
I have a notebook by my bed so I can write them down.
They come at night.
They always come at night.
I have a notebook by my bed so I can write them down.
Books. I love ’em. But only the good ones. Only the unputdownables, whose brilliance has you gasping/ salivating/ doing a bit of a sex wee.
But there’s a thing, and the thing is this: I don’t have time to read for pleasure any more. What with reasons and stuff and things, the only sort of bookage my eyes get to see is that-which-I-am-being-paid-to-edit.
And then last week happened. I took a basketball to the chops, stabbed myself in the foot with a fork, and the laptop threw a six. What’s a gal to do when she can neither walk nor work?
And so, I started a sentence with ‘and so.’ Then I regrouped and decided to delve into the pocket universe of Steve Shaw’s Black Shuck Books; specifically, the Shadows collection. T’is a darling l’il assortment of tasters —micro-gatherings that showcase individual authors. Or, y’know —single-author collections, as they’re more commonly known.
Gorgeously designed by Steve himself, and complimenting one another like blackcurrant ‘n’ liquorice and pineapple on pizza (what?), these wee bookies are a delight to behold. And once beheld, they shall be reviewed. And the reviewer should read a book in its entirety, right? Because unputdownable, remember?
Nope. Nuh-huh. I just read a story so fucking good I just had to put the book down. I had to leave it alone while I did a rather ungainly thigh-wobble of a jig, and immediately messaged seventeen-thousand-and-thirteen friends to tell them about it (the story, not the wobble).
This was a first for me —virtually nothing impresses me these days— but Gary McMahon just.fucking.floored me. The fucker.
I couldn’t think straight. I could barely breathe. And no —I’m not exaggerating. I was bouncing off the walls and squeeing ’round the house. I just wanted to savour the taste of those words —that idea— a little longer, so I didn’t —couldn’t—move on. What I’d just witnessed was, well, perfection.
I’m talking about *Text Found on a Defunct Webpage; which opens Gary’s collection, At Home in the Shadows.
Jesus. Hermione. Christ. How on Kepler-452b has this work of art passed me by for eleven frickin’ years? And how the HELL am I supposed to do it justice without spoilers? I dunno, like. But I’ll try.
Originally published online as ‘Under Offer’ (The Hub, 2008), this story is smarter than the average bear. It is, as they say in those parts where they use terms like ‘a fucking diamond,’ a fucking diamond.
Not every story has to be story-y. Not every beginning has to begin with a start. IT’S OKAY TO BE DIFFERENT, FOLKS! I’m not talking about clever choices of tense here, or ‘surprise’ dog-POV, or anything of the sort. I’m talking unique. Despite its originality, the piece is deceptively simple. And yet, this dude is writing so far outside the box that he isn’t even in the vicinity of the forest where the trees are felled to make the cardboard.
I’m not gonna do that fucking annoying comparison thing. McMahon isn’t the next so-and-so, and neither is his work reminiscent of such-and-such in their finest hour. But what I will tell you is this: it’s impressionism at its best. Monet didn’t paint every leaf, right? He painted GREEN; your brain fills in the rest.
From conception to execution, Text Found is one of those sinister AF pieces that stays with you for yonks afterwards. Why? Because omission, my friends. Because ambiguity. The power of suggestion —literally (and I mean ‘literally’ literally, not figuratively, before you say it, pedants). Take an idea, suggest the events, hint at the characters, and tease the reader. Be subtle; leave ’em wanting more —brevity is the order of the day. Be sneaky; be wickedly funny. And be out-and-out creepy. Be everything on the list of must-haves and definitely-dos, and do none of the don’ts. Be. Just be.
And Gary McMahon has beed, indeed. And that ending —damn.
The Obligatory Link (i.e. the BUY EEEEET) Section:
Black Shuck Shadows on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/bookseries/B07NRKT4M5/ref=dp_st_1913038114
And, for Steve Shaw’s freelance design: http://www.white-space.uk
Black Shuck Books: https://blackshuckbooks.co.uk/shadows
This daycare daymare is the horror. The madness of sadness and the onset of fetid, fettered recollections where your snark and sarcasm eventually battle to the death, fighting with, for, and against your thoughts.
