The Hell Butterfly

Archive for December, 2013

Nothing is sacred when you’re a writer

Do you remember the times you used to keep a journal, a diary or even a few scribbles jotted down in the middle of the night on a receipt for last week’s shop? Do you remember keeping dream journals, mood journals, writing letters to your future selves to open ten years down the line and hope at least you were at least a better person than back then?

Well, the way I see it, these things are no longer sacred once you become a writer. Or at least that’s my theory.

Two years ago I began a handwritten letter to someone. No-one in particular, just to someone who wasn’t me. It was half diary and half confession. I was in a dark place and writing it all down helped at the time. I wrote a lot of personal things in there, things I’ve never told anyone before or after. In the end it was 17 pages long. I had never intended to send the letter. In a sense perhaps I had intended to send it to myself so that when I next read it I would hopefully have fixed some of the issues I had in my life and mind. I added to it a couple of times, signing off every time with my full name. This was perhaps a fatal choice on my part, but I’ll come back to that.

When I had written the final entry I folded the letter-diary in half and put it in a blank envelope and kept it with me everywhere I went. Partly so I could add to it should the mood strike, but mostly so no-one could accidentally find it. It wasn’t really meant for eyes aside from mine. If it fell into the wrong hands … Well I didn’t like to think of the consequences.

I figured that having this letter would be a help to me. It was something private and personal that only I would know about. Something sacred. Something that belonged entirely to me, and me only. At this point I had been writing for easily five years, so each time I wrote something new I’d either want to share it if I liked it, or was asked to share it if people were interested. I hadn’t kept a diary in years and had sort of become accustomed to sharing everything I wrote. So it was nice to remember the feeling of having something I could hold, that I had written with my own hand, and that would never have to be shared or explained to anyone.

Eventually I took the letter out of my paper pad and hid it in the bottom of my lowest – and broken – drawer. No-one had any need to go into that drawer, and even if they did they would have to dig through all my junk to find it. I don’t know why I didn’t destroy it. Maybe I felt it was a part of me by then. The only other physical object that knew the contents of my dark, pained mind, to be melodramatic.

One day my sister called me into my room (she was staying in it while she was back for a while and always takes my room when she does) and when I entered I looked to her, then to the bed, then to the several sheets of all-too-familiar handwriting spread on it. She had read it. She had no reason to, had no right to, but she had. Her excuse? “It just fell out of the drawer when I was looking for something and I thought it was one of your stories so I read it. But even when I realised it wasn’t a story I couldn’t stop myself from finishing it.” It’s as I said – nothing is sacred once you become a writer.

My sister had assumed that several sheets of paper folded into an envelope and stashed at the bottom of a broken drawer was a story of mine that was okay to be read. I know it didn’t “just fall out of the drawer”. In the position I had put it, that was impossible. At any rate, she saw it, and let’s just say I was in some deep shit and had a lot of explaining to do. At least it was her that found it and no-one else. But still, as she had thought it was one of my stories, she thought it okay to look.

This may just be a one off occurrence, however I haven’t felt comfortable keeping a diary since. Even typing into a Notepad document with an unrelated title, saved into a folder reserved for art coursework from three years ago didn’t feel safe anymore. It doesn’t feel, to use the word again, sacred, anymore to keep something just for me, because of this incident. Now that I’m a writer, it seems that people expect me to share everything I do. Even writing hidden messages into my work that mean something to me, but would need explaining to others doesn’t feel right. Either people will guess what I really mean or they’ll ask me to explain and I’ll have nothing to tell them but the truth. Or that’s how it feels at any rate.

I may be alone in this. I may be the only one who feels as though being a writer makes sacred items such as diaries and journals become … somehow tainted. How about you? Have any of you writers felt that the value of personal writing is lost to others once you begin to share your writing?

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This is the Strength Of Us

I have just heard the sad news: YA fiction author Ned Vizzini has died aged 32. He committed suicide.

Vizzini wrote Be More Chill (2004) and It’s Kind of a Funny Story (2006), the latter being adapted for screen in a fantastic film interpretation of the same name. When I first saw the news of his death I didn’t immediately click on who it was. Only when I saw the latter title did I realise who Ned Vizzini was. I am yet to read any of his novels, however the film version of Funny Story made me want to read it. I’m afraid I’m still yet to do so.

