Behind the Scenes

I wanted to give a little behind-the-scenes look at my current work in progress. I enjoy it when writers are brave enough to show me a rough cut. It’s like a little peak behind the curtain in Oz, although it’s not a charlatan you find but rather someone frantically trying out all their tricks to grab your attention and make you stay. Please stay.

I also wanted to demystify creative writing courses a little by sharing the feedback I received. It’s rare that we’re shown the process of writing in such gritty detail, flaws blowing in the wind like a pair of lacy knickers on a nun’s washing line. By hey, I’m going to learn from them and they won’t be in the finished piece. I’m lucky enough to have access to great courses such as this one (Writing Historical Fiction, if you’re interested) but a lot of people aren’t. Maybe they (you) can learn from my mistakes.

Chapter 1
‘Why not just tell me? Give me the name and address?’ I ask for the hundredth time. My voice is so shrill it must hurt Freddie’s head. He’s nursing a hangover, judging by the green tinge of his skin, his slouch, and the smell emanating from him. It wafts around this rickety carriage that he’s somehow got hold of. ‘Answer me. Freddie.’ ‘Do you ever shut up?’ He pinches the bridge of his nose. ‘And it’s Frederico.’ The trim hanging off the ceiling swings as we jolt down the bumpy road. A particularly nasty dip sends me sliding and banging into the wall, a wall of worn, sticky velvet. My crinoline squashes on one side and lifts on the other, exposing my ankle to the draught coming up through a hole in the floor. At least it’s letting some air in because the driver has not properly brushed out and replaced the straw on the floor, adding a mustiness to the smell of Freddie’s sweaty body and making me nauseous. All the shades are down, which isn’t helping either. I go to open one and he slaps my hand. ‘How many times do I have to say no? By God, I’d forgotten how annoying you are. They can put little Ade in a fancy dress and house and still—‘ ‘You’re one to talk Freddie McPhinney from St Giles.’ ‘It’s Federico Russo,’ he shouts. I tuck into my bonnet the lock of my hair that had escaped and was swinging across my face and ticking the tip of my nose with each rock of the carriage. ‘Why can’t we at least have the window open?’ My best day dress must be picking up the stench of this carriage. How will I explain that to my sister, Marianne, and her husband, Mr Longbourne? Freddie sighs dramatically. ‘I already know we’ve left London. There are no street merchants yelling for sales, no clops from other horses. There are no clangs of building works. It smells different too. That draught. There’s no tang of London in it.’ He says nothing. 'I don’t understand why secrecy matters so much to this man.’ I kick his foot with mine. He glares at me. ‘Who knows why aristocrats act as they do?’ ‘He is expecting us, isn’t he?’ ‘Of course.’ The twitch of his lips has me doubting him. I squeeze the tips of my gloves, whitened especially for this meeting. ‘Why the all mystery?’ ‘You’ll have to ask him when we get there.’ ‘And where is there?’ He checks his battered pocket watch. The initials on the back aren’t his. ‘Three hours of this. Three hours, I’ve had.’ He appeals to the ceiling, a faded and tatty black. ‘What did I do to deserve this?’ ‘Sold my painting.’ ‘Not sold. Lost. If you stopped talking for five minutes—’ ‘You don’t misplace a portrait of that size.’ ‘Lost.’ ‘Well, it’s mine. I paid for it and I need it, so you better get it back for me.’ He sits up. ‘What are you going to do, Miss Adelaide Hastings, if I don’t? Get your father to write about me in that rag he works for?’ ‘My brother-in-law is a barrister.’ I cross my arms over my chest. ‘Sue me then.’ His hands fly up into the air, unbuttoned sleeves flailing. ‘Sue me. Think I have anything.’ He laughs. I bite back a curse word as the carriage lurches. His head bangs on the ceiling. ‘This better be worth it,’ he groans. ‘Worth it? What are you going to get out of it?’ ‘What any painter wants—fame, recognition, commissions. You think any artist wants to create a portrait that never gets seen?’ ‘Then why didn’t you get it back yourself?’ ‘Gentleman’s honour.’ I huff and let out an ugly laugh. ‘You a gentleman, Freddie?’ ‘It’s Fredrico Russo.’ ‘If you say so.’ He unscrews the lid on his battered hipflask and tips it to his lips. It must be empty, judging by the despair on his face. He returns the flask to the pocket of his frock coat, a pocket that is two stitches away from becoming a flap. ‘You wouldn’t understand. Gentleman’s honour is something you women will never understand.’ He lurches forward, squashing the hat on his lap. ‘It’s between men, it’s about being and doing what we say, upholding certain silent rules and behaviour towards each other.’ If I was a man, I’d slap his face with one of my gloves and call him out for behaving so dishonestly towards me by selling my portrait. ‘Careful, you’ll break those lovely gloves of yours.’ I let go of the button at my wrist and rest my hands on my lap like Mr Longbourne is always telling me to do. ‘I have no …’ Freddie taps his head, ‘…no inspiration. No ideas. Everything has been done before, everything is a hackneyed copy of everything else. Nothing is new. That portrait. Your portrait took it out of me. Succubus, that’s what you are. So … so … way I figure it – you owe me.’ ‘I’ve paid you well enough.’ ‘Not for taking my talent, my ability, my, my … inspiration. Look at me.’ He spreads out his arms. ‘Look at me, nothing now.’ ‘You were nothing then, too.’ I tug on the cuff of my gloves and fan out my fingers. Why did I trust him to paint me? Had it been in the passion in his blue eyes, the galloping speed of his speech when he’d rhapsodized about Romanticism in art? He was strikingly handsome when we’d first met, wild and out of place like a character from a Bronte novel, and he was starry-eyed for Gabriel Dante Rossetti who he swore he’d met in some gin palace and had sold a drawing too. I’d been selling watercress to keep me and Papa alive after Mother died and the subsequent grief had floored Papa. The Freddie sitting across from me is haggard and hollow as if talent kept him full, not food. ‘Don’t you pity me,’ he says. ‘I wasn’t.’ ‘You had a look of it. I might be low but you wait. This is temporary. When the world sees that portrait, when the world…’ He pulls the end of the blind away from the window, peeps behind it and frowns. ‘Why’d you want it so much, anyway?’ ‘That’s none of your concern.’ ‘What’s wrong? Don’t like questions?’ His grin shows burgundy-tipped teeth. ‘No.’ I bash at the lock of my hair that has escaped my bonnet again and is ticking my nose with every rock of the carriage. ‘Sure looks like it.’ I try to relax my jaw, impossible. I try to move my lips up into a pleasing half-smile but I’m picturing Mr Chelton with his face purple as he rants about morals, manners, and moral decline of London. We drop into another rut. I go to hold on to the roof but my dress restricts my arm and I bang into the wall. ‘Ridiculous.’ This whole escapade is more than ridiculous. It’s dangerous, foolhardy. Worse: Marianne would say it is scandalous, me going to visit a man without first receiving a proper introduction, let alone me being here with Freddie. But what else can I do when everyone refuses to help me? Maybe if Mr Chelton knew I was alone in a carriage with a man it would be enough for him to stop his unwanted courtship and threats of marriage. Maybe I don’t need the painting. ‘Thought that would shut her up,’ Freddie mumbles. But this not talking, this thinking about Mr Chelton, adds force to the rocking nauseous in my belly and the pounding tension in my forehead. ‘I’ll be quiet when you tell me where we’re going and who we’re going to meet.’ ‘He’s a very private man. A recluse.’ ‘I know that already. You told me that days ago when I tracked you down to that hovel.’ ‘Not all of us have rich relations.’ ‘I want a name. Can you tell me that at least?’ The sound of the wheels changes to a low staccato purr. The jolts are more frequent but less intense. ‘Hallelujah,’ Freddie says when the carriage stops. He lifts his clasped hands to his lips, kisses them, and then shakes them at the ceiling. ‘Finally.’ ‘You’re always so dramatic.’ 



