Controversial writer

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Anyone who’s followed this blog for a while will know I’ve been studying for a Master’s in Creative Writing for the past 2 years.
Well, it’s officially over. On Monday I got the result of my 15,000 words on Freedom of Speech. I knew all along my chosen subject was highly risky in the current climate, but I felt compelled to write about it.

Monday was tough – the result came in a day early – I didn’t get the high mark I was hoping for. I should say I was hoping against all odds.

I’m one of those annoying people who is academic, who gets the A* and the distinctions, etc…it’s embarrassing to admit and it’s rather sad but on Monday when I saw the mark I was awarded I wanted to cry. I DID actually cry later on in the day. People were congratulating me on having passed and I was thinking: Nat, you’re a failure.
I did try to put a brace face on it for the benefit of others: “I kept my integrity and that’s more important than a distinction” I told them. But oh, how I wanted that fucking distinction!

So I mourned all of Monday. I did think WHY didn’t you pick a subject that wasn’t controversial?

By Tuesday I was over it. I knew what I was doing when I chose free speech, I knew the risk – someone said when I told them what I would be writing about: “striking in the heart of academia, it’s bold, I like it” – I knew I wouldn’t end the masters on a high, grade-wise, but there was genuinely nothing I’d rather have written about than Freedom of Speech. So now the mourning is over, I can honestly say I have no regrets and that integrity IS indeed more important than a distinction.

I’ve been fighting for freedom of speech for so long, it has cost me friends, lots of followers on this blog, it has caused me untold grief already but I will never stop because it’s something I passionately believe in and the assault on free speech has been relentless in the last couple of years.

But, anyway, I have a Master’s now – I guess that makes me a writer. An opinionated, controversial type apparently, but I wouldn’t have it any other fucking way.

Oh, And I’m in a selfie mood today –

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Lonely in Paris

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5 am: he’s shivering, cold seeping into his bones, teeth shattering, he turns up the volume on the radio – it’s playing that song everyone hums, everyone knows. Alone in his bed, twisted in a wrinkled sheet which has seen better days, he can’t sleep, looks at the ceiling, thoughts turning, colliding – deadly ennui.

He’s losing his head and his cigarettes are all gone, stubbed out in three different ashtrays displayed around the bed. His studio is a mess of used tissues and empty bottles – it smells just how it looks: stale.

He’s lonely, fucking lonely.

He finds just enough at the bottom of a bottle to have one last drink but the glass escapes, shatters on the floor – he cuts his hand while picking up the pieces, it’s shallow, he sucks the blood on his fingers, vaguely thinks he should disinfect but on the heels of that: fuck it, let it kill me – who the hell cares anyway.

6 am: he needs to find a drink, black coffee or something stronger – he’s not sure yet, thinks: let’s leave this place, leave it to fate. Once in the street he sees some stars – in a Paris sky it’s pretty rare, what with all the réverbères – he cranes his neck to talk to them: “do you have anything to tell me?” he asks, feeling kinda foolish. They don’t reply, keep looking at him from afar.

He gets in his car, roule au hasard, goes through a red light, thinks: don’t get stopped, the last thing you need are the cops – slows down, which is how he spots a small bar squeezed between two bulging buildings. He parks the car, goes inside the tiny bar, takes a seat by the window lit so bright he’s relegated to the role of shadow. In a dark corner a platinum blonde sips on a liqueur, she looks at him, says: “champagne?” He nods: “okay.” Within seconds she’s sitting next to him, one hand on his shoulder, the other in her hair and whispers: “a hundred?” He says: “why not.”

7 am: hotel. He pays, has to dig deep in his pockets for crumpled notes, feels cheap, the clerk looks bored. The room is small, it’s a hellhole, the blonde walks to the bed, gets straight down to business. She takes off her pantyhose and the rest quickly, expertly – revealing tanned skin with an orangey hue which screams ‘fake’, like her platinum hair. She pats the empty space next to her: “coming, darling?” He takes three steps, she grabs him, her painted nails leave a faint trail on his face. Her lips are artificial red, her arched back a practised pose, his cold fingers don’t warm up on her frigid skin, her eyes are empty, blind mirrors. They’re both thinking of nothing while moving in tired synchronicity – there’s no heat between those two writhing bodies despite the groans and moans. The bed creaks, the shutters slam, he thinks: fuck it, I can’t even cum. Frantic, he makes a last desperate effort, increases his rhythm, her eyes lose their vagueness, she’s getting pissed off, it’s taking too long and she’s had enough – he pulls out, he’s gone limp, she simply says: “tough luck, time for sleep”, snatches her clothes and leaves, not even bothering to close the door behind her.

