Why do I write? That’s not what I trained for. I spent five years at art school; five years of thrills and spills, being abused and then praised and then abused again, having my best work rubbished comprehensively and then being urged to carry out stupid ideas I had dreamed up during a drunken pizza lunch with my mother... (FYI, it’s useful sometimes having a mum one can get plastered with!). I painted and drew for the life of me. I learned an enormous amount about myself. And I tried (& tried, and tried) to connect what I could do with the Fine Art Newspeak Bullsh*t that most of the tutors spoke, most of the time.
In the end, though, it didn’t work. I’ll never regret those five years: they were fascinating and fun, I made some great friends, I learned to salsa and speak Spanish, and I did make some good paintings. And drawings. Good, big drawings. If I ever know someone whose house is large enough to hang the really big stuff (which isn’t that big – I think the largest pieces were about six feet by eight – come on, some people make artworks hundreds of feet long) then he or she will be welcome to any of it that they like. I’m unlikely ever to be able to hang it myself, after all, since I’ll never own a mansion. I still paint and sketch with great happiness, on holiday, or down at the London Wetland Centre. But I have come to see I’ll never be an artist.
It’s partly that I haven’t the patience to sit and listen and try to engage with the aforementioned Fine Art Bullsh*t. I managed to, at college; but five years of it was more than enough. Way more... Life is too short to waste time bending one’s brain into that distorted worldview, just in order to please someone who will then turn around and say “But I don’t like the shade of blue you’re using, either”. Excuse my French, but f*ck them.
I am someone who got a tremendous amount out of spending five years making what I consider to be art; but “an artist” is someone who wants to make a career in the Art World and embrace the Fine Art BS; qv my earlier rude comments, above. I got into art because after ten years with no creative outlet except my job cooking (which I was good at, and also don’t regret), my rediscovery of creative activity when I was in my late twenties blew my mind. I could have gone full-tilt into anything creative that I had happened upon, but it was an adult ed art evening class that I hit on, and that hit me. Like anyone who's been hit, I was a little punch-drunk afterwards, though in this case it was punch-drunk with joy.
Ultimately, all I was doing at college, though, was having fun and playing. I think I had a whole second childhood in those five years at KIAD, and all the fun and all the frustrations of adolescence, too; but at an age when I was mature enough to experience them fully – and, crucially, gain from them - instead of simply drowning in them. So no, no regrets whatsoever, but still I have come to feel it was a dead-end for me.
When I sat down, in autumn 2005, and did that “what are your creative goals” exercise from The Artist's Way, what came out wasn’t art works. It was stories. And they have been coming out ever since. Not as steadily as I would like, but pretty steady even so.
I wanted to write when I was a kid. I had a head full of stories I wanted to tell, and all these years later they are still there. The “back burner” exercise I did last year uncovered the fact that some of them, even some of the really old ones, were actually worth doing. New ones pop up in my brain all the time. Urban fantasies, pseudo-historical fantasies, romantic fantasies; slight things like the fairy tales, and epics that could run to four volumes. Storytelling; that’s what I was made for, it seems. I ignored it for all those years, and the moment I let it see daylight, it sprouted anew. Stories, stories, stories.
That’s why I do it. It’s what makes me, me, and it’s the greatest delight I have in my life. I have no idea if I will ever be published (though I intend to keep trying) but I cannot stop the storytelling, because that would be like stopping growing. I could stop doing the art in any serious way, because it was, ultimately, a blind alley. But the stories are not blind. The stories have intense eyes that see me, and see the world, and through which I can see; and nothing looks the same when I see through their eyes.
I describe Anna and Thorn talking about sensory interference, I send the protagonists of “Café Tana” into the maze in the heart of someone's mind, I trap Simon Cenarth on a battlefield and walk across a desert with Maramne Myas to try and save her husband and reach her lover; I meet aliens, heal gunslingers, discover creatures that feed on fear, and learn to overcome them by overcoming fear, and I find love and lose it and find it again; and then wake up and want breakfast. In stories. Which are my truest world.
What more to tell? A busy weekend: The Olympics Opening Ceremony was great fun, beautiful, exciting and relatively cheese-free, and also managed to be very smoothly drilled while looking completely anarchic and organic; Saturday I got sunburned again helping TCI to gloss paint doors on trestles in her garden; Sunday I did my grocery shopping and cleaning and all the other domestic duty stuff, and got rained on, and wrote, and watched “The Town”, which was excellent. A classic-tropes heist movie, extremely well done and totally gripping; I’d put it on a par with “Heat” and “Ronin” and “Ne le dis à personne” in terms of good old-fashioned thriller quality. And surprise surprise, Mr Renner is terrific – playing a terrifying, and ultimately tragic, murderous nut-job.
And someone came home at 4.00am last night and slammed doors and played music in the flat. At 4.00am. Gods, I wish I had my own place!