Stuck Inside A Story (For 28 years…)

That’s how it feels. That’s what it is. Stuck. Trapped. Held prisoner. I can’t get out. But do I really want to? Evidence would suggest not. Sometimes I wonder what exactly I have done. Created a world, created characters, used some magic and a lot of hard work, an imagination I can’t control, and there you have it, an alternative reality I can’t escape from.

I had no idea this would happen when I started writing as a child. My first attempts were hand-written stories about lost and abandoned animals, heavily influenced by my love of Watership Down and other similar books. I didn’t write my first story about real people living real lives until I was 12 years old. What happened to tear me away from my quaint tales of lost dogs and runaway bunnies? Well, weirdly, this.

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And this.

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Watching The Lost Boys gave me a few vital ingredients for the story that would go on to hold me prisoner for the next 28 years. It gave me the main idea, the main concept and it gave me some characters. Or at least, it inspired me to create characters who would turn out to be the kind of people I wished I knew in real life. As for Stephen King, it was around this time that I started my collection and was well on my way to becoming a truly obsessed fan. Add to that strange mix, the recent divorce of my parents, the usual teenage angst and rebellion, and I had me a story. Remember the bit in The Lost Boys when the younger brother realises his mother is dating the head vampire? That’s where the idea for The Boy With The Thorn In His Side came from. It wasn’t called that back then. It wasn’t called anything for ages. But I kept thinking…what if your mother was dating a monster? Only not the vampire kind, the real-life kind? And what if no one believed you? And what if you only had yourself and your best friends to try to battle this person? It was a weird mix of asking ‘what if’ questions, my parents’ recent divorce playing on my own fears, a dewy-eyed fascination with the actor Corey Haim, and a love of horror and fascination with the darker side of human nature that spawned this tale.

In my mind, my main character Danny, who is 13 at the start of Part 1, looked a lot like Corey Haim, who I was quite a bit in love with at that age. Once I had him in my head, his character started to grow and evolve, and I think I wrote that very early first draft pretty quickly. I remember it was my absolute obsession for a while. I hated to be away from that story. I’d rush home from school and up to my room to pick up my notebook and pen. I’d write endlessly and passionately. I suppose at the time I had no real idea of what I was doing. I was sort of trying to invent friends, I think. People I was intrigued by, people who had drama in their lives. I felt like I was a character in the book too. I was so proud when I finished it. I even started a sequel. I showed my English teacher and she read it and gave me a merit certificate I had to go up in assembly to collect. I remember being embarrassed but happy. The certificate said I had written a novel. At age 12! I don’t think I have the certificate anymore, but here’s the book.

 

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I started rewriting it after that. I had invested in an electronic word processor. It was the most exciting machine in the world to me! I could sit there and tap away and watch my words appear on this mini screen, before hitting print and then holding typed pages in my hands. What also happened to me at that age was that the story crept inside my brain. It kept me awake at night. It was company. I was never, ever bored. I’d look forward to bedtime because I knew I could lie there and think about my story before I fell asleep. I watched the scenes in my head like a movie. I heard them talking and arguing. Inevitably I came up with new ideas and extra bits, but mostly I just let them play it all out, and most of those imagined scenes have never made it into any of the books. It was just me, a fly on the wall of a made-up world, watching them live.

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Here’s one of the many pictures I drew of the characters. Only some of these made it into the final version.

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I rewrote that book again at aged 16. I’d started and not finished tons of other stories in that time. The book had opened a floodgate, forging a lifelong addiction to writing. But that one story, I couldn’t ever let it go. I rewrote it again at 19. I thought about it constantly during the non-writing years of balancing early motherhood with self-employment. The same story, the same characters always in my head, coming back to me night after night. I was 34 before I finally returned to it. I started writing in notebooks again, just like when I was a kid. Snatching spare moments, writing before bed, suddenly entirely addicted all over again, but this time it had to come out, it had to be finished.

I finally released it in 2013. The Mess Of Me snuck in and was released first because The Boy With The Thorn In His Side was so long and needed so much work. But finally, it was out. A real book I could hold in my hands! I’d done it. So now they would fall quiet, surely? I’d stop thinking about them. I’d stop playing out more scenes.

