RIP Kurt Cobain; Extract from The Boy With The Thorn In His Side

The Boy

“People always say they can remember exactly where they were when a big news story broke. You know, like Kennedy being shot, or Martin Luther King being assassinated, or Elvis being found dead on his toilet. I didn’t used to care, or pay much attention, until it happened to me. I will remember forever and ever where I was, what I was doing, even what I was fucking wearing the day I heard that Kurt Cobain was dead.

I was in The Record Shop again. I had only been in about five minutes, brimming with excitement, clutching the money to pay for the stack of singles and albums I had piled up behind the counter. Beck’s Loser, Oasis’ Supersonic, Talking Head’s Remain In Light and Pixies Surfer Rosa. See? Remember them all. I was wearing blue baggy jeans, and I had just been thinking that I must have lost a bit of weight because I had to keep hitching them up, and I was feeling pissed off about this. I wanted to be getting bigger for God’s sake, not smaller. I had on an old Clash t-shirt I had picked up in a charity shop, and my beloved baseball boots which were coming apart at the soles. I went around the counter, and clutched the records to my chest, inhaling the musty smell of them while Terry chucked my money into the till. He was drooped over his stool, mug of tea steaming in front of him, and a stack of dusty cassettes to one side, waiting to be shelved. 

You still don’t have a record player to play them on do you?’ he asked, struggling to disguise his own amusement.

Gonna’ ask for one for my next birthday.’

You’re weird, you know that? All the other kids are getting into the CD’s mate. That’s the new thing! You’re going bloody backwards!’

I like old things,’ I shrugged defensively. I stayed where I was behind the counter, stalling for time by gazing longingly at my records and wondering if he would allow me to turn off the radio and put one on. We heard the news announcement at the same time. We both lifted our heads instantly when we heard the words spoken. Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain has been found dead at his Washington home. It was a long, stretched out moment, dizzying and sick, and I felt like the bottom had fallen out of my world, just crashed on out under my feet. I was standing on nothing. The fat man was staring at me and I was staring back at him. My mouth fell open in slow motion, registering the horror. Terry’s face seemed to twist in shock, his eyes becoming loaded with despair and disbelief. I was rigid and could not speak.

Oh my God,’ Terry whispered as the news reporter rattled on.

I held my records to my chest and shook my head. ‘Can’t be true,’ I heard my voice croak. I walked stiffly then, around the counter and towards the door.

Oh shit,’ he was saying behind me. ‘Not another one. Jesus fucking Christ, it’s never fucking Michael Bolton or Phil Collins is it? Hey? Hey Danny, come on, you all right mate?’

Can’t be true,’ I said. I wrenched the door open and started running.

I ran all the way home. I stumbled up the driveway with my sweaty hair plastered to my face. I barely paid attention to the two cars parked in the drive as I dashed past them, still clutching my records, all my coherent thoughts commanding me to get to the television, to find out more. I ran into Howard and Freeman in the back garden. They had the barbecue going and were lounging in plastic garden chairs, smoking and drinking beers. There was an instant and undeniable light that leaped into Howard’s eyes when he saw me.

Whoa look who it is! Our number one man!’ Freeman greeted me as he often did, with just a silent nod of his head. ‘You heard the big news yet eh?’ I scowled at the snake like smile that crawled across his face, and the delight that shone in his beady eyes, and turned away from them, into the house. There was a roar of laughter behind me. Their footsteps echoed mine. ‘Don’t you love this about Danny?’ Howard was asking Freeman. ‘He’s so bloody talkative!’

I hurried into the lounge, placed my records on the sofa, turned the TV on and started to flick through the channels with the remote. They came into the room behind me, and ordinarily the fear would have started to crawl down my spine, but I was too absorbed, too desperate to hear it was all a joke, a mistake. 

Ah looks like he already knows,’ said Howard, drinking from his beer bottle. ‘Oh damn, I was looking forward to telling you. What a fucking loser eh Danny? That so called hero of yours, that idiot junkie? Worthless piece of shit, blowing his own head off when he has a wife and a baby daughter!’

I barely heard him, and I stopped flicking channels because I had found him. There he was, locked inside the TV set like so many times before, on Top Of The Pops and MTV. They were playing the video to Smells Like Teen Spirit, and there he was, in his striped top, peering through his blonde hair as he snarled the lyrics. He came up to the camera lens, shook his hair from his eyes, and I mouthed the words as he sung them.  My eyes tracked down to the information that was running along the bottom of the screen.  Kurt Cobain found dead in his Washington home. 

