Chapter 1: The Book Launch

Frederick sat at his table. He looked out of the window then down at his laptop. It was still dark morning when I walked past. He was wearing green and blue pyjamas and a red and black woolly hat. I waved. He raised a hand in mournful benediction.

A year or so later, Frederick invited me to the launch of his new book. He knew I was a fan though I had never said so and we had never spoken about his work. I never heard a sound up through the floor from his flat except for what I called his Wagner nights and he never complained to me.

His publisher spoke first: Ladies and gentlemen, Frederick will start the evening by reading the very first few paragraphs of his new thriller. You will be the very first people to hear, or read, this new story. There will then be time for questions.

Frederick cleared his throat. “His next victim walked past his window and waved jauntily. He clearly suspected nothing. He thought the killer was his friend. Edinburgh people were like that. They took lack of open hostility as friendship.”

I stopped listening. His next victim?

How Pelmanism made a writer

Turn over, turn over, top left! That’s the one, the wizz with the conk, the nose and hat at nine o’clock. Let’s see, what next? OK, bottom right, there, right at the bottom. Turn it over. Oh, ok. They’re neither of them a wizard though. Or perhaps… perhaps they’re wizards of communication, masters of the modern world, with their cans and their partings and their billowing bellies? No? OK then, I’ll turn them back over, the wizard and the guys on the phone. It’s your turn.

Just point to the one you want me to turn. Fourth row and three across? Great. You’ve got a pear, a silver one. That reminds me of the story. Have I ever told it you? The grandmother, the bear and the silvery pear? No? That’s odd, that’s one of my favourites. I’ll tell you the story when we finish this game. Just one more connection to find and then that’s it done for another ten years until Christmas falls on the night of a falling star. That’s it! You’ve got it! The golden pear. Right next to the silver one. Whoever would have thought it?

Oh, don’t be sad. Let’s turn all the cards over and see what stories we can tell. You begin…

Inspired by illustrations by Ross Gillespie @bigblether

other hemispheres

in my head in my heart in my hands
my words are heat
on the page on the screen
they fade to cool

take them in, breathe them in
the heat of the sun
of my head of my heart of my hands
will come to you
will heat you through

This will be the mother

This will be the mother of all days.
The day when all the ways I miss you
will be revealed. And all the devils
in the detail, and all the stories I still write
for you, tall tales of shameless derring do,
of fisher folk on the tempested seas,
all the tiny hints I write
for you to seize on,
knowing you will never read them
or even know they are there.
Oh, this will be the mother of all days.

I hear my words in my voice

I hear my words in my voice.
Of course.
But if you then roll them round your tongue,
smooth sour sweet pebbles of thought I have,
are they still mine or are they now yours and yours only?

There lies the man who will not hear his words
repeated by another.
He closes his ears and eyes.
Another’s interpretation must be
of and in itself
a wrong one
and this dissonance will misshape the future.

But I am willing to take a risk.
Words past written are the past
and your voice overtaking is just one of many.
I shall sit and record and listen and wonder
and perhaps never write again.

Not the you

Long ago I watched you stride
then slide across the canvas barefoot,
throwing paint with open hands, fingers flicking,
sometimes with your look of grave intention,
a cat coil-crouched by a low-leafed bush;
other days you groaned as if the impetus within were shocking.

Your clothes, bare skin, blending with the mural
camouflaged, anonymous, you disappeared from sight.

You asked the age-old question of invention
and I said I don’t know.
You said creation was overrated,
exposure of the truths within would trump it,
and we would find out all we could discover
if we only –
and I said I don’t know.

Some cloudy coloured streaks formed letters –
obvious initials stood out –
A, Ess, Kay, alles klar, all were clear
and could not then be unseen;
as I closed my eyes they shone
like tattoos on my wrist and arm.

Scripts I did not know soon caught my mind
characters hiding in plain sight
An author? What author?
Any author sir.
After the paint the words
and you became my writer.

You created people in your clicking mind
They fell into a checkboard scheme
Each in its place, all moves controlled
until your pen was broken
and the fences that enclosed them.

Good, good so far. Critically admired. Strong.
Characters in your past solidified from misty memories
and became new and real,
less shiny in reflected light:
that was OK, you did not seek to justify or deceive
so it was acceptable – they said.

You lived in your own world, your known world
a world you gave birth to
the world you showed us was the world you knew
what you meant in your world we knew

Later doctors showed us the nipping
the clipping shut of tiny vessels,
thinner than wires, thinner than hairs,
and slowly the closest connections failed
and the ghosts began to come alive.
Even touching failed,
sealed shut and separate,
in real life lost meaning.

You invented –
I shouldn’t call it that but do –
you invented made-up people in the present
the cat you saw sat on the mat had lost its mother
your father dead these years was now your son,
who had lost his meaning and his purpose.
You cried for your past
and did not see a future.
More tears later I hope you have forgotten.
I cannot.

You are still wearing your spattered shirt
so you can call memories as they and you were
I wipe it with a dampened cloth
but the rag smells of water, of absence of smell,
and you frown at the nothingness in anger or confusion.

On the screen grey mist spread wider
soft-edged goodness was soft-shaved away
I couldn’t believe it but
only the dark self diamond remained.

This was your real self, not the one I believed in
not the one I believed to be true.
Your true self. It said so on machines
so who was I to argue?

Once, I remember, I longed for the phone to ring –
now I welcome its silence, no news.
And then it rang once and stopped,
silent before I could fish it from my pocket or my bag.
It was your number but
you could not use it so
I knew.
And it rang again and this time I answered
and then I made the journey.

Be brave you had said
so I was.

Cry for me you had said.
So I did.

It was a different you that left me
not the you of paint and words and meanings
not the you of morning night and evening
not the you.
Not the you.
Now. Goodbye.