Posts Tagged ‘writing’
You know those people who always seem to say the right thing? Those serene individuals, calmer than Buddha, who wait patiently while you witter on like a blithering idiot, then promptly sum up every feeling, every emotion, everything you’ve been trying so desperately to verbalise in one, simple answer?
Yeah, I’m not one of those people.
Ironic isn’t’ it? I mean, I’m a writer. Words are like, my thing, you know? But talking isn’t. Oh, sure, I can construct perfect paragraphs, sizzling sentences and compelling copy, but ask me to talk without a crib sheet and I fly off on a million different tangents, tripping over my words and getting so caught up in what I want to say, I never actually manage to make the point I originally intended to make.
It’s probably why I chose to make this my living. Ask me to write what’s in my head and I’ll give you an articulate, well-structured piece of copy. Come to me for advice and I’ll serve you up the verbal equivalent of a really fucking bad first draft.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a ‘closed’ person. I’ve done the I-am-an-island thing and I’ve worn my heart on my sleeve, and nowadays I like to think I’ve found a happy medium concerning what and with whom I share things.
But GOD, that talking thing. It’s like my thoughts trip over halfway between my brain and my mouth and what comes out is a tangled mass of arms, legs and the contents of the owners’ handbags. Ever seen a pile up in a cycling race? Yeah, that.
Take tonight for instance. I was on the phone with someone who’d had a bad day. A simple enough situation, but you see, he’s one of those people. The kind of person who can say in four seconds what you’ve been trying to say for half an hour. The kind of person who always says the right thing, and does so without having to try three different versions of it. Out loud. The kind of person I just wish I could be like.
Let’s just say he’s ‘special’ to me, and I wanted so badly to come up with some earth-shattering wisdom to solve all his problems and leave him comforted (and slightly in awe of my verbal dexterity), but all I managed were a few long pauses, punctuated by the razor-sharp “Uhm…yeah…well I don’t really know what to say. It’s like… yeah, cause uhm…”
You get the picture.
We began wrapping up the phonecall and saying goodnight. Inside I was feeling like I’d been utterly useless. Then, right before we bid our farewells, he said this:
“Thanks for listening to me moan. I really needed that.”
For this writer, sometimes I need to forget about words. Sometimes all I need to do is just listen.
Afterwards, I went into the living room where my flatmate and best friend of ten years was watching TV.
“Why is it that when I’m talking to him, I can never put into words what’s in my head? It just comes out all jumbled and I end up sounding like an idiot.”
“Because you’re emotionally invested,” she replied simply, “you’re not impartial so it’s harder.”
Yeah. She’s another one of those people.
‘The Room and the Briefcase’ is the concluding part of an extract from Kristian Johns’s forthcoming book ’11:47′, available next year. Parts 1&2 of the story will be available for download directly to Amazon Kindle devices soon. Read part 1 here.
Kyle’s ‘work’ phone had woken him from dozing on the sofa, but he never ignored a call. Not when there was money to be made.
There was no background noise on the line, which meant the caller was indoors, but then again, Kyle never got the kind of calls people made out in the street or on a train. The caller sounded like they had a chest infection or something.
“Hello?” Kyle repeated
“How much for you to visit?” The voice on the other end belonged to an older guy. Kyle could tell these things.
Sounds like the only visit you need is from a doctor.
“Three hundred. I’ll negotiate on overnights but I’m generally not an overnight kind of guy, y’know? You got a name?”
“We have a deal.”
“OK, dude, what are you looking fo—“
Kyle looked at the phone and arched his eyebrows. “Well, you’re rude,” he muttered while trying to tame his curly brown hair and wondering if he could get away without showering. A sniff of his t-shirt told him not.
His phone beeped with a text telling him the address, and instructions to arrive in an hour.
He texted his best friend Ian: Got a job. U gonna still be up in a couple of hours?
