Rattle The Fences #1

The posters were everywhere. Placed so that they couldn’t be missed. Adverts popped up with every app and in the breaks between the action on every box-set and film on every network and franchise. It was something that you just had to do; the greatest show on earth and what a loser you were if you didn’t sign up and get your ticket.  

No matter that it cost that much – that much for just a couple of hours. And then there was getting there and the shitty drive through the rush hour traffic on the motorway; the search for a parking space a mile from the venue. The walk with the many, with the excited masses bleating incoherently; whooping at every opportunity. Tits hanging out and heels high; legs showing. Some of them nice but most of them a wobble of too much sugar and alcopop. Flesh and tattoos and hairspray cloying the air and the stink of piss in the little tunnels you have to pass through to get from the carpark to the venue. 

They don’t tell you about this bit. There’s no graffiti on the posters or the ads that they show and the lighting doesn’t dance and flicker like a hopeless city backstreet. They don’t tell you about this bit as you wonder if you’ll ever find your car again; if you’ll ever make it out of this crush of wide-eyed fools. 

Then you realise that you’re one of them: one just like them. You queued on-line all morning all that time ago just to get this ticket even though it shamed you and burned a hole in the bank for the next few months but you didn’t want to miss out. You knew you had to come because everyone else was coming and this was your chance – the show came into town once in a generation and if you missed it, that was it. No one ever missed the show. 

But it’s not shiny like they make it look like it’ll be. The chainlink fences that surround the place have been pushed back but they sit there rusting and waiting to be squeaked back into place and lock you out once they’ve kicked you out and even the security don’t smile. They’re minimum wage agency staff and most of them don’t speak English. All of them don’t give a fuck but they grunt at you and pat you down then push you in to the delight that you’ve waited so long and paid so much to see. 

Some of the fools are so overwhelmed by it all that they’ve taken on too much drink and roll about stupidly or make too much noise. Some of them are thrown out a side door before they’ve even made it in to the arena and they’re suddenly sober and bawling to be let back in. For a bit they’re aggressive and tough and angry and then they’re all baby and crying because those doors don’t have handles on the outside and the doors don’t give a shit. When they’re shut they’re just another part of the wall. 

You should go your dad says. I went when I was your age and I’ll never forget it. Won’t be as good now as it was then though. I don’t even remember it. A bit pissed I was. Your mum went. It was good, love, wasn’t it. It was good, the show? 

And then you’re in and you wish you had a friend to come with because you feel like a weird loping around and pretending to be waiting for some one. You buy a shiny programme that smells of new and read it four, five times pretending to be interested. Looking at the photos and looking for the pissy underpasses and pissed off security; the crappy concrete desert carpark. None of that as the lights go down and the greatest show on earth is there. Very there and right in front of you. 

The night is darker and colder and the crowd is vomited swiftly from the venue. No encore or anything like that. Lights up, show’s over and doors that you didn’t even know were there yawn open on all sides and little green stick men tell you the way. 

The way is out into the cold and you’re glad you’re on your own; glad that you don’t have to wait for some half-naked fool in high heels and grinning in accordance with the occasion and making that hike to the car so much longer and the endless wait in that line of buzzing cars so much more intolerable. 

You just want to get there. Get there before everyone else and get out of here. You’re not thinking about the show or the life-changing experience that you have just witnessed. You just want to get out of this crowd of fools and go your own way.  

Voice

Livingstone

We’re supposed to stick at it, we wee writers. That’s what they say. Agreed.

I just needed a break from counting the death toll and watching it rise like the stocks and shares – only it’ll never fall like them. 

Here’s a random picture that I took in Africa in the summer when the world was a different place, though at the time it was very much the same. Down there in the heart of darnkesses the roads go on for a long time.

And below is what I wrote in my journal last night as I worked my way through a few things are stopping me from really getting down with the page. It’s procrastination, the journal, but it’s as pure as I can get my time-wasting. I like to see the journal as the gateway drug to ‘real writing’…  

After I read some brilliant pieces on here about planning I had a think about my own process and realised that it’s something that I very seldom scrutinise. It’s the grindstone and when we turn up we work and that’s that, right? Thankfully there’s a little worm (or a big serpent) in all of us that’ll question everything if given enough time: 

When I reread my work I know that if a phrase or arrangement of words impresses me then I’m on to something. We’re all our harshest critic. When I read it and want to melt my face off then I know that I was trying too hard. Critic, yes but not a complete destroyer of dreams; just wanting always to do better. 

I really don’t know, though, if rewrite, rewrite, rewrite is the answer. I’m sure that if you hammer away even at a piece of iron for too long it will eventually lose its integrity and be no good for shaping. Hammering and hammering away is also the best way to fall out of love with a story that once burned embryonically in you like the greatest thing ever conceived, by anyone. Ever. 

I am convinced that the best writing comes in the initial burst and is born of the flames of the passion in which it was first imagined. This is where the ideas still broils and the human spark still burns bright. It is the heat of this fire that powers the ideas onto the page and the emotion that keeps it alight and to hell with all else. It is why writers give their lives to what they do. Ask them and they’ll tell you that it’s why they are. 

The heat of this fire is what it’s all about. If a writer can writ in this heat then there’s magic will come of it. Forget readers for now – the writer is the reader; he’s just got the job of turning it into the right words. Worry about that later. 

But come to the page without that fire and that passion and it’s a battle. A tiring one that will only ever go one way. The writer needs to write for the writer and that’s it. For now. 

Finding that voice is all about knowing the boundaries that it can be pushed to. The flow of writing can be halted when doubt creeps in about these limits and we start to wonder whether we’re pushing too hard or whether we’re not doing anything other than telling the story: it has to be more than that. It has to be the telling of the character and the creating of the world in which he or she will move. 

So the latest novel that I haven’t written yet could be a rambling sentimental narrative that recalls situations and moves the characters about in them in ways that might be expected, might maybe sometimes surprise and even shock, but still fit into those safe boundaries. Sometimes it’ll be loved and other times it’ll be hated but most of the time the worst will happen: it’ll be put down. It’ll be left on the writer’s hard-drive waiting for the sprinkling of magic that he’ll one day figure out… 

Or 

The writer could listen to the story as it happened and tell it as honestly as he can as he ignores the restraints and expectations; as he pokes underneath the scabs of human suffering and, (what I like to call) ‘rattles the fences’.  

For me it’s always a chain-link fence and it needs to be rattled in the early hours of the morning. The scab needs to be half-lifted so that it’s still pulling at the tiny hairs and the finger nail needs to really get underneath and stab at what was already hurting. It needs to be writing that is done in anger and exaltation; in chilly downpours and violent bursts of sunshine. How can a writer ever expect to unsettle the eventual reader if they don’t unsettle themselves? When I can’t sit still in my chair as I write I know I’m into it. If I get too comfortable I know it’s shit and hen it’s good – I never get tired. 

People need to be heroes one minute and bastards the next; the speaker needs to be in despair and ecstasy on the same page; he needs to be fucking his girlfriend one minute then masturbating about her in the shower an hour later knowing that she’s in the village fucking someone else as his juices dry on her thighs. Believe me: this shit happens. 

And also, while the bastards are bastards in one line of narrative, they’re also dreamers with regrets in another and losers in love in another and that’s just like life and the countless threads of narrative that tangle and swamp us and that we, as writers, do our bust to pick up and weave into something that sings to us. 

What I’m saying is that a writer needs to do more than tell a story. That’s all.