The Writer’s Complex

Mary: Tell me Edmund: Do you have someone special in your life?
Edmund: Well, yes, as a matter of fact, I do.
Marry: Who?
Edmund: Me
Mary: No, I mean someone you love, cherish, and want to keep safe from all the horror and the hurt.
Edmund: Erm…still me, really.

Blackadder Goes Forth


The Headmaster’s Ritual Slaughter

When I was a boy with never a crack in my heart, my school’s headmaster used to haul me to his office, flog me, and then while I wept contrite tears, he would tell me with a sinister flash of his ceremonial gown “I trust you, boy, as far as I can throw a grand piano.”

At the time, I felt beyond worthless and would walk around in a daze of flat keys only hitting a high note when I walked into my English teacher.

With hindsight, I now see the headmaster’s appraisal of me as a bit of a compliment. The “couldn’t be trusted” remark I have put to good use as a writer.

And I do take some pride in being compared to a grand piano. It commands attention, does a grand piano, and only the most accomplished masters can sit before its ivories and play masterpieces. It’s big, bold, with all that action going on behind the lid as felt-covered hammers strike steel strings.

But I still do have these recurring dreams in which I behead my headmaster with a piano string, toss his corpulent body into a deep lake, and watch it sink like a grand piano nobody will ever play again.

What’s the Name of the Game? Revenge!

Many established writers and even tenderfoots always seem to credit books and libraries and even doting teachers as the reasons they became writers in the first place.

But hardly anyone talks about revenge.

Well, ok, George Orwell does. But he talks about it as sheer egoism. I’d like to talk about it as sheer pleasure.

With every word I write, it’s like a poke in the eye to every grown-up who snubbed me as a child and to every grown-up who snubs me as an adult. Or sometimes, when the writing is going badly, every word becomes a kick in the balls to said grown-ups who condescend and scoff and pretend they didn’t hear you when you say you write and hope to get published so as to live beyond death, appear clever, and get talked about by the same people who claim you’ll never make it.

There is a certain pleasure in driving oneself mad, pushing oneself to attain something that at times seems unattainable. Sometimes I think I’m this nitwit who claims to have seen an eastern cougar in Maine, which turns out to be a bunny.

But damn it, bunny or cougar, you know, it’s still a lovely hunt, this drive to see myself as more than the struggling writer kicking and punching at the Pearly Gates of the publishing world while the angels glance down and wonder what all that noise is about while the devils poke up their horned heads and take interest. In fact, my time spent as a student at Stonecoast has put me in close proximity to a wonderful cadre of writing devils who have taken an interest in my work as well as in me as a person while the angels of the publishing world dance on the heads of their pins.

So, yes, maybe pleasure is over-rated (seems to when it comes to bestsellers), but what’s really under-rated is that revenge is a fantastic motivator. Every word becomes important when you relish the idea that for each word written, another naysayer is erased. And what an accomplishment it is when you finish a novel, sit back, sip your tea, and rub your hands together, squealing with delight at all the bastards who wanted to grind you down but failed.

You have a finished book. The revenge is finally complete.

Although there is that slight problem of who now will publish it? No problem. Those editors and agents are not the enemy, they are allies, as long as you can dazzle them into submission. This is where that secret weapon called sheer egoism should be unveiled.

Thanks for that George!

June Spawned Demonstrative Reasons to Live

I’m a saint. I really am. Never am I deterred from looking up big words in the dictionary. Like a successful scalawag, I drag my arse out of my reading chair (and, yes, I have one of these) and fox trot over to the dictionary without an ounce of guilt that I am in some way inferior because a word can stump me. I am only daunted by the knowledge that the chair’s cushions are now never going to be in the same comfortable position they once were. With this sad truth, I grovel my way back, the new word I’ve learnt blessing my downcast head.

I’m a bonny lad when it comes to books. No, really, I am. Go right now to any window and look out like Walter Mitty and you will see me skipping up a hill of books, the sky full of the beaming faces of authors, the wind like a ripple of words first read in the thrill of reading. And I am not alone, either. Note the multitude of grazing sheep. And also note the lack of a shepherd. This is important. Because books may become a religion, but Jesus, let’s not invent a saviour for them and let’s certainly not invent a godhead to unjustly rule our every emotion and thought.