This is outstanding work which grounds the reader in the chosen historical period: 1860. A pair of characters, Ade and Freddie, are on their way to a mysterious assignation. Or rather, it’s mysterious to Ade. Freddie is clearly keeping something from her though she has her own secrets too. The piece very effectively conveys the world view of the characters and pays close attention to what’s happening around them. Mention of Brontë novels and Rossetti gives the cultural context for this moment, while the close attention to clothes is very revealing of both social standing and the emotional state of the characters. Working particularly well is how Freddie’s clothes are shown to be in a state of disarray which makes clear his stress. There is also very rewarding attention to sensory detail – the movement and smell of the carriage is extremely vivid. An intriguing and richly conceived extract of historical fiction which convinces as the start of a novel.


There’s some good mystery generated by this opening, with lots of unanswered questions which will keep the reader guessing and wanting to know more. That said, it’s a fine line between curiosity and uncertainty, and the latter can make readers turn away from a story, no matter how well the period is conveyed. There are several mysteries here: where they’re going today and why, and the painting – what’s happened to it and why Ade needs it so much. This perhaps risks overburdening the start of a story and the reader might conflate the different mysteries which might not be the intention, e.g. does Ade think the man she’s going to meet will have the painting?

Enjoy this rough cut? Why not check out my polished work? You buy the ebooks & paperbacks at Amazon. The paperbacks are also available from all good bookstores. You can also download the first chapter of my books from my website (A.M. Vivian), sign up for updates and receive exclusive content.

Copyright 2023 A Head

Photo by Julia Joppien on Unsplash

We Were Always Lost

Wellington Waterfront is too beautiful a place to be without you: sun glittering white across the sea, mountains in the distance, a bronze statue about to submit to the pull of water.  I tried to capture all the shades of winter blue so I could share them with you when I returned to Australia and you. Stood at the harbour, I realised how much I loved seas, rivers, oceans, their peaceful undulations, their depths of mysteries. Inside me was a contained ocean, echoing sounds of a new heart beating—our creation. This was too beautiful a place for me to purposefully forget to tell you about it but I did. It was tainted; the water inside me turned to red clumps.

It turned out there was no water at all, no safety, and no longer a new heartbeat.

The hospital was too bright, too white and far, far too quiet a place to be without you. But you were more than a phone call away. They kept asking ‘Is there someone we can call? Is there someone who can look after you?’ The only water was tears and a saline drip. The tears dribbled from my eyes and the drip itched around its entrance into the back of my hand. There was no mystery, no peace, no returning tide in those waters. I pictured you existing in the two-hour time difference, making coffee, steaming milk, and smiling at customers: innocent and beautiful. At least I could protect you.