Well, no, not exactly. Before I knew it I’d penned a sequel, This Is The Day and released that too. That should have been the end of it it, but yet, it still wasn’t. The story itself was so enticing to me, and I was so invested in it, I couldn’t stop imagining other endings, and I guess, truth be told, in my head I did not want it to be over. So the stories went on. Every night, hi guys. What’s happening now?

I wrote an alternative ending in 2016 and included it in Bird People and Other Stories.That was supposed to draw a line under it, but it only made things worse. Now I couldn’t get the thought of other endings out of my head! What if this happened instead? What if? What if? For the fun of it, I started writing a screenplay in a notebook. Brand new material that led on from the original ending of book one, slotting in and delaying the ending, but finishing up before This Is The Day. This was only supposed to be for fun. To get it out of my system. To indulge myself even more than I already had. What the hell, what did it matter? It was for fun. I didn’t have to explain that to anyone!

Except now I do. Because that screenplay became a total obsession. I carried that notebook around with me everywhere. I grabbed every spare moment I had to write into it, getting this new story out. I absolutely loved it. I was so excited about it. I just couldn’t put it down. So eventually, after a lot of thinking and plotting, I came to a decision. I would do it. I would split the book back into two parts and this new material would be part three. Part Four would be This Is The day but it would need some reworking. Then suddenly, parts five and six emerged…

I’ve now accepted the truth. And that is that this story and these characters will never let me go. They are part of me and part of my life and I’m going to leave each book open, just in case I want to revisit it again.

There are new characters introduced in Parts Five and Six, and these also get their own spin-off book or possibly series with characters from both appearing in the others. So, as you can see… this thing could run and run.

So, if you are interested in reading this story, which began when I was 12, followed me through my life and has now evolved into at least a six-part series, you can start with The Boy With The Thorn In His Side Part One which is available for pre-order on Amazon now and is released on 9th November. This is a reworked, revised edition. The Boy With The Thorn In His Side Part Two is also available for pre-order now and is also released on 9th November. Both at the special introductory price of 99p.

I plan to release the brand new Part Three in January an Part Four in February. By then I hope to be into the second or third draft of Part Five…

And the weird thing about this story is that I wrote it purely for myself, I indulged myself entirely, became utterly lost and absorbed and have still been unable to climb free from it. So I don’t really expect anyone to buy it, and I don’t really mind if they don’t. It feels weird to even try to plug it if I’m honest. Like this one is just for me. Like this is my mind, my imagination, my daydreams and to imagine anyone else wandering around in there is almost unsettling. And if it holds me prisoner for another 28 years? I think I’m okay with that…

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Me and The Music

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Me and the music and the writing, we are linked, we are circular. Each feeds into the other. My mind is always full of both. I often feel that music should be constantly with me, and when I was a kid, I tried to make this so. Music in my bedroom, music in the kitchen where I used to sit next to the radio to write my stories, and music in my head. I still recall the agony of dying batteries in a Walkman. My favourite song whining slowly to a halt. Rummaging through the junk drawer in the hope that the loose batteries rolling around at the bottom would fit, and have enough juice left to keep the songs going.

When I look back at my writing, music has always been there too. Often without me knowing, it has shaped and influenced my writing, as well as who I am. When I was fourteen I wrote a book about a boy living in 1960’s America, during the Vietnam War. There is no doubt in my mind that my love of sixties music influenced me to write this particular story, and the songs and bands I had fallen in love with, are dotted throughout the manuscript. In my head, the book was in fact a movie, with an awesome soundtrack. Songs like All Along The Watchtower by Jimi Hendrix, White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane and Ruby Tuesday by The Rolling Stones all had their place. I had songs for fight scenes. I had songs for when the gang were running from the cops. I had druggy songs, and hippy songs, and I had Thank You For The Days by The Kinks, In My Life by The Beatles, and Catch The Wind by Donavan. In my head I could see it all and hear it all and it was perfect.

When I look back, I see everything in terms of what music was there for me. I remember buying a Bob Dylan cassette from HMV when I was about twelve. I used to write the lyrics inside my diaries and my school books. I even used to scrawl lyrics that meant something to me onto the surface of my desk at school with a compass. I remember a friend I was slightly in awe of playing me Guns ‘N’ Roses, and watching the videos for Welcome To The Jungle and You Could Be Mine on MTV at her house. I felt like an outsider peering in. It was something; but it wasn’t mine.