I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. My mouth fell open and I reached out with one hand, placing it shakily on top of the television to steady myself. I forced a deep breath of terrible, heart breaking shock. I listened in mounting sorrow, as the reporter relayed the information that he had probably been dead for a few days, that it appeared he had died from a shotgun wound to the head, and that a suicide note had been found at the scene. But at the same time, there he was, alive and kicking, killing his guitar, thrashing the hell out of it, while the cheerleaders bounced up and down in slow motion. They started playing shots from their other videos and from live performances, Kurt destroying his guitar and hurling himself into the drum set.

I wanted to reach into the TV. I wanted someone to speak out, to voice a doubt, to suggest it was someone else, not him. The footage then went on to show the thousands of distraught and weeping fans that had already gathered outside his home. Howard made a disgusted sound from behind me.

Oh Christ look at them all! Pissing and moaning! What a bunch of babies. Christ, they all look like you Danny, like they’re fucking homeless! It’s a bloody uniform, the way you all dress.’

Shut up,’ I growled the word from the very back of my constricted throat. It was all so wrong. All of it. He was just a young man, just twenty-seven years old, how could he be dead? How could it be over? I pressed one hand to my mouth and became slowly aware of the icy silence behind me.

You better not have told me to shut up.’

I didn’t reply. I chewed at my thumbnail and tried to take it all in. They were talking about drugs and depression now, showing clips of him looking ill, or sad, as if that was all it came down to. And it made me feel angry the flippant way they discussed the loss of this genius young man.

Don’t get it,’ Howard announced. ‘Do you Jack? Don’t get all the fuss. It’s not like when Elvis died for God’s sake. Just some drugged up scruff who made whiny depressing music. You wait now, bloody hoards of ‘em will start topping themselves! Come on, turn that off now. We’ve had enough of that shit.’

I want to listen,’ I protested, not looking at him.

Pathetic,’ he sneered, coming closer. I stood my ground, spreading my legs and holding onto the TV. ‘Turn it off I said.’

I gestured in frustration. ‘It’s not finished, I just want to listen!’

Don’t fucking argue with me, turn it off now, or I will!’

I gritted my teeth and stepped closer to the TV. ‘I just want to listen. You weren’t watching it.’

What else do you need to hear for fucks sake? Your hero is dead, little man. There you go. Who gives a flying fuck anyway?’

Shut up!’ I pushed the words through my tightly clenched teeth as my eyes bored into the TV screen, both my hands now balled into fists at my sides. The thick hand crashed into my skull from behind, knocking me into the TV which rocked back slightly on its stand. Then the hand was closing on my neck, wrenching me backwards and hurling me down to the floor.

Don’t you ever tell me to shut up you little prick!’ The hateful face was right there, breathing beer and juicy fruit chewing gum into mine. I shuffled backwards, back towards the sofa, holding onto my head and weeping. I pressed my eyes shut. I didn’t want to see any of it anymore, didn’t want to hear it or believe it was true. Howard straightened up and stalked arrogantly around the back of the TV where he ripped the plug right out of the wall socket. There was only watchful silence from Jack Freeman in the doorway, and I didn’t care anyway, because nothing mattered, because everything was shit. They’d killed him; they’d taken him from me… ‘You better watch yourself,’ Howard warned me softly before leaving the room.

I crossed my arms over my knees, buried my head in them and let the sobs wrack my body. I felt overwhelmed by this gutting grief as it ripped right through me, and it felt like it would never stop, would never end. I heard them laughing at me. In the kitchen, or outside, they were laughing about it, so I jumped angrily to my feet and stormed recklessly into the hallway. I rubbed my hands viciously into my eyes and thought well come on then, you might as well kill me you fucking bastard! 

That’s right laugh!’ I yelled at the kitchen.  A stunned silence followed. I moved back, positioning myself against the front door, ready to run. I used each palm in turn to rub at my wet cheeks. ‘Just laugh then!’

Howard appeared in the kitchen doorway, his head slung low on his shoulders, while a deep frown hooded his stone like eyes. His expression was stunned. He could not fathom why I had shouted at him. 

What did you just say?’ he asked me, stepping into the hallway, and I could read him like a book. He was pissed off and worried, doubting his power all over again, losing his good boy.