It was too battle-like, me too body-bound lying in that hospital bed to bring your ethereal voice here. I wanted to go to my hostel room, listen to the reverb from other people’s music and be annoyed about that. I wanted a cigarette, cigarettes, one lighting of another and another, refilling my body even if it smoke is a transient thing too. There was waiting, waiting with no books, no internet, no music, no words other than ‘are you sure there’s no one we can call?’ Sympathetic faces, pitying faces that had been trained to deal with this, who were used to such things happening. Statistically, maybe it was bound to happen. But to me? I’d believed, always, in fairy tales, in romance novels, in that feeling of something being right. In you appearing and loving me.

It was too strong a place of memories to let you in, to notice details to take to you, like plastic souvenirs that would get swallowed by sea birds and be rediscovered a hundred years later. This memory would not persevere, I would not let it; I would make it fade as quickly as the red dot the IV had made. My flight back to Australia would see this event drop and drown in the ocean. New Zealand became the ugliest place in the world. I should have known; one toxic ex lived there. This country was his lair. His comment returned: ‘You’ll never have kids because you fucked up your eggs from doing coke.’ How could he be right? That wasn’t fair. Maybe this was caused by the earthquake stimulation I’d been on. Maybe it was the shame and embarrassment I’d felt at being accidentally pregnant; at my age, I should’ve known better.

There was no foetal pole. I didn’t even know what that meant. I understood no, none, nothing. I understood the white noise on the screen, blacks and greys, the clots of blood on the sanitary pad. I wanted water, oceans of it, planets of it in my ears, through my pours, in my mouth. I could have drunk oceans dry—walked on the exposed landmass to you. The coldness of the hospital floor was near enough to the coldness of the ocean. That is where they found me. They said I had fainted but I knew differently; it had been a respite from this moment of want. There had been no resetting of the scene, though. I didn’t speak. I let them help me into a wheelchair. I clutched a wet towel to my face like it was your hand and as they wheeled me through the waiting room past mothers-still-to-be I hid my face so I wouldn’t be a curse to them. I was glad you weren’t there because etched on my face was every bad woman from every holy book to ever exist. I saw myself. I saw myself and I scared myself.

The future leeched away as I lay on that bed. The future was no more. I’d become tethered to this moment when I wanted to be gone, gone to a place where no one knew what had happened or what potential I had held so very briefly and clumsily. I found I could stop thinking if I stared at the hospital curtain. Time did not matter. It came and went. It came and went like a lull, like a gap. And I was everything but nothing again.

I never told you any of this. I sent a short simple message ahead of my departure so you’d know the basics. When I arrived at your house, I was smiling, happy and excited to see you, and those emotions made me feel like I’d faked the pregnancy, the hospital, the loss. We didn’t talk about it.

You passed out from weed. I smoked and drank red wine as I sat on your porch sobbing. At some point, your dad returned. Did he see me crying? He never said. You never said. I never said. We broke. At least I think we did. Silence was epic and big when your back was to me. You played me a Youtube song about dead babies, expecting a laugh. I never understood why. You played it to your friends. Slowly, I slipped away as if I’d never been in your room, and you never noticed. How trickster-like love can be.

There will be other chances, people told me. But there never was. I am that memory. You exist only as a memory: stuck, young, beautiful. We were always lost. The second we kissed we were over. Yet, still, I see myself in that dream I told you about when we were lying on your spikey lawn, the grass dried by summer sun and not yet replenished with winter rain. In that dream, my ghost walks up your dusty drive and comes home to you.

Copyright 2023 A Head / Photo by Christopher Campbell on Unsplash

Like this content? You can show your support by buying me a coffee @ 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 A M Vivian

Slippery Fingers

 Slippery Fingers

I keep letting go of things but
you always find a way 
back, a dream
finds its way to your landscape.
You reside in November 
and December. Once I kissed you
on New Year’s Day. There’s a song
I wish I had never known. A place 
I hid from you that contains echoes 
of harsh words and retorts I never made
but should have. Tears now
are all meant for then. Meaningless.

You had a stone, semi-precious, 
not beautiful, plain
to keep you safe away
from home. I had nothing but a bracelet
that broke, falling off my arm among 
American forests. A sign. A sign of what?
I thought I knew.

I keep burning things you gave me—words
too because that’s what I was told
to do. Perhaps they’ll find their way to ash
and earth and where deeper promises go.
Do you find me in places
you didn’t expect to leave me?
A hair hidden under the bed, one moved
once a year. A hair tie that slipped
off my wrist. A memory of my voice
within other English accents.
A sign. A sign of what
I still don’t know.

copyright A Head 2023. Photo by Marianna Smiley on Unsplash

Like this free poem? You can show your support by buying me a coffee @ or by buying one of my books (The Waiting Usurper, Asphodel Meadows, The Family Care). They’re available on Amazon and to order from any bookstore. They can also be borrowed via Kindle Unlimited.