I hate that my first post in a while is on such a sensitive subject as suicide, but it seems to be one that is coming up a lot in my life recently. Just tonight, in fact, I was watching Text Santa and got to see the inspirational stories of hardships overcome with the help of the charities involved. Unfortunately, there was one story which I can’t say had such a positive feel to it. Although the segment was about an anti-bullying campaign and the wonderful work the charity does, I couldn’t get past the story of the 17 year old lad who had been bullied all his life and eventually committed suicide after a failed attempt a few years previous.

Suicide is a touchy subject with me. Perhaps because I’ve come close enough to know how it feels. To feel so hopeless, helpless … and seeing the story of the 17 year old in question hit me like a tonne of bricks. For a few minutes my entire being felt like it was being crushed. My heart and soul went proverbially out to him and his family and I was instantly reminded of the old school friend of mine who took his own life a few months ago (rest in peace, my friend). And now with the story of a man who was only 32, had a wife and child, yet was driven to kill himself nonetheless.

Below is a quote I found online:

“What I would like young adults to take away from It’s Kind of a Funny Story is that if you’re feeling suicidal, call a hotline,” Vizzini said in an interview with Strength of Us, an online community developed by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, after the film version of Funny Story was released. “Suicidal ideation really is a medical emergency and if more people knew to call the suicide hotline we’d have less suicides. One number, as related in the book (and just verified on Google), is  1-800-SUICIDE .”

This is absolutely true. As Vizzini said, if more people called the suicide hotline, it is indeed likely that there would be less suicides. And it’s such an easy number to remember. 1-800-SUICIDE.

The film It’s Kind of a Funny Story always makes me cry at the end. I don’t wish to give away spoilers so I’ll call **SPOILER ALERT** now and continue. As our leading character is listing off the things he wants to do with his life, he ends with one word. “Breathe”. This hits me every time. I’m not going to lie to you, I’m just telling it as it is, but the first thought that goes through my head every time I hear that final word is “Why can’t I think like that?” Why can’t I want to enjoy the little things. To just breathe. It hurts that this is the first thing I think of, but perhaps it’s a good thing. As long as I’m still thinking this, I have something to improve. I have something to aim for. After my initial breakdown I cry, I think, I rebuild. What It’s Kind of a Funny Story does, and I’m sure Vizzini meant for this to be the point when he wrote the book, is to make you come away wanting to live.

It’s a massive shame that Vizzini committed suicide, and the same can be said for the 17 year old in the campaign, and the boy from my school. I won’t pretend to know what was going through any of their minds, but I do know the feeling. And I also know there are people and services to help prevent it. People who are there to support those in need when it matters most.

So I suppose what this post is about, is to spread the word that if ever you or someone you know is standing on the edge of self-destruction, never forget that help is out there.

Call a hotline. Call a friend. Go to A and E. Contact Strength of Us.

Stop. Breathe.

Live.


December Blues

I always seem to get down around Christmas. It’s a sad truth, but a truth nonetheless. It’s a pattern I’ve noticed over the last few years – my mood always seems to get really low around December. It sucks because, with Christmas being this month, it makes family time hard to enjoy.

I came back from uni for the holidays on Wednesday 11th. The last few days at uni were pretty terrible. I didn’t want to be there. I couldn’t focus on my work and couldn’t enjoy anything I did for ‘fun’. I couldn’t write – I still can’t. I’ve been really struggling for blog ideas lately and even this one isn’t writing itself as smoothy as some previous posts have done.

When I started the Hell Butterfly, my mood was high – there are two almost perfectly definable weeks of ‘up’ in fact. This was after the essay period had ended and the crippling stress had lifted and made functioning like a regular human being an option again. For two days after this I went from painfully down, to neutral, and then without warning I was in a good mood. I assumed it would be a one-off. But the next day was good too. And the next. And so it went for two weeks. I don’t remember the last time I was genuinely happy – and I’ll go so far as to say optimistic – for two weeks straight.

This is not meant as a downer post. Just the sad truth that is my life.

