Last night on the train from Sheffield to London I spent a couple of hours chatting to a colleague about everything from sex and sufism to the labyrinthine exploitations of the mind. In my case these exploitations usually take the form of some sordid literary expression. Many years ago I used to write profound, angst-ridden poetry that served to foster my growing alienation from society. One day, I left my treasured tome of original poetry at the home of a family friend, and was horrified to learn that not only did she read it, but she sent it back to my mother, who also read it. “What’s wrong, why are you so angry?” she asked. Well, how long have you got? I’m 13, confused, misunderstood and pissed-off. Life ain’t the set of a 1950s Hollywood musical. What did you expect, an Ode to the Lyre?
At home we talked about art, history, film and the lives of the literati, at school the kids didn’t talk — they whined and grunted and squealed
I was an angry teenager. Angry with my parents for plucking their English rose and taking her to a strange desertland where people shouted at you in the street and the sun reigned in your sanity. I was angry with my classmates for being crass and boorish. At home we talked about art, history, film and the lives of the literati, at school the kids didn’t talk — they whined and grunted and squealed. Pretty odd when you consider that pork was forbidden. When conversation was introduced it was usually about pop music or why I spoke with a strange accent, that is when I spoke at all. I was angry with God for taking my illusion of a friendly and Gaia-like creation and pissing all over it.
But most of all I was angry with myself, for being so affected by it.
I haven’t written any poetry since. Poetry is for pale and morose cravat-wearing consumptives. I don’t really believe that, but the poet in me coughed out their last and was replaced with a rock chick. From sensitive, self-indulgent poetry to sex, drugs and rock and roll. It was a natural continuum. The only continuum that suited my snarky arse. My own was now floating in swathes of paisley and Indian prints. I remember buying my first incense stick from a chap wearing a tribal African getup at the local shopping centre. I rushed home, put on Pink Floyd, lit the thing and waited. I don’t know what I was waiting for exactly as I peered into wisps of cloudy sandalwood, but that moment was a defining experience in my early teens. It was the first time in my life that I felt connected to something.
It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I started to write seriously and treat it like a process that required time and reflection. In fact, I remember the first time I wrote a story. Like an actual short story. It was at work, when I was supposed to be doing something else. I blame the new espresso machine they had shipped over from Milan and a desk overlooking an ancient yew. Give a native Londoner too much coffee and access to nature and see what happens.
As the story unfolded I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed myself. It was the emotional outlet and artistic integrity I was desperately lacking from my musical endeavours. I was trying to make it in the music industry back then, but my craft – the music – was more of a business enterprise than a creative exercise. I was in it because I was a good singer and knew how to work the crowds with skimpy outfits and exotic undertones, but I knew better. I wasn’t feeling it. It was a puerile attempt to live the lives of others in the hope that their exalted fate would touch mine. It did, for a while, but I got the rough end of the deal. So I packed it all in and hung my guitar over the fireplace, where it lingers still, accumulating dust.
Writing fiction became a natural transference of my creative juices from the mundane to the nouvelle; from a place of overt pretension to utmost creation. I cherish these stories. They’re a precious relic from a period of change and reinvention; the birth of a writer. Many gallons have coursed through the Rubicon since the dog days of fanciful experimentation. My prose has developed a life of its own, a sentience that is at once wild and willful, vital and masterful. This new mastery of words pulses through me like a sexual plateau that is alive and emergent with the blood of ten thousand arousals, to reach its zenith in the creation of new life, new characters, new worlds.
I have been exploring one of these worlds in the novel I am writing. My biggest concern is that the lead character is evolving into a veiled clone of its architect and that it’ll be all too obvious to those who know me. They say that a first novel is always semi-biographic; an account of the writer’s life driven by his or her own personal experiences. That makes sense, we write about what we know. I will never write about the mountainous terrain of Tajikistan or the grassland plains of the Serengeti because I’ve never been to these places, nor do I have an active interest in them. But I know my native Britain. I have an affinity with the Middle East and North America; places I’ve either lived in or explored to varying degrees of experience. I have a keen interest in ancient and early medieval history and languages. I know a thing or two about law and linguistics. I love music, film and satire.
My lead character is a peripatetic fusion of all this and suffers from the same crippling malaise that I have endured all my life. Is this really something I want to share with my friends? Is this foray into the ills and aches of my troubled alter-ego something I want to subject my parents to? In this way, my prose is like a deadly semi-automatic that should be taken apart and buried in the sands for all eternity. I have no intention of letting this shelve my creativity, however, or the publication of my first novel. But by then this blog will have been long-forgotten, or deleted.