There was that time – you won’t remember – when this man knocked on the downstairs windows of the house. The curtains were drawn and I was in my underpants. I opened the curtains and the man was crying. He asked for my mum or dad. I got on with crying too. He asked for help; came in sodden and wilted over the steam of a brew. Turned out he’d hitchhiked with the wrong kind of man, had his legs touched while the door was locked. And then he’d barrelled straight over our hedge.
There was another time, the shop lady said it between her smiles, that a cyclist at the crossroads had challenged a dumper truck’s rear wheels. He looked sort of unfinished, there, with his ankles by his ears. His girlfriend kept flowers on the lamp post for a year. There was a note: something simple about red lights, I think. You felt a bit sick every time you walked past it.
When I was eight, I wrote a poem about the biology of a naked woman I saw in the swimming baths. All chlorine and confusion. Mum found it and told me to show more respect. Even though her breasts had more or less landed on my face when she bent down to dry her toes.
Another, that one when my little brother found a man who’d blended himself with his bike. His helmet was inside his face and my brother said there was a noise – a low note – that he figured you made if you combined yourself with your biking equipment. The man died on the road with my brother’s hand in his.
All these things make for little anecdotes, tiny chunks of me. They’re all quite true. I suppose I chose them because they stick. Make little stories by themselves. The gory, the weird, the scary. It’s these stories seem to roll on forever – testing, in some way. A bit like the I’ve-seen-more-than-you game the lads played watching execution videos through 56k modems back when. But in writing, they come out in different ways.
What’s always fascinated me about reading is working out what is real, imagined or somewhere between. Whether characters are drawn from the private or are simply invented. Whether events are inspired or just made up. Whether the writer has gone through that… or whether they know somebody who has. And it’s these moments – especially the darker bits, the hidden white bits — that really stick. These little mysterious born out of chance meetings. Or even just a character dreamt up after staring too long at another passenger.
They say write what you know, don’t they?
I say steal what everyone else knows.