The thoughts in the brain that sits in your head; the head that rests on your pillow; the pillow that adorns your bed; the bed that’s in your room —the room where he used to be.
And he —what of him? Is he now? Shall he be? All you know is that once, he was. Unsure of what he appeared to be, and as uncertain now as he had been back in That Place.
There, transmogrification took time and it took forever, where a week was a month and a month was a year —and a year was a nanosecond for the taking. His face, his eyes – they haunted and they haunt. Where were they then? The same place as now? The fuckspace of demonic intervention that your memory inhabits?
You saw them.
That’s the only matter of importance: that you saw them.
It was those eyes that had drawn you in and ushered you out of yourself, all things inherent in a persistent world of unfinished symphonic celibacy and helplessness, where you were expected to lead.
But you hindered, despite all your best efforts to save him from himself and from the particular You who was a petty rescuer, ill-equipped and foreboding.
Love, then. Or that which seemed to masquerade as such. The veils that spilled, those which dripped down in drab droplets from the planetary persuasions of his sentiment; chairs uncomfortable, recliners upright – a bitter suite for the tetchy, harmonious soul.
Temporary temperaments would reveal themselves inside a package of narcotic hotness, amidst a rushing crowd of skewed, queuing people, all waiting for the same incoming outcome. The post orifice of Valhalla’s aunt would have it that lines of scores of dozens of white embittered souls collected that day at six, all for enveloped missives, to where, to whom, and how?
Insensibility, insensitive illogic where nothing is anything and everything is less than zero. Unscrupulous festivity and blame for a life of lovelessness across the other side of an expanse not unlike the one that surrounds the globe and its moons, stars that are long since dead; dead seas continuing to undulate and outlive you via the emission of light that is no longer being emitted at source, but which is nonetheless travelling in the faculty of space. He’s there, exactly where he is/was/will be— but no longer does he wait for you. And as he no longer waits, so did he never, and neither did he ever. As he no longer loves you, not once did he so.
Think on this: recalling him erases you, yet erasing your thoughts puts him back at the front of your mind and its demons of forever, a haunted, tainted taunt to paint the blood of his kind inside rudimentary cascades —wherein lies the rub.
To sleep, perchance to undream him.
To never dream again.
To awaken yourself from this madness, this event of erupted terror.
And then, may you sleep.
It seemed as though my verse had gone;
I hadn’t rhymed in far too long
He took my words and killed them, see;
And then, there was no poetry.
No stanzas came, no stories nor;
All victim to my saboteur
My words no longer coursed through blood;
For what is poetry, sans love?
Of pen and ink: my paper broke;
Of diction: nary a word was spoke.
I cannot feel the pain he’s given me;
Parental blood be spilled, I hide my thoughts;
And as I cannot speak the things I feel,
Instead I find I’m saying what I ought.
My birthdate came; he wrote the rules of us:
A contract in accordance with a bond;
No more, nor less, no reason for distrust;
He cannot split a kingdom once he’s gone.
Descending into madness left him blind;
With horror mainly happening offstage;
But had he spoken sanity, been kind,
No need for institution, law, or cage.
The father’s deaf to youngest daughter’s way;
He’ll never hear the things she ought to say.
Stevyn Colgan knows stuff about things. He just does. And, as it’s publication day for his new novel, A MURDER TO DIE FOR, published by Unbound Books, I asked him some things about stuff.
How did you get started?
I wrote my first novel in 1984 on a typewriter I’d bought in 1979 with my very first full-time wage packet. It wasn’t a great novel (I read it through recently,) but it was an achievement, and proved to me that I could write a sustained piece of work. So then I wrote another. And another. And I kept writing. And, around the turn of the Millennium, I realised that I’d written 13 novels (and, thankfully, computers had come along to make it easier.) But I’d never submitted them to publishers because I didn’t think they were good enough. I was still learning the craft as far as I was concerned; the pleasure was in the writing itself, and in telling stories.