When I first saw the video to Smells Like Teen Spirit I thought Kurt Cobain was the most beautiful person I had ever seen. It was something I did not really understand. I bought the single on 7 inch vinyl from my local supermarket and played it as loud as I dared in my room. When I was sixteen Britpop exploded and I found something all mine. When I rewrote The Boy With The Thorn In His Side twenty years after it was first penned, I went back and made Danny’s journey through music my own. From Guns ‘N’ Roses to Nirvana, from the sixties to the nineties, with The Smiths and The Clash in between. It was my soundtrack and I am still adding to it.

Whatever music I am into most at the time, seems to seep into my writing. I had written a significant first draft of This Is Nowhere whilst listening to a lot of Neil Young vinyl. It suddenly seemed to make perfect sense that Jake’s mysterious mother Kate would have loved his music too. At the moment I am listening to a lot of Frank Turner. I have not made my latest protagonist Elliot Pie, a mad music fan, but I am curious to know how this phase will influence his character and the book.

The music has always been with me. I can’t go long without it. I can’t bear the silence or the hollowness that sometimes creeps in. A tight stomach is alleviated by jangling guitars. A worried mind unburdened by pounding drums, building up and up and up and up. The right chords, the right words, the right order, tingling down my spine, making me smile even when I really don’t want to. Music makes you move, it makes you remember how to breathe. It lifts your mood, sets you free, makes you remember you are alive and that great and beautiful things can happen.

When I was a kid I used to lie on my bedroom floor with the speakers on either side of my head. I was trying to locate every part of the song. I was trying to take it apart, understand every piece of it. I was trying to distinguish which instruments came in where, and I could never really understand it, and I still can’t, but I am still listening.

I still insist on loud music in the car. I search the CD collection before I leave the house, seeking out whatever my mood demands. The radio is on all day. Old music brings back a thousand memories. New music opens up possibilities. Makes me feel jealous of the young. If I am down sometimes I want to wallow in it, I want Creep and Fake Plastic Trees and Motorcycle Emptiness, and if I am angry I might want to stay angry, I might want Postively 4th Street or Karma Police or anything by The Smiths. If I want to be lifted up, if I want to feel instantly positive, I turn to The Stone Roses and Oasis. She Bangs The Drums and I can’t stop smiling and drumming. I Am The Resurrection as loud as can be with no interruptions, otherwise I have to go back to the start and try it again. It can’t be messed up. Gotta hear it all. Live Forever is my favourite song in the world, quite possibly. It’s simple and it’s basic but it’s got everything I need. It gets me right there. It says it all. I just wanna’ fly…

Nearly all of my writing has music in it somewhere. The Boy With The Thorn In His Side is a dark and hard hitting story, but is lifted up by Danny’s love for music. He gets to do what I have always wanted; work in a record shop. In The Mess Of Me Joe runs drugs for his brothers in order to save up for a drum kit. In the sequel he will have formed his band and be trying to get noticed.

Music helps me write. It gets the juices flowing. Lyrics inspire stories and invoke characters inside my head. I imagine that all my characters have a soundtrack; music that defines their life and their story. Songs that are all theirs. Songs they sung when they were sad and lost, songs that gave them hope and guts when they needed it most, songs they fell in love to, songs they had their first kiss to…

Me and the music, tapping away. I remember when I was nineteen, and I hadn’t gone to University like I’d planned, and I had a shit job cleaning offices, and my mother had this terrible man living with her, and all my friends had left and gone to Uni, and everything was over, everything was standing still. I remember drinking every night, alone in my room, just me and the music and my trusty old word processor. All I needed was a constant supply of CD’s and paper. I wrote non-stop, all through the night. I wrote whatever came into my head, streams of consciousness and near unconsciousness. I felt like if the music ever stopped then I would die. The music kept the words coming, one after the other, rushing out of me, releasing me from anger and disgust and fear of the future and the whole world. I could make sense of it; or at least keep the worst fear at bay, if I just kept writing, just kept listening to guitars and drums and lyrics.

