An understanding of teenage girls, or how I learned to embrace the dark side

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MY WORLD

Collective nouns: like so much else in the English language, I find them interesting. Like onomatopoeia, palindromes, metaphors, similes and so much else in our vernacular, collective nouns can be played with. Words, meanings and inferences can be played with: I have been witnessed leaving a pub. Teenage girls have been visiting the pub. I live at the pub: not in the literal, alcoholic sense but I do live in a bedsit above a pub, which has customers, including young ladies, some of whom come to visit me. The problem of the language being? Misinterpretation, as so often demonstrated by that well-known collective: the interference of thought police, who wish I would move along. I did so.

The nature of some collective nouns, like so much in language, can be poetic; their diversity whilst they are an inclusive linguistic construct; and the pure whimsy of many, seemingly coined whilst an originator of a term was in a very good mood. Away from the familiar pride of lions and pod of dolphins, to pluck one each from the land and sea, there is the lesser-known and quite wonderful collective noun for giraffes: a tower. A herd of zebras can also be referred to as a dazzle, a zeal, a stripe or a cohort. I would personally like to add a barcode of zebras as an alternative collective noun; perhaps a crossing of zebras when they are on the move.

Avian collective nouns often differ between a group of birds in different modes of locomotion: a flock, herd or gaggle of geese on the ground and a skein, team or wedge of the same birds in flight; a waddle and a paddle of ducks, on land and water respectively. Just like young ladies, the most appropriate term is dictated by them: grounded, allowed to move their legs and keep their heads up because we know they can swim, or set free to fly.

I’m here to let a few things go before I make this next big move, to set myself free of all but the most precious cargo. With the girls who are forbidden from seeing me and those who imposed the situation in mind, as Mike Patton of Peeping Tom sung: “We’re not alone in this psychrodrome…/ Livin’ the dream if you know what I mean, and I’ll be that boy you used to know / I’m not alone I’ve got this microphone…”; and: “I know that assholes grow on trees, so I’m here to trim the leaves / I’m afraid / That you’re still my friend / You’re still a piece of shit / But I can look the other way / Because you’re still my friend…”

So what of that little-understood human sub-species, the teenage girl? They are a group of great interest to me, and some of my closest friends are from this demographic. These are the ones who adopted me as either a father or older brother figure and gave me purpose. They all have issues, some of which are borne of simply being an adolescent girl, but others are rooted more deeply.

In the time I got to know the girls and others – when I was transient – I learned a lot, said a lot and hurt a lot, partly because of the girls. I’ve hurt myself as well as others. What people often fail to ask when they’re trying to excuse themselves of blame for my illness or simply escape, is how I am physically. I am not physically disabled and had to prove that my mental issues impeded me at a tribunal. Just like my mental illness, my physical scars from self-harm are largely hidden from others because people are afraid to speak of that which they don’t understand. Some of the teenage girls I know, inflict harm upon themselves in areas mainly inaccessible to all but the most intimate with them.

Those girls and others got me here by being as much help to me as I was to them. I am not going to let those friends go; I will not stop, no matter how much it’s disapproved of. I don’t care. I can afford not to care. I am an independent writer now, with total freedom of expression, which is partly why those girls like and admire me so much. I’m not being conceited: they told me. More than one of the girls has a crush on me. In different circumstances, the situation might be reciprocated. I’m flattered but they’re young and I view them as such in that respect. But they will rebel. They will continue to visit me and there is little which anyone can do to get in the way of the will of a teenage girl, other than to ground her and stifle her in doing so.

It’s difficult to convey how I feel about the girls without seeming inappropriate of thought by my detractors. Some of the girls are stunningly attractive and gifted with the figures of model young women. And that is all I see: the obvious aesthetic, without a sexual undertone. It’s like yawning, stretching or stifling a sneeze: it’s a pleasant sensation, without a messy or embarrassing climax.

They come here because there is much to entertain them, besides me. Here, they can just chill in safety while I get on with what I do: writing. Sometimes what they want is what only I can give them: an honest – often brutal – opinion based on me not giving too much of a shit about offending them. Not for me the everything-will-be-alright reassurance, less so the patronising plenty more fish in the sea. I don’t insult their intelligence.

When he wrote Sunscreen, some of the most interesting people Baz Luhrmann knew at 22 didn’t know what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds still didn’t. Only at 45, after so much, do I know what I want to do. Those conflicting young ladies just need guidance. 