Extracts are available on my website

The Ballad of Barnaby White

                      We start at the beginning as all myths must start,
                      though perhaps you have crossed, already, the path
                      of this most shady of figures. If so,
                      do not fear, do not feel shame, my friend
                      for he has been the deceiver of the whole wide world
                      even as he breathed his first breath. The fallen one,
                      the cast out one, blessed to be amongst us mortals
                      for here there is mischief to be made.

                      With the first beat, first throb of his heart, he conjured
                      his mother visions of wedding bands and immortality,
                      and unconditional, unquantifiable, unrestrainable love.
                      All was a lie cast to keep her, this host, happy
                      as he feasted and fed within her soft confines.

                      As a child he wore many costumes, becoming many fleeting things
                      all sparkles and smiles and sly little glances because deceit
                      tastes like full fat cola and cakes and caviar.
                      He is the spinner of illusions—the dark magician;
                      the witches’ lover sucking at their teats, transforming
                      to a familiar when the moon and the sun compete. A fire-side
                      cat, fat and satiated on stolen milk. A naked figure
                      dancing in Beltane fields as promises flare
                      in his amber eyes: wet dreams and hymen-broken blood,
                      and mouths with no end, and holes always tight.
                      Take your pick. He offers with a smile.

                      But never trust that shark smile. Never trust
                      those amber eyes. For if he’s smiling
                      then deception is close at hand.
                      Heed my warning, friend, as you settle
                      into this ballad of Barnaby White.