I’m also an international playboy. Let me explain this one: I read lots of European literature. And, yes, translated into English. I’m no polyglot or aspire to be one. I still struggle with English whenever I sit down to write and the words that end up on the page shrivel up and die. How, I ask myself, can words fail a writer so much? Without words, what am I? But even with words sometimes, I am less of a writer than I was without words. How, I wonder, would a surgeon work if someone took the body away?

And I am a petty thief. A minor criminal misfit with no real record but a lot of peccadillos. But, I could take the Kray twins. I could tattoo myself from head to toe. I could get street cred. I could spout the lingo. And I’m ready to make a stab in the dark and make a killing.

“A writer is like a medium who, when he comes out of his trance, is amazed at what he’s said and done.” Henry Miller

You Are the Quarry

Yes, you. No, not you, for heaven’s sake. God, you’re so solipsistic. Afraid to show your intelligence, you show your pathetic cravings.

You, words. I’m after you. All of you. And I won’t stop until some of you give me a living. And if you refuse, I shall pursue you into someone else’s imagination. What, you don’t believe me? Try me. I’m such a crashing bore, you’re bound to give me something just to see me bugger off.

So here I come, swaggering and shy, a mixed bag of salt and sugar. You might think I’m not what you imagined, but, then, what ever becomes of the heart’s desire except a stolen kiss, a broken promise, and more of the same. Although sometimes there is forgiveness.

I’m coming now. Loud and awkward, resourceful and cunning, confident and always in doubt.

You can run, but where are you going to hide? Give it up, please. Haven’t you heard, writing is just a game. So don’t act so coy. I know how you really feel. I’ve seen you in your loneliest and desperate moments, helpless like a turtle that’s locked in his shell. Give in to temptation and let yourself be seduced. I won’t hurt you, I’m only good at doing that to myself. Just look around. What do you see? Yes, I thought you’d say that. I was prepared for that. You can’t fool me. So here’s my reply: failure is only the beginning.

I’ve got you now. You’re mine. I’ve chosen and it can’t be undone. We are not lovers, no. This relationship goes even deeper than that. You don’t believe me. Just wait, you’ll see. The pen is mightier than the heart.

I know, I’m kidding. Didn’t I tell you writing is just a game.

But that doesn’t mean you are off the hook. You are still my quarry. Always will be. So get used to it. And give in.

“The brutal indifference, the unfeeling isolation of each in his private interest which becomes the more repellent and offensive, the more these individuals are crowded together in a limited space.” Friedrich Engels

“Ce grand malheur, de ne pouvoir être seul.”

No Roadside Picnic

What if some alien race stopped off on Earth and left behind all these artifacts but we couldn’t tell if they were simply junk or advanced technology….

Yeah, I know, it’s been done, and done so fantastically well, I’m in awe of two Russian brothers.

So let’s talk about something else: like the need for enjoyment in the writing life.

You see, it’s been eroding lately, sort of falling off like dander. Not good. Makes for a lot of brushing aside of important questions.

What I want to know is why all this heaviness, all this seriousness when it comes to writing?

Let’s go back a decade to when this young fellow decides he wants to be a writer. What makes him decide? Nothing so moribund and banal as money. Nothing even so lofty and unlikely as fame.

Here’s the god’s honest truth (and this is coming from a man who wouldn’t even acknowledge God if he was standing in line before him at a Morrissey concert): All the writers beginning writer loved all took to writing as a way to have adventure in their life, to enjoy life, to get away with not entering the gown-up world of work as quickly as possible, to not start down the road that led to work in an office or even worse in a tie. And they also didn’t even want to work that hard, all serious and out-flat and believing they were either advancing civilization or enriching the gene pool or maintaining evolution in its great mall of human shopping, the great advancement of the human race and proof our our intelligence.