One of the young ladies made an inaugural visit recently and commented – as others have – on how this place is so me. Even if I wasn’t in the place and she was asked who among her friends this place was home to, she would instantly say me. Because she knows me so well. That same young lady stayed with me for a couple of days. I shared a bed with a seventeen year old girl. Nothing happened, other than the two of us having someone else to hold as we slept. She slept with me because with me, she feels comfortable, safe and secure. I pose no threat to her. This particular young lady typifies the collective. Sometimes I can see how they might perhaps be a little naive, or too trusting. There are others who might abuse that trust but I wouldn’t throw away everything those girls have placed in me and risk losing the pleasure of their company. They are free with me and they know where to find me.

I met with my sometimes assumed arch nemesis recently, when he was invited to the bar as my guest. If anyone was expecting fireworks, sorry to piss on your bonfire. The situation between us wasn’t of our making; it was based on rumours circulating about both of us individually. Between us we managed to deconstruct the myths which had contributed to the rumours and identify sources. There are no scores to be settled and there is clear and level ground between us. No doubt the rumour mill will start up again but it’s something else I’m moving on from. I just needed to put some things straight first. If anything gets twisted, I’ll know how and by whom: it all still feeds back to me, even though I have less to do with the old family these days. But we’re still family and the plastic police didn’t reckon on the accused and their appointed guard valuing family ties as much as we do. They underestimated at least one of us. Both of us have better links to some of the family than the other, so we can be of mutual benefit to one another. The Pink Hearts will not be divided, no matter how divisive others try to be: we find a way. They still come to see me, even if they have to find inventive ways of doing so, invent alibis, cover stories or smoke screens. Most recently, this has included a couple of boyfriends and at least one parent. One young lady arrived a while back, seeking sanctuary because she was being stalked: not physically in the street but she came here. Because safety for her is here, with me and where I live is a licensed establishment with a landlord. The landlord of the pub is also my landlord, who I pay rent to for the bedsit. Because this is a licensed premises, fire regulations state that the landlord must know who is in the building outside of the pub’s commercial operating hours. He will not allow anyone to stay here who he doesn’t know. He knows the ages of anyone who enters the premises as entrance to the flat is via the bar, which guests to the flat patronise and where those guests are subject to ID checks. The landlord therefore knows that seventeen year-old girls stay here and it’s cool and the gang because he knows me and trusts me.

What do the girls see in me? Personally, I’m at a loss but they say it’s simply me. The one who can’t be categorised or contained; the free spirit, anarchist and punk: everything I was when I was their age and which I still am. They may be romanticizing or fantasizing but that’s where it stays. In much the same way that I can live within a character I’m writing about and take on the role, I can live within them. I can relate to them, play devil’s advocate and assume the role of protagonist or antagonist in the stories which we build together. I give them time and space to express themselves, as I am privileged to do for myself when I’m writing. The nature of my job means that I can spare those girls the time which others can’t.

A couple of days ago, I had one of my regular brunch meetings with the mother ship: always a pleasure, as mother ship is an affectionate term. We were joined by the man who only in the last eighteen months I have realised is the one whom I admire the most: my dad. I shall not attempt to describe such a great man in the confines of a blog post largely about other matters but my dad is as relevant as my mum in the making of me. My father is as modest as he is deep, in an almost impenetrable way but I shall permit myself one reference from the old man: that he is proud of me and what I’ve become. Nowhere near as proud as I am to be your son. I can only keep telling the girls that there are others besides me.

“…I am there for them when you are not. Where is your daughter now? Not with me…”

I’m the same as them, largely thanks to my depression. For their parents’ sakes, as well as that of my own sanity, I hope that none of the girls follow the route which I’ve taken. My parents bore a great burden with me but it was them who made me. There were other outside influences though, just as there are with the girls.

To understand depression is – in my view and experience – very much like understanding teenage girls. Both require one to understand themselves, as well as the subject of study. I don’t understand myself fully, any more than anyone else could. Like the girls, I’m stuck with me. I am of fascination to them: the guy who fell off the rails, fought back and became a writer. Only by knowing me do they understand what it took to get here. But I like the me who I’ve become and I try to teach the girls to love the person which is developing but confused and conflicting within them. I also continue to teach one of the young ladies to read: she has an untapped intellect and so much pent up anger that her most powerful weapon could be the written word, if she could only read. She’s doing well, under my tutelage.

There are bridges which remain to be built but those are for others to construct. I have built all of the bridges I burned and wished to re-build. As I set sail for a new land, the gaps which the unbuilt bridges need to span grow ever wider. The people I leave behind are those who gave up on what they saw as a lost cause, or were scared. Frankly, that is a greater act of betrayal than any I was guilty of toward them. I’m glad those people are out of my life.

I have achieved financial stability after a long fight for recognition. I have a lifestyle which I love. Pretty soon I’ll grow bored of being single, now that I have less to worry about and I’m not so much of a burden. I don’t expect an orderly queue to form because I’m for keeps and I’m not easy to keep.