I remember when he first noticed me. I remember it in the way my elders remember hearing of Princess Diana’s death and 9/11. I had just turned eleven, one of the youngest in our class. It was the sixth of the sixth month. We were all restless, full and squirming with the anticipation of the coming school holidays; our minds already in exotic places. We were conjugated verbs in a dusty classroom full of slanting sunshine and the air hummed with the pheromones of sweaty boys. I love. I loved. I will love. I am loving, my heart sang as I basked in the afterglow of his fleeting attention. 
   As we progressed through our teenage years, I used to think he looked at me the way he did because he was shy, coy as a maiden in a Victorian novel. Those subtle glances were like a warm hand cupping the back of my neck, palm rubbing up against the hairs on my neck. Oh, Barnaby White. How I would shiver with pleasure when I felt his gaze on me, me little Archie, though my classmates called me Ye Olde Yellow; a name that stuck with me after my first unfortunate night at boarding school where, scared of the strange bed and creaking floors and too terrified of a scolding by the housemaster to leave my bed, I had an accident. He was always Barnaby White. Magnificent. Lean and slender, graceful as a snake winding across a desert. When the rest of us succumbed to teenage weight gain, gangly growth spurts, and dirty-looking fuzz on our pimply faces, he remained immaculate. His smile was operatic. His name was a dawn chorus.
   I could never manage to catch his gaze, not straight on, my surname being Warburton and us being sat in alphabetical order in class. Outside of the classroom, in the wild so to speak, he was too prepossessing for me to dare meet him eye to eye, just like one doesn’t dare stare directly at an eclipse. My anxiety was as irrational as a bird’s during that aforementioned natural phenomenon, yet I couldn’t master it. 
   At night, I dreamed of tilting his face towards the sun, of noting all the shades in his amber irises as the light played over them. I was Icarus flying far too close to him and I’d awaken to damp and sticky pyjamas before I ever got to marvel at the wonder of his eyes. All those things I would think of in class. During ancient history, I’d see us speaking Latin to each other in a Roman bathhouse. Amo. Amavi. I amabo. I amandum. His face would be on a coin, always in profile, always his eyes slightly hidden from me. I’d have given anything to stare into them and see his soul.
   And one day, I got my chance. It was ridiculously hot for a May day, even the insects were too overcome by the heat to move. I was thirteen and felt so very mature, though I was one of the smallest in class and according to gossip the only virgin. He’d written me a letter, which he slipped it to me during Maths. It was the closest thing to a love letter I had ever received. My name, Archie, and not Ye Olde Yellow had been written across a folded piece of lined paper. His handwriting had an arrogant dash to it, reminiscent of his strut: shoulders down, chin up, and a slight sway to his hips that was oh so seductive to my innocent mind. Two of my fingers traced over my name as if they were my feet following his lead during an intimate dance where our bodies pressed so close there would be no mistaking our desire. Inside the words were simple and lacked the flourish that had been given to my name. Meet me outside the chapel before evening prep, he’d written.
   Was this true? Was this meant for me? I glanced across at him. His shirt sleeves had been rolled up to his elbow, showing a sparkle of light skimming across the blond hairs on his tanned skin. My fingers trembled as his head moved. Would I… would he…? ‘Warburton,’ my teacher barked. Back to quadratic equations I tried to go but all reason, all rationality had fled my brain and I’d been whisked away on the most delightful flight of fantasy: I was going to meet Barnaby White.
   I didn’t want to be early to our meeting and give the appearance of being a keener, yet I didn’t want to be late in case he wouldn’t wait for me so I took small, skittish steps towards the school chapel. He was already there, his face half-hidden by the shadow cast from the chapel’s porch. The porch was a refuge, come to hide us from prying eyes. The air smelt of soil, freshly turned-over soil—all peaty and sweet. Fertile. He was leaning with a certain joie-de-vie that suggested it didn’t matter to him whether I came or not. That lean made him appear more lithe, his legs longer, his stomach flatter. His fingers pointed to the ground where it was safer for me to look, though I yearned to stare at him. My heart beat so fast and my face was already flaming at knowing he was there for me. Waiting for me. 
   Be brave, I chided myself, glance up. He was smiling that snakish grin and it promised all kinds of mischievous things. Skipping class. Sharing alcohol under our bed covers while the housemaster slept. Carnal knowledge. He was an ancient manuscript written just for me. I couldn’t meet his eyes, though my armpits were drenched from the certainty that I would, I should, before our meeting was over. My steps slowed even though I said to myself, I’m not afraid, not of the unknown, not of Barnaby White. His soft laughter had the peal of church bells ringing for a bride. I clamped my arms close to my side so he wouldn’t see how I’d sweated through my school shirt. Don’t let shame ruin this moment, but I already felt the heaviness of it, like an uncooked suet pudding, in my belly.
   ‘Are you coming or what?’ he whispered. ‘Come on, little Archie.’
   My name gave me a frisson of pleasure, a rush of confidence that sped up my steps. His name tumbled out of my sticky mouth. ‘Barnaby White, Barnaby White.’
   ‘Yes.’ The word was a question and an affirmation. Confusing. Blinding. Oh, how I imagined him saying that while he was under my hand, and my hand, that imaginary hand, would not tremble or be sweaty or be clumsy. It would be masterful, moved by luck and amazement that he had chosen me. Things between us would be as they were in my dreams only this time I would not wake up before I got to stare into his amber eyes. 
   His fingertips came for me when I didn’t speak; I didn’t know if I should. His nails were neatly curved. This hand reaching for mine seemed sculptured, so perfect, so unblemished and nothing like my own veiny hand with its podgy fingers that had swollen in the heat. He tugged me closer. I was dazzled by him, even in the shadow. He was illuminated, same as medieval church paintings contain an impression of light within the paint. His eyes were full on me. His smile could only be for me. I’ll wreck you, it warned, and you’ll like it.
   ‘Yes, yes, oh yes,’ I called back, though he hadn’t spoken. My voice was shrill—ugly and blush-inducing. His head tilted to the side, like a cat watching a wall. His blinks were as purposeful, as artistic as a dancer’s movements. His free hand swept through his blond fringe so I might see his forehead better—the skin there ripe for a tender kiss. The shift of his weight from left to right brought a tantalising touch of his hip bone to my belly. That touch burned through me and I squeezed his hand, in case he’d change his mind. 
   ‘Ouch,’ he said and laughed. He said, ‘Do you want to hurt me?’
   I wanted to do whatever he wanted me to do. I didn’t say that though, just continued staring like a village idiot struck dumb by their first sight of lightning. His lips, that smile, shimmered in the half-light. They closed. They made a peak in the middle as he pursed them. Plump. They were so plump in the middle. My hand dampened in his as he moved nearer, as those lips called me into my nightly dream. I felt the rousing in my crotch, like a universe coming to life.
   ‘Shut your eyes,’ he whispered. His breath smelt as sweet as apples plucked straight from the tree. ‘Shut your eyes if you want a kiss.’
   That word sizzled like drops of sweat on a sun-baked stone. My response was guttural, as base as an animal learning to make sound. And my penis was full and throbbing and urging me closer and closer.
   ‘Hold steady,’ he said, letting go of my hand. He pressed his palm to my left hip and I quivered like a leaf subjected to a tornado. His power was so complete, so all-encompassing that the tip of my penis created a droplet. I pictured him licking it, his tongue easing, slowly, from between his pursed lips. So close. So close. I pursed my lips too. Ready. Oh God, I was so ready.
   ‘Open your mouth for me,’ he said.
   I made an O for him, for his finger, for his penis, for his tongue—whatever he wanted to give me I would take. My breath came juddering through that O. 
   Something sharp-edged bounced off my temple. A whoosh. The reek of death. Cartons and cans and cigarette butts and half-eaten food rained down and around me from the bin he’d tipped over my head. Sticky drops of cola clung to my face and darkened my school shirt. Dribbles of cold coffee seemed as molten as my shame as I stood there. 
   ‘Did I taste nice?’ He laughed and he laughed and he danced on the spot. The upturned bin now blocked the door to the church. Out from the shadows, like gargoyles cast adrift, came Stanton and Hoskings, braying and clucking and revelling in my humiliation. I did not skulk away. I did not say a word but waited with my head bowed until they grew bored of me and headed off to meet someone called Sam. 
   Yet still, still, I wanted Barnaby White and I dreamed of us that night making love on a rubbish tip under a baking hot sun.

                      Here ends our tale of misery and woe, though beware,
                      do not be fooled, my friend, by such a childish tale
                      of high jinks, for many more will fall foul of his tricks
                      as many more did. Some you may have met
                      between the pages of a book, between the gutters
                      of a margin, or seen sprawling in this mess we call life,
                      off pavements, off sidewalks, off raised humps of dirt
                      where roads were intended to roam before officials succumbed
                      to his bribes. When you look into the eyes of those touched
                      by potions, by powders, by purveyed and perverted
                      chemicals you’ll find him. For he comes for them all,
                      with offerings of cheap dreams and escapes. The lonely,
                      the heartbroken, the desperate, and the greedy. And for us,
                      he hovers ever closer, even as we safely close this page.

