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.
“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/ )
“Linda Maaaaaaary!” yelled my Scouse-Irish-Catholic mother —who was an utter hypocrite, and hated being known by her full churchy name of Patricia Anne Veronica. Sounded like a bloody nun, so of course, me being me, I used to prefix it with Sister – just because it sounded so niiiice next to Patricia. This was assonance and I didn’t know it.
“What are you hiding? I can read you like a book.”
Apparently, everybody always could – except me. I had no idea who I was.
I’m not one of those womb-writers who’s been at it since conception. I haven’t always wanted to write. But this: I’ve always written. And because I always did, everyone else decided that’s what I was going to do. I denied it, of course – and then went and wrote about my desire for people to drop the subject.
Having my father for a dad helped me with my denial. When I was ten, he found an I HATE MY DAD note of mine. This was the start of the YOU-MUSTN’T-WRITE-IT’LL-GET-YOU-INTO-TROUBLE crap. And I believed this horseshittery; my brain of a decade not realising he was just thinking about himself. Didn’t talk to me for a fortnight, either. Rather than employ a little introspection and find out why his daughter detested the shit out of him, he sent me to Coventry – a place I visited far too often. And whilst I was there, I wrote tales of paternal detestation on West Midlands paper.
And I hid the lot. Sometimes, I’d even shred the stuff – once the words were OUT of me, there was no need for me to keep any of ‘em.
High School was appallingly bad – well, at least the first one was. There, I was bullied for being too pretty and having Jaggerlips and being too fucking smart (but surely, if that latter bit had been true then I’d have had a good comeback).
I particularly enjoyed Latin class – but each time I tried to enthuse to my father, all he’d do was have a fucking go at me for my Dave Lister accent. I’m FUCKING SCOUSE, DAD. I’M GONNA OMIT THE T. OK?
Crappy parenting was the bible of my life. Dad in particular would sit and PRAY that nothing would happen to me and my two brothers, without actually doing anything to protect us. Cut to: me, aged 14, getting pissed with scally schoolmates and brainbanging to student music on art centre Thursdays.
I dunno – maybe praying worked for the first year, when nothing happened to me during my wannabe-mosher phase. But by 15, Dad’s god must have stopped listening by the time I was taken advantage of by two lads from the year above. I use that ghastly euphemism because you say “rape” and you say “victim”. I was never a victim. I was pissed. I couldn’t remember it.
Until the day after.
At art class, I knew something wasn’t right —and it wasn’t just the too-much-Merrydown feeling. So, I checked my soft bits, as y’do. Blood. Told the teacher. The teacher told the headmaster.
Me: Bundled into a police car. No shit.
Me: On a living autopsy table. Tweezers pulling out my short and curlies and photos being taken for medical journals. Swabs, evidence bags filled with the clothes I’d been wearing, a bit of prodding, and a lot of whispering.
There’s a shitload of cuts, they said (kind of). So they showed me in a mirror. Fuckshit! They were right. I saw purple bruising on my inner thighs and hold-her-down marks where they’d grabbed my arms.
I started -continued- to remember.
I felt like shit – I’d betrayed my Catholic Parents and their god by way of pre-marital fuckery. Not that I REALLY knew anything about that – all I knew was how to fool around. I remember asking my dad at age 9 what a virgin was, only to be told that it was “a man who has not lain down next to a lady.” Wow, dad. Just wow (at that particular juncture, I freaked out about the fact that my male cousins and I had laid next to each other in a fucking tent the weekend before).
I was a harlot. So I wrote poetry about harlotry.
Dad blamed a —GASP!— sexually adventurous friend of mine, and because I was knocking around with her, I must be the same, right? She’d been there that night, so the bizzies called her in to give a statement.
Turns out she’d heard me calling for help, when I hadn’t heard myself – but as she’d been busy round the back of the art centre getting some consensual action, she’d presumed I was having the same kind of fun and ignored me.
They called the lads in. They’d heard I was easy because of who I knocked around with. So, seeing me, pissed as a fart, they’d gone for it, kecks down. I guess I was asking for it, huh?
They took my statement as I dictated to WPC Carter. With my upside-down eyes, I watched her write….and I watched her make grammatical error after grammatical error. The only way I could put it right was to come home and write my own version.
Then they called me back. They asked me about my own fooling-around adventures. Made me describe in front of my parents what a blowjob was. They wanted a fucking MIME of it, too. CLEARLY, this would have given the lads just cause to do what they did. If they could prove I’d given some lad a beej, then those two lads were perfectly within their rights to do what they did. Out of the mouths of the local constabulary: “You LED them on”.
They were clearly right, because I’d been somewhat gothly-dressed. Fishnets, more of a belt than a skirt – totally my fault. ASKING for it.
Dad brought in a tape recording he’d made THAT NIGHT. He’d taped me reading the newspaper, with the intention of playing it back the next day to SHAME me for daring to get pissed. The cops listened. They realised how leathered I was and therefore how non-consensual the event. But it didn’t matter. The head of the school – according to my mum – was a Freemason and had cop-connections. Didn’t want the scandal on his school. (I’m still unconvinced. Maybe he was just a twat).
Rape Crisis were about as much use as something that’s no fucking use at all. They persuaded fucked-up and fucked little young me to drop the charges. It was apparently in my best interests because I was Just.Too.Young to cope with THE STAND and being cross-questioned.
So the two lads walked (one of them also walked into a knife a year or so later in an entirely unrelated park incident).
I knew they’d never see it, but I wrote to them nonetheless:
That which lives inside is this: recoiling, recalling. Falling.