My condition, my parents, family and those girls – among other close friends – are what have allowed me to become whatever it is I am: whatever that is, I like it and I’m taking it all with me.

Reading back over this blog as I often do, it strikes me that a year ago, there was one small, clingy reason for my happiness. Generally though, I was wallowing in myself, not just in self pity but in self righteousness as well. I was shallow and wrong on many fronts. I have so much more now.

Things really are falling into place: a rather agreeable living and working environment has been built around me, thanks to my friends at the pub. Those friends and others form an inner circle who continue to support me in what I do, including my two new beta readers, who are recent admissions to my inner sanctum.

My place of writing is where I coined the collective noun for teenage girls: an understanding. Within that group is a suffrage of the teenagers. Those girls crave freedom and expression. Green, white and violet: those girls can vote with their feet.

I’ve been paid some of what I was due in back-paid benefits. A proportion of it is already spent: repaying priority loans taken when I was needy and loaning out money to others who are needy now. I’ve treated myself: to a new Rotary watch, which is just the right side of bling but which is retro-futuristic in looks. It’s a bit steam punk in appearance actually and will form the basis of a forthcoming story, entitled Mechanical Manacle. That’s as well as the three books, ongoing regular fiction for Schlock webzine, straight-to-print work and various other projects I have in my new in-tray, under-submission tray, in-progress folder and filing cabinet of curiosities. Pretty soon I’ll be submitting work for competitions, as I’ve taken out a subscription to Writing Magazine now that I have the financial means.

I’ve taken out an Amazon Prime subscription and bought a Fire TV stick, which is brilliant, if you have a Prime account. Streamed TV, on demand. It’s very quickly changed the way that I watch TV and although I have more of it now, television has become very much secondary to me, after writing, no matter the hour. It’s a shame Fire TV doesn’t include many catch up services at present but I’ve been enjoying box sets and movies via an additional subscription to Netflix, so-bad-they’re-good movies via that service and Tubi TV; anime, horror, sci-fi, after hours, grind house and kung fu, including Sonny Cheeba features, placing me right inside True Romance; TED lectures and more. I’ve also bought some box sets of my favourite American comedies, as I do like to have things on display: Cheers, Friends and That Seventies Show. More to follow. Plenty to entertain me and any guests.

My immediate surroundings are much improved as I now have a proper desk, the dining table which I previously used as a desk now serving as a dining table. One slight extravagance is my chair: a high-backed, lumbar support office chair with arms. If I’m writing more or less full time though, I need to be comfortable. I’ve also got a rather iconic anglepoise lamp on my desk and a filing unit beside it: the aforementioned cabinet of curiosities, where I keep clippings and notes which can’t be categorized and therefore have to exist in limbo before being turned into something or destroyed. Or both.

Financial stability was a long time coming but now that I have it, I appreciate it and am not taking it for granted. Larger purchases aside, It’s the little things, like being able to have a smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel with a cafe au lait for lunch, rather than a slice of toast with black coffee, or nothing at all.

There are a few loose ends to tidy up on the home and office / studio / study front, as there are in life but the new place will be me, truly personified and unlike any other place I’ve lived because this place is my personal expression and not one dictated – even subconsciously – by any outside influence. I’m like a teenager who’s been given their own room for the first time and who can express themselves, within the confines of parental control but with the latter constraint lacking. My home is me now, with the me that I’ve become within: the inner sanctum which is my cradle of filth. I’ll Instagram a panorama once it’s all in its resting place.

I have personal and financial stability to do what I love: to write. Expression is freedom.

Over-riding everything though is the fact that I have the means and the freedom to visit the young people whom I begat, with the next meeting due in a month. My refusal to delete anything from this blog has been frowned upon by some but I have always maintained that it should stand as testament to whatever might happen. As things stand, all is well and I hope this will still be the case a year from now.

I’m determined to keep going because I want to make my own kids as proud of me as my own father hinted he was of me, as I am of him and of my own resilient youngsters. 

Thank you for your understanding.

A bedtime broadcast

POETRY

For reasons known better to others, my poetry is proving quite popular. Verse is something which I practice in writing, as poetry challenges the writer to convey more meanings in fewer words than fiction allows. I must not be swayed too much though by the popularity of my poetry, because I’m a horror writer, first and foremost. 

So this is a poem I wrote: something to read before bed.

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They Pray

Now I lay me down to sleep…
Ready or not,
here I come.
Fire, fire, burning bright.
Whisper who dares,
where I’m from.

Between awake and dreams:
the moment
no-one can recall.
That’s where we live.
We sleep.
With all.

And when you stir,
we are gone
but yours to keep:
a memory,
perhaps.
Now lay thee down to sleep.

It stands on its own two feet but it will mean more to some people if I were to tell them that Kate and Miles gave me this.