I didn’t have an agent or any contacts in the business (I was still a cop) so I decided to send a few off as blind submissions and, while there were some encouraging bites, there was nothing concrete. Rejection is always a downer – especially when it’s an obviously standard rejection letter – but I didn’t let it get to me. I got on with life and wrote two more novels. But then, in 2007, a mate said to me, ‘why don’t you try writing non-fiction?’ So, I wrote a book about the interconnectedness of things and suddenly I landed an agent, a fat advance, and a deal with Pan Macmillan. And I piqued the interest of the people behind the TV show QI. And so, for the next six or seven years I went down that route; I wrote a trivia book, and books on problem solving, the future of policing, and the campaign to save Bletchley Park.
So, you’re Quite Intelligent, then?
Well, I contributed to the QI annuals, wrote for the radio series ‘The Museum of Curiosity,’ and eventually became one of QI’s main script-writers. I started to get a little bit of a name for myself. Then, in 2016, I decided to return to my first love. I submitted a novel to my agent, and he said, ‘But you do non-fiction’. ‘Not exclusively any more,’ I said. ‘I’m a wannabe Renaissance Man.’
‘Well, give it a go,’ he told me. So I did.
It’s been a long journey but I’ve finally got there. Novels have always been where my heart is. In fiction, you can play with language in ways that would be difficult with non-fiction. A brilliant metaphor is a thing of beauty – imagine PG Wodehouse or Douglas Adams without them. As much as I love the challenge and the research and the discipline of non-fiction, I’m so much happier writing stories.
How was the conception of A MURDER TO DIE FOR? Did the idea just come to you, or did it evolve over time?
It began with the urge to write a comedy novel. Britain has a great tradition of comic writing, from Jerome K Jerome, Stephen Potter and the glorious P G Wodehouse to George Macdonald Fraser, Stella Gibbons, David Nobbs, Helen Fielding, Michael Frayn and the late, great Tom Sharpe. That’s to name but a few. But we seem to have dropped the ball somehow. These days it’s hard to find new comic novels that are written for a general readership. It can still be found as a sub-section of other genres; there are still plenty of laughs in women’s fiction, for example, and, thanks to people like Douglas Adams, Jasper Fforde and Terry Pratchett, there are chuckles aplenty to be had among the wizards and aliens too. But there’s a dearth of comedy novels out there for a general readership and I wanted to bring some smiles back to the faces of people on the daily commute to work.
What was your main source of inspiration?
Inspiration came from many directions. The first element in the mix was my love of classic crime fiction. I do love a good whodunit, and I’ve read almost everything by the likes of Christie, Marsh, Allingham, Sayers, Conan Doyle et al. I also like TV whodunits … but not cop shows. Like many police officers – or ex-police officers – I find them dull. Everything is overly-dramatic, the procedures are all wrong and I can’t suspend my disbelief if the programme makers try to sell it as ‘real-life’ when I know that it isn’t even close.
But classic murder mystery is a different thing altogether. It doesn’t pretend to be real. It’s delightfully silly and set in a world far-removed from reality; a world of poisons, elaborate alibis and ridiculous mechanisms. And beyond Poirot and Marple, there are shows set in the 20th century that have that same glorious silliness to them as well, such as Murder She Wrote, Columbo, Jonathan Creek, and Midsomer Murders. The latter, with its cop show façade, is deliciously bonkers at times; any script that features someone being staked out on their croquet lawn and then being bludgeoned to death by having their wine collection hurled at them by a replica Roman trebuchet has my vote any day.
Did real life experiences play a part?
Yes. The second element was my own knowledge and experience of being a police officer. I’ve been involved in real homicide investigations and they are a far cry from the world of literary and TV detectives. Real crime is visceral –and real crime investigation isn’t even vaguely glamorous. I thought it would be fun to throw the two cultures at each other. All the best comedy (and drama) comes from conflict.
How did it all come together?
The third element came to me when watching a TV show about fan conventions. I’ve been to a few in my time, including the extraordinary Comicon in San Diego, where the fans dress up in costume – cosplayers – and are almost rabidly passionate about their show/ film/ book/ author of choice. I suddenly thought to myself … what better place for a murder to happen than at a crime fiction convention where everyone is dressed as their favourite detective? So then, when a grisly murder is committed, the police find themselves having to investigate a case where the victim, the witnesses and very possibly the perpetrator are all dressed much the same. And, to add the police officers’ annoyance, they find themselves having to compete with the fans who believe that they too can solve the crime using skills honed by a lifetime of reading crime fiction. It was so much fun to write.