You wouldn’t understand anyway!’ I cried at him. ‘You don’t even like any music! You have to have a soul to love music and you don’t fucking have one!’

The phone rang then. It was so sudden, so shrill and loud and unexpected in the shrinking space of the hallway, that I jumped about a foot in the air and Howard visibly flinched. I snatched it up before he could even move, pressing the receiver to my face with trembling tear stained hands. I heard a snivelling in my ear, and I let the air flow freely from my sagging lips. 

Billy?’

The snivelling gave way to a hicuppy sob. ‘Danny…have you heard it?’

Yeah. I heard. I’ve just seen it.’

Howard backed off slowly, his expression wondering and pensive. He turned on his heel but paused to point one finger back at me.

Pathetic,’ he hissed and was gone. I immediately sank back against the door, my legs going weak on me, my spine folding in, as I dropped my head heavily into one hand.

I don’t want to believe it…’ Billy was saying, his voice small and dazed. ‘Why would he do that Danny?’

I don’t know Bill. Don’t know.’

Do you think it’s really true?’

I think it is. It looks like it Billy.’

I can’t believe it,’ he sighed hopelessly into my ear. ‘I can’t. I fucking love that band man. I fucking love them…’

I could only nod. I knew exactly what Billy meant, and exactly how he was feeling, and yet there were no fit words to explain it. Later I wrote in my diary that it felt like we had been cheated, and stolen from. Something had been taken from us, something we would never be able to get back, no matter how hard we tried, and no matter how much more music we fell in love with. It had been ours. We’d all loved it, all of us. It had united us like nothing ever would again. I lay on my bed for the rest of that heart-breaking day, with Nevermind on constantly. When Something In The Way played, the emotions got the better of me, floored me and battered me, and all I could do was cry.

My mother came up to see me when she arrived home. She viewed my swollen eyes from the safety of the doorway and sighed in sympathy. 

I just heard, and I’m so sorry love,’ she said. ‘I know how much you love that band.’ She sighed again and gazed around at the posters that adorned my walls. ‘I know he was like a hero to you. I just don’t understand,’ she said then, with a small and nervous shrug. ‘I don’t get it. I don’t get why they do it when they have all that money and success!’

Maybe he hated his life,’ I told her stonily from my bed. ‘Maybe he despised all that. Maybe he hated waking up every morning. Simple as that.’

I expect it has more to do with drugs and depression,’ she said knowingly, making me writhe with fury and contempt. ‘They all seem to go the same way. Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison. Such a pity. And with all that money and fame you’d think they’d be happy!’

For God’s sake,’ I spat at her then. ‘Money and fame don’t equal happiness mother, there is a lot more to it than that! Like maybe his parents did a really good job of fucking him up!’

Oh that’s nice! That’s lovely! Why do the parents always have to get the blame?’

Because you reap what you sow.’

She shook her head at me, edging away. ‘You what? What is that supposed to mean? You don’t half come up with some crap Danny!’

I think it’s true.’

Well I don’t know where you heard that nonsense, but one day you might be a parent and then you’ll find out how bloody hard it is young man!’

I rolled my eyes and laughed at her. ‘I’ll do a better job than mine!’

What is your problem?’ She made a stance that filled the doorway, hands on hips; head cocked to one side, staring at me as if I were some kind of alien, not the very child she had grown inside her own fucking womb. Her eyes flashed at me angrily, so I tore mine away, found Kurt’s poster above my bed, and fixed them there.

If I ever have kids,’ I said, ‘I won’t disappear and never see them again, and I won’t let psychotic bastards come into their lives and wreck everything!’

Oh,’ she snapped. ‘So now we’re back to Lee are we? Well I don’t have to stand here and listen to this thank you very much, I’ve heard it enough times by now. I came up here to offer you some sympathy!’

More like to gloat,’ I grunted at her. ‘Just like he did. Yeah, he couldn’t wait to laugh at me and rub it in!’

Danny, it’s called teasing, and it’s no surprise he’s not a fan of that music…’

He’s not a fan of anything except himself! He stood there laughing and gloating, the bastard!’