Hush, little sister

POETRY

Life as a teenager can be a tough one to live. I know: I did it. Unlike most, I’ve not forgotten. In the long run, I’ve regained the freedom which so many of my young friends have. As Baz Luhrmann wrote, “… Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t…”

So I wrote this for one of my kid sisters, who’s struggling with life.

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Hush, little sister

Don’t talk as you do,
of hush a bye baby,
you’re almost dead.
Bottle in one hand.
Gun in the other,
pointed at your head.

You’ve lived a life:
all that you’ve done;
everything you’ve seen.
Look at your hands:
no genie in the bottle,
nor in the magazine.

Soon you’ll grow.
But don’t rush.
You’ve not started yet.
Strap yourself in,
for memories
and regret.

Don’t follow the path
I took, but look
at me:
because I’m your elder
brother.
Still free.

Burning the eternal oil

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THE WRITER’S LIFE

Today I was asked a question which is frequently put to me and which I no longer dread to answer: that of what I do. I answered the question, as I am qualified to do, being both published and paid: I am a writer. It still seems a little surreal at times and I do have to remind myself occasionally that it is a fact. How this situation came to be is well-documented in this blog. To summarise: got pissed, fucked up, lost everything and ended up homeless; fucked up some more, fucked around a lot and nearly lost my life; found myself and found a new life which allowed me to do what I love: write. This wreck just needed an oil change.

The line of questioning continued and I was asked how I write. Suppressing my inner pedant, I answered the question which the inquirer’s intonation suggested more likely: how might they become a writer?

My route to becoming a professional writer is not one which I would recommend, even if the experience was part of the basis for my debut novel. There are many authorities greater than me but I’m perhaps more accessible, so just as I share much of my actual writing – when I’m contractually free to do so – I don’t mind sharing advice with those who ask and in the public domain, with those who don’t. It helps me as well, because writing this blog fills in the gaps when I’m between projects for publication in webzines or print. 

Although I’ve been writing for around 15 years, I’m still finding my feet now that it’s my full-time job. I hope that someone finding themselves in the same privileged position as me, where they are able to write for a living, might gain from these notes, as I continue to post insights into the writer’s life I’ve found.

Writer’s block has been troubling me of late, not because I lack ideas but because my particular writer’s life has become truly full time and greatly consuming, my fervent mind being as it is. With three novels in the process of being written, as well as various articles, features, comments and short stories in the pipeline, I have had to concentrate as fully as possible on the project which is driving me the most as a writer: the pure concept of The Inner Leviathan, my second novel. I am almost fully immersed in the universe which this saga occupies, escaping only occasionally and briefly to work on other projects and take care of life in the real world.

Writing can be a lonely existence but it needs to be, albeit partially; as lonely as the worlds which the writer creates and which they alone inhabit during the creation process. We have each other; we have our peers, our editors, agents and test readers but in the greater scheme of things, we are set adrift in our own worlds. For the most part, that is a good thing, for we have freedom: of expression, invention and so much else. Sometimes though, I seek solace in the words of others, specifically about writing. In the past, I have turned to Marcia Golub and her excellent volume, I’d Rather be Writing, which addresses many challenges facing the freelance and self-employed writer, chief among them being procrastination. The book is one which ought to be in every writer’s reference collection, dealing as it does with overcoming obstacles which writers place in their own way to do anything but write. It sounds odd perhaps that someone who is passionate about something should avoid the very thing which they enjoy but it’s true: we do. Golub’s observations of why writers do this are different to my own but nevertheless, the book is a good read and one which other writers may relate to, like I did. What I’ve concluded though is that all of my personal distractions are there to be removed, out of mind, so that I can concentrate on writing. Rather than seeing things besides writing as distractions, I use them to my advantage and furtherance as well.

Like each individual story which I am the author of, writing in general has become almost my entire life. I know this is not universal among writers but it is also true of many of my close peers. Some of that group, I met while studying with The Writers’ Bureau. Like me, at a certain point in life, they felt they’d let themselves and others down by abusing the privileged life and education they’d been given and wanted to prove something. Others I met while I was mentoring for the RSA, where I worked with others who had substance abuse and addiction issues, like me.

I do have a regained lust for life, now that life has become what it is. I could never go back to any part of the old lives, least of all working for someone else. I’m too volatile; too free to be caged again. And I’m certified mentally ill.

