Native Tongue

I love hearing how writers got an idea for a novel and being able to follow its journey. In light of that, I thought I’d share how my novel ‘The Waiting Usurper’ began. It started as a short story written in response to an essay by the philosopher Julia Kristeva. In it, she claimed that children learn spoken language to enter the world of the father and so become a subject. The essay is pretty dense reading and not one I enjoyed reading. What I did like was my story and the character in it. About 4 years later, I returned to the idea and the character.

Native Tongue

My mother was the maker of myths, told from a face ever-changing in the flickers from our fire. It was her words I mimicked, copying the movement of her mouth.  She filled the hut with a voice of many shades. Her language was an ancient and private one. Long words eased from her lips like honey dripping from our wooden spoon into my mouth.  I cut those words into unrecognisable shorter syllables. 
      Her stories were meant as teachings and prophecies, but, as a child, I only understood the sound and the push of her warm breath down my ear. Those stories and words lodged themselves somewhere, somewhere deep. Maybe inside my bones or inside my stomach. Later, when I was older and she was dead, I whispered those stories to my love: stories of him that he shouldn’t have heard. They made his princely chest puff out and his chin jut up. At first, I spoke the stories in his father’s language. Though it was an ugly, guttural thing, the stories lost none of their potency and I fooled myself into believing I didn’t betray her by sharing our womanly tales. 
      Slowly, I taught him a few of my words. I taught them under my scratchy blanket while his body moved at my bidding and his hair darkened at the temples with sweat. I licked the words onto his taut stomach and his muscles, desperate for their first battle. Like me, he didn’t understand the words at first. Like I had, he listened with his eyes mesmerised by the movement of lips. It was a hypnotising language with the lilting cadence of each word drawn out in a woman’s voice. It was clumsy in the baritone of a man. He never learnt to flick the words from his tongue. I would laugh at his attempts and his confused face. When I got bored of his fumbling attempts, I kissed him and said him he’d pronounced the word correctly. 
      In bed, my body spoke the language; my stomach and chest rippled with the breath for each word. The word for lover was so long, so languid, my body would soften into the word same as it would a long exhale. If he squeezed me, I elongated the word further, till it faded into the night like a distant tree song. No wonder he sought me out every night when I had that language. But the language wasn’t always good: it was like me.
      Those words, the power of them, made me wanton with a dangerous spark in my eye that told him I could torment him as easily as I loved him. I had a look of nature reclaiming ancient castles. It was a look the other village girls lost when they were baptised in the river. They lowered their gazes away from him, out of deference, out of servitude. I held his gaze unintimidated by his position or royal beauty because I had this secret language. The language of birth. Of monthly comings. Of the screech owl. Fertility was in my eyes but I wouldn’t call it that. The village saw it, named it that. I named it hunger. And the village knew I’d staked my claim on him. 
      He was the only man powerful enough to take my thrashings and my nails down his back when I needed pieces of flesh, when I needed to release the violence done to my language. He feared me because I could read his body with my ancient words; he couldn’t hide anything behind his long golden lashes. My body held the same force as the earthly rhythms we live by, he knew this. 
I am not other. I am not a conquered woman. I am a woman created from a long line of women who held secrets in the first language we shared, a language coming from a place men don’t have. He loved my language and sought it in the tastes, the textures, the flush of my skin because it’s the closest thing he had to returning home.

Copyright 2015 A Head/Photo1 by Catalin Pop on Unsplash/Photo2 by Dalton Smith on Unsplash  

Like this poem? You can show your support by buying me a coffee @ https://ko-fi.com/amvivian or by buying one of my books (The Waiting Usurper, Asphodel Meadows, The Family Care). They can also be borrowed via Kindle Unlimited.

Extracts are available on my website https://amvivian.com/

Branch Davidians: the Siege at Waco

Terrorism
from every corner 
of the room,
like the prophet said.

In children’s dreams
soldiers’ feet sound 
like rain, 
on the crude corrugated iron roof. Mother’s feel it in their Milk. While their men stand up in old blue collars. Licensed and unlicensed guns from under the bed. From locked cupboards. God hovers withholding judgement. Retribution comes easy, flung with bullet force, splattering onto concrete. The sun streaked red in the morning, across the bone coloured smoke, from the flames started once the war had been won. Plumes of souls escaped like the prophet said. We watched screams on the T.V. in our makeshift fortress. We shook. We clutched tighter our convictions and bought more black-market guns.