Almost immediately the reply came back: Sure. Come ova if u want. Have half a cold pizza n beer J
Fifteen minutes later, still damp from his shower, he took one last look in the mirror at the boyish face and slim body that drove so many older guys wild, and satisfied, grabbed his jacket and keys. It was Wednesday night, and midweekers were few and far between lately, so it was a good thing.
Might even go regular? He thought, swiping his wallet over the reader at Pimlico tube station and heading down to the cool, painted concrete of the tunnels below.
He arrived ten minutes early at the address in Kensington. A pretty fucking nice address at that. Kensington’s one of those places where you’re walking down a street lined with townhouses and you suddenly twig that none of them have been converted into flats yet. This was where money lived.
He’s loaded. Should have said five hundred. Dammit.
The door opened almost as soon as he pressed the bell, which startled him slightly — like the guy had been waiting there. The guy was a well-dressed man in his mid-fifties, wearing a double breasted grey suit with a blue shirt and tie. For some reason he was carrying a briefcase, and Kyle wondered if he’d only just arrived home. He offered his hand
“Hi, there. I’m Kyle, we spoke about an hour ago?”
— and you’re minted and ugly so I’m being polite and hoping this goes regular. Sad fuck.
The man looked momentarily down at Kyle’s hand, and then jerked his head in an ‘in-you-come’ gesture.
Minted, ugly, rude. But minted.
Kyle stepped inside and followed the silent, shuffling man down and immaculately tiled hallway and into a plush living room. They sat on the couch. The man kept hold of his briefcase.
“I usually get the money thing out the way first. Makes it less awkward at the end. That cool?”
The man nodded and produced an envelope from his blazer pocket. Kyle didn’t feel the need to check. The guy had a townhouse in Kensington for fuck’s sake.
For some reason, the guy gave Kyle the creeps, and not just because he didn’t talk. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for a first-timer to clam up. No, this guy was a different kind of creepy. To anyone else, he would have appeared nervous, sitting there, breathing like a phone pest, clutching his briefcase like it was welded to him. But not to Kyle, whose years of experience as an escort —
— had given him an uncanny ability to read people. Kyle always felt a sense of power when he was with clients, but this guy exuded a powerful aura of control. It made him feel…dislocated…vulnerable.
“So. What do you like to do?” Kyle asked, dismayed to hear an edge to his voice; a slight tremor that turned his vowels to ridges.
The man’s eyes fixed on Kyle’s and his face cracked into a humourless grin and Kyle’s skin prickled with unease as he realised he’d forgotten to text Ian the guy’s address like they always agreed.
“Uhm…you like coke? I have some on me. It’s good for relaxing. Makes you feel like the king of the world.” said Kyle, cursing inwardly as he fumbled his wallet and dropped it on the floor.
The man continued to smile at him, like he found Kyle amusing.
Have a line and focus. He isn’t the one in control here. You are. Always remember that.
“Is it OK to do it on the table? It looks —
— just chop the fucking line and stop babbling!
“—expensive. I wouldn’t want to—“
The man’s voice was husky, but still went through Kyle like a gunshot. He tried to hide his juddering hands as he knelt over the spotless glass table and shook out more coke than he should have. He chopped two fat lines, pulled out a well-rolled note and snorted. He handed the note to the man, feeling the burn and gagging slightly as the coke hit the back of his throat. The rush was almost immediate — he always bought top-drawer stuff.
The client barked a deep, phlegmy cough as he finished his own line and returned to the sofa, still holding the briefcase.
Fortified by the coke, Kyle knelt up behind the man and began kneading his shoulders. The man inhaled a deep, wheezy lungful as he slumped under Kyle’s expert fingers.
“That feel good, mister?”
The guy nodded.
Course it does, you limp-dicked old fart. You’ve probably come in your y-fronts already. Easy money.
Kyle reached for the hand holding the briefcase, “Why don’t you put that down so you can relax with me on the —?”
“NO!” shouted the man, jumping up, his suit jacket half-off his shoulders. His eyes flashed, and Kyle felt his fear crack open again.