A lust for life which sleeps as little as I do, because it simply can’t be switched off. All of life is ripe for harvesting writing. Every waking hour could create a new world at any point. Everything we read is information to be absorbed and any written word can be the genesis for something else. There is no escaping the writer in dreams either: I sleep with a notebook and pen next to my bed, to note down dreams. Almost everywhere I go, I carry a notebook with me to simply write things down as they occur to me as ideas for fiction or non-fiction pieces. Recently, I was watching one of my uncut horror DVD imports, when a piece of macabre prose occurred to me. Horror writers have to be imaginative, not only in coming up with ideas but with their language. Horror fiction is full of cliches, so we have to be inventive with metaphors and similes. Armed only with the written word, us writers are, upon initial assumption, lacking in tools to convey a situation when compared to other artists. As I’ve noted before though, what we have is a greater captive audience of our readers’ imaginations.

As I wrote in The Paradoxicon, the most affecting Video Nasties which one might watch would be recordings of one’s own nightmares. So writers – horror writers in particular – have to get inside the reader’s imagination and take control of it. Then the writer will sometimes lead that reader’s imagination somewhere it may not go of its own free will, by taking themselves out of their own comfort zone and writing material which they themselves find disturbing.

Horror movies are a very good source of material for the horror writer. Not for plagiarising, nor even coming up with ideas. Most good writing is more imaginative than the majority of celluloid media and many good movies are adaptations of books. Where horror films are useful to the writer is in presenting graphic imagery, which the writer will try to convey the unpleasantness of with words alone. The really skilled writer will take the imagery even further than the moving image is able to by describing things twice, using metaphors and similes.

The film I watched was Mermaid in a Manhole, from the Guinea Pig series. It is a title in the collection of every aficionado of savage cinema, like me. The scene which prompted me to write this passage was pretty grim in itself: a mermaid has been washed into a city sewer by a flood and exposure to contaminants in the sewer water has irreparably damaged her flesh.

As the mermaid is pulled from the sewer, blisters which have formed on her upper body rupture as they come into contact with the air above ground. As the blisters burst and ejaculate yellow pus onto the pavement, gaping wounds are exposed on the mermaid’s body. Each open wound pulsates and bubbles with blood, like the mouth of an aborted foetus, gasping for air. The mermaid’s lower half is spasming. A sharp blow to the head of this fish would stop it.

How much of that did I actually witness and what did I imagine? What images have I placed in the readers’ minds? More than they might be allowed to see in film? The term “Nasty” was one which applied to writing long before the Video Nasty. Writers have freedom of expression and expression itself is freedom.

The midnight hour will soon approach, then the early hours will follow. Fuelled by cafe au lait, a little alcohol and lots of cigarettes, I work on. Some of my more creative and imaginative work is produced in the twilight zone: a well-oiled, perpetual machine.

An iconic love story

POETRY

Anyone who knows me well, will know who was on my mind when I wrote this. But for those who are in love, for those who were in love and for those who loved too much, this is a poem for everyone:

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Natural Born Lovers

We met and we clicked,
like Bonnie and Clyde.
We’re so similar:
Jekyll and Hyde.

We went out,
like Mickey and Mallory.
Why don’t you come on over,
Valerie.

We done stuff,
like Courtney and Kurt.
Laughed then slept:
Ernie and Bert.

Holding throats, not hands.
Necromancy.
Over there:
Sid and Nancy.

A non-rhyming ode to London

POETRY

My beloved capital city can be an alien place to the outsider. But to those in the know, this will make sense. An ode to my home:

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A Letter to London

Old girl, new girl;
mother, daughter, Seven Sisters.
Roaming your many ways:
Shakespeare’s.

Saviour, black heart;
Angel, Bermondsey, Moorgate.
All that’s precious:
China.

Tears, laughter;
West End, Soho, Arnos Grove.
Where my heart is:
Push.

The Inner Leviathan

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THE WRITER’S LIFE

Having published A Steam Punk Romance, I’ve been asked more times than I was expecting what The Inner Leviathan – which that particular short story forms the basis of – is about. With the freedom of expression granted me by the freedom to write, I have been able to work on a synopsis for the next book. This project has superseded the other novels as a result. Here are some cover notes:   

Blue and Alexa are lost. They are lost in their individual lives, whilst at the same time being lost together in a place which they can’t comprehend: like newborns spurted from separate wombs into different worlds but who are somehow in touch. They don’t know where the connection lies. At first, they don’t even know that it exists. Unconventional companions and yet conjoined, Blue was once human and Alexa, an oil rig.

Their unorthodox partnership evolves, before a calamitous event on earth in the form of a meteor strike causes them both to metamorphose: two co-dependent entities become one. Whilst merging, Blue and Alexa regress and mature at the same time: this new marriage forms a structure which is retro-futuristic and neo-Victorian in appearance: a magical, steam punk structure, conjuring up the improbable; afloat, moving under its own steam, but vulnerable.

The earth which sustains this evolved leviathan is itself under threat, not from the alien source of the meteors but from another, greater outside influence.