Copyright 2002 A Head/Photo by Movidagrafica Barcelona: https://www.pexels.com/photo/burning-book-page-1474928/

Like this poem? You can show your support by buying me a coffee @ https://ko-fi.com/amvivian or by buying one of my books (The Waiting Usurper, Asphodel Meadows, The Family Care). They can also be borrowed via Kindle Unlimited.

Extracts are available on my website https://amvivian.com/

Going Back To My Roots

There’s a stigma about living with a parent(s) after you’re reached a certain age as if you’ve somehow failed in life. There’s the cliché of the man in his mum’s basement playing video games with one hand while the other wanks furiously and insistently until he splurges onto his fat belly dotted with Dorito crumbs. For a woman, we have that Victorian image of the spinster all grey-skinned, pinch-faced, and bitter about life. With so many people being forced to move back in with their parent(s) for a variety of reasons, I wanted to talk about my experience and reassure people that it might not be that bad.

I feel like I have to justify my decision because of the stigma and come up with a positive spin on it. After all, most people want the polite small-talk answer as opposed to the messy long one. I’ve got a variety of those short answers that are half-truths but here’s the long, full truth. Let me start with setting the scene. Before I moved back to my childhood home, I probably would have been seen as successful. I’d bought my own flat. Isn’t that what we’re all meant to be working towards—owning property? It does make sense to buy a place. It’s cheaper than renting. You have more security. You don’t get lumbered with magnolia walls, dodgy heating, or dampness. Oh wait, that sounds like my flat, minus the magnolia walls. But living the dream isn’t always dreamlike, especially when you have anxiety and depression tugging on your hands and stopping you from taking action to correct those problems. For one thing, it means interacting with people. Yes, it is possible to be a dickhead landlord to yourself.

I felt stuck there, mentally and physically. The same record was playing, the same scratches bumping me into the same crackly riff. I was dating the same men and having the same problems with them. I was experiencing the same soul-deep dissatisfaction with every job I tried. I was meeting the same new people that I had nothing in common with. Not even my thoughts were new. Herculean efforts to flip the record only gave me a different song with the same theme, like the worse concept album created by a mediocre musician. There was no real long-lasting change. I just needed something to be fucking different. And I was exhausted from trying to make it be.

Another pressure, and something I don’t hear much about, is how sensitive to sound anxiety and depression can make you. It kind of makes sense, for me at least because I was constantly in a hyper-alert mode. Sound plucked at my nerves, making me even tenser. Noise reminded me that the world and people existed outside my window. It was the same as having a persistent toddler shouting “mum, mum, mum, MUM!!!!!” at you when all you want is to have a piss in peace. Considering I lived on a busy road, this wasn’t great. It got worse when a local club was granted an outdoor license and allowed to hold weekend-long events. I saw my Falling Down moment flash before my eyes and thanked the lord that I didn’t live in America where guns are so easily obtainable.

The solution was an easy one—move. Why back to my home town though? A place I had always hated because it is so conservative and small. I couldn’t stay in the city because I couldn’t afford to sell up and buy a new place there. Maybe getting a full-time job would help with that but that felt like a familiar trap I’d been caught in before, one that had led to my breakdown. Besides, what could I do? I was scared of leaving my house, of people, of my own body. This wasn’t the only reason I wanted to move back to my childhood home, though.

Do you remember when you were a child and you’d fall down or get sick? All you wanted was your home and your mum (or dad). Maybe that’s because your parent(s) make you feel safe and that things will eventually stop hurting. I felt that same need, that same urge deep in my belly. I’d cry and say to myself, “I just want to go home”. Perhaps I wanted to give up control and stop fighting to be okay. After a while, fighting gets exhausting even if it’s only your own brain and it feels like you’re never going to be better again. Home kept calling to me. I don’t have to make an effort to be chatty with my mum, to be nice or to be fun. I didn’t have to do everything on my own. Armies call in reinforcements and retreat for tactical advantage so why couldn’t I? I like that analogy better than being a weak child with a hurting knee.