In the two good weeks, I started this blog and even – god forbid – managed to write a significant chunk of new material for my book. This was November. As November ended things were okay. Not fantastic, but not bad. But so began December, and with it came the ‘December Blues’. I don’t know why, but I always get down around this time of year. Last year was particularly bad. It makes me worried for this year. I’ve only been home 5 days but I’m already feeling it. Having people around all the time. Wanting to relax but knowing I still have work to do for uni. Knowing it should be a happy time of year but being uncomfortable in my own head to the point where I just can’t enjoy it. Knowing that yet another year is rapidly coming to an end and I can do nothing to stop it. And the greater knowledge that I’ve really done nothing of value this year. There are only 16 days until 2013 is over. Done. Finito. And I can’t name one accomplishment of worth I’ve done for the last 349 of them.

Writing my CV today was a startling backhand to the chops. The only things I could include were some half-decent (yet ultimately worthless) GCSE’s, 6 years of being a dinner lady, some vague knowledge of Spanish and – like every other human being over the age of 8 – the ability to use Microsoft Word. I have no special skills, extra-curricular activities, memberships or related experience. I think I want to go into publishing, but with no work experience in the field of, you know, books, I have no chance of getting even a book related job. Much less a summer internship, which is what I would be looking toward for the up-coming summer, and eventually a graduate job. It came as a hard pill to swallow to see in stark detail how little I have to offer. This obviously did nothing for my December downslide.

I wish I could enjoy the time I have with my family, especially knowing how fast the years can disappear. I still go to introduce myself as 17 at times, forgetting I am in fact 20. I wish I could use my time wisely and take the advice people give me. People tell me to be positive, that confidence is key, that I need to be getting all the experience I can, while I can, that I can do anything if I just believe.

But I can’t.

The bare facts are these:

I’m lazy.
I’m scared. Of everything.
I’m stubborn.
I’m not particularly intelligent.
I’m ignorant.
I’m an escapist. I don’t like to face reality.
I’m a pessimist.

And the worst part is, I don’t know how to change. I even worry there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to.

These are the thoughts that always seem to come about in December. Don’t be fooled – these thoughts appear year round – but December is especially bad for it. Maybe as it’s the close of a year. Maybe because I’m supposed to be happy around this time. But either way, for whatever reason, I know his month will be hard to get through. I just hope I can turn my rock-bottom self esteem into something remotely positive. I hope that I can learn from this year to make the next one better. I say it every year, but maybe, as with each new year comes even greater responsibility, maybe this time it’ll be different.


Clapham Junction – 25 Years On

On this day, in 1988, three trImageains were involved in a collision. 35 people were killed, and a further 500 were injured.

A train from my hometown, Basingstoke, was stopped at a signal (later found to be faulty) at Clapham Junction when a train from Poole rounded the corner and hit the Basingstoke train head on at 35 miles an hour. The driver had 6 seconds to apply the brakes, reducing the impact. It was not enough. He died instantly. A third train heading in the other direction then hit the wreckage of these two derailed trains.

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Today was the 25th anniversary of the collision.

This is in memory of the people who lost their lives.

For video clips about this incident, click here.

 

 

My parents were engaged almost a year prior to this, and my Mum lived in Warwick at the time. My Dad on the other hand lived and worked in Basingstoke, commuting to Warwick on the weekends to see my Mum. My Dad could very well have been on the train that day. I thank whatever cosmic force allowed him to be elsewhere. It’s a shame the same can’t be said for the families of the 35 who died on that day.

Never forget to appreciate the people around you while you can. The man who connected the faulty signal had just one day off in his 13 years of work. One simple mistake by a hard-working man caused such a disaster.

 

Always remember to tell the people around you how much you care, because you never know what’s around the corner.

 


“And I know how to save a life”

I have a very close friend who, recently, has been going through a tough time. No details shall be indulged here, but suffice to say it has been difficult. For my friend, who is struggling with this issue, and for me too. I’m finding it hard to get through to him. He won’t open up to me. This has never happened, in the five plus years I’ve known him. It’s an uncomfortable feeling. And I cannot even seem to find the words to tell him I want him to talk to me. Instead, I vented in the only way I know how: poetry. So on top of my earlier post (Project Spotlight #2), here are some creative words, from the mind of a worried friend, to you.

 

For five years past and longer still we’ve had
a friendship that to me was more akin
to siblings, but now you, I know, are sad
and though I want to help, you won’t let me in.
The whirling time of years has made me mad
at you, but now the real work begins.
You are the brother that I never knew,
the best friend that I needed to survive,
the only one to understand the few
things that I couldn’t tell a soul alive,
not even my family. But now it’s you
who cannot seem to find the will to thrive,
Who needs my help. So, darling, don’t you see,
you are my world, my life, and I love thee.