Now I walk around and I don’t often like the sound of the world. I want to tape a soundtrack over it all. Life is much cooler if you are constantly singing along. If there are constantly words inside your head.

Sometimes I get a nervous feeling in my stomach and for a moment or two, I don’t know why. I can’t work it out. There is nothing to be nervous about. I am not about to do anything scary or important. But the feeling is there nonetheless. It’s like a breath I cannot take. Like the next move has been prevented and I’m stuck. It’s not horrible, or terrible, but it is strange and comes at any time, following me about my life, sudden tightness, sudden urge to take a deep long breath and try again.The other day I finally worked out what it is. It’s my stomach nose-diving, lurching, crunching up small, and its because its wondering what song comes next. What part of life is about to unfold.

Songs are stories. Songs are full of people. Songs are full of love, and fear, and regret and confusion and pure, relentless joy. My writing needs them all. The desperate ones, the depressing ones, the uplifting ones, the soul destroying ones, the ones that shine… They all help me write.

“I’d hear a song, and it would cause this utterly jolting and physical reaction inside of me. It would take me over and it would take me somewhere else. Set all kinds of things off inside of me. Some songs, they drag you down with them, they take your hand very gently and ease you out of the sunshine. They want you to feel their pain, and they want the shivers to run through you as all your hairs stand on end.And then there are the songs that set your hair on fire, and I mean, they fill you up with indescribably joyous energy, the kind that makes you believe you will live forever. Primal Scream’s Movin’ On Up was one of those for me during that time. When I heard that, or sung along to that at Chaos, my heart was exploding with hope, let me tell you, my body felt like it had wings, my soul knew that nothing bad could ever happen to any of us, ever again. Music can do that you know.”  – Danny, “The Boy With The Thorn In His Side” http://www.amazon.co.uk/Boy-Thorn-His-Side-ebook/dp/B00W8DLGKA/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1431972783&sr=1-1&keywords=the+boy+with+the+thorn+in+his+side

 

Do You Remember? (Teenager of the 90’s)

Times change. And so does the music. But more than that, it breaks your heart- like The Bluetones singing where did you go? Or Garbage singing stupid girl, or Whale singing happy in you. I got old. And so did you. But we didn’t really. It’s only on the outside. If we didn’t look in mirrors, we wouldn’t remember that we got older. The music though…it likes to take us back. It grins and teases. Takes us by the elbow whispering; do you remember?

Do you remember fish and chips in the car? The car-park at the beach. We never got out because we didn’t want to be around other people. Let them have the beach. We had the music. It was always us and the music. We still do it now; leave the windows rolled down in pride. Yes, this is good.

I am older, and so are you. Jaded. More cynical. You didn’t used to worry about anything, and you still don’t, but you don’t care either. The world proved you right. I got older, but I fight hard not to get old. I insist the child in me remains loose. Vigilant at all times. In charge of my soul. No mortgage or nine to five for me. No hamster wheel or human treadmill. Music makes everything better.

Do you remember mix tapes? Personalised for the one you loved. But it wasn’t just about love or loving them, it was about telling them what music you loved, letting them in on a secret, telling them what music they should love too. I wish I’d kept them all, but times moved on. I can still see your neat handwriting, black biro, letters perfectly formed. I can picture you in my head; lying on your bed where you kept the hi-fi just above your pillow, so that when I slept over, the music was right there. I can see you writing out the songs one by one. Telling me who I should love. You gave me The Stone Roses and I will love you forever for that.

Do you remember love letters? Passed back and forth. Lyrics and hearts in smudged biro dotted around the edge of A4 lined paper. Ten Storey Love Song – I built this thing for you.

Do you remember The Beach Boys? First music we played in our first home. I remember a younger us in a teenage bedroom; wouldn’t it be nice if we were older, then we wouldn’t have to wait so long? But we didn’t have to wait long at all to get older. That happened in between songs.