So I sold up and took a leap of faith. At least my walls would be different, I told myself. I hoped going back home would give me a chance to stop the record, take it off the turntable, and hold it up to the light so I could see where that scratch was. Maybe I could even fix it by repairing the relationship I had with my family. Maybe if I could be myself with them then I’d learn to be myself with other people and stop trying to be who I thought they wanted me to be. Maybe if I sorted out my daddy issues, I’d stop dating emotionally unavailable men and I’d stop trying to be the perfect skinny martyr. Hope. That might have been all I needed at that time. It certainly gave me that.

At first, it was hard not to fall into old patterns, especially because I moved during lockdown when everyone’s emotions were on edge. I did have a teenage temper tantrum. Nothing can trigger you quite like family. When my parents were going to break lockdown rules, our discussion escalated into an argument with me yelling at my dad, swearing at him and storming off. Exactly as I did when I was a teen. Back then, I’d sulk in my room and then the next day everything would be forgotten but I’d feel ashamed, weak, pathetic, and I’d hate myself. I never knew how to deal with the original issue or how to address my reaction. Saying nothing was a way to pretend it had never happened. I’d push down that problem and those emotions. I grew up thinking it was better to not say anything and suppress my emotions so I didn’t have to feel like that about myself. Perfect pretty people don’t have ugly emotions. I’d run away from conflict and difficult conversations scared of the repercussions, scared of how I might show too much. There was nothing worse than people seeing I had emotions, I could be hurt, and they could make me cry. Emotions should only be expressed when I was alone. Or drunk. Or high.

But I’m not a teenager anymore and my adult patterns of avoiding conflict obviously weren’t working. This time I could try something different. I could accept I’d not been perfect, address it, and apologise. When I apologised an odd thing happened, the shame I experienced went quicker and none remains for this event. It feels like I’ve been given a valuable lesson. I don’t have to be scared of conflict and difficult conversations in the same way. It’s not the end of the world if I make a mistake and I don’t express myself perfectly. I can apologise and I can be forgiven. It’s a lot easier than beating yourself up about it for years while at the same time hoping the other person didn’t realise you were a dick. Yes, I could have tried this with friends where I lived before it feels too threatening to try new ways of behaving with friends because they’re more likely to tell you to fuck off and never speak to you again. Your family’s stuck with you.

I’ve seen my parents in a new light too.  When I was a child they seemed perfect and all-knowing and good at everything. As a teen, it meant that whatever they did wrong must have been an intentional choice and they intended to hurt me as opposed to it being an intentional consequence of a bad decision. It led to a lot of resentment. Why did I expect them to be perfect? Why did I presume they had this thing called life all figured out? I guess it’s important as a child to think this. I remember one counsellor telling me that turning against your parents is a rite of passage that most teens go through, and this is to force us out of their house, into independence, and eventually create our own family. As I’ve aged, I’ve realised that my parents didn’t have life all figured out, same as I don’t. I fuck up. They fucked up. It’s a part of being human. However, there’s a difference between knowing this and feeling the truth of it.

Now I’m home, we’ve talked more about their regrets and that’s enabled me to let go of some of my resentment. I understand better. I don’t think these conversations wouldn’t have happened before. When you don’t see someone that often or for that long it’s easier to fall into those superficial chats.  I understand that my parents were trying their best with the knowledge they had and with their own issues from their pasts. I finally feel that truth. And there’s nothing more freeing than seeing your dad muck up some DIY, proving he doesn’t do everything perfectly. I feel freer to muck things up too.  

Moving home, at this moment, is the best decision I’ve made. My current mental state shows me it is. I have a part-time job. I’m going abroad again. I’m thinking maybe I could go on a date and avoid the same patterns. These are things I never thought I would be able to do when I was stuck in my flat, constantly braced for danger and constantly replaying the same hurts. I’ve been able to do these things because I’ve given myself the permission and the ability to fail by moving back home. Here I have a support system, people that love me, and I’m starting to appreciate this in a way I wasn’t able to before. Moving home shouldn’t be a bad thing, shouldn’t be a shameful thing. It’s the same as hitting a factory reset. It’s a new start and that’s what I needed so badly. And I’m proud of myself for doing what was right for me as opposed to clinging on to the things society says I should have.  Onwards and upwards.