Earth is commandeered by an apparently friendly alien influence, which seeks to use the planet as a means of transport. Planet earth is still rich in natural resources, which will propel it to a new destination. Meanwhile, Alexa and many others like her have been freed of their ties to the host planet and given the means to evolve. The earth becomes self-powered, as do Alexa and others upon the mother ship which is earth.

Planet earth sheers her moorings, just as Blue and Alexa have whilst on board her. But they remain attached.

The three of them set off, in search of something. Travelling around a universe with porous boundaries and with the ability to enter any alternate existence, however close to or far removed from their own those places may be, they vow to stick together.   

Can all three co-exist? Is three a crowd? Who needs whom the most?

Travel with an ex-human, an oil rig and a planet as they begin to discover all that is around them.

Take a deep breath

MY WORLD

Our parents nurture us in our formative years and we care for them in their dotage. My adopted teenage kids made me what I am. I don’t want to go back to working for someone else, for that would put me out of touch with the young adults who I now hold dearly as friends. I don’t want to go back to working for someone else because I’m too volatile. And I’m mentally ill, something which has been further recognised by the system which I spent so long fighting. It wasn’t a pyrrhic victory after all. I don’t want to go back to working for someone else because I love what I do now and where I’ve ended up, in life and as a person.

The overall war, made up of all of the conflicts which brought me here, was not a pyrrhic victory: it was a war which I lost. I no longer have a wife or a family home. Until now, I have not had regular access to my biological children by virtue of geography. My latest award will address that problem. What I do have though is the Pink Hearts family, formed during the war years and – a few casualties aside – still together as a family, never a gang. Mainly teenagers, the institution of the Pink Hearts and the squat where we had many happy times together is what carried me through. I consider the family in what I refer to as the safe house as my own, for they got me through seven months of the war. The family I share the pub with too, have become very close friends. Most importantly, I have rebuilt the bridges I burned with my biological parents and sister. All of these people are honorary members of the Pink Hearts. It’s unlikely that any more pure Pink Hearts will join the family as initiation with the application of our insignia happened in the squat, during the period of conflict. Besides, we ran out of badges. But anyone can be a Pink Heart: they just need to have a heart.

The greatest human losses are friends and family. I’ve mourned the passing of many in both circles, whether they be deceased or simply lost; all leave a scar on this Pink Heart. I’m currently nursing a recent, very deep wound, sustained with the departure of one of the adopted girls. There is little point in trying to understand that which you don’t have access to. There are times when you care about someone so much that you simply have to stop caring for them. I let my barriers down again.

I no longer have a bachelor pad overlooking a private swimming pool. I lost the beautiful flat which I shared with my soulmate, intellectual adversary, supermodel-proportioned fiance. Now I have a bedsit above a pub and the view out of the window in front of my writing desk is of one of the many arse ends of this town. But in front of that view is the screen where my words appear as I write them: this is my life now.

I no longer have a business which I can milk. I don’t have milk in fact, as my supply has been milked by housemates. I no longer play poker in the West End. But I do have a business of sorts: myself. I can write and I have a lot of projects on the go at the moment. I still play poker, for very small stakes online but I’d rather be writing, as I often am in the middle of the night when I used to gamble instead. While my writing pays the small sums of commission and royalties which it does, I am still entitled to the final bundle of benefit payments which I have now secured: in addition to the ESA Support Group benefit and Personal Independence Payment which I now receive, it transpires that I am also eligible for Severe Disability Allowance. I am mentally ill and have proven myself as such at tribunal. With housing benefit, what I receive from the state is just over £1500 per month. How worthwhile the effort required to attain such nosebleed heights of remuneration was is questionable, but what I’ve attained is financial stability, support and recognition. I lost a lot in the war but I gained so much more in non-monetary terms.

I’ve gained freedom: I feel now as I did on the many occasions I was released from police custody back onto the streets. I’ve learned. I have what we all have: freedom of speech and of expression. I’m in a privileged position where I can place my freedoms in the public domain through writing, like the national newspaper which I’ve written for. Anyone can do what I do. This freedom has been granted me by the state which I fought for so long to gain what I was due; a state and a system that I am proud to be a member of and which I now understand the logic of, respectively. I’m proud to call this inclusive, diverse and free culture in which we live, home. The system does work and so do I. The state has given me the means to do what I love. Commissions and royalties aside, I am financed by the state to write. To counter the very predictable and in some ways, understandable, view that I am sponging off of the state, I would point out that the system is financing my recovery in the most economical way possible.

A recent article in The Guardian prompted this piece, wherein noted writers describe how time spent living on the dole made them what they are. All are names familiar to and respected by the writing community. Those writers honed their art and developed their skills whilst reliant upon state support. Latterly they are professional writers, like me, earning money and paying taxes, as I hope I will one day. What those writers contribute passionately to society though is far greater than financial: it’s knowledge. I am in a position now where I am supported in doing something which I hope will benefit others. I certainly benefited many during the war years and there are several who will always stand testament to that.