 

Never forget to tell your friends you care. It might save their life one day.


Project Spotlight #2

It has taken me a while to find something worthy of taking the second spot on Project Spotlight, but at last I think I’ve found it. The piece of art that I instantly knew had to be shared with you all. For the first installment of this Project, click here (no really, this page is worth looking at).

As much as I sincerely wish everybody has already heard of this, I recently discovered a friend from my university course who hadn’t. My jaw hit the ground. The genius – though that word is so overused it has almost lost its significance – that I am about to share with you has been massive in my family for years. When this was performed live on stage, we went to see it. And yes, I would go again, and again, and again. It will never get old.

The topic for today’s Project Spotlight, is Jeff Wayne’s musical interpretation of The War of the Worlds.

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I will admit, I have never read the book, but having listened to this soundtrack time and again I almost feel as though I don’t have to. I will, of course. But I’ve heard it is a good interpretation nonetheless, lifting quotes directly from the page to keep the story correct.

I am unable to find you the full album to hit play and listen to the thing in one, however here is a sample. For anyone with iTunes, Spotify, or simply a love of CD’s like me, the album can be found for your enjoyment pretty much anywhere except YouTube.

I’ve decided to bring Jeff Wayne’s musical genius under the spotlight because it never fails to “bring about the warm fuzzies”. It “gives me all the feels” and all the other phrases which aren’t quite real English, yet somehow manage to describe the feeling of intense emotional movement by nothing more than a piece of music better than using the actual English language. It makes me go cold. The war cry of “Oooh Laaa” sends shivers through my entire body every time. Not even once per listen, I mean every time they cry – which is too many to count, and too much effort to do so when I’m trying to enjoy the track.

In terms of the translation from book to music, this can be compared to a book-to-film adaptation. It is always going to be scrutinized, some people will always prefer the original, some will hear the track and never know of the books existence, some may enjoy both. But there is one significant difference between music and film: film allows the use of both sight and sound – music does not. When reading a book you have just one sense: sight. You read the words on the page and that is all. When translated into film, the sight is still there, but sound is able to be added. While this may seem like a good thing, I personally believe this can hinder the impact that a book has. In this way Jeff Wayne was able to hit me harder than any film adaptation has, and probably ever will. I believe this is because, like a book, music allows only the use of one sense: sound. We can immerse ourselves in a book, just as in music. We can surrender ourselves totally to that one sense and it fills us. We are not forced to divide our attention between sight and sound. We can lose ourselves in the instrumentals, the lyrics, the narrator’s voice-overs. In the pure masterpiece.

I really do hope you all, if you are not already familiar with it, check out this album.

Or alternatively, go and see the live show in 2014. I went to the 2012 tour and, while thinking the album couldn’t be topped, I found I was severely mistaken. In the London 02, capacity 20,000, fully packed, I stared slack-jawed as the giant metal construction lowered from the rafters – the Martians had literally descended on London. As you may be aware, I find nothing makes me feel more alive than being at a live concert. This is my home from home, the place I feel complete. So being in an arena with 19,999 other people, body shaking with adrenaline, from excitement, as the orchestra filled the building, our bodies, with their music … it doesn’t get much better. I was tingling all over from sheer awe at the spectacle.

For tickets to the 2014 UK and Europe tour, click right > here <.

Below is a picture from the tour, and I’m not even going to make it smaller for the purpose of fitting in the page. Take it in, in all its glory.

ImageSo all the spotlights are on and directed at you, Jeff Wayne. Thankyou for creating such a magnificent piece of art. It holds a permanent place in my soul, and I am forever grateful. You truly are a genius.


‘Abstract Christmas’

A thought that never really occurred to me until reading The Secret History is that the horrifying is also often the most beautiful. “Beauty is terror”, as Julian would say. As pointed out in the book, the passages in literature we find the most captivating are almost always the most visually repulsive. Bloodshed, misery, pain. Wilfred Owen’s soldier in the wagon with his “white eyes writhing in his face” (‘Dulce et Decorum Est’). Milton’s Sin* with “the shape of a woman above the waist, that of a serpent below, and her middle is ringed about with Hell Hounds, who periodically burrow into her womb and gnaw her entrails”. These are the passages, Julian says, that we cannot help but love.

Walking through Beaumont Park today, I looked up at the trees on a whim and had two, seemingly unconnected, thoughts.