When did you decide to decide my fate with your parasitic tryst?
You gave them a brush to tar me with so that I’d be blamed for what you did.
I don’t want revenge. I want nothing but love in your life
So you can REALLY SEE
How your bit of fun affected me
I wish you nothing and I wish you ALL;
PAIN? I don’t, but ought to.
The only way I know for best revenge?
For revenge – I wish you DAUGHTERS.
I was kept off school for about six weeks, during which time the bullying continued – this time, at my house. We were pelted with stones and eggs and there was a brick through the window. All this for my blowing of the whistle.
SLAG and SLUT were other things that I was, apparently. Eventually, I went all Tyler Durden on the cock of the school – and punched her fucking gobshite face in. Not all of the blood on my shirt was mine. But that, too, was my fault. And why? Well, according to the father, despite the fact that (until now) I’d not gone all the way with a lad, I was a nymphomaniac. Right. Thanks again, Dad.
The bullying got too much for my parents, and I couldn’t keep on making people’s faces bleed. So I moved across the water from Liverpool. Started a new school. And because I was halfway through my exams, I chose to stay back a year because they couldn’t match my subjects up. My new school didn’t do my language of choice so I wrote a Latin letter of complaint to the council (as best you can do with a dead language), which was my own crappy way of trying to keep it alive.
There was a bit of hushery amongst my classmates…why is she older than us? Why is she here? Is she that STUPID she has to stay back? And when an entirely new set of bullies realised I was a libraryload smarter than them, that just coaled their fire. Dad made it clear that I wasn’t allowed to actually come out and SAY what had happened to put me there, because that’s purely SHAMEFUL.
But paper actually put out the flames. Books fanned me into existence.
I found Shakespeare. I was nurtured by an incredible English Lit teacher who just KNEW what made me tick in beats of five-by-two. I read Chaucer without having to have it translated for me – I’d found my own rhythm. FINALLY! People who spoke my language!
But there was a problem. I was a straight-A student. This confused the shit out of me – being equally good at everything meant I didn’t excel at anything. So, when it came to University, it didn’t come to University. I didn’t go. I had no fucking idea what I wanted to do. Critiquing the crap out of Orwell wasn’t gonna get me a day job. So I went home and wrote sci-fi stories whilst applying for interviews in any fucking field going.
Forensics and I had a brief dalliance simply because I fucking love science (pretty sure this had something to do with the living autopsy I’d had at age 15). I could HELP PEOPLE, I thought. But life in the bacti-lab was no fun, and aside from a guy’s thumb – kept pickled in the fridge – I never actually got to see anything dead. YAWN. Wrote a horror short about the experience, entitled RIGID DIGIT, but no … I wasn’t a writer. I refused to be a writer.
I dabbled in journalism at Radio City and qualified in the subject whilst I was there. Did a bit of vox-popping and radio production, a touch of tape-splicing, and a thumbful of twiddling. Whilst I do have a great face for radio, its audio-visage wasn’t appealing to me so I fell into critique. Ended up working for a shall-remain-nameless rag. Told it like it was. Was asked to tailor my style to that of their own house: arse-kissery for the sole purpose of shitnosing not-very-important people. Sorry – but if a play blows, I’ll supply even more fucking air to propel its little house down.
Was asked (again) to write (a lot) less like me and instead use someone else’s voice. I resigned; I couldn’t be mortar to a house whose unimaginative bricks had already fallen.
Didn’t stop reviewing, though. Loved it. Daily trips to the flicks (it was cheap back then) resulted in wonderful rants. But friends kept telling me to write my own stuff. I can’t, I’d say. I have no imagination, I’d say. I’d rather just get a movie and perform an autopsy on it, I’d say. Get it on my little wordy slab and explain its anatomy. Describing why a film is so utterly fucking watchable (or turnoffable) was the only thing at which I was any good.
Spat my dummy out. Again. Read a bit more Orwell. Ate a bit more Shakespeare. Headached through A Brief History of Time. Wrote some stories. Poed some poems. Drank in JB Priestley after he’d imbibed a bit of Jung……and then went and wrote a 15,000 word ‘essay’ about my own little time theories.
And then … after receiving my review for his spec script, a super-bad badass screenwriter told me I was a better writer than he’d ever be. And – holy fuckballs: I believed him. And I believed in myself for the first time. I went home, dug out the unshredded, and read. I then proceeded to desk-bang my noggin to knock out the stupid. It worked.
So I started writing … and, slowly, offers started coming in. Publishment, Screenwords, editing gigs, all of it. And after decades of denial, I finally accepted that this part of me should be allowed out. And now she’s out, here she shall stay.
So – why do I write? It’s simple: I was asking for it.
A poet’s shattered soul reacts to crumpled men with words intact;
Recalling lies as glory folds, one verse – yet many stories told:
Our Wilfred said they’d cursed through sludge, towards their distant rest they’d trudged;
And Wilfred’s men had lost their boots but limped on, blind; deaf to the hoots.
There, Wilfred saw a hanging face – as death came to his writing-place;
So we could read -at every jolt- of gargled blood to our revolt.
If Wilfred knew – if he could see -dead men survived by poetry,
What would he say – and would he be surprised his words adored by me?
Adored by age, revered by youth; for otherwise-unspoken truth.
If he were now – if he were here, would Wilfred to the world endear?
Or is it likelier he’d see: arms being sold; cash weaponry?
And then the fight to stop it all, this great divide as countries fall?
Perhaps for now, hypocrisy – humanity’s mobocracy:
And as he rhymes of this or that, he’d write: Manus Manum Lavat.