How did you end up with Unbound?
I’ve now done four books with Unbound. From the start, their business model struck me as brilliant. The publishing industry had, in recent years, become tremendously risk-averse. Maybe it was the decline of bookshops, or the threat of e-books – I don’t know – but it seemed that, all of a sudden, the only books getting commissioned were TV tie-ins or celebrity-related publications. Certainly, the huge advances being paid out to the stars meant that there was no longer any money for the little guys like me. Unbound’s idea was simple: create a new publishing house with all the advantages you’d expect (editing, guidance, design, distribution,) but get prospective readers to choose which books get published, rather than the accountants. They do this by pledging money up front.
Sounds like a great idea!
This wasn’t a new idea; it’s the same subscription model that paid for Dr Johnson’s dictionary and for most of Charles Dickens’ novels. All Unbound did was bring it into the modern age by using the internet. So, you pitch a book and if they like it, they take it on. If they don’t, they ‘wish you luck placing it elsewhere.’
How does it work?
There’s a discussion about the sort of book you –and they– would like to make. It could be an e-book, a paperback, or a hardback. The project is then costed and a total is set that needs to be achieved. You shoot a promo video with them and then launch the book on its own page on the Unbound site. You can set all kinds of pledge levels, from a few quid for the e-book, right up to things like having dinner with the author, or signed and dedicated copies, or tickets to the launch party. You really can be as inventive as you like.
Then, the crowdfunding begins. Once the total is reached, things switch back to traditional publishing. Unlike other platforms like Kickstarter, where you’re pretty much doing everything yourself, at Unbound you’re assigned a structural editor, copy editor, designer, cover artist, proof reader, marketing person … and then the book goes out to all the usual book outlets as a trade edition. However, those people who pledged money get posh special edition copies and they get their name listed in the back of the book to say thanks for believing in it.
Sounds pretty good …
As I said, it’s a great model. And it’s good for writers too:
(a) you have a direct connection, via the Unbound site, with your readers;
(b) the profit-share on all money made after the 100% production total is 50/50 between Unbound and author. So every book you sell, you get 50% as opposed to the 10-12% you’d traditionally get;
(c) you stand a much greater chance of being published. And the finished articles are beautifully produced books. Unbound has been going for just over five years but has already scored a Man Booker Prize longlist nomination, a Book of the Year award, sold the TV and film rights to several novels, and enjoyed a string of Number One best-sellers. It also has its own literary magazine and a podcast called ‘Backlisted’. I’m pretty sure I hitched my cart to the right horse.
How much of yourself did you put into A MURDER TO DIE FOR?
Quite a lot, as it happens. One of the main characters is a retired detective called Frank Shunter, who is coming to grips with leaving the force. I went through a similar thing when I retired after 30 years as a policeman. I live in Buckinghamshire and, for three decades, I got on a train and commuted for an hour into London, did my eight hours (or 12 hours depending on the shift I was working,) had a beer with colleagues after work and then spent an hour commuting home. I saw more of London and my colleagues than I did my family. So when I finally hung up my helmet and boots, I was a bit lost. I realised that I didn’t really know the area I lived in that well and I had no friends locally – all my mates were in London. So I had to readjust to a very different life. Shunter faces the same situation after moving to the country. Plus, he can’t quite switch off the policing instinct. I’m the same. I’m still doing talks and university lectures on criminal psychology and crime prevention even now.
Shunter’s about my age, too –and he sees the world much as I see it – he’s a bit of a dinosaur, but an unfettered optimist too. When you’ve seen the worst that humans can do to each other, you get to realise that 95% of people are pretty good. The world isn’t anywhere near as bad as the tabloids would have us believe.
That’s bloody lovely, that is! Nice and uplifting … Is this book suitable for little old ladies, then? Coz me Ma wants a gander, like.
There is some swearing, but not a great deal. I’m very much of the old school in that respect. I have no problem with any swear word, to be honest, but I believe that they should be used sparingly to preserve their shock value. Think of the use of the F-word in ‘Monty Python’s Life of Brian.’ Two instances? Three? But each time – perfect.
Did you have any actors in mind as you were writing your characters?
