Monday, September 20, 2010

Thoughts from Westminster Bridge

Is it a bad sign when you feel like Michael Bublé is writing the lyrics of your life?

Tonight I feel as though I'm living someone else's life. If it was my life, surely I'd feel more at home in it?

I'm alone in a hotel room again. This time it's a posh hotel room, a small suite in the brand new, so-cool-I-feel-they-shouldn't-let-me-in Park Plaza at Westminster Bridge in London. I'm here for a conference, together with a few hundred other management consultants and technology managers. Can you feel the excitement?

I know how I should be feeling becuase I know how my colleagues would feel – pleased to be here.

The hotel is ultra modern: light boxed walls, bold art, dramatic colours and futuristic shapes carved in glass and chrome and marble. The carpets still smell new. From here on the 9th floor, I can look down the atrium, along Westminster Bridge and see the tower of Big Ben gilded by sunlight. I have a good story to tell. I'm amongst my peers. The food and drink is free and plentiful and I am surrounded by people I should be either selling to or hiring.

So why do I want to hide in my room and do email? Why did I skip the corporate lunch to walk to McDonald's on the river front. Why did I reject room service and bring back a takeaway pizza to my five star suite? Why does a room full of relatively happy, relatively friendly people, make me want to turn around and walk away?

I can see my own eccentricity in the faces of those around me. If they were a bit more working class at least one of them would have said: „Cheer up, mate. It might never happen.“ Instead I find that my body language is so negative that I never actually have to speak to anyone.

By this evening, I was feeling invisible and inadequate. I know that part of this is that I have a cold and I'm tired. Part of it is that I'm a grown man and yet I've never learnt how to do small talk or mix with a crowd. I now anticipate failure before it happens, wallow in the anger and disappointment that that brings and then beat myself up for still being stuck in this same pattern all these years later. It is, I know, pathetic.

I think it is made worse because I'm back in the UK and not at all sure whether I want to move back permanently or never visit again.

This weekend, I walked along the coast in the rain, near the town I grew up in. It was cold and grey and dauntingly beautiful. When the week sun hit them, the runnels of water on the mud flats looked like liquid lead. The sky was mist and melancholy, gilded with hope. I was passed by families on a sponsored walk for the dead and the wounded in Blair's wars. They wore T-shirts with pictures printed on them of the men they lost or who had come home broken.

In Switzerland I watch the politics the way a meercat scans the sky, looking for threats that might require flight.

In England I feel rage at the politicians at a level so deep it takes my breathe away: the Tory minister who believes that the poor are poor because they are stupid; the British National Party front men who exploit the fear and discontent of the powerless to promote hate and who have the gaul to dress themselves in symbols that the working men of this country died to bring meaning to; the pundit on the radio who uses half-truths and flawed to statistics to push the idea that the National Health Service is „probably“ not a good idea. I want to rail at them, to grab them by the neck and shake them like a dog with a rabbit.

And yet I choose not to live there.

Perhaps it is Dido, not Bublé who's script I'm following. Maybe the problem is that my life is for rent. I need to make a commitment to people and to a place.

If you can't imagine your future, your present starts to detach itself. Your identity fades. Your are neither 1 or 0 but on a journey towards something yet to be defined.

I can feel a storm coming.The air is heavy and tense. It is hard to see even to the horizon.

Still, I've always enjoyed storms. I hope this one arrives soon.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Voices in my head and an idea from Remittance Girl

A few days ago, a voice in my head said, “I’d never had a knife against my throat before.”

I choose not to take this kind of occurance as a sign of the imminent onset of mental illness, but rather as and invitation from a character to writer his or her story.

Occaisionally the charater will tell me their story in one intense session and it feels like I am channeling them rather than writing fiction.

In most cases, the character provides hints and clues, almost is if he or she was letting me over hear parts of a conversation.

This latest voice was female, Canadian, educated and unafraid despite the knife at her neck.

Those were the only clues she gave me, the rest I had to work out for myself.

It turned out that this woman had not crawled inside my ear so that I would understand some aspect of her arousal. Instead, it turned out that she wanted me to tell the story of a bank robbery.

It starts:

I’d never had a knife against my throat before.

All my attention was on where the horribly sharp blade kissed my neck. If the guy with the ski-mask behind me pushed any harder, my flesh would part and blood would flow, then my new blouse would be ruined.

Damn, why did I pick today to wear something silk and hard to clean?

So now I knew that this was a self-possesed woman with a wry sense of humour. Now all I had to figure out was why she was there, what she wanted, and what she'd have to do to get it. That's pretty much the same for every character who talks to me.

The challenge this time was that this story needs a plot. It would have been easier, I suppose, to start with the plot and then create characters that will move it along, but I've never been able to do this. I had to think backwards from the character to the plot and then add just enough spice to both to keep me and the reader interested in what was going to happen next.

The story is called "Box 127" and you can find it here

Take a look and let me know what you think

Not every story get's written within a few days of a voice arriving in my head. Last year Remittance Girl, asked us to imagine what it would be like not to be able to be touched. The idea caught my imagination. “Untouched” is the result.

As you might expect, the man in this story has a unique "voice" - dry, urbane, and just a little bit scary - mainly because he cannot quite comprehend how strange he is.

Being a difficult character he actually gave me Part 1 of this story and Part 3 almost immediately. Part 2 is still in progress, so only Part 1 has seen the light of day so far. I believe there will be four parts in all.

Here's a sample of how our hero sees himself

It is fair to say that my sexual experience with other people has been limited. Very limited.

Arousal is not the issue. From puberty onwards my body became a lust-furnace, greedily demanding to be fuelled each day. Yet, although my mind flared with need and my eyes sucked in erotic images as if they were oxygen, it was always my own hand that stoked the flames.

I am, by preference, a wanker.

Yes, I know the politically correct response: wanking is a pejorative term, we all masturbate, it’s nothing to be ashamed of, it doesn’t define who we are, blah, blah, blah. Except, in my case, masturbation is not just the fast-food, self-service option on my sexual menu, it is my entire cuisine. It’s been more than twenty years since I last had any physical sexual contact with another person.

I'm pleased to have the voices in my head, even though it means I have to find the time to get them to the page before the noise becomes unbearable. I suppose this makes my writing a sort of metaphorical trepanning.