“Okay! Okay!” Kyle held his hand out in an ‘easy there’ gesture but the man stepped back again, his eyes flashing.
“Don’t you dare touch it! Don’t you DARE touch this case!” He hugged it in a pose that might have looked absurd if it hadn’t been for his vicious expression. His face was turning a deep shade of purple and his eyes bulged. He tugged at his collar with his free hand.
“Dude, calm down, I wasn’t going to…are you O—“
The man thudded violently to the floor before Kyle could finish his sentence. Gooey blobs of phlegm splattered from his mouth as he fought desperately to catch a breath. The hand holding the briefcase let go and grabbed at his shoulder. The noise was awful, a rasping, desperate sound like nails down a blackboard
He’s having a heart attack. He’s having a goddamn motherfucking heart attack.
Kyle knew he should do something —
— you’re a rent boy who’s given him drugs.
— call an ambulance, anything, but he was glued to the spot, mesmerised by the horror of watching another human being dying, knowing he should do something, pick up the phone, call out, anything, but torn by the fear of the consequences.
— call a fucking ambulance. Flush the coke and call an ambulance
The man gaped at Kyle with eyes shot through with fear, confusion and blood. He pawed feebly at it the briefcase before his body was wracked with a final, violent spasm, and then he lay still.
Kyle stood rooted to the spot. A wild jumble of thoughts clattered round in his mind: I should check if he’s dead I should call an ambulance I should flush the coke and then call an ambulance I should try and give him the kiss of life I should grab my shit and get the fuck out of here I should see what’s in that briefcase.
The briefcase the man had been so ferocious about protecting.
I should see what’s in that briefcase.
He knelt over the man, heart pounding so hard he swore he could see his t-shirt rippling. He gingerly put his ear close to the man’s mouth. No breath. Not even a whisper.
He slid over to where the briefcase lay upside down on the smooth, varnished wooden floor and flipped it over. It was nothing special: just your bog standard department store job, black leather, with a cheap, gold combination lock on each side of the handle.
“What’s so important that you couldn’t let this out of your sight, eh?” Kyle asked the dead man, searching in his own bag for the screwdriver he always carried around with him on jobs. Police didn’t take kindly to knives. At least if he got stopped and searched he could say he was borrowing it.
A few well-placed jabs, a couple of turns of the wrist and the locks sprang open. It was then, Kyle understood.
He’d often wondered what a million pounds looked like. And now he reckoned he had a fair idea.
He pulled out his phone and dialled Ian.
**EXCERPT FROM TRANSCRIPT OF USB RECORDER FOUND ON THE BODY OF MATTHEW WRIGHT. DATE: June 26th 2011**
(Shuffling noises, metallic sound, probably from chains. Sound of a man crying)
(Male voice): He didn’t come today, or yesterday, or the day before that. But my today and yesterday might just be someone else’s today. I don’t know. I’ve tried to count the seconds and get some sense of time but I can’t concentrate. I don’t know if he’s coming back. I keep blacking out. I’m so hungry. So goddam FUCKING HUNGRY!
(Screams, shouting, chains rattling)
WHERE THE FUCK ARE YOU! COME BACK YOU FUCKING CUNT!
(Sound of crying lasting approximately two minutes.)
Every time I wake up it’s from the same nightmare. I hear the sound of the door in my dreams. It scares the shit out of me, but scarier still is the sick way in which I want to hear it. I just want to hear the door open again. I keep…
…I just keep waking up and seeing it open, but I know it’s not really open because he’s not there. I miss him. It sounds so fucking stupid but I miss him. He’s a monster. He’s a FUCKING FUCKED UP MONSTER
(Chains rattle on each word, as if speaker is pulling at them for emphasis)
…but he’s the only human being I think I’ll ever see again. Oh God, how long till I go? How fucking long till I just black out and don’t wake up. PLEASE. Oh, God, please.