Copyright 2021 A Head/Photo

Like this free story? You can read more about Whitie & his cruelty in my novel Asphodel Meadows. It’s available on Amazon & to order from all good bookshops. You can show your support by buying me a coffee @ 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

Feeling like a slug on a rug

Nothing like spending a New Year Eve’s alone to have you feeling like a piece of shit. On New Year’s I want magic. I want a kiss from my soulmate. I’m sure the ball Cinderella attended was held on New Year’s Eve. Fairy Godmothers. Pretty dresses. Impractical shoes. This is what New Year’s Eve should be about. Life should change the moment that clock ticks over into a new year. Sparkles should fall all around you, transforming you into a better version of yourself.

Does it ever happen? No. Some years, knowing that such disappointment awaits has made me sulk and refuse to participate. Yes, cleaning my kitchen cupboards can be more fun than that slow, sinking realisation that tonight isn’t the best night of your life. Other years I’ve tried to drown that disappointment in booze with sprinklings of MDMA. The smile gets to my lips but it tilts as badly as the Titanic. Whatever we do for New Year’s Eve, we’re meant to be overwhelmed with positivity, enthusiasm, and happiness. A wry kind of happiness as we wave goodbye to a shit year is allowed. Ideally though, we should shine with a joy so bright we can’t even catch a photo of it for Instagram.

In recent years, I’ve gone down the self-improvement, self-love route. Instead of going out and getting hammered (always more fun when you accidentally end up traipsing the streets at 4 am towards a house party) I tend to have a bath, do yoga, meditate, and try to wish into existence a perfect new year. This year it’s taken me a bit of time to feel inspired to do this. It’s hard to feel motivated and ready for a clean new year when it’s cold, wet, and grubby grey outside. Can’t we agree to let each country have their new year when it’s their spring?

This year I did kind of have plans. When I got let down it hit me hard. Old feelings of inadequacy resurfaced. I’m an inconvenience. No one ever wants to spend time with me. I was taken back to years hiding in the toilet during the countdown so I’m not the only person with no one to kiss when it ends. I felt like the only person in the whole world alone. Everyone else was out partying, laughing, making bad decisions and doing what good people are meant to do on New Year’s Eve. (Got to love a bit of black-and-white catastrophizing) It was shameful to admit that I’d been let down, like admitting to some deep personality flaw that means people just don’t like me. Ahh, shame—that old friend that turns you into a slimy, ugly, fat, slug. The kind that passes for a cat poo first thing in the morning. My solution? Well, first I had a drink because that’s what you’re meant to do on New Year’s Eve. I watched some Frankie Boyle, letting his dark humour indulge my bad mood while also pretending I was trying to stop acting like a petulant baby. Then I went to bed by 9.30 pm. One thing I’ve learnt over the years is that when I’m tired things always look worse, so going to bed is normally a wise decision.

Over the next couple of days, I couldn’t shake the wallowing. Why isn’t life magical? Why is it such a drudge with the same issues repeating? The grey skies and nights dropping down at 3 pm didn’t help my mood. Only one thing for it. A mindless scroll through Pinterest for pictures of Austin Butler. His smile and shyness are a ray of California sunshine slashing through dull suburbia. There I came across a quote that stuck with me. (Of course, I didn’t save it). It was something about how magic is inside you and not an external thing. As that concept percolated, I realised that was where I’d been going wrong with New Year’s Eve and winter. My gaze is external, wanting someone or something to make turn me from average into a beautiful princess, to make life exciting and less of a slog: a flying carpet, a talking rabbit, a fairy godmother, a tree with a new land at the top of it every month, a prince. The quote was right though—there is magic in me. I have made things happen. I have performed miraculous transformations. Personally and professionally, I am not where I was five years ago. If I can do that, then I can perform more magic tricks. Reminding myself of this got me out of my slump, eager to review the year past and make some plans.

My goals for 2022

  1. Doubled my income from writing — done
  2. Find and complete a marketing course – done. I also read two books on marketing principles
  3. Edit Cuckoo – I did a massive rewrite of this, which is now marinating for later in the year
  4. Publish short stories – I didn’t do this. No one’s perfect. What can I say?
  5. Research cults for my next project—nope. I ended up deciding on a different project and have been researching the Victorian Era

Achievements not on my list

  • I went to three gigs.
  • I sorted out my anxiety peeing issue, which deserves a huge round of applause
  • I went on two holidays. Travelling and exploring were a couple of my favourite things to do before anxiety came and kicked me in the head. While on the plane to Ireland, I had the most perfect moment of calm and inner silence. It was like finally taking off a pair of ill-fitting shoes after trekking 1500000 miles in them. So beautiful. So wonderful. So hopeful 
  • I saw three plays. Something I was scared to do before in case my anxiety pee problem kicked off and made me need to leave mid-act causing all sorts of embarrassment to me, and inconveniencing and enraging other theatregoers
  • I helped out at London Book Fair
  • Technically I got my job last year (Dec to be precise) but it still feels like a win for this year because I’ve been learning how to deal with my social anxiety, say no, and not be scared of challenging situations or people. Some days I’ve felt such intense fear that I’ve been shaking on the way there, my IBS has played up, and I’ve felt like throwing up but I still made it in and tried my best. That is another big win for this year.  
  • There have been twelve blog posts
  • I have completed twenty beta reads

All in all, I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself. No longer I am a big dull slug but one in a tutu with sparkly deely bobbers and a fake moustache from a Christmas cracker.