Danny, we are getting married next Sunday whether you like it or not…’

Yeah, and that’s what you’re marrying Mum,’ I said bitterly, not taking my eyes from the poster. ‘Someone who makes fun of me being upset about something that really, really matters to me. But then you already know that don’t you? You just don’t care. Now just leave me alone and close the fucking door behind you.’ I closed my eyes and dropped my arms across them so that I would not have to see whatever depressing look she gave me before she went away.” (Extract from The Boy With The Thorn In His Side by Chantelle Atkins) RIP Kurt Cobain xx

Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain

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Untold Stories

I’ve blogged recently about the amount of stories and characters I have in my head. I have also blogged about my struggles with the final draft of my YA novel The Tree Of Rebels, and how I have been constantly distracted by voices from untold stories. In order to keep some of these voices at bay, so that I can finish each project I am on, I have been writing the odd short story for these characters. Has this worked? Well, yes and no! On the one hand, it does feel good to get something out, to relieve a little of the pressure. But on the other hand, it seems that if I allow these people an inch, they will take a mile, and start shouting even louder.

Anyway, I am making great progress with the final draft of The Tree Of Rebels. I am probably only days away from finishing it. I might have mentioned before that I decided to try changing the tense, to see if that worked, and although I can’t be sure until I read through it all, I think it has! So, the plan is, I finish the draft then re-read the whole thing, checking a final time for errors, typos and so on. Then it will be done! What comes next? Well, I do feel I ought to finish my rough plot for the sequel, as it might be a good idea to not let there be too big a gap between the two books, but this won’t take me long. I will then jump into the second draft of my novel Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature. As you might recall, Elliot Pie was a queue jumper! Jumping neatly ahead of the planned sequels to The Tree Of Rebels and The Mess Of Me! He was too insistent to ignore, so he finally got his story told. Once I have done the second draft I will send it to my wonderful beta readers, as I will need feedback on the structure of the novel, as it is a little bit different. What will I do whilst they are reading this?

Ooh, I’m glad you asked! Well, I recently wrote two short stories for a character that was getting impatient. Bill Robinson is one of the characters in a gritty teen drama I first wrote when I was sixteen years old. I never finished the book, and it had always been one I knew I would go back to at some point! Much in the same way I finally finished The Boy With The Thorn In His Side in 2013, after first writing it when I was twelve! Nightprowler and Bird People are both available to read on Wattpad if you are interested. Nightprowler is really a prequel to the novel, an event that happens before it all begins, and Bird People is really a snapshot into the mind and character of Bill.

Anyway, the point of this blog post is untold stories, and how exciting it is once you finally get the chance to tell them. Maya Angelou was quoted as saying that ‘there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you,’ and I think most writers would agree that this is very true. It does become an agony. The desire to write and share, and the noise created by the characters and their lives, can reach unbearable levels if something is not at last released.

With this in mind I went hunting yesterday, and dragged the old suitcase out from under my bed. This suitcase is very important to me because it contains all my old stories, school work, essays and ideas. Luckily for me, I have never thrown anything away. And thank goodness too, because I found what I was looking for, and what a joyous moment that was. This great big hulking binder full of Bill’s story. It didn’t have a title back then, but the working title will now be A Song For Bill Robinson. Everything was right there. A plot (and how exciting to see that I used to plot at age sixteen, the same way I do no! ie a scruffy notepad filled with ideas with ticks on top of them!) character bios, and a whole load of notes and extra bits paper clipped together. More excitingly there is also a map! I used to draw maps of the fictional worlds I created to help me when moving the characters about. There is even a play list of songs, as one of the main plot lines involves Bill entering talent contests in his local community centre as a singer. He hooks up with some other people who play instruments, and the play list was a rough idea of some of the music they might play together.

How exciting! What a find…I knew I still had the unfinished handwritten manuscript, but I had completely forgotten about all the extra bits! I wanted to go back in time and pat my sixteen year old self on the back! Job well done! I can use all this! This is going to be brilliant! I was also impressed to find scraps of paper where I had written things like ‘by chapter 7 we know that Charlie is hiding something, and we know about some of it. We have suspicions of Laura’s private life, some from what she tells us and some from Bill’s own suspicions.’ Ha ha! Nice to know I had a good handle on the whole show not tell thing back then!

I can’t tell you how happy this discovery made me yesterday. This story still has to wait for me to get around to it, but in the meantime it is going to continue to grow and swell and evolve inside my head. I already know lots more about the characters than I did back then. There have been lots of nice, little details striking me lately.

So exciting!!