Photo by Antonio Alcántara on Unsplash

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Extracts are available on my website A M Vivian

A Widower’s Commute

Taking part in the daily commute
meant he had a purpose; he was working.
He started taking the train so people could see 
him sat waiting at the exposed 
platform, and he copied their worried faces.

He tutted when he heard the announcers 
muffled voice explaining: the train would be late,
the train would be shorter, the train would not
be arriving. 
He perfected the folding of the Financial Times
so it would show only one
column. He made a point of not talking
to anyone, though he’d raise his eyebrows
every so often and nod his head 
as if about to speak.

The steady rock and rolling of the carriage 
was comforting and he envied those who
could stand there with their eyes shut, 
their bodies bobbing, following that movement,
not stumbling nor stepping on someone’s foot.
He liked the closeness of these bodies, sweating
in the packed, badly ventilated carriage. 
There was reassurance
in seeing the same faces: the world still continued 
and loss did not break you, make you forget
to change your underwear or wash your hair.

When his daughter popped round, always
at four o’clock on a Thursday,
he would rant about the hassle
of the daily commute.

Anything. Anything
so he didn’t have to think
about the empty, sunken chair
in the corner.
 

Copyright 2006 A Head/Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash

Like this poem? You can show your support by buying me a coffee @ https://ko-fi.com/amvivian or by buying one of my books (The Waiting Usurper, Asphodel Meadows, The Family Care.) They can also be borrowed via Kindle Unlimited.

Extracts are available on my website https://amvivian.com/

The Great Eccentric Entomologist 

 
Small, hard beetles, shinning jewels 
perverting the light like pearlised 
varnish on the nails of young girls. 

They weren’t tough 
enough nor wise
enough to escape 
him and his pinch.

Dead in his palm, dead 
pinned against a white backing sheet, 
pincers reaching for a final hand hold. 

His hobby, his collection, his delicate love
and the reason for his simple secretive smile.

Across counties and countries he chases
them, seeking out their scuttle 
of high heels on Sunday morning streets, 
their palate of cheap eye shadows. He takes 
them all, from the smallest to the gnarliest. 

Chrysomelidae
Coleoptera
Dermestidae Dynastinae

He blends into his surroundings: 
a shopping centre, an unpronounceable
city jungle. He changes hues, changes browns, 
and greens and greys. He doesn’t need to attract; 
he hunts, he yanks, he lifts, he breaks every rule
of the countryside. 

Not for him the flippant elegance of the butterfly.
Not for him, our man so fashionably eccentric 
in his shirt made by sweat-shop children. 
No, he collects the Scarabaeidaes of life,
in their urge upwards to become 
most beautiful, most venerated, most highly paid
of all the Scarabaidas.

Copyright A Head 2022- an earlier version appeared with a different title in Poetry Now in 2010

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels https://www.pexels.com/@magda-ehlers-pexels/

Like this poem? You can show your support by buying me a coffee @ https://ko-fi.com/amvivian or by buying one of my books (The Waiting Usurper, Asphodel Meadows, The Family Care.) They can also be borrowed via Kindle Unlimited.

Extracts are available on my website https://amvivian.com/

Back Water Town

 
The walls are peeling death
in their old rugged shack.
Her bare feet padding across the bare
floor boards. The baby crying
into the heat. He is sitting in his chair,
Sticking to his chair, Smoking 
hand rolled cigarettes one by one. The lighter’s 
flame bursting, flickering, made hazy 
by the heat.

He looks outside,
through the grubby window. Dirt
lays down, suppressed
to the path. Plants burn 
up brown and hang their heads.
They reach down deep
for water.

She sits down
beside him. Their smells musking 
together: strong and stale. Sweat
has beaded on her legs, beaded 
round her hair line. 

He watches
her in her over-washed dress,
fabric so thin she could be naked.
She looks too young.
He feels too apathetic and stifled
by her heat.

The sun burns 
through the shack, tanning at her legs.
She lies down, writhing sleepily,
slowly: her only energy.
He turns his attention back 
to outside, ashamed
at seeing her dress stuck, dampening
around her curves,
wet to her skin, defining.

He wants a woman from across town,
clean and clear
with transparent skin and summer fruit perfume.

copyright A Head 1998

Original Photo by Kira on Unsplash

Like this poem? You can show your support by buying me a coffee @ https://ko-fi.com/amvivian or by buying one of my books (The Waiting Usurper, Asphodel Meadows, The Family Care.) They can also be borrowed via Kindle Unlimited.