(Crying for approximately thirty seconds. The next two minutes of the audio is also muffled and could not be understood)
…of my fucking life. Oh God, I’m so sorry, I’m so, so fucking sorry. Tell John I’m so sorry. And tell him I love him.
**END OF RECORDING**
BBC NEWS WEBSITE: DATE: 7TH JULY 2011: TIME: 11:47am
KENSINGTON ‘HOUSE OF HORRORS’ REVEALS MORE VICTIMS
It has today been confirmed that the remains of a further five victims have been excavated from the basement of the Kensington address where 53-year-old Geoffrey Hamilton was found dead from a heart attack last week. A postmortem on Hamilton’s body has since established the presence of cocaine in his body at time of death.
In a dramatic twist, the corpse of a young male chained to the floor in the basement of the property. Although official cause of death has not yet been made available, it is suspected that the victim, named as 27-year-old sales executive Matthew Wright, died from multiple fractures to the back of his skull. Speculation that Wright may have taken his own life by repeatedly striking his head against the floor has neither been confirmed nor denied.
In a statement issued by the Metropolitan Police today, Detective Chief Inspector Chris Reynolds said:
“We can confirm that we are still in the process of excavating the basement at 45, Barrington Gardens, SW7 and have so far recovered five bodies in addition to those of Geoffrey Hamilton and Matthew Wright. All are believed to be male and we are awaiting the results of DNA testing to determine their identities.”
The funeral of Matthew Wright is expected to take place next week, when the body is released by coroners.
‘The Room and the Briefcase’ is an extract from the forthcoming collection ’11:47′, available next year. Parts 1&2 of the story will be available for download directly to Amazon Kindle devices soon.
The room is about ten feet by six, and the ceiling is low — only about eight feet separate it from the floor. There are no windows, which gives the room a damp, humid smell, underpinned by another odour, like meat that’s been left in the fridge too long. I haven’t heard any sounds from the outside world, so I’m assuming the room is underground, but I don’t know how far.
The room was white once, but it hasn’t seen a decent coat of paint in years — possibly decades — and the walls and floor are concrete. There are dark, mottled patches everywhere, each roughly the size of a person. He’s had a go at painting over them, but you can see the stains coming back through the peeling paint like mould.
The room is empty apart from me, and I’m chained to the floor opposite the heavy steel door that serves as his entrance and exit. He’s positioned me so I have no choice but to look at him when he comes in. He likes that, you see. He’s always dressed smartly, like he’s just come from the office, and he’s always carrying a briefcase. He never talks.
There are two thick metal rings buried either side of me and I’m shackled to them, crucifix-style by heavy chains. There’s enough play in them for me to sit up, scratch my face and stuff like that, but the cuffs are inlaid with rows of sharp spikes which have pierced my skin and will rip my wrists to ribbons if I try to pull them out. I black out occasionally, and when I wake up, I always find there’s fresh blood seeping from the wounds — like I’ve been struggling in my sleep.
The cuts are infected now, and there’s a faint rotten smell coming from them. My contacts fell out long ago and my mouth feels hot and putrid. I smell sour with sweat. My clothes are hanging off me and when I wake up from my blackouts, the floor is hard against my now jutting bones. My face is a scratchy mass of beard and my hair is lank and greasy. The days of haircuts, perfectly trimmed stubble and hard effort at the gym just to fill out my t-shirts seem so far away now – and so pointless.
I don’t know how long I’ve been here. It must have been a while, because the faces of the people I love are becoming fuzzy in my mind. I try to recall John’s face, but as soon as I get a clear picture, it melts away. I try to remember if I told him I loved him that morning, or if I texted him something soppy and alcohol-fuelled later when I was out drinking after work, but I can’t check, because my phone’s been taken. I hope I told him I love him. I miss him. I wonder if he’s trying to find me.