Music is our connection. It links me to you and to everything that I see in my head when I look back. To every song I hear there is a scene, a memory, a feeling. Gomez singing get myself arrested after you did get yourself arrested. A thousand songs in a thousand moments in cars, bedrooms, clubs and festivals. Me and you. Cider and Hooch and Two Dogs. Empties lined up on the bedroom window sill, curtains blowing in the wind. Select magazine on the bed. TFI Friday on the telly. Ocean Colour Scene and Kula Shaker and Cast and Supergrass and Portishead and Massive Attack and Tricky, and I always preferred a slow sad song, and you always preferred fast and happy. Then you’d write me a little note before you left.

You can be yourself when you find the right music. Remember that? Remember that it was our time. And its so funny now when we find it again; when we find ourselves in the record shop, not drawn to the vinyl that was before our time, but to the cds in the flimsy plastic cases, to remembering how cool they seemed compared to tapes, until they scratched and jumped and jittered. The artwork, the song list, the lyric sheet. In an instant, we are excited again, worries forgotten, age meaning nothing. It’s just you and me and the music, set free, eyes wide, let loose, fingers flicking amidst exclamations of ‘we had that one on tape’, ‘we had that one but it got scratched’, ‘I’ve still got that one but it doesn’t work’, ‘do you remember this one?’ For a few moments its perfect joy.

Then in the car on the way home. Everything is made better by music, whether its new or old. Smiling without knowing that we are. We’ll be high on it for days. Classic finds. Cheap and cheerful. Would rather spend money on music than anything else. And I look at you and I think do you remember that you’re the same as me? That we see things they’ll never see?

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Who Is Richard???

Our journey to school is the same every day. Behind the wheel, I drive us, the wheels of the car following the same path smoothly without question…down the hill, up the hill, over the bridge, stop at the lights, over the roundabout, and then the next roundabout, follow the road, see the people, bumper to bumper, yawning, past the garage, over the train tracks, turn right, down to the next lights… I could do it blindfolded. I could do it in my sleep. And we see the same things out of the windows, and we pass the same people, like Richard.

Who is Richard? We don’t know, but we can guess. We make it up to suit ourselves. We see him every day. We think he is called Richard, because apparently he used to come in the off licence for his Stellas. He wears a dark green parka, he walks like Liam Gallagher, he has the hair cut too. Ian Brown. Sometimes with dark glasses on, sometimes without. Always with his headphones on. What is he listening to? We can guess…

So now it gets embarrassing. Because I’m sure he knows that we talk about him. Maybe he sees us too. The same silver car passing him every day, sometimes as he walks over the bridge, over the tracks, sometimes as he passes the traffic lights further down… Maybe he sees the kids pointing, sees their mouths shouting, it’s Richard! Maybe he sees me, this mad woman behind the wheel, grinning at him like a lunatic.

I have to look away now. It’s Richard, yeah Richard! Then look away and pretend to drive. Oh my god if we ever bumped into him in a shop! I just know the kids would let me down. Mum? It’s Richard. How the fuck do you know my name?

But Richard we know you! We see you! Every day, with your hands in your pockets, you swagger down the pavement like you just walked out of the 90’s, and I just know what you’ve got in your ears, The Stone Roses or Oasis? Us too! I get so excited sometimes. We’re rolling past him and I want to roll the window down so he can hear it; Richard! Listen! Charlatans! Whoo hoo!

But he wouldn’t be able to hear because he is always plugged into his..

Richard…I’d say you are a bit over forty. I’d say you were mad fer it. I’d say you know your music and you know that everything since then has been shite. I’d say you probably have kids…Where are you going every day? Off to work? With your bag on your back. You must walk there, you must walk quite far..Wonder where you start? Wonder where you come from.

Sorry Richard. Poor Richard, who might not even be called Richard. But it’s not my fault you caught my eye! In your parka, with your haircut, like a relic from Britpop, you were always going to make me smile! Look at him, I said to the kids, I can tell you right now what music he likes! Not like today. You can’t tell anymore what music someone is in to  by the way they dress, because they all seem to dress the same. But you’ve got it written all over you! It’s a joy to behold.

There goes Richard. Every morning we see Richard. It would be a sad day if we didn’t. And I don’t know why, but for some reason, I want to drive past and wave to him, I want to be playing Slide Away or She Bangs The Drums or North Country Boy at high, high volume, and he’ll hear it over his own tunes, and he’ll turn and see us all smiling and waving and he’ll know that Richard, WE SALUTE YOU!!