Yes, but curiously, it was for their voices more than their physical appearance. There are a lot of middle-aged ladies in the book and, in my head, each had a particular voice. One was Margaret Rutherford and another was Hattie Jacques, for example. I’m a big fan of radio dramas and audio books, and that’s probably why. June Whitfield is just perfect in the BBC Miss Marple radio dramas, Bill Nighy is fantastic as Charles Paris, and no one will ever be a better Lord Peter Wimsey than Ian Carmichael. Some of the police officers in the book were based on real people I worked with – or they were an amalgam of all the worst behaviours of several real people – but the voices I imagined for those characters didn’t belong to the cops they were based on. Blount, for example, I imagine sounding rather like Richard E Grant in ‘Withnail and I’ – pompous, angry and endlessly frustrated by circumstances.
Are you a plotter, or a pantser?
Pantser –very much so. I don’t even aim for a specific word count. It finds its own level. Neil Gaiman got it spot on with his Eight Rules for Writers, I reckon. The first three are (1) Write, (2) Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down, and (3) Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
The sooner you get on with it, the better –build some momentum. I have friends who have been plotting for years and haven’t yet written a word. That’s not being a writer by my definition. That’s being a researcher. Plotting can be more fun than the physical business of writing so I understand the appeal but, for me anyway, too much plotting is a distraction. I want to get a first draft nailed to the page. Your first draft is like buying a chunk of marble, and subsequent drafts involve chipping away at it like a sculptor to get it into the most pleasing shape.
How many re-drafts does it normally take?
I will quite often do 10, maybe 15 re-writes and re-drafts. Each time I go through the story, the characters become more real and more detailed. Relationships blossom and plots thicken. Obviously there is always some planning involved; I don’t start writing until I have some idea of where I’m going. There has to be a finishing post. But how I get there is the fun part and the journey quite often surprises me. I love that.
Describe your writing environment. PC or laptop? Trousers or pantsless?
I’m lucky that I have my own office. I’m also lucky that my kids have grown up and left home, and that the road I live in is very quiet. It’s ideal for writing – although I keep the blinds shut, as watching squirrels and the many red kites we have in this part of South Buckinghamshire can be very distracting. I’m surrounded by bookcases and books, which feels nice, and I write on a desktop PC with a full-sized keyboard and two screens – it’s great to have that extra screen for research pages, notes etc. I write in Microsoft Word. No bells or whistles, just the words.
Two screens? Swanky! Do you write to music?
I can’t work in silence, as it makes my brain look for distractions. So I will sometimes have music on – instrumental only, as lyrics are as distracting as squirrels – or ambient noise. Stephen Fry introduced me to coffitivity.com and it’s been a real help. That murmur of barristas and punters in the background takes the edge off the silence but doesn’t distract. Similarly, the Bodleian Library in Oxford has a live web-feed of the sound from the various rooms there. That’s quite nice as background noise.
Do you stick to a schedule?
I write from 9am to 11am and then break for elevenses. Then from 11.30am to 1pm before stopping for lunch. Then I write from 2pm to 4pm when I have tiffin – more tea and maybe a cheeky biscuit – and then I stop at 6pm. It’s important to me to be disciplined and to treat it as a job. If I don’t, it’s just squirrel-watching all day. Of course I wasn’t always this lucky – I had a full-time 40 hours a week job (plus commuting) and a family. But, if writing really is your passion, you find the time. For example, I’ve never played computer games and I don’t do sports; every spare minute I ever had went into writing – which is how I managed to write 15 novels before I became a full-time writer.
So, what next for the writing MACHINE that is Stevyn Colgan?
2018 looks to be quite an exciting year. There will be signings and lit festivals and appearances here and there to promote A MURDER TO DIE FOR. I’m also making inroads to production companies to sell the book as a TV serial. And then, in July, my most recent non-fiction book is getting a makeover and a release in paperback via Penguin Random House. It was called ‘Why Did The Policeman Cross The Road’ but we’re re-badging it to encourage a wider audience. I’m not sure what the new title will be, but it’ll be based around the idea of always being ‘One Step Ahead’. That might even end up being the title. And I’ll also be launching the campaign to crowdfund the sequel to ‘A Murder To Die For’ with Unbound. It’s called ‘The Diabolical Club’ and it picks up two small plot strings left unanswered in ‘Murder,’ and turns into a whole new murder mystery that involves a skeleton buried standing up, a local dogging club, a secret kept since the first World War, and the mystery of Agnes Crabbe’s (my fictional murder-mystery writer) lost manuscript. And, as always, lots and lots of laughs.