Extracts are available on my website https://amvivian.com/

Everyone goes a little backwards sometimes

The London Book Fair

I was a bit apprehensive about going to the London Book Fair because I’d had a couple of bad anxiety days. Oh, the joy of panic attacks in public toilets. Attending this event meant trains, tubes, crowds, and the unknown. I’d been doing pretty well with the old anxiety, making progress, and so the setbacks did get me down. I turned into a desperate detective, searching for what the attacks had in common so I could regain control and prevent further episodes or worse. Both happened on a Saturday. Should I erase Saturdays from the calendar? I’d drunk Ribena the night before so perhaps that is to blame. I’d eased up on my morning routine so maybe it was because of that. Or maybe, maybe, it’s much worse than that and there is no rhyme or reason. No solution. No way to be better.

In the morning before attending, I completed my usual routine. Coffee as early as possible so there’s time to pee it all out before I leave the house. Then nothing else to drink; my bladder needs to be as empty as possible to avoid stress peeing. I run to burn off that morning blast of cortisol blast you get to wake you up. Like seriously body, after all these years why haven’t you evolved a nicer way to wake us? Mediation to deal with social anxiety (‘I am safe’, ‘I am confident’ , ‘I am a good listener’). Tapping to deal with my fear of upsetting people. Vegas nerve exercises to calm my body down. Making a sandwich for the journey to ensure my sugar levels don’t dip and create anxiety. Packing Sudokus so my brain has other things to focus on. It’s exhausting. Sometimes it’s frustrating that I have to do all these things just so I can act like everyone else.

I made it to the event. Made it without any anxiety attacks — even when someone hogged the only toilet on the train and the toilets at the station were closed. Peeing is one of my safety behaviours and one of my triggers. It can help me head off a panic attack; I can tell myself I’m not going to piss myself because I went only a few minutes ago and not even my bladder can be full yet. Otherwise, I panic about needing a pee which makes me need to piss more because that lovely lizard part of our brain wants to get lighter so we can run away. (How heavy does it think pee is?) I got pushed a lot on this trip. Reframing those inconveniences as tests and trials, seeing if I could cope, helped me to remain calm. I felt pretty powerful when I made it to the event without having a panic attack.

Walking into Olympia, I felt like the children walking into Willy Wonka’s chocolate room.

It’s a whole building full of people passionate about stories. Books. Publishers. Agents. Writers. Everyone focused on books. Bliss. I’d found another happy place and anxiety didn’t have an entrance ticket. When I fucked up and accidentally queue pushed, I didn’t berate myself. Oh well, I thought, I made a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes. I apologised. Me and the people I jumped in front of joked about it. No problem. And rather than feeling like I was the worse piece of shit in the world all day, I moved on.

Now, to take a sharp left turn, I want to share the things I observed … (although focusing on the outside world as opposed to the inner world is one way to help stave off anxiety so it does still kinda fit.)

1—There are a lot of posh people working in publishing. Writers tended to be a more diverse group.

2—Most people seemed to have gone with an agenda, judging by the many important-looking meetings going on. Groups sat around round white tables. So many white tables and white chairs yet nowhere to sit—at least, I wasn’t sure if the ordinary punter was allowed to sit there or if the space was reserved for those with deals to make. There was a whole area fenced off and guarded full of agents. The mysterious realm was called IRC and nothing told you what it is or how to gain entry to these god-like beings. How do we appease them? What sacrificial offerings do they favour?

3—You can’t buy books at the London Book Fair. It’s like being surrounded by sea but not being able to drink it… all these books are on display and yet you can’t actually purchase a copy to take away. I get the event is for the industry but it still seemed a little odd to me. (Maybe I’ve watched too much of The Apprentice where they’re frantically selling stuff.)

4—There wasn’t as much free stuff as I thought there’d be. I did get a book of Maltese poetry that has some beautiful writing.