No, these writers wanted to work hard at life. They wanted to live. They didn’t want to decide what to do next, what to take seriously, what not to. They wanted possibilities; not the possible, the attainable. They wanted the unknown as a sidekick. They wanted to live on the edge, the chasm so close they could smell its hard ground. And the poverty, the struggle, the obscurity, the mad loneliness kicking up dirt like a wild horse they had no interest in taming. And they wanted to fail like failure was a drug, but not as an addiction, as a shamanistic journey to something they were aware of that existed in that far-off place where others had gone but so many many rejected in the face of the over-whelming effortless reality served up like a saint’s head to lick and devour in heavenly peace.

And fuck knows they didn’t pamper themselves with some notion of making a career out of writing, like putting on a shirt and tie and making it respectable and profitable and routine and slick and wear it like a status, like it was something to attain, like middle-class living. None of them wanted this, they’d rather lounge around in foreign countries, idling still, writing like a silent storm, but living, living, living, and not calculating, calculating, calculating their writing life as if such a thing can be mapped, keeping track of it all, recording it all, trainspotting for that runaway success.

They scavenged and lived like deviants and eccentrics and misfits at the best of times and completely mad lunatics and monsters at the worst. But bless their little hearts, they lived, lived by their own free will, their convictions, their visions, their purpose, their hunger. They didn’t come to writing and publishing all pre-packaged, all sorted, all educated up to their frenetic gills, all book smart and literary blessed and connected to all the right roots and tendrils. They came shabby and drunk and stinking of failure and boozed-up on the unknown and as ignorant as they could be and still they were able to survive because writing offered them the chance to live, to chase things they didn’t know, because why know everything to begin with? Why even bother writing if you’re already hard-wired to know it all, to even function as if the writing life has been molded to you like wings.

And you know what else? Some writers even took years before writing their next book. Some didn’t even write another one. And some wrote and wrote and wrote into complete anonymity and became famous. And some even said, “Hey Muse, what’s so wrong with never ever selling another book? Is that bad?” And they answered, “Well, you know, nothing was ever promised to me, so I’ll drift along and being creative to begin with, I’ll find some other work to do, cobble something together to pay for needs to be paid and then if things turn in my favour again, I’ll live off the writing, take it back like a spurned lover and continue the dalliance.” Who ever said writing is conjugal love? Who? Point me in their direction. Because they’re filthy little liars.

The fallen angels. That’s where writing begins. It ends when it’s ascending angels, cause, well, where else is there left to go after that?

Which brings me back to enjoyment. Goddamn it, you’ve got to have enjoyment, you’ve got to have rollicking fun and unorthodox pleasures and merrymaking and high spirits. Otherwise you might become just another respectable writer with healthy book sales and a reliable readership.

And where’s the fun in that?

In Search of a Lost Cause

From time to time, I bump into Proustians. You know the type, right? The ones who have eaten loads of madeleines and keep having involuntary memories of their idyllic childhoods reading Proust and eating madeleines.

I always want to tell them to bugger off. But I can’t. Since my mouth is full, too, of some halcyon pastry, sweet with a remembrance of things past.

Although my pastry is a Welshcake, littered with raisins and dusted in sugar. And my memories are of getting beaten up on those wild and terrible streets of Wales. And then getting beaten up some more. And not over love or an allegiance to some vague and fleeting desire, but beaten up because I went to the wrong school, wore the wrong shoes, and read the wrong messages in a flippant gesture.

God, how I would love to taste the sweet forgetting of something that melts on the tongue.

But I’ll take my Welshcakes and all their grit and salt and lumps of butter and the pastry rolled out to within an inch of their griddled life.

And, anyway, the memory of a flattened Welshcake sizzling on the griddle and sifted with sugar is so much better than the memory of great big cakes stuffed into my mouth, my ears, my eyes, making me blind to all kinds of tarts and scones and biscuits, making me see only the true ruling class of cupcakes, iced and sitting happily in their frilly parchment liners.

I am at least left with a delicious memory of golden brown knuckles pounding my face into the pavement and leaving me with little oven-size tears.