Just this morning someone told me that they’d laughed out loud on the Tube while reading ‘A Murder To Die For’. Job done.
Job done, indeed. Thanks, Stevyn!
The hard-sell promo bit:
You can buy Colgers’ A MURDER TO DIE FOR here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Murder-Die-Stevyn-Colgan/dp/1783524383
Some more stuff and things about Stevyn Colgan over on Unbound: https://unbound.com/authors/stevyn-colgan
PLEDGE AWAY to his latest bookiewook here: https://unbound.com/books/the-diabolical-club/
“Close your legs– it’s not very ladylike.”
What utter bollocks. What the fuck does that even mean, anyway? “Lower your hem, girl! Rein in the swearing, dress like a lady, cover your cleavage, don’t sit/stand/dance/breastfeed/breathe/exist like that …”
Oh, do fuck off.
Some ladies I Googled earlier today.
Why don’t they just come out and say it? Instead of telling you to be all ladysome and shit, what they really wanna say is “see this set of rules, madam, first penned in 1645? I demand thee adhere to every last one, woman. I implore you, do not dare even think, for pity’s sake, lest ye be considered ungodly – and ye shall also be sure to refrain from that dreadful modern pastime known as free speech. Good LORD, do keep thy pantaloons on, Madam, petticoat fastened, for it is undesirable to have another knave glance in your direction, what with a gentleman’s fancies being the female’s fault and all. You are MY property, and mine alone, do you hear? Women were designed for the sole pleasure of men, after all, weren’t they, chaps?”
Yeah, whatever, mate. I’ll tell you what –WHO– a real woman is – and she doesn’t put up with such inane horse shit from the layabout likes of you. She has a sexuality, and she’s gonna use it. And guess what, fuckface – if said sexuality happens to be of the girly persuasion, it’s for her pleasure, not yours. “I’m a lesbian” is NOT – repeat: NOT – an invitation for Neanderthal bullshit bingo: “Wa-hey! Can I watch?”
– Again, do fuck off, there’s a dear.
Your father-in-law is the worst for this shit. Ten-years-widowed, he tells you he’s met a lovely lady (there’s that fucking word again). And he doesn’t even know how old she is, because you never ask a lady her age.
Oh, WOULD you just fuck the fuck off? Why the frig would you not ask a WOMAN her age? Is it not the done thing? *Adopts northern drawl* “In my day, round these ‘ere parts, we’d never be seen dead asking a lass’s age. We’d be STRUNG up if we were caught ever so much as looking at her ankles, by golly. And proper ladies, they’d keep themselves covered up in the first place. None of this godawful tattooed malarkey you see today. Women looked like women, and acted in accordance with [insert specific Victorian Value here] —and in any case, as long as she bakes the bread and mops the floors, we don’t mind if she’s an old crone. Should be grateful for the work, she should. Ahem – the ‘marriage’ —I meant the marriage.” Same diff, buddy.
This was the same father-in-law who would avert his gaze to the ceiling whenever I was breastfeeding his grandchildren. I suppose he thought that was the gentlemanly (yuk) thing to do. Erm – a universe of no. Look at your beautiful grandbaby here. And while you’re at it, LOOK AT MY BAPS. See these titty marvels of norky nature, from which I can boobily-produce everything that’s needed? No, you don’t see. Because you won’t look. Fuck off, then. You’re the one missing out.
Ah, I recall those good old days back when I was courting his son. Yeah – courting. That’s the term he used, because of course it was. Of course, the sort of courting we were doing required the removal of one’s unmentionables. Yes- that’s how he refers to a lady’s undergarments (another word that makes me want to yell KNICKERS at him).
Whenever anything unmentionable is … erm … mentioned, he’ll go ketchup, stare at the floor (I don’t know what the fuck’s down there but it must be something incredibly fucking interesting because he does it a lot), and mutter something I can’t quite make out about those aforementioned underthings. And he doesn’t even say that properly. It’s more like unmuffables. He’s one of those word-swallowers from the circuses of yore.