5—Business cards are important. I was helping out on the Alliance of Independent Author’s stand, talking about the benefits of joining. It was great fun to talk to other authors. I was very proud of myself for approaching random strangers and starting a conversation when I find networking so awkward. Before attending, I didn’t think anyone would want to know about me, my writing, or would want to connect in that way. The focus was on Alli. However, I had several people ask for my social media details, the web address for my beta reading business, and information on my books. I’ve always equated business cards with yuppies and people who talk about themselves as a brand. There’s something very American Psycho about a business card. God knows where I got that idea from. Other writers did have business cards. It wasn’t cringy to be offered one and they were all lovely people too. I learnt that preconceived prejudices are like a stone hijacking a ride inside your shoe—uncomfortable, crippling and something that makes you walk funny. Not having business cards was definitely a missed opportunity.

6-It’s hard to talk about my writing and my books. It’s like confessing to some perversion. My voice would go quiet, hesitant, with lots of those hedging words when people asked me what I wrote. What I said sounded more like an apology; how dare I have the audacity to think I could be a novelist. Why do I feel like that? Maybe because writing is something we do in private, something so precious, and so many of us keep quiet about it to avoid hearing disparaging comments. I remember reading a comment a Victorian man had made about reading, likening women reading to masturbation. Oh, the horror! The shame! Writing is something like that—only worse. Maybe we writers need a support group where, one by one, we stand up, say our names and say ‘I am a writer and I deserve to be paid.’

7- It’s important to measure yourself based on where you started from and where you are in the present moment, as opposed to how far away you are from where you want to be. Talking about Alli to others highlighted how far I’ve come because it had me reminiscing about when I’d first heard about the group. It was at a talk about self-publishing about 6/ 7 years ago. I’d read reports on writers who’d gone it alone but had no idea how or where to start. At that talk, I realised it wasn’t just possible for me, it was exciting too. Jump forward in time, and there I was representing Alli. Hopefully, people found me as encouraging as I’d found my first introduction to Alli. This same lesson could be applied to my anxiety. Yes, I’m not where I want to be with it because I’m still having to do all those things I listed above just to get out of the house, but when I compare myself with where I was after my breakdown, I’ve come a long way. Back then, just thinking about being around strangers had spun me out, and leaving the house took several false starts and crying fits. Yet, in 2022, I find myself at the London Book Fair, initiating conversations with strangers and loving life.

So next time I have a few bad days with anxiety I’m going to remember this day. I’m going to remember what I achieved. I’m not going to beat myself up for having a few backwards slip-ups.

Photo by Ajda ATZ on Unsplash

Enjoyed this post? You can show your support by buying me a coffee @ https://ko-fi.com/amvivian or by buying one of my books (The Waiting Usurper, Asphodel Meadows, The Family Care.) They can also be borrowed via Kindle Unlimited.

Extracts are available on my website https://amvivian.com/

My Daddy Owns your Daddy

 
			My Daddy Owns Your Daddy

My daddy owns a Porsche and a Range Rover
for weekend city driving and mummy’s little run around.

My daddy has a cottage in Devon, a house in London
and a penthouse in Dubai.

My daddy works a 50 hour week and plays golf on Saturday
while Mummy uses his credit cards in Harrods.

My daddy says big business is the future
and Capitalism helps those who work hard.

My daddy will pay for me to go to Oxford,
like his daddy paid for him.

My daddy will get the best for me:
a nice house for my friends and I.

My daddy will pay my bills and my petrol money
and my clothes allowance.

My daddy will get me a job in the city
and find me a man like him. 

And my baby’s daddy will hire
Your baby’s daddy on minimum wage.

Like this poem? You can show your support by buying me a coffee @ https://ko-fi.com/amvivian or by buying one of my books (The Waiting Usurper, Asphodel Meadows, The Family Care.) They can also be borrowed via Kindle Unlimited.

Extracts are available on my website https://amvivian.com/

Asphodel Meadows

I’ve updated the blurb for Asphodel Meadows, which you can read below. To celebrate this, I thought I’d talk a little about the journey to publication and why I decided to self publish.

The picture in this blog is the first mock-up I created for the cover. Yeah, it’s pretty basic but, as I’m sure you’ve realised, I’m not a designer. While editing and re-editing and restructuring the book following some advice from a publishing company, I started losing faith in the manuscript ever becoming a
book. Creating the cover was a way of motivating myself to keep on with the hard work. It was a metaphorical finishing line.