Panic is supposed to subside over time, isn’t it? It’s not true. The fear is relentless. I’m full of adrenaline every waking second, waiting for the sound of the door. My whole life now revolves around waiting for the sound of that door come and to rip apart the constant silence. That’s probably why I keep blacking out. I guess your body is only designed to cope with so much stress before it shuts down. Unconsciousness is a relief to be honest. I mean, I have dreams, but they’re all about being in this room anyway. Sometimes I wake up and don’t realise I’m still dreaming, and sometimes when I’m awake, I question whether I’m conscious. I wonder if I’m going insane.
There’s a screeching sound from the door as he pulls back the heavy bolt on the other side, and despite the fact I’ve been waiting for it, a thunderbolt of fear slashes through me. My bones jump beneath my sagging skin, bile rises in my throat — although there’s nothing in my stomach to throw up — and my pulse hammers in my veins.
And then he’s there in the doorway — an unattractive guy of about fifty, with greying temples and a paunch. He’s wearing the grey suit today, with a cornflower blue shirt and a patterned tie. He’s got two suits — one grey and one navy — and about four ties. He sticks to white and blue shirts. And of course he’s got the briefcase. Always with that fucking briefcase.
He shuffles, slightly hunched over, into the middle of the room, sets the briefcase down and walks back out. He’s disappeared from view, but I hear a faint clanking, whizzing sound, like a rope against a pulley. I suspect he has some sort of dumbwaiter system, because he always returns with a tray.
He checks to make sure his briefcase is still there, and shuts the door. Although it’s already silent in here, the sound still feels like it’s been sucked out of the room; like the air’s tighter somehow. He walks towards me.
I often wondered what it would be like to stare into the eyes of a madman, and now I know. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. If that’s true, this man has no soul. There’s nothing there behind his eyes. Absolutely nothing.
At first, when I still had the strength to get angry, I used to scream abuse at him. Brutal, primal things I never even imagined myself saying in my head, let alone out loud. I’d vow to get free and tear him limb from limb. I’d spit, kick and bite, scream at him like nothing human until my throat was in shreds, but he never reacted. He just stood there, observing me with this kind of… muted curiosity until I wore myself out.
Later on, I switched to begging with him, asking why I was there, what he wanted from me. I’d describe where I lived, what I did, the kind of person I was, hoping to connect with whatever last scrap of humanity he may have had. But he just watched silently as I slowly wore down and broke; until there was nothing more of the ‘me’ I used to be. Until I was just a whimpering slab of meat, sobbing and flinching whenever he came near me.
Now I stay silent the entire time he’s here. My trembling gives me away, but I’m damned if I ever let him see me cry again. I’m not in a position to make resolutions — I’m going to die here, I know that now — but I’ve promised myself one thing: I will never cry again in front of that monster.
He carries on now like he’s tending to a mannequin and not a human, pulling down my trousers so I can defecate into a bedpan. Once I’m done, he pulls them back up and begins spooning stone-cold porridge from the tray into my mouth. His breath stinks like cold chips, and every time he inhales, I hear a rattling, wheezing sound. The spoon clatters like a tuning fork against my teeth.
When he’s finished feeding me, he goes and sits on top of the briefcase and just watches, head tilted slightly to the side as if he’s pondering something. At first — back when I had a spirit — I tried to stare him out, but I never won. I refuse to look directly at him now, but I won’t turn my head away. Instead I fix on the spot on the wall just beyond his left ear, and wait till he’s done. Sometimes he’ll sit there for a few minutes, sometimes much longer. The only sounds are the thundering of my heart and his rattling breaths.
He gets up after a few minutes, and immediately I’m a mannequin again to him. I’m invisible as he picks up the briefcase and heads to the door.
I don’t know why, but for the first time in what must be weeks, I speak to him. My voice is alien, dry and unfamiliar, yet resolute, echoing off the bare walls.
“I’m not afraid of dying.”
He stops in the doorway and turns his head slowly to the left, but he doesn’t look at me. And for the first time ever, I hear him speak:
After the door shuts, after the bolt shrieks into place, and after counting to a thousand to make sure he’s gone. I break down.
