The worst thing about being a writer (apart from the niggling suspicion that what you do is vain and utterly in vain) is that it ruins reading books. To make a sweeping generalisation I cannot prove: most writers want to write because they read. They want to create those all-consuming worlds where they can escape from the impotence, tedium and responsibilities of the ’real’ world.
When I was a kid I would spend hours under the duvet reading when I should have been asleep. This most demure of my rebellions exasperated my parents. They couldn’t tell me not to read, as it would go against everything that, during daylight hours, they told me to do. They were always complaining at my sister to “read more books” and pressing bi-lingual editions of Hansel and Gretel against our chests. That I, aged 6, was getting an average of no hours sleep a night, terrified them; not least because I would bounce out of bed at 7am, having finished William & The Space Animal, and enact the previous night’s learning.
I can now look back and rationalise what I – an unattractively ambitious and precocious person trapped in the bedroom of a minor – was up to. It was escapism – from the fact that I couldn’t sentence myself to a watery grave, didn’t have one green eye and one brown and couldn’t turn children into mice.
The only things I wrote as a child were bastardised versions of what I did during my half term and what I would do if I was a hamster. Standard. Homework.
When I first left home, I didn’t have time to read and barely had the inclination to write. Aged 14 and turned loose onto the streets of London, I began twisting together all the jumbled narratives I had filled my head with. Living what was a particularly romantic and incredibly dangerous existence, I didn’t need to write it down; it was what a pretentious tosser might refer to as a performance piece. And being a rather sweet-looking liability, I had audience enough.
It was about seven years later that I calmed down enough for people to think ‘what do you do?’ was a valid question. On every occasion I would reply that I was a writer. Always a writer. But when I sat down to write, my infantile first lines would turn into doodles of sick [sic] prose.
Then someone got me a job as a journalist. Oh woe. I was one of those journalists people hate, misquoting and not understanding the drivel I was writing about, but still with the ego-boosting privilege of being published on a regular basis. My name in black ink. “Oh, you write for Dazed. Cool.”
Then I got fired – a story more brilliant to tell than this one - and was free to become a writer in a real sense.
Despite nothing I have written being finished and most people getting worried when they read even an extract, I can truly say I am a writer if only for the fact I do nothing else. I don’t have a phone, I don’t have a telly; most importantly, I don’t have a job and have very few friends. So, I have done the hard bit: I have withdrawn into a dream world of narrative and syntax, where I am free to behave exactly as I please, which is usually sitting in a dark room, littered with dead geranium petals, staring at Canary Wharf for hours before hunching melodramatically over a blank piece of paper and twisting wild fantasies and perfect people into some perverse discourse.
However, now that I get up and write every day, I have a new problem. I can’t read. I mean, I do read, but I never fall down the rabbit hole. I am always tucked safely between the covers, picking apart the significance of descriptions of smells and relating them to the overarching structure of the novel. I no longer believe in the randy old men rubbing up against thighs, the flesh-eating harpies flying over the jungle, instead I am dismantling the devices to find where the author is, unfolding layer upon layer in anticipation of collapsing into their various components works that have taken geniuses their whole lives to write. And this, so I can rejoice at my understanding of…
But there is nothing to understand. So, back to the books, only this time, books by me.