Of course, the money coming in will open up many more opportunities, all of which add up to a comfortable – if still frugal – existence, not least of which is being able to see my children on a more regular basis. I don’t have my old life back and frankly, I wouldn’t want it, but I have a life now. The war made me a better person and I continue to get better. I’m financed by the state which I’m currently in: get the double meaning. 

Like my recovery, my writing is largely a personal thing, albeit self-publicised, mainly in the hope that I can inspire others. I enjoy it, just as anyone a certain way inclined likes the smell of their own farts, or the taste of their own bogeys. My recovery had to be personal because I cannot be contained, restrained or overseen: a stereotypical writer. It’s been suggested that some of my stories are semi-autobiographical. This is true, as is the case with many writers. What better bases for fiction though than things with which you can empathise as a writer and use to convey new experiences onto the reader? Writers give pleasure to others. I have the freedom to do that now and I have the skill to turn personal experiences into allegorical fictional situations, full of parallels and metaphors. Life imitates art and vice versa.

It’s a two-way street though and comment is free. I welcome comments on my blog posts, because comment breeds discussion and debate. Where once I was drunk and an aggressive, objectionable and sometimes nonsensical antagonist, now I’m invariably stoned instead and resultantly more open-minded. The only thing missing in this new life is someone to share it with: someone who can dismantle the remaining barriers and permanently dispose of them. If I’m honest, there’s no-one in my life at the moment who would be able to do that; no-one who’d be a keeper.

I failed but I picked myself up again. Kids: don’t dismiss yourselves. It was being homeless and now on benefits that made me what I am: a better person even than the slightly afloat one you held in esteem for whatever personal reasons, who you originally took under your wings and nurtured, like I did you.

The person you made and who you now see less frequently is alive, well and writing a lot. Besides this blog, I’m currently writing a story which is destined for print publication, essentially about an oil rig which falls in love. People are intrigued by the concept but on the basis of feedback from the first draft, it’s a winner; to such an extent that it’s the basis for one of three novels which I’m writing: the ongoing Bloodstained Knaves; Paradoxica, the sequel to The Paradoxicon; and the aforementioned tale of mechanical love: The Inner Leviathan.

Wherever you end up, you are still free, whether you realise it or not. If you find yourself in a place where you’d rather not be, you are free to escape: you just need to know where you want to be and sometimes you may require guidance to get there. When you find your place, you will be happy. Like me.

The trick is to keep breathing.

The evolution of machines

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Some of my most frank and brutal comments have hit people like a curve ball from left field in the past. Some of my literary plot devices have been hailed by readers as invisible walls they simply didn’t see in front of them when they hit, even though I’d built the walls with words before their very eyes. By ever more trusted accounts, I am quite the accomplished writer, with my various successes in publication and paid work standing as proof. This is down to focussing on what is my full-time job, now that I am free of all but welcome distractions.

The writer is always looking for different ideas; unusual takes on things; sometimes experimenting with different kinds of writing: challenges. As is obvious to my – really quite substantial – readership, my writing tends towards horror and science fiction. I have written fantasy and fanciful stories though and resist being pigeon-holed, so like most of my contemporaries, I am constantly looking for new ideas. I trained with The Writers’ Bureau and mentored for the RSA before settling my scores with life and deciding that it was the writer’s life for me.

Ideas for writing come from the very thing which writing encourages: reading. As a writer, I read a lot: books, magazines, newspapers; anything which my eyes and other senses can absorb. A poster, an advertising slogan, a news item, a song, a name and so much else can plant a seed in the writer’s mind. Then we cede. Many ideas become lost tales, all stored away in a place of forgotten things. Some germinate and produce drafts of short stories or the bases for books. Us writers juggle several projects simultaneously. Some initial drafts become second, third and fourth drafts; some go further. Fewer still of those become final and submitted for publication. The rest are in the writer’s slush pile, a fairly tall example of which sits on my writing desk. Some will be revisited; others will go into the forgotten place. With so many works in progress on my desk, it’s no wonder I’m able to compare myself to my literary influence, Paul Auster: the amount of work I have means that I am satisfied if I produce one page of finished prose at the end of a working day. I have many propositions for stories, some fantastical but anything is possible in fiction, in the right hands.

