“Stories only happen to those who are able to tell them”: so said Paul Auster, one of my greatest American literary heroes. I’m a writer and as such, I can tell stories. The one I’ve not told properly though is my own. Plenty of things have happened to me, so I have the stories and the ability to tell them. The blog served as a running commentary for a while and remains as a dark reminder of my breakdown. There was a lot which I had to omit or remove from the blog though, so it doesn’t tell the whole story. The new book which I’ve started writing will rectify that. More accurately in some cases, the book will right some misguided wrongs I made previously.
My frame of mind was different when I was maintaining the blog as a public diary: I was convinced that I was right and all those around me were wrong. I’ve learned and I’ve changed. I realise now that it was me who was wrong and that I was in denial. There were plenty of things I was right about though. So unlike the blog, the book will be less about me putting other people in their place and more about me dealing with myself. I’m only able to do that now that I’m able to see things differently, with the benefit of sobriety and hindsight. The worst is over and there’s a new life ahead. I’m living it but I must acknowledge what went before. If I’d not gone through all that I did, I wouldn’t have ended up where I am. I had to go through a personal hell, before almost accidentally ending up with a dream life.
With a working title of On My Radio – one of my favourite songs by one of my favourite ska bands, The Selecter – the book is not an autobiography but it is an autobiographical memoir of my time on the road, how I got there and how it changed me. Now is the time to write the book, as I have reached an ending of sorts to a period in my life; very much a new beginning as well.
I wondered whether stories of being a homeless alcoholic would be marketable: I’m not expecting a best seller but the story is worth telling for a number of reasons. Among the many experiences I had while on the road, some would make great pieces of fiction. This is fact though and just as I’ve always worn my heart on my sleeve, so the stories will be the truth and they’ll be embellished only by the parts I had to leave out of the blog. Some of the names will have to be changed but I will tell it like it was. Even those who were privy to quite a lot don’t know the whole and may be quite surprised at some of the revelations. The book is a fairly big undertaking, so I’ve sought the advice of my peers and almost without exception, they’ve said that it’s a book worth writing. One went so far as to say that if the book is anywhere near as captivating as the blog then it will make for a good read.
I’m in a very privileged position: I get paid anyway, whether or not I write. I like to write though; I enjoy my job. The new book will be the story of how someone went from having almost everything and thinking they were happy, to someone who lost it all but found contentment. I went from being a rightwing church-going bigot, running a business and living a fairly lavish life; snorting coke and having the credit cards to cut the lines, to a pot-smoking, Guardian-reading atheist, anarchist, feminist writer. Surely it would take quite some powerful influences to make such changes? My time on the road did that, so that’s the main reason for writing On My Radio.
Writing the memoir will most likely distract me a little from the other three books I’m writing but I feel that I’m in a position where I need to write it before I really move on: closure perhaps. The three novels remain works in progress but they’ll progress much quicker once I’ve got this off of my chest. Although it’s sometimes said that the easiest things to write about are those that you know and even yourself, writing about that period in my life won’t be easy because I hardly recognise the central character.
Meanwhile and in between times, the pulp and schlock fiction continue to churn out. My emotions are a little mixed on news that The Elephant in the Playroom has been accepted for publication. It is a shocker, to the extent that part of me wants to disassociate myself from it. It’s far more disturbing than COGS. Like COGS, it forces me to question things but where COGS was a tale told in a certain way, The Elephant in the Playroom provides no such luxury. I deliberately wrote it so that it would be read in a certain way. It’s stripped bare and it is not pretty. It’s guerilla writing; it’s minimal and confrontational. It’s as much about the style of writing as the subject matter itself. Most importantly though, it makes a point. It’s affecting and it ought to make the reader think: part of me pities them as this will be almost indelible in their minds. I will be judged and I can already see the two camps which will be the most vocal. There will be criticism but there’ll be debate: both confirmation that I’m good at my job. The Elephant in the Playroom is the kind of story which could be the making or the destruction of a writer in a less privileged position than me. Being self-employed means that I have even greater freedom as a writer and I have exercised my freedom of expression, not only of subject matter but of style. I would go so far as to say that if The Elephant in the Playroom doesn’t lead to debate, conversation, accusation, condemnation and possible investigation, speculation and judgement, then I’ve not done my job very well. It’s not courageous or foolhardy writing; it’s challenging. Clearly I relish a challenge.
As one of my other transatlantic literary influences and inspirations said, “Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must lead.”
“Genius might be the ability to say a profound thing in a simple way.”
(Henry Charles Bukowski (born Heinrich Karl Bukowski; August 16, 1920 – March 9, 1994), who spent much of his life as a homeless alcoholic.)