I cry for me. I cry for the memory of sun on my face, the feel of a hot shower on my skin. I cry for the smell of John’s aftershave, for sex, eating chicken salad, and the loss of my dignity. I cry for the little things, like fresh sheets and the cold side of the pillow on Sunday mornings when John goes out for a run. I cry for my life and my meaningless achievements. I cry for an end to all this.
He was wrong. I’m not afraid of dying — I’m afraid it won’t come soon enough.
Another blackout. I’ve fallen onto my left wrist and the barbs inside the shackles have bitten deep. My forearm is hot, swollen and bloody. I stretch my good hand into my jeans pocket. After all this time, I still can’t believe he missed it when he took my stuff, but there it is, small and metallic in the palm of my hand:
A USB recorder.
I press the button and begin to speak…
It’s been a while since I got up on my political soapbox (well, last Thursday at least), But while I gaily chowed down on my low-fat grilled chicken caesar salad, Grindr chirping away happily in the background, the home-made fruit smoothie on my desk perfectly complimenting my purple Abercrombie and Fitch top, I couldn’t help but wonder: what should we really do with Melanie Phillips?
For those of you who have spent the day in a dark room with only mice for company, Melanie Phillips has joined the ranks of the odious Jan Moir to become the Daily Fail’s newest lady-in-hating. As if she hasn’t already got RSI from her constant pearl-clutching over anything remotely not right-wing, in today’s column, she swivels her Sauron’s eye and fixes it squarely on a brand new “Government-backed drive to promote the gay agenda.”
For those of you who don’t speak fluent bigot, she’s referring to the plans laid out today by the Training and Development Agency for Schools, to develop lesson plans in maths, geography and science that ‘celebrate the gay community’. The opt-in scheme will introduce non-sexual depictions of gay life into lessons, with some references to mummies and daddies occasionally being replaced by same-sex couples, and science lessons in which children will learn about other types of family setup, like those of seahorses and certain species of penguins, which rely on the male to care for the young.
Sound like a good plan? Not so, thinks Phillips, who roared that it was a “ruthless campaign by the gay rights lobby to destroy the very concept of normal sexual behaviour.”
Yes, that’s right, Melanie. Leftie homo penguins are coming for your children because militant poofs are holding the Government hostage and forcing them to do our bidding by threatening them with a good hard bumming if they don’t.
In fact, while we’re deporting all the queers to Alcatraz, let’s run those coloured people out as well. They’ve gotten into the White House you know — it’s only a matter of time before one will be in No. 10.
The funny thing is, I read the article (don’t worry, the link goes to the Pink Paper’s verbatim reprint) and to be honest, my jaw didn’t drop. I didn’t sit there incensed. I got to the end and the only thing I did was snort and say, “Whatever.”
In my opinion, all Phillips has achieved is showing herself up. It’s pathetic pieces of writing like this — masquerading under the banner of journalism — that keep gay rights at the forefront of public consciousness.
And do you know what? I welcome it.
Think about it. People like Phillips and Moir work for the Mail because it’s the only paper that would have them. They’re preaching to the converted. They’re talking to an audience they know will agree.
Even the Mail’s own token woofter, Andrew Pierce, has been programmed into spouting forth a load of homophobic nonsense on regular occasion. I’d love to have read the ad: “Wanted – gay journalist for right-wing Tory paper. Must be full of self-hatred and be prepared to lambast their own community in every column.”
Their supporters are few and far between, and now, just like our homosexual forefathers, they know they must keep their mouths shut for fear of reprisal. Times they are a-changing, and the boot, it seems, is now firmly on the other foot. It’s just been fierced up a little with a killer heel and some diamante studs.
Yes, the Mail probably sold out today, and yes, the visitors came to the website in their droves to read the article and probably netted the paper a pretty penny in advertising revenue, but so what? They’re going to need it for all those libel cases they’re constantly fighting.