My current workload is a load of short stories I’m writing and re-drafting for the webzine to which I’m a regular contributor, a couple of articles for a newspaper and my second novel. The latter is going very well. After much abandonment and re-adoption of the larger project, I have lately been able to focus myself enough to at least build a chapter plan and timeline. Although I wrote The Paradoxicon in the space of around six weeks, now that I have Bloodstained Knaves better planned, I know that it will be a much longer story, given what it needs to encompass: it is potentially an in-depth study of post-apocalyptic life in a city which is both fascist and anarchic. It’s a huge undertaking compared to my first book, which was semi-autobiographical but I’ve researched the subject matter and I know I can pull it off. The remaining question with those in my inner circle who I share ideas with is, how did this society come to be? Much research into theoretical post Holocene scenarios permitted me to complete the synopsis of what should be a good read.

The immediate project though is a short story for eventual publication in print: not pulp fiction to fill space but a potential work of great merit. By my own admission, I churn out material which is no more deserving of where it ends up but the piece I’m working on at the moment will stand alongside my short story, COGS as one of my best. The latest one is as far detracted from that other controversial story as is almost possible for it to be, this new one being a somewhat whimsical tale. But it’s based on one of those ideas which sometimes occur to writers when they read something and get hit by a curve ball from left field: the article was about oil drilling platforms.

I had a fairly lengthy discussion with one of my editors today, who noted that this blog has become much more of an interesting read now that it’s not simply about me: editors can be the harshest – but embraced – critics. She’s right and now that most other concerns have been sloughed, I’m still writing about me but in a more insightful way. Now that I’m able to concentrate on writing, I’m better placed to provide insight into the practice. Hopefully that’s what I’m doing with The Writer’s Life section of this new-look blog.

And I’m pretty confident of pulling off the current proposition: that of an oil rig which falls in love.

A pyrrhic victory?

MY WORLD

Yesterday I was in court, vs. the Secretary of state, as you do. The less dramatic statement is that I was the appellant at a tribunal hearing to decide if I was entitled to PIP: Personal Independence Payment. My argument rested on the fact that the key descriptors for determining an applicant’s eligibility for PIP leaned towards physical and therefore visible disability, whilst not recognising that mental illness can impede one’s physical abilities. Put simply, I am physically capable of carrying out tasks but my mental issues prevent me from undertaking them. This is what I had to prove to a judge, a doctor and an independent assessor who made up the tribunal panel. I won.

I won the lesser amount of a number of  financial sums I may have been in line to receive but more importantly, I won recognition. A small moral victory at least. I shall now receive a modest increase in the benefits which I justifiably claim on the basis of entitlement and that entitlement was recognised by the court. This battle has been going on for fifteen months, since my initial claim was made. My successful claim to the tribunal means that I have also been awarded compensation in the form of PIP payments being backdated to the original claim date. It’s a four figure sum, towards the lower end of that spectrum. It will help, as will the additional ongoing payments. I’m now paid all that I am due and I can live a modestly comfortable life on that compensation. With this particular battle over, I can relax a bit more, stop complaining so much with less to complain about and get on with the new life which I’ve chosen.

To place the new and old lives in perspective, the size of the one-off payment I will receive is roughly the same as I used to pay myself weekly at times, when I ran businesses – paying all relevant taxes – before becoming unwell. It’s roughly equivalent to the amount of coke I used to snort on a monthly basis. It’s the sort of money I used to play with daily at poker. But I prefer the humbler new life, mainly because it’s where I’ve been able to find myself and the friends and family I hope to retain around me. I’m better off being the non-conformist which is truly me, living as I am and doing what I do.

Much of the money is already spoken for, repaying debts I incurred whilst transient. I will permit myself a few luxuries though: a larger writing desk with a lamp; a second set of speakers in the “bed” room of the bedsit: my big, black, solid lumps of a hi-fi support two sets of independent speakers, so the sound quality is not divided between the “bed” room and the “sit” room but replicated; more CDs, DVDs and books…

Ahead of everything though is the ability to visit my children, on an ongoing basis. Next, I’ve promised one of my adopted girls that I’ll take her to London to see Les Miserables on the West End stage. I’ll also have the means to take close friends out for what I hope for them might be pleasant times. I have gained independence.

Was it worth it? If someone had offered to pay me the sum I’ve won in advance and provided me with foresight of what the payment would involve me having to endure, I would have declined. I’d rather not have had to go through what I did but I brought it upon myself. On a personal level, the costs are greater than the rewards, making my individual victory a truly pyrrhic one, like that of Pyrrhus of Epirus, who defeated the Romans at Asculum in 279 BC, sustaining heavy losses.

Being largely invisible, mental illness is as easy to feign as it is difficult to see. I have not faked my illness and that was recognised yesterday by a judge, a doctor and an independent assessor. The bigger campaign is to gain greater recognition for those similarly afflicted like myself, who don’t necessarily have the literary megaphone of a blog.

I may never know what I might have achieved for any greater good. The philosophy of Pyrrho of Elis (c. 300 BC) maintains that certainty of knowledge is unobtainable: Pyrrhonism.