There were some close, almost, maybe, fingers-crossed moments of potential success. An agent made an informal request to see the manuscript while chatting to one of their authors. I was longlisted for the Mslexia first novel award. Publication felt so close I could almost smell the ink setting on the page. I imagined my book in Waterstones, in libraries across the land, readers crying and laughing and analysing the shit out of my intentions.

Then that finishing line moved. Not just a few inches. Not just a new county but a whole new time and dimension. Life loves to throw curveballs our way. Even though it isn’t about us, if we’re honest, we can all get into that slump where it feels like it is about us. And it’s alright to wallow in that for a bit, like a day maybe. As long as you keep it to yourself.

In 2017 a tragedy happened in the UK where the events and setting were eerily similar to those in Asphodel Meadows. It wasn’t just a tragedy but a scandal too*. There was no way that an agent or publisher would touch my book because it would be incredibly insensitive to publish it. I felt a bit icky sending it out too, worrying people wouldn’t spot the nuances that made it different. Would they think I was commenting on that tragedy? I put the manuscript away, thinking I’d try publishers again in a few years.

Fast forward to 2020. There are still unanswered questions, fights over responsibility and compensation, and how to prevent such a tragedy happening again. I couldn’t see this issue becoming less emotive for many more years. A publisher would still be cautious about taking on my book, even if it was Steinbeck crossed with Dostoyevsky with dashings of Hemmingway and shot through with a bolt of unquantifiable uniqueness. (Does that sound arrogant? Eck! Trust me I know I’m a long way off from their greatness). If I held this book back much longer though many of the things mentioned could potentially be obsolete—already one of the TV programmes referenced had been taken off air and people had stopped buying porno mags in such volume. I decided to go for a tentative release, trusting that my readers would understand the subtext of the book and realise it wasn’t casting judgement on those events. Also, the world is bigger than the UK and what is a big deal here might not even get reported on elsewhere. And so I self-published. I crossed that finish line and although there was no official there cheer or offer me one of those tinfoily blanket-type things or give me a medal, I was still proud of my achievement. I am still proud of my achievement.

You wanna hear a good joke? End of 2020 I finished the first draft of a follow-up to the Waiting Usurper. It had a plague in it. As I say, I know it’s not all about me but … Goddamn it, universe.

*Sorry to be so vague about what this tragedy involved. It’s not my intention to be all mysterious and drum up interest that way. It’s more that if I tell you the tragedy you’ll get a major spoiler.

NEW BLURB

 

Welcome. Welcome to my story. I’d shake your hand only, well, it’s just a story. My story.
Who am I? I guess you want to know that. Well, I’m that presence following you home. That presence you can feel just behind your right shoulder but can never see. I’m the one who knows everything about you. Everything. Don’t believe me? You’ll soon see.
    My name’s Jamie Scott and I’m your narrator, guide, whatever. I live on the seventh floor between the Lotts’ and the fire escape. I was born in this shithole thirteen years ago and I always thought I’d die in this place too. Time is nothing in Asphodel Meadows: day is day is day and nothing changes—ever. And EastEnders is on TV again, and it’s scraps from yesterday’s dinner again, and it’s the same conversation never concluded that you hear around every walkway every day and every night.
            Except for tonight. Tonight is not the same as every other night. 
            It’s seven o’clock, 6 September, and they’re here. Finally. 

Jamie’s a precocious teen with a messiah complex. And he wants vengeance. Skulk along the walkway with him as he spies on his neighbours and he’ll show you why he’s called four malevolent strangers to the tower block.

You’ll meet Kath, recently divorced and sacked after an affair with a student; Paul, a writer who can’t write; Jamie’s abusive mother, the Fat Beast; Char, a sex worker and her clients; the strangely perfect Lott family; and Sam, the resident drug addict as they struggle with forgiveness, missed connections, and loneliness. 

And if you’re lucky, Jamie will give you the best seat in the tower block for the final act.

If you’re interested in reading Asphodel Meadows, you can read for free with Kindle Unlimited, order a copy from your favourite bookshops, or buy from Amazon.

Like this poem? You can show your support by buying me a coffee @ https://ko-fi.com/amvivian or by buying one of my books (The Waiting Usurper, Asphodel Meadows, The Family Care.) They can also be borrowed via Kindle Unlimited.

Extracts are available on my website https://amvivian.com/

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