Why do you think those people came? Was it to join forces with the ‘voice of reason’ Phillips believes herself to be? Or was it to read the article, then regard its author with a mixture of pity and slight revulsion, much the same way you would observe a starving, three-legged one-eyed dog at the roadside, sadly twitching away the last moments of its life?
Such is the shift in the last twenty years or so, that it’s people like Phillips and Moir with their articles on ‘the gays’ (a term as outdated and archaic as the women and paper that printed it) who are now regarded as aberrant. People regard them with a kind of fascination; a caricature of days gone by that nobody actually believes can still exist.
How many straight people do you know who have posted that article on Facebook and said, “I totally agree with this woman”?
So do not vilify Melanie Phillips, for she is a poor, stupid creature. And you shouldn’t kick a dumb animal when it does something wrong just because it lacks intelligence.
Instead, let’s all give her a great big gay old hug. Because as she bleats pathetically from her bigoted, dark little corner, she does so knowing she’s a dying breed.
And let’s face it, after the lambasting she’s going to get — she’s going to need one.
I looked in the mirror at the man smiling at me, and smiled back.
He was about thirty, wearing a deep V neck t-shirt and fitted black blazer. He had short hair that had gone sandy-coloured from a recent holiday, excited green eyes, stubble that hadn’t quite made the transition to ‘beard’, and was probably wearing a bit too much aftershave.
I’m now at the age my parents were when they had me, and I feel like I’ve come a long way in my six-weeks-from-turning-thirty-one years. Probably over less bumps than some, but definitely over more bumps than most.
But all those experiences put me on a path that had landed me right where I was standing — in the gents’ restroom at the Royal Festival Hall, about to share a stage with six ‘proper’ writers at the London Literature Festival on the South Bank.
I was reading an extract from my recently published story: Dying, And Other Superpowers in front of about 200 editors, writers, authors, critics and general ‘literary’ types.
Don’t ask me what ‘literary’ looks like exactly. But to give you an idea — it usually wears glasses, is probably holding a copy of your book, has its legs crossed, pen poised, head cocked to the side and is regarding you with a slightly inquisitive expression.
The book’s editor, Paul Burston introduced me as “the newbie” and I got up to cross what had morphed into three miles of echoey floor to the stage at the front of the room.
I say echoey — people were clapping and cheering — but I could only hear my own footsteps.
Deep breath number two.
(Oh, who am I kidding? Deep breath number three-hundred-and-forty-two is slightly more accurate.)
I straightened my notes on the lectern and began with Josh’s story:
“I’ll remember my eighteenth birthday for three reasons. The first being that I turned eighteen.
The second reason is because it was the day I got diagnosed with HIV. And the third? I made a mug explode.
Yeah, that was a pretty hectic day…..”
I took the audience through the story I knew so well. I knew these characters far better than I’d described on the page. I knew what they looked like, where they lived, what music they listened to, even the subtle facial tics they made when they were angry or excited. I got lost for a little while, enjoying the feeling of bringing them to life through speech.
I finished on a cliffhanger:
“I gaped at my hands, turning them over a couple of times, but my vision was blurring and I felt unsteady. I looked around the room, unfocused and disoriented, and in a weak voice said, “Mum?”
I don’t know if she answered, because my world went black.”
I looked up, smiled and said: “And if you want to know what happens, you have to buy the book!”
There was a collective cry of “Gah!” from the audience, followed by a round of very genuine applause, and I knew I’d done OK.
I’d like to tell you about the rest of the evening, but to be honest, it was a bit of a blur, I remember points of it. My wonderful friends and family hugging me and clapping me on the back, warm congratulations from people I’d never met. A very humbling moment when a young man told me he’d come all the way from Nottingham to hear me read because he’s a fan of this blog (thank you, David — it’s not often I’m rendered speechless).
And people were asking me to sign books! With my signature!