This year I’m adding in some personal goals because my wallowing taught me that I need to have more balance if I want to make deep connections with people, maintain the ones I already have, and not spend another New Year’s Eve feeling like billy-no-mates. For me, 2023 is the year of creating foundations for the future. Here’s my list.

  1. Write a first draft for my new novel
  2. Start driving lessons
  3. Go on two dates
  4. Publish 4am
  5. Sign up for a course on writing Historical fiction
  6. Re-read Cuckoo
  7. Leave my home county to visit friends at least twice

I hope you’re feeling ready for 2023, too. If not, Pinterest is a great place to start.

Photo by Alain Snel on Unsplash

Like this content? You can show your support by buying me a coffee @ 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 A M Vivian

The Waiting Usurper

I wanted to showcase an exert of my first novel, particularly the two leads meeting. I’m a sucker for that first moment when the would-be lovers lock eyes and connect. Call me a hopeless romantic but I’m convinced our bodies recognise our match long before our heads realise it.

Hope you enjoy this first meeting between Niah and Raen. You need to know that Aelius, her first love, has recently died. He was the King’s son and heir. They are attending his funeral. Raen is the king’s firstborn but disowned son.

 THE VILLAGERS HAVE GATHERED by the statue for the funeral procession: stunted children with snotty noses and chapped lips, women with sleeves black as burnt fields, and men bent from defeat. The groans of hungry bellies add an underlying dirge to their chatter. Nessia and I huddle together, our dresses still damp from her trying to dye them last night. The wool hasn’t fully taken the colour and so they’re as patchy as the winter sky.
   ‘You’ve some nerve coming here, you hedge-born heathen,’ a woman snarls at me, yanking her gangly daughter away.
   ‘You not dead yet?’ a stringy man snipes. His wife kicks me in the shin with her bare and muddy foot. A laugh turns into a hacking cough. Their gaunt son jostles me and Nessia, pushing us to the edge of the gathering. ‘Here. Here’s another one of them fire-fuckers,’ he calls out.
   I hiss my grandmother’s words at him. His face blanches, and he barges his way into the thick of the crowd to hide. I straighten my shoulders, lift my chin, and focus on the procession. At the front is Aelius’s coffin, his momentary chance to lead at last. The surface has been buffed and shined to show off the golden threads in the laburnum. Surely, it’s far too small to contain his body? The white horses bearing his weight are eager to move, churning up dust and dirtying their legs as they fidget. Onnachild is next, proud and corpulent on a black stallion. He’s bulked out in dark fur the same colour as his hair and eyes. He doesn’t appear weak or overcome by grief as he stares out, ignoring the villagers’ awe-filled gapes. 
   ‘A real ruler wouldn’t keep sending men to their death,’ Nessia moans.
   Onnachild is flanked by two grey men who are as watchful and thin as starved wolves. The castle people are behind, each one blond and white-skinned. The weak sun tries to glint off them and the jewels displayed against black clothes, but the people don’t need its help to dazzle. Vill is amongst them, poised and perfect. He turns his head left, right, and left again, searching the crowd until he spots me. There’s no recognition in his face when our eyes meet. Hopefully, that’s a sign he won’t seek me out and try to change my mind.
   ‘That him?’ Nessia asks. It’s not Vill she’s pointing at though; it’s the man next to him. One who is stockier and taller than the castle men surrounding him. Compared to them he’s an ancient oak in a forest of saplings. His colours are vivid against their paleness: honey-coloured skin, dark hair with mahogany tones loose around his broad shoulders, and eyes a deep brown. He doesn’t belong with the castle people, bred for beauty and dancing, but down here with us who toil and feel the mud between our toes.
   ‘Raen,’ Nessia mumbles in my ear.
   ‘Must be.’
   The young women are whispering, appreciatively, about the size of his thighs encased in breeches instead of baggy hose like the village men wear. His hair sweeps across his wide shoulders as he surveys the square, the people gathered, and then raises his head to peer up at the statue. What he sees makes him frown. The wind blows a lock of hair over his face but he doesn’t brush it away.
   At the command of the wolfish men, the procession moves and, like an afterthought, the villagers tag along. Together, Nessia and I struggle through the crowd, pushing and ducking to get nearer to Aelius. The village men have a desire for revenge set in the lines of their faces, forgetting the fear that made them run.
   Sons grumble insults: ‘Thieving cross-eyed limp-dicked pig-riding Aralltirs.’
   Shuffling footsteps are in time with the steady boom of the castle drums but they have none of the power. The village women clutch at their clothes as they groan death songs that are drowned out by the crisp voices of the official mourners. Nessia sings along with tears in her eyes. I’ve already sung my song.
   The procession leads us to the church where it’s as misty as the battlefield was, giving the place a nightmarish echo. The air is thick and damp, carrying a sickly blend of decaying leaves and out-of-season flowers. As I enter the gates, Nessia’s fingers slip from mine.
Fresh humps dot the graveyard like the shells of beetles. The castle people are dismounting their horses and merging into a blur of black and white. I elbow my way through them, startled when they tut because I feel as insubstantial as a spirit. I’m not sure I’m even breathing. Deeper I go amongst the shafts of light and shadow their bodies create, pushing against their satin, their furs, their silk, until … until …