1. The leaves are falling. The trees are dying.
2. The park looks so beautiful like this.

I did not connect these until afterwards. Morbid? Maybe. But the trees are dying and the park did in fact look very beautiful. The leaves, not quite green anymore, but not old enough to have lost all colour. The trunks and branches, looking suddenly proud now that their bare bones, their prime foundations, have been laid bare to the prying eyes of the human world. It doesn’t get more beautiful. But maybe that’s just the Romantic in me.

In light of this observation, I have chosen to share with you a short story I had planned, and failed, to have entered into a competition around this time last year. The rules were simple – create a story with the title ‘Abstract Christmas’ and be different. I believe the actual words stated were “Think Tarantino”. With this in mind I wrote my ‘Abstract Christmas’. It may not be to everybody’s taste – I was uncertain even showing it to my creative writing tutor – but for something a little different, read on. After all, I’ve already mentioned how sometimes the most horrific of events can seem somehow … aesthetically pleasing, perhaps. We love to love the gruesome parts of literature. It’s just in our nature.

Abstract Christmas

This wasn’t in the job description. When they said they needed someone with training in the Arctic, he hadn’t realised they’d had this in mind. £30,000, half now, half after: the money had been enough to agree. So here he squatted, luxury white goose feathers free-falling around his person in their lacy, lazy swirls of silence.

Wellingtons crumping up the driveway. He drew his attention back to the task at hand. The woman’s feet stuttered sideways as her boots packed snow to ice. The child stretched its legs to follow: he fell; he went to cry but found he could not; newborn flakes in his lashes; he rose and his crimson overcoat was clad in white. Robson tracked the child up the path with his semi-frozen sight.

“Ma?” Robson stiffened: the child had ensnared his gaze.

“Yes, Billy?” Don’t blink. The bitter wind fought to out him.

“Ma, it’s watching me!” Eyeballs turned to stone. Arctic tactics pushed to full capacity.

“What is, Billy?” Ice inside his sockets stuck his eyeballs, statuesque.

“The snowman!”

Through quilted layers of crystals Robson heard the dreaded words erupt from the child’s mouth. He held still. The mother paused.

“The snowman? Billy, the snowman isn’t real. It can’t be watching you.”

“But it is, Ma! It is, it is!”

“Don’t be a Silly Billy! Come on, you’ll turn into a snowman if you don’t get out of this cold!”

A final, frosty, flicker of fear from the child, then Robson’s icy bonds were shattered. He blinked. Breathing evenly behind his mask, he flexed his fingers, felt the trigger. The pistol shivered in his grasp and gulped as the safety clicked off. Robson undid the top button of the snowman’s shirt and a subtle thud sounded as it found the floor. From his human igloo he watched the mother turn on the kitchen light, bright against the winter’s hollow night.

Shifting the cumbersome flakes from his long-shod lashes he sought out the silhouette of Billy, the kid. The counter-top raised his body high, the single light above his head forming a halo of golden curls about his temple. Billy lifted distressful hands as if to bless, and mist fogged the glass before his face. He turned his eyes to his snowman, standing to attention on the battlefield. His plastic horse, Bonney, lay toppled in no-man’s-land, a shroud of white embracing his motionless frame. Tears swallowed up his sapphire eyes.

Robson slid the barrel through the buttonhole, the copper petals unfurling to face the Mother’s sun. Robson had a mind not to think of any misery in the sound of the wind, the same wind that was blowing for Billy, and for the listener, who listens in the snow. Nothing himself, he beholds the nothing that is not there and the nothing that is**. The pistol’s icy bonds were shattered. It blinked.

“Merry Christmas”, breathed the snowman. The shattering of crystals trashed the heart-broken silence, and Bonney’s white overcoat became clad in crimson. Tonight, the £30,000 belonged to Robson.

*seem’d Woman to the waste, and fair, [ 650 ]
But ended foul in many a scaly fould
Voluminous and vast, a Serpent arm’d
With mortal sting: about her middle round
A cry of Hell Hounds never ceasing bark’d
With wide Cerberian mouths full loud, and rung [ 655 ]
A hideous Peal: yet, when they list, would creep,
If aught disturb’d thir noyse, into her woomb,
And kennel there, yet there still bark’d and howl’d
Within unseen.

** For the Wallace Stevens poem referenced in this passage click here