Why I Write #1

February 12, 2015 § 3 Comments


Signing LA

It’s the early 1970’s. Imagine a terraced house in sunny Rochdale, no one else in the house reads. But go upstairs and there you’ll find me as a lonely, mixed-race 9 year old, in my room, sitting on the floor with my treasure. Outside, it really is like Trevor Hoyle’s ‘Rule of Night,’ but in my flowery wallpaper lined room, I’m a wizard in the land of Earthsea, or I’m floating through space in the TARDIS with the Doctor. My primary school teacher Mrs. Hargreaves brings me books from her own home, after noticing that I’ve read pretty much everything I can get my hands on at school. Around this time she arranges to pick me up from the house on a Saturday morning to take me to the library, she introduces me to the librarian who tells me that, ‘I’m always welcome.’ Each week thereafter, I ride the mile and a half on my bike across town, to be greeted with a new pile of books that I might like. There’s always a glass of orange squash and some chocolate biscuits waiting for me too. I go and sit in a corner to spend the morning reading; returning home as late as possible.

Forward eighteen years or so, I’ve just finished reading Ulysses, and I’m watching Woody Allen’s ‘Hannah and Her Sisters’ on television. Michael Caine is romancing Barbara Hershey with e.e cummings’ ‘somewhere I have never travelled…’ and boom. All those books, years, voices, and inner adventures come alive like a flame. I want to be able to write down what love really is, from the inside; not in cummings’, or Joyce’s way, but to find a way for myself. I buy a journal and a Lamy fountain pen, and proceed to make marks on paper like a caveman trying to record his world.

The first three books are essentially the sound of someone who believed he had no voice, waking up to find his freedom and joy, as well as the shadow. I spend every day writing as fast as I can, trying to experience and record as much of the world as I can get my hands on. Then there follows a breath out in the shape of a children’s book, and a collaborative memoir on fatherhood. A new feeling emerges, a desire to bear witness to the dignity and passion of our human lives, to write with as much simple presence and transparency as possible. Two more collections follow.

After ‘Full Blood,’ the most recent book published, comes out, it really felt like I’d completed what I’d set out to do right at the beginning. Yet some deeper momentum of witnessing keeps the pen moving into the landscape of the psychogeographical, and a new poetry manuscript sits next to me on my desk as I write this. I’ve not even considered where to send it yet. I find myself unsure. ‘Am I done? Is that it?’

Sometimes, I think it’s the writer’s voices who I’ve made friends with over certain time periods, that are pulling on my coat sleeve, asking me to bring my contribution to the table. At other times I go looking for a kind of book that I’d like to read, but on searching it seems that no one has written it, so it becomes my job to bring it into the world. Just this week a new book idea has appeared, is there always one more, I wonder. I have no clear idea why I write really. I’ve always been a bit innocent and naturally rebellious, believing the poets over society and the political; perhaps these few things are reason enough.

AFTERWORD

The above piece was written for a private forum for Royal Literary Fund Fellows. I am currently the RLF at York St. John University, and it is the most lovely scheme. The thinking behind this part of the RLF’s work is basically, ‘who better to talk to about your writing than a real writer.’ Each week I work with many different kinds of students: undergraduates, postgraduates, doctoral and post doctoral, and as a consultant I also work with academic staff to help people communicate better through their work.

Back to this piece though; as part of a fellows’ time we are asked to share a piece on what has made us the writers we are. Being the person I am I wrote two distinct versions of this. Here you have the one that was shared on the RLF forum, and it is here with their kind permission. However the other version is the one I regard as the real one, it is much wilder and rebellious in my own sweet way. So please check back next week when I’ll be posting that.

Peace

John

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