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t sit there all day talking to my father-in-law about lacy thongs and crotchless panties – but certain subjects do crop up from time-to-time, because his grandkids exist. Like the time I had to pack for my daughter’s school trip:
Me: “KNICKERS. Yep – packed ‘em. Need to buy her some new BRAS, too, Frank. Her boobs are getting big, you know. And she’s gotta stock up on SANITARY TOWELS, too – she’s been bleeding a lot lately. So those KNICKERS – she’s gonna need a lot of ‘em.”
He: *Heinz-kipper/stares at the floor/makes excuses to leave the room*
Some knickers I Googled earlier today.
And yup – you guessed the fuck out of it – ya goddamn right I’m not letting him away with it. I say these words on repeat, every chance I get.
Back when my daughter was small, which seems a million years ago now, there would be times I would – shudder – need help (GASP!). I might be doing something else, like perhaps being pre-occupied with, say, BABY VOM all over my clobber, and require a little grandparental assistance, such as nappy-changing. Would he do it? Nope. Because she was a little girl. SO fucking prudish and worried about what people would think, that to even accept my daughter has a fucking VAGINA (say it with me, Gramps) would be a threat to his generation or have his god strike him down for daring to acknowledge that biology was even a thing.
And of course, that particularly unmentionable netherpart is one that must exist for a person to be considered female, because, y’know, being transgender isn’t a thing, either. His grand-daughter’s best friend, born a boy, can’t possibly be a girl now, right? Nah – he’s the expert on everything because he’s been 43 and I haven’t been 84. Yes, he says that, too. Born a boy, you stay a boy. No such thing, it’s all in their head. It’s a mental illness. Of course, I try and educate him on such matters – but it’s difficult; there’s only so much of him I can take before my inner monologue becomes an outer one. And I’m sure he wouldn’t appreciate my telling him to GET FUCKED, being that ladies don’t think –let alone say– such things, right?
My daughter’s friend was never a boy, her birth certificate just happens to say she was. She was a girl with a knob, that’s all. No, she doesn’t want to be a girl. She IS one. Girls have all sorts of bodies, some are different than others. That’s IT.
Now, fuck off.
It’s not just that, though. Stuff like this – and my brother’s wonderful queerness – are not things I would expect a man of that generation to understand. Most of ‘em are set in their goddy little ways, too late to change. That’s not cool, though. It’s not an excuse any more – at least, it shouldn’t be. And despite people having been cunty towards me for a metric fuckbunch of my existence, I believe in the power of change. Maybe if we start with the little things, we might stand a chance. After all, themz the things wot add up to the big ‘uns, right?
And it’s the little things that get right on me tits- especially when they come from females.
I’ll tell my Mum, for example, that I’ve been to see the doctor. First thing that’ll come out of her mouth is “what did he say?”
He. Because it’s only men who are:
a) capable of such complex scientific study and
b) ever going to do well in life.
As such, the male gender is assumed whenever I care to discuss surgeons, pilots, soldiers (because macho, right?), plumbers, et fucking cetera – but if I’m talking about the person who served me at the supermarket, that’ll —of course— be a lady (bollocks – they’ve got me saying it now.)
Anything even remotely bad of ass is reserved for men – and men only. It’s all part of the misogynistic society in which we live – and that misogyny, in turn, plays a massive part in rape culture. That’s why I challenge this shit like a fatherfucker possessed – every fucking time.
My rape is almost on its 28th anniversary. Yeah – rape. I’m just gonna come out and say it – pigbollocks if I’m gonna ease you in slowly. I’m thinking out loud – got a problem with that? Or are we good?
So this thing – this dreadful thing that shaped who I am as a woman, writer, and fighter, happens all.the.fucking.time. You mention your story on social media, you’ll be bombarded with “it happened to me, as well…” comments and private messages.
So, ME TOO has become a hashtag. And a movement. An empowering one, at that. And I have to say, I’m surprised that folks are surprised by the response. That’s like Surprised Squared, or something: did folks REALLY have no idea that everyone is a Me?
So let’s talk about it some more.
