Memento: ‘Of The Tribe’ and how it changed my life

Plinky.com asked me to name a book that changed my life.

And, I’m sure, planned to send a spider across all the posts to scalp the names, to be collated by popularity and sold to the publishing house that was willing to bid the most for the aggregated data.

Much like the one about films a week or so back.

Cynical? Moi?

So, a book that changed my life.

I’ll confound the data hungry robots by naming my first novel, which will remain unpublished whilever I’m alive to stop it being released.

‘Of The Tribe’ is a horror story in the mould of Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell and other writers who touch on the metaphysical. Basically, a vampire story, though more direct – Clarisse is literally a sexual predator, a soul-stealer who places the pieces she has stolen during consummation deep within herself; a menagerie of twisted forms dancing endlessly within The Cathedral. And John, her latest victim, whose life is falling apart, might just be falling in love with Clarisse. And she with him. Until, in order to isolate and protect their relationship, she kills his best friend and his mother, leaving John with the choice of family and a return to normality, or to continue this twisted love wherever it may follow.

Even now 20+ years after writing ‘Of The Tribe’, I can remember both plot and snippets of text. In terms of the actual writing, I hadn’t yet learnt to self-edit, and it’s often pretentious, verbose and over-descriptive

[in my early novels, I had a habit of not using dialogue directly, but instead describing a conversation that had just happened – it’s maddening to read, and one of the reasons I’m loathe to go back to re-write any of my early novels – it would be like writing them afresh]

I was trying soooooo hard to be a WRITER.

In addition, though – and this is why I chose ‘Of The Tribe’ for this prompt – much of John’s experience was based in autobiography.

[though not all of it – as far as I know, the only piece of my soul I’ve ever surrendered was given willingly to my wife and kids]

To understand that, you have to know what was happening with me at the time. I was in my second year at Nottingham University, studying chemistry. Lucky to be there, as I’d almost failed my first-year exams…

Wait… Rewind…

When I was 13, I made a decision that I wouldn’t become a starving artist, that I’d pursue a career in science, and make art (at the time, that was music mainly) on the side. When I gave up English Lit and Lang, my two strongest subjects, my teachers complained (loudly – and still do when I see them now).

OK… back to Uni. Late in the first year of Uni, I developed a skin condition that looked a little like psoriasis or excema, though located solely on my hands. I won’t bore with the medical details, all you need to know is that, as a guitarist, I lost my main creative outlet – I couldn’t play… more exactly, I couldn’t bend my fingers without first cracking them open – to this day my palms and fingers are covered with micro-scars from the thousands of times I’ve cracked them open

[the condition stayed with me for 13 years]

So, here I am alone at Uni, with the love of my adolescent life back in my home town, knowing yet denying the decision I’d made at 13 to move away from my true nature, slowly going insane for lack of creative outlet. I don’t think I’ve ever been to the depths as much as I did during that period. For the 2-3 months surrounding my 21st birthday in February, I was deeply, clinically depressed – yet letting few people know (only a couple of friends who helped drag me through).

Even writing about it now brings some level of the sadness back – as I’ve been typing, I’ve shrunk into myself, rounding my shoulders, dipping my head – heading towards a fetal position in which I found myself often during that time.

Then, some time in February or March of that year, I found myself sitting in a chair with a pad of paper, writing – meanwhile my chemistry coursework sat untouched over on my desk. I’d been writing bits and bobs in the previous year, though anything I’d written had quickly been forgotten. But this day was different. I’d woken up with the clear thought: “Today, I’m writing my first novel.”

It really was that conscious. And I knew the first line.

“Once upon a time, I made a mistake.”

I wrote the 132,000 words of ‘Of The Tribe’ over the course of 2-3 months and, by the end of my second year, I’d finished my first novel and also turned my grades around at Uni. Later that year, I would break up with my girlfriend and, in my final year, go on to re-draft the novel and graduate with an upper second. From there I went to employment and the journey I’ve been on ever since.

If you read my posts, you’ll know that I don’t spend time lamenting the past or regretting anything – it’s a waste of the life and time I’ve been given. But when I do look back at that time, my 21 year-old self was all too subconsciously aware of the decision that 13 year-old had taken. He even wrote it as the first line of his first novel.

Through writing ‘Of The Tribe’, I pulled myself out of the deepest depression of my life and set myself back on a course that was more natural for me – I am a story-teller – though it would take another decade and three more novels before I wrote something I considered worthy of publication. The template I’d set, of writing giving me an outlet for the day-to-day compromise that 13 year-old had forced upon me, wouldn’t be broken until 2010 – nearly two decades later.

So, ultimately, ‘Of The Tribe’ was the seed of staying true to what and who I am – writing it changed my life at the time and, ultimately over the years that followed.

And as for that 13 year-old? Once upon a time, he didn’t make a mistake, he made a choice – he’s dealt pretty well with what emerged from that choice. He wouldn’t have had the life he has had without it. I love that 13 year-old me and thank him for steering me toward all these experiences.

Moving forward is never a mistake.

And – just in case you’re thinking about asking – no, you can’t read ‘Of The Tribe’, it’s mine and mine alone.

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