She runs away, the morning is grey, there are no taxis, she has to walk, she feels ugly, needs to go home.

8 am: she’s shivering, cold seeping into her bones, teeth shattering, she turns up the volume on the radio – it’s playing that song everyone hums, everyone knows. Alone in her bed, twisted in a wrinkled sheet which has seen better days, she can’t sleep, looks at the ceiling, thoughts turning, colliding – deadly ennui.

She’s losing her head and her cigarettes are all gone, stubbed out in three different ashtrays displayed around the bed. Her studio is a mess of used tissues and empty bottles – it smells just how it looks: stale.

She’s lonely, fucking lonely.

She finds just enough at the bottom of a bottle to have one last drink but the glass escapes, shatters on the floor – she cuts her hand while picking up the pieces, it’s shallow, she sucks the blood on her fingers, vaguely thinks she should disinfect but on the heels of that: fuck it, let it kill me – who the hell cares anyway.

How Writers Survive Bad Reviews.

“If there is one thing that writing teaches an author, other than how easily the semi-colon might be misused and how gleefully people love to point it out to you, it is to prevail. Writing gives purpose to an aimless day and teaches resilience….”

Idle blogs of an idle fellow

“Every time I read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.” Mark Twain.

There is so much focus upon writing, on the magic tips and tricks that at times the real skill is neglected. And that is the art of disallowing poor feedback or bad reviews from ruining your day, and your ENTIRE BLOODY LIFE AND EVERYTHING THAT HAS LED TO THIS DISASTROUS MOMENT, which is pretty much what neighbours heard when I read my first 2-star review of the Life Assistance Agency on Amazon. Ironically writers chase these reviews because it helps with algorithms and sales, although no one has yet provided a coherent answer as the relationship between the two without ending up sounding like a conspiracy theorist. And what reviews don’t help with is your mental stability. Or do they?

(Yet) another great thing…

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Passionate vs intense – yeah, there’s a difference

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A long time ago – when I was still a teenager – I went out on a few dates with a pretty boy. He wasn’t my type at all: blond hair, blue eyes, very preppy – he was doing a baccalauréat in maths and sciences while mine was literature and languages.

The Literature and Maths groups didn’t really mix – it was all very cliquey – but we used to meet in the corridors on the way to class and this particular boy and I exchanged the kind of looks understood by teenagers the world over.

Even back then I was into personality rather than into looks, but this boy proved to be one of the few exceptions I made in my life, because there really was nothing to recommend him to my attention apart from the fact he was extremely good looking in that unique way that people couldn’t help but stare.

But I don’t think I would ever have gone on a date with him if it wasn’t for the fact that on the day he asked me out I saw him cross the grand courtyard on his way to me, pass the fountain and promptly stumble on… nothing whatsoever. He stumbled, faltered but quickly regained his composure and I thought the whole thing was just so cute. Okay, I admit you had to be there – but it really was cute.

My best friend Valérie was crushing badly on some other pretty boy called Fabrice who belonged to the local football team. He didn’t go to our grammar school, was doing some apprenticeship at a college. I knew him a little as I knew most of the football team since my dad was the coach.

One day, I met Fabrice in the street when I was on my way to join Valérie in the town’s library. After some small talk he mentioned her and I immediately seized my chance to play matchmaker.

“Why don’t you come with me, I’m meeting her now.”

He agreed readily but as we approached the library he said: “wait…is she in there?”

“Well, yes. Why?”

“I’m not going in there. It’s…the…library.”

“And? You’re allergic to them? You’ve got a moral objection to them? What exactly is the problem?!”

“It’s just not my scene.”

……………………..

“Right. It’s not your scene, fair enough. But can’t you just, you know, pass through the door? Just once?”

“I’ll wait outside – if you get her, we can go and grab some coffee.”

“Fine.”

So I went in and found her buried in some research for an essay she was writing. I quickly explained that Fabrice was outside, waiting to take her for coffee.

She got all excited and then nervous and started to gather her things.

“There’s something you should know though, he had the strangest reaction when I said you were in here.”

“And?”

“…and it strikes me that not only is he the kind of guy who’s never read a book in his life, but he might also regard those who read as…weird.”

“What?! I DON’T CARE!”

“Oh. Ok then. I was just saying, because I personally find that really off-putting.” 