   Before me is a gaping hole in the ground, a headstone new and pale. My stomach lurches and my heart hurts as I read Aelius’s name, the date of his birth, and the date of his death. But he doesn’t belong there, not in the mud, not in the dark. He’s as golden as the sun. A wailing cuts through the harmony of the mourners’ song.
   It’s me. I try to stop but I can’t. Onto my knees I fall. Onto the mud, churned up by horses just as the battlefield was. A woman gasps. The taste of Aelius’s blood is in my mouth. Rain starts, thin, quick drops. The sky has darkened and thunder rumbles as though it’s competing with me. I can’t stop my body from heaving as I claw at the mud, needing to clasp something solid, but it oozes through my fingers. Snot and tears mix with the rain on my face. I’m gasping, head turned skywards as if I can call him back.
   ‘For the love of God, help her.’ Has the voice come from the earth? It’s deep enough, gruff like it’s made of stones. Lightning brightens the sky; the gods are angry because Aelius’s body should be given to them in fire. An arm goes around my waist and sweeps me up into the air. My legs kick out. I must stay close to the earth, to where my love is going. Another arm reaches around me, and I’m pulled under the shelter of the last yew, the branches scraping across my skin.
The man holding me curses when his back jolts against the trunk and he almost drops me. He sits and settles me in his lap like I’m a child, then he takes off his cloak and covers my head with it to keep me dry. ‘Shhh … shhh … shhh.’ The sound mimics the whisper of a tree. He rocks me. He strokes my back with sweeps as languid as those shhhs. His scent is soothing: fresh sap, autumn forests, and castle life. I take deep gulps of it as I cling to him; he’s solid and broad, everything the mud wasn’t. Warmth emanates from him like a well-established hearth fire. I yawn onto his chest.
   He hums a song my grandmother used to sing, one I’ve not heard since childhood, and it piques my curiosity so I ease the cloak off my head. Rain drops onto my forehead as I lean back and its chill tingles. His arms tense to bear my weight but his eyes remain fixed over my head, staring off into the distance as though he’s lost in a daydream. Under his left eye is a scar shaped like a drop of rain and I almost try brushing it away. His gaze lowers, first to my hand hovering near his cheek and then to meet mine. Raen.
   His parents have left their marks in the colours of his eyes: conker brown with three green dots in both. The same green as mine. The same green as his mother’s, only the colour shouldn’t pass from mother to son. I crane my neck up, lean in to take a better look. He seems as bewildered as I am, with his forehead furrowing as he hunches closer. The shape of his eyes is so similar to Aelius’s, but that is the only similarity because Raen’s lashes are darker and thicker, the eyebrows heavier, and his eyes deeper set. There’s pain in them, an uncertainty. He blinks and his emotions vanish.
   ‘What’s your name?’ His accent is strange: a hint of the village, the castle, and somewhere else, somewhere I can’t place.
   ‘Ah, so you’re Niah. It makes sense now.’ He shifts beneath me. ‘I’m sure your little display will have been noted.’
   He shoves me from his lap and I bump onto the damp ground, dragging his cloak with me.
   ‘Yes, display.’
   ‘I love him.’
   ‘Of course you do. They all do. Look at them there.’ He points towards the castle people but his scowl remains fixed on me. ‘And now, they must pretend to love me. You know who I am?’
   I nod, words lost at his sudden change from kindness to disgust.
   ‘Good. With the way things have turned out I bet Onnachild’s glad he didn’t kill me, but I doubt you’d agree. It would make things easier for you if I was dead, wouldn’t it?’ The green in his eyes is vibrant. His breath is hot on my nose. ‘Well, I’m back, the second-best son … the forgotten son … the disowned son, take your pick. I won’t be those things for long. Trust me, I mean to have everything that was Aelius’s.’
‘   He promised it to me,’ I manage to spit out.
   ‘I’m sure he did, but it wasn’t his to promise.’ Then he’s standing, looming over me. A sardonic smile is on his face. ‘Don’t worry, I’ll leave you something for your pains.’ He chucks his purse at me.
   ‘I don’t care about coins,’ I say, though I know I’ll snatch up that purse the moment he’s gone.
   ‘We’ll see. It’s a hard life for a dead prince’s whore, even if she is with child.’
Whore. The word prickles like a thistle in the foot, and I go to defend myself, throw his cloak back at him, only he seems to want that reaction, and so instead I stifle it, swallow his insult. After all, it’s no different to those the villagers throw my way. Inwardly though, I curse him in both the languages I know.
   As he marches away, I hear a village man warn him, ‘You want to be careful of that one, suck your soul out she will.’

Copyright 2019 A Head

Like this extract? You can show your support by buying me a coffee @ or by purchasing one of my books (The Waiting Usurper, Asphodel Meadows, The Family Care). They can also be borrowed via Kindle Unlimited.

Extracts of all my novels are available on my website

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 @ 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

Branch Davidians: the Siege at Waco

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:

Like this poem? You can show your support by buying me a coffee @ 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

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

Like this content? You can show your support by buying me a coffee @ 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 A M Vivian

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