Let’s talk about why all these women were/are made to feel shame, made to feel like it was/is our fault. I believed that bullshit, too, because even the fucking POLICE made a big deal about what I’d been wearing. About the fact I was drunk. About the fact I had some sexual experience (because that gives fellas the wrong idea, don’t ya know?).
Let’s talk about the pubes that were plucked out of me as I lay naked on a steel slab usually reserved for corpses. Or the cuts and bruises that were photographed. Sexual history –dissected and paraded on a fucking sandwich board. In front of my parents.
But you were wearing a short skirt.
But you were wearing make-up.
But you had your hair suggestively teased.
But you once snogged a boy round the back of the bike sheds.
But the girl you were hanging out with that night, had actually (gasp!) gone ALL THE WAY with a lad.
This was the irrelevant bullshit that ate at me for over twenty years, wondering how I should have dressed/behaved/existed/yadda yadda.
If Present Me were to talk to Past Me, I’d refuse to allow her to stand for it. I’d refuse to allow her to put up and shut up, or to buy the constabulary’s bullshit that her behaviour/attire were to blame. When they told her the case was dropped because it wouldn’t hold up in court due to [insert fucked-up excuse here], she would fight that monkeydung argument until she was blue in the heavily-made-up face.
“Don’t wear that – you’ll give men the wrong idea.”
Ah, that’s right – a person only gets the wrong idea because they’ve been GIVEN it, yeah? The onus couldn’t possibly be on the PERSON WITH THE WRONG IDEA, FOR HAVING THE WRONG FUCKING IDEA? Nope – the notion of any sort of autonomy or independent thought is a difficult one for people to grasp. The suggestion that a person is responsible for their own actions, well, that can’t even be a thing, surely?
Nah. Don’t be silly. When a woman is raped, we ask what she did to egg the fucker on. Why was she asking for it, and how, exactly? When attention is GIVEN to a woman, she must’ve quite simply given ‘em the wrong idea. Simps.
And it goes deeper still. Even today, I find myself having arguments with family over my youngest daughter’s underwear choices. She’s only ten, and isn’t in a bra yet. Doesn’t like ‘em. Too uncomfortable. But trying to convince her to wear one SO THAT BOYS DON’T STARE? Because otherwise, she’s ASKING FOR IT?
FUCK THE FUCK OFF.
Don’t you fucking dare tell my daughter to cover up.
There’s logic there: I understand, whether I agree with it or not. They have concerns that she will be bullied for having sticky-out-pokeys (as I’d been, when I was younger) and are trying to nip (sorry) the problem in its proverbial. But really, I’m asking myself why they aren’t challenging this. Why aren’t they taking a stand? Why aren’t they prepared to educate BOYS?
Let’s suppose, two years from now, she’s bra-less, in class. The boys are distracted –because, y’know, “it’s in their nature and to be expected …” and my daughter receives some unwanted attention. Perhaps she’s even (shudder) physically assaulted. What then, of me? What would that say about me? Should I have prevented the assault by insisting she cover up? Or, y’know (just throwing this crazy idea out there) – should the BOYS HAVE FUCKINGWELL BEHAVED THEMBASTARDSELVES?
After my rape, I had to contend with all manner of crap. From WOMEN, no less.
Does it weird you out, my calling it My Rape? I hope so. But know this: I own it. It’s mine, and it happened to me, so I can call it whatever the fuck I like (I won’t bore you with the details, I won’t take you back to 1990. Because it’s not your fault. But guess what? It wasn’t mine, either. And it took me a shitload of time to realise that).
But, as usual, there’s a thing, and the thing is this: still it grows. As long as we nurture it, it grows. We’re the petri dish, and our daughters are the experiment. It starts from a word… a thought … from a family member, teacher, or friend. Those who are closest to us. And it thrives. Unless we change the conditions, it replicates via binary fucksion as it soaks up assault after assault by fuckmosis.
No wonder they call it Rape Culture.
Well, rape culture can fuck off. Are you with me? Will you stand up next to me and stop being part of the problem? Are you going to challenge everyday misogyny from the misogynistic? Will you call people out when they suggest in ANY WAY that a person is to blame for their own assault?
I fucking well hope so – or you can go ahead and fuck off, too.
Yes – You, Too.
(My story is here, if you’re even arsed: https://liberatetutemet.com/2014/10/09/asking-for-it/ )