“I like him! I don’t care if he burns books in his spare time!”

Well, I had to laugh – teenagers were always ruled by their hormones.

Off she went to meet him and by the end of the day they were an item.

The next day, I went on my third date with my pretty boy. I had a feeling it would be the last because we were – predictably enough – very different people and we hadn’t gelled at all on our previous meetings. I wasn’t sure why he kept asking me out to be honest.

This third date was as boring as the other two…until he asked me what book I’d last read and I revived like a parched flower that’s finally been watered. My latest book was “Tristessa” by Jack Kerouac and I proceeded to explain at length why I had loved it. At some point I realised there was a really long monologue going on…and he was looking at me kind of funny.

“What?”

“Nothing. It’s just…you’re very…intense.”

I was silent for a few seconds as I processed this.

“Intense?! What do you mean by that? Intense…Because I loved a book?! Are you serious?

Well, I’m sorry I like to read and I like to feel things…except I’m not, am I!!”

I got more and more pissed off as the reality of what he’d said hit home. Even with my limited experience, I was well aware that being called intense was not a good thing. In fact, it was a bloody awful thing…and there I was proving him right by freaking out.

I looked at him and all I saw was that amazingly pretty face that suddenly didn’t look so pretty anymore. He was bland, we had nothing in common and what the fuck was I doing here? I’d gone out with him because of his arresting looks. He’d gone out with me because even back then I was into style and fashion and it had blinded him to my bookworm nature. It was all a huge mistake.

That was the end of pretty boy and I. But it was an important lesson because that’s when I first realised this is how it goes:

if a guy likes you: you’re ‘passionate.’
If a guy is not that into you: you’re ‘intense.’

I’ve been called passionate far more often than intense over the years, thank fuck.

I never again made the mistake of dating someone who was just pretty. It was never who I am but I guess you have to try everything (most things anyway) at least once.

As for Valérie and her own pretty boy, they lasted exactly 2 and a half weeks – at least he never did tell her she was intense.

*Pics from last Tuesday when I was in a Charlie’s angels kind of mood*

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How to Write a Short Story

Personally, I love short stories, but I’m very selective and only those from the masters of the genre make the cut (I’m very partial to Maugham myself) But anyway, this blog is a lesson in how to write sharp prose – worth reading just for that.

Idle blogs of an idle fellow

“A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it.”

Edgar Allan Poe.

Short stories? Well they must be so easy, they take 20 minutes to read and surely not much more time to write. It’s nothing like the himalayan trek without sherpas, supplies or basic knowledge of mountaineering of the novel. No need to be worrying about 500 page story arcs, or where you’re going to find all those words. You don’t waste time getting the angle of trees shadows at 4pm right, you get to the point. Writing short stories also avoids batting off enquiries from family members as to why you haven’t finished yet. Just sit down, knock one out, and then start writing (boom).

Short stories used to be the scaffold to any fledgling literary career. They are snappy, cool, quick, concise, well-balanced and elegant. Other than these things what’s not…

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One Saturday

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“It’s been a while since I was back on my old hunting grounds” says A, the reformed man-whore. “We’re staying up all night, right? Plus, Brexit isn’t happening so I’m fucking mad.”

“You’re not starting THAT” – this from S, Labour and Remainer through and through.

A wants to retort – I can tell – but he thinks better of it, thank fuck.
“Fine, I’m taking Nat to the bar.”

It’s Saturday crowded, ugh. Looks like we’re gonna be here a while.

“Let’s get shots, we’re gonna get him so wrecked he’ll admit Corbyn is a terrorist by the end of the night.”

We laugh and turn to look at S, he knows us too well, obviously caught the gist of it and he surreptitiously shows us the finger.

Back at the table with our drinks, in a dark corner of the pub, we resolutely avoid politics because we intend to stay friends, and alternate between other serious talk and general gossip. There are some very politically incorrect and tasteless jokes. Some reminiscing as well – it’s a typical boozy night between people who have known each other for years.

By 11 everybody is close to wasted.
“Right, clubbing!” says A like we’re on a mission, which I guess we are. He’s come down from London and will stay on a mate’s sofa – no way is he doing that just for a quiet evening.

It’s a short walk to the club, the streets are heaving though, the English are tough and walk around half naked even in the middle of winter. Some girls look like they couldn’t be bothered to get dressed and came out in their underwear – flesh on display always wins pitted against possible hypothermia. You can easily tell the foreigners apart as they all wear coats, hats, scarves, the lot.