Feeling like a bit of a fraud, I wondered: what do I write? Do I try to make each message personal? Do people expect you to write “best wishes” or is that just wanky and patronising?
Do I just sign it? Do I try to be neat? Do I screw it and just be intentionally, fantastically, artistically untidy? Can I make my writing even remotely legible when my hands are shaking this much?
Oh, Paul-bloody-flipping-Burston, you’re supposed to be my mentor! WHERE are you when I need you?!
On top of that, I realised I was going to have to ask them all that cringeworthy question:
“What’s your name?”
The crowds filtered out and I rejoined my wonderful, drunken friends, and ceased being a writer, a new talent, or a member of the literary world — I was just ‘me’ again. We set off into Soho for a few celebratory drinks.
Now that the dust has settled on that crazy night, I certainly don’t feel like an ‘author’, a ‘fresh new talent’, a ‘hidden genius’ or any of the things I’ve been described as over the past few weeks.
It’s hard to feel like a ‘rising star’ when you’re sitting in a messy bedroom, wearing crap boxers, writing a blog post with a cup of tea and Star Trek: Voyager on the telly for company.
Cynics may (possibly rightly) argue that this is nothing to get excited about; I mean, it’s not my own novel — it’s a short story that’s been published in an anthology.
But as I’ve said before, it’s the beginning of my story, and I don’t know if it’s a short story, a novel, or a whole fricking library, but I can’t wait to write some more pages.
Paul called me late last night:
“I didn’t get to speak to you afterwards because it was just a bit crazy, but I wanted to tell you, you were phenomenal. I’ve had so many messages about the event over the last 24 hours. You made a huge impact. You should be very proud of yourself.”
Phenomenal? Well, that’s for time and other people to decide — not me.
Every tale has a beginning. This is mine:
There once was a small boy who loved words.
At the age of two, still in nappies and barely even toddling, he was gatecrashing his older sister’s reading classes, bullying her into submission and demanding the tutor’s time, until at last, his bemused but secretly very proud mother sent him for lessons of his own.
He was fascinated by letters, and how he could put them together to make syllables, then words, and finally — sentences and paragraphs.
Books were his friend during difficult times — his parents divorce, bullying at school, an unsettled childhood. Something about the clean white pages filled with neat, ordered rows of words calmed him, and, once he started turning those crisp pages, he happily escaped for hours into the worlds they created in his mind.
He dreamed of becoming a writer. He wanted to use the power of language to affect others, to fuel their emotions and imagination the same way it had done for him as a little boy.
The boy became a man, and never lost his love of words and writing. He started a blog — at first in secret, fearing people would think it was no good — but eventually admitting it was him writing the posts he so often posted links to.
He dreamed of the day he would hold his first published book in his hands. He could see the book in his mind’s eye. For some reason it always had a yellow cover. He saw himself at a party to celebrate its launch. All his friends were there, and it was one of the happiest moments of his life.
Then, one day, a respected author who was familiar with his work asked him to write a short story. The short story was for a collection featuring new and established authors.
Numerous disappointments over the years had left him slightly cynical, and even as he sent the finished manuscript, in the back of his mind he believed nothing would ever come of it. Until a few weeks later, when he got an email with a PDF attachment. It was a proof of his story, laid out in book format, typeset and bearing his name at the top of each page. It blew his mind.
On the 15th July 2010, he’ll be at the London Literature Festival, doing a reading from that very story. Its title is Dying, And Other Superpowers, and it’s part of a collection entitled Boys and Girls, published by Glasshouse Books. You can buy a copy here if you’d like – it only costs a tenner, and £2 from every sale goes to The Albert Kennedy Trust.
On the 12th August, he’ll be at the launch party for Boys And Girls. All his friends will be there, and it will be one of the happiest moments of his life.
His childhood dream will have come true, but hopefully, his tale is only just beginning.
Oh, and the book’s cover? It’s yellow. Funny how life turns out, isn’t it?