Timing is everything – the DJ is starting the 80’s part of the evening when we walk in the club. None of the other 2 are as obsessed as I am but they get it – it won’t be a one-woman show on that dance floor.

An hour or 10 minutes later – who can tell, not me – we move on to the 90’s and I’m reminded once again no DJ is perfect because Alanis Morrisette (ugh!) is my cue to sneak outside to get some fresh air.

I walk straight up to a baby face who’s smoking. “Give us one?” My English is appalling when I’m drunk. He obliges happily. He lights it up for me and I take my first drag in fuck knows how long. Christ, it tastes like shite, how did I ever do this day in, day out? Instead of being clever and stubbing it out I persevere, like I’m punishing myself – it’s acrid, horrid and soon my head is swimming.

A appears as baby face is prattling on about something or other.

Shit. Busted.

“You didn’t!” He glares at me. Actually looks personally offended.

“Chill. I’m revisiting and it ain’t fun. I kind of feel sick actually.”

He doesn’t say another word, I’m dragged back inside – I barely have time to thank baby face again – disgust at catching me with a cigarette is all over A’s face.
Well, come on now. If I wasn’t so drunk, I’d say something, because this is a bit rich coming from someone who used to spend every weekend coked up to his eyeballs, but whatever – I’m letting it go.

Back in the club we’re assaulted by the heat of too many people packed in too small a place – another reminder of why I don’t like clubs – and alcohol fumes.

There’s more shots, more stupid jokes, more laughter and at some point
we reach the moment – that moment we came for – when there’s no more talk, no more drinking, just dancing, the whole planet could be in meltdown and none of it would matter because we’re caught in that euphoria, the moving to the beat and being alive. Only sex compares – nothing else does.

Late, I don’t know when, we leave and the cold hits me, immediately ramping up the feeling of intoxication.

“Where is my denim jacket… I’ve lost it. Guys, guys, wait, I LOVE that jacket – I’m not going home without.”

“I don’t remember you wearing it” says A, trying and failing to put on his own – he’s battling with it and looks ridiculous – the left shark in that Katy Perry video comes to mind.

“You’re so wrecked, what a fucking mess you are…hang on…WAIT. That’s mine, you lunatic!”

I snatch it from him and sure enough it’s my size 8 ladies denim jacket.

“Did you even come out with a jacket?!” I ask him, tempted to slap him into shape.

None of us remember, least of all him. This mystery won’t be elucidated tonight. I’ve had enough, I want my bed and I get into a taxi. A gets in with me.

“What are you doing? You’re going in the opposite direction! Get out ffs.”

I pause. Remember this is my good friend. “Are you gonna be okay?”

“Oh yeah. And yeah.”

He hugs me fiercely and finally gets out only to reappear at the window to tell the driver:
“Look out for her, she’s very special.”

I am quite sure I roll my eyes.

“Sweet. But I’m not 16! Go, go, go!”

I apologise to the taxi driver who no doubt deals with stuff like that all the time. I’m not sure I’d have the patience myself.

“It’s fine.” He says. “Good night?”

“Amazing” I reply.

In the morning I get a text from A:

“I’m dying, I’m so fucking glad I’m not working tomorrow. Top night though.”

I type a response quickly:

“I feel like an ice pick is lodged in my forehead but yeah – great night!”

Best of all, nobody even came close to guessing my heart was breaking.

Small slices of life

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Building castles, pies in the sky, leaving pebbles underneath the neon lights. Did you see the marble statue looking down on us, with an enigmatic and slightly benign smile, injecting magic in an otherwise pink and subdued night. On the merry-go-round, eyes shut tight, the unicorns turn and dance with the swines.

A little star dust is the only make up worthy of the dreams in my eyes, and the whisky coloured words no less than our misfit minds deserve.

Give us a few light years and we will have figured out nothing, but by then we might have written a couple of epic stories & modern myths.

Somewhere, a giant will weep in the darkness and indifference while secrets — never meant to be kept — will burst, tired of waiting for deliverance.

The poets are dead, I don’t want nor need their decayed crowns on my head, I’m happy with graffiti on my walls, stylish and sexy, never mind the bald eagles — utterly appalled — screaming at me in fury.

What else matters but our collection of moments, small slices of life, gathered in my hands whilst I strike a pose—hold it for the pages of Vogue—before releasing them all…and people slow to a crawl…awed and warmed by the radiant colours flying up into the ether. 

Anti-bullying week