Lost Words

I’ve destroyed or lost countless pieces of writing over the years. Words and effort burnt, thrown away, deleted or mislaid a thousand times.

I remember a square spiral bound notebook I had at university in which I wrote up all my stories as neatly as possible (a hard thing to do when you’re not blessed with neat writing and your mind’s busy writing the thing after the thing you’re transcribing) – some of them only really scenes and snapshots. It didn’t survive. Burnt. But I remember the strongest of the stories it contained.

I remember my storybook from primary school, age 10 or so. Along with that of a friend who had particularly neat writing, it was snaffled by the school to use as some sort of evidence that Kids Do Good Stuff Here and probably found itself travelling to the tip with a skipful of old chairs and hymn books decades ago.

I remember a couple of horror stories I wrote, one at 8ish and one at 14ish. One got lost in the mists of time and the other vanished into the schoolwork heap. I remember one with total clarity but only get flashes of feeling from the other.

I remember a blog hardly anyone knew about, deleted long ago, though some of its ideas have since been recycled. Word and OpenOffice documents galore have met their match at the hands of a dissatisfied Cat and shift-delete.

But alongside the narrative carnage, I’ve been preserving certain writing with the care and attention you’d lavish on a signed first edition. My diaries, of course, survive in all their cringe-inducing glory. But then there are the stories that one way or another needed preserving.

These are the documents that have made it from PC to PC numerous times, some of them making their first few transfers on floppy disks (remember those, kids?) having been typed up from longhand. These are the documents of which I have multiple copies squirrelled away, Just In Case.

I’m not sitting on a pile of would-be bestsellers; this is the group of documents with which I can’t bring myself to part. They have too much in them.

There are poems that I wrote taking the mickey out of certain teachers or when leaving, or even doing, particular jobs – unprintable, sadly, but highly amusing to those of us in the know.

There are the starts of stories that never got finished not because the idea wasn’t sound but because I wasn’t the right me then to write them. I will be someday. Some of these have already been gutted for the good flesh, but I still like to keep the old carcasses around.

Old blogs, too. They may be gone, but they’re not forgotten. Except for the one I killed entirely, I have the best bits from all of them saved.

There’s the half a book a friend and I wrote to keep ourselves entertained during interminable enforced ‘revision periods’ at school. When we were supposed to be revising for our GCSEs, we were collaborating on a fantasy of proportions that threatened to be epic if we ever finished. We called it Bill. It featured a warlock by the name of Moshollondo, which name will make complete sense to anyone who went to the same school we did who juggles it around a bit to find its origin, and a devil who, now that I think about it, bore a striking resemblance to Lister’s Confidence in the Confidence and Paranoia episode of Red Dwarf. I couldn’t possibly hit the delete button on Bill, even though he’s over two decades old and never likely to be finished.

Some things were never meant to be. Some things served their purpose and don’t need to linger. Some things will find their purpose one day.

And some things were simply made to stick around.

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Writing: Running

I actually wrote this a few years ago now – in 2009, my records tell me. An atypical, fairly straight little storyette. Not from my life, or at least not all of it, but from many lives.

She was running. Her breath was coming in shallow, throat-sharping breaths, sweat slicking her fringe to her forehead, cheeks flushed, sweat making increasingly wide and acrid splotches under her arms.

She flicked a glance at the digital display. 5mph. Heartrate wobbling dangerously on the edge of the red warning bars. 48 minutes completed. She pushed the speed button a couple of times, slowing the machine to a trundle while she plodded for a minute, holding her hand against the side of her body as if to prop it up. She glanced at the display again, then took a swig of water, wiped her forehead, and broke back into a run.

Three quarters of an hour later, and the staff were gently intruding into her treadmill trance to let her know the gym was due to close in half an hour. Reluctantly, she stepped off the machine, stumbling a little as her feet touched steady ground for the first time in over an hour.

She stood directly under the showerhead, barely moving, allowing the hot stream to cascade over her for a while. She emerged pink from exertion and heat, braced herself, and stepped onto the scales.

She’d lost a pound since yesterday. She was disappointed. Losing weight was great, but at this rate she’d be huge for months.

She dressed and drove home, revolving plans to shift the remainder of the weight. Perhaps if she just had cereal tonight, then she could have salad for lunch tomorrow, maybe allow herself a couple of those nice sesame Ryvitas later on. And she needed to run more, of course.

She got up early in the morning and, despite the chill in the early spring air, went for a run outside. By the time she stood, drooping, under the showers at work she’d run miles and was once again pouring with sweat. She allowed herself a small biscuit with her morning cuppa, but uneasily resolved not to have milk in her tea all day to compensate.

She ate lunch – a small salad – at her desk rather than go to the cafe with her colleagues. She couldn’t bear the clumsy “oh go on, one cake won’t hurt” comments and figured that when they protested “But you’re skinny already, you don’t need to lose weight” they were just being kind. It only took standing in front of the mirror to see that her neck was still fleshy, her stomach rounding over the top of her trousers, thighs too chunky and rippled to contemplate. She disgusted herself.

Her head ached, and she was struggling to concentrate, numbers and formulae blurring and flipping before her eyes. She kept blinking firmly and opening her eyes wide to try to make the shapes swim into a smeary kind of focus.

As she passed her hand across her forehead again, she noticed her colleague, Mark, looking at her. He saw she’d noticed and smiled sheepishly and then asked if she was ok. She flipped a feeble, feelingless smile at him and said she was fine.

She’d been letting her head drop, she realised. He must have been staring at that fleshy neck, practically forming double chins in that unflattering pose. Concerned about me my arse, she thought bitterly.

She left at five on the dot, not that she really managed to do much, and turned down, yet again, the weekly invitation to the post-work Friday night booze up.

She drove straight to the gym and ran for a couple of hours before she weighed herself again. She’d lost a pound. The child in her wailed and stamped her foot in frustration. Maybe if she stuck to the black tea, got rid of the biscuits, and didn’t have cheese with her salad she’d do better.

She drove home and wept as she listened to a voicemail from Mark, tentatively asking if she was ok and whether she’d be up for going for coffee at the weekend. Great, she thought, take the piss out of the fat girl. I bet they were all listening to him, snickering into their drinks at the idea the fittest bloke in the office would be interested in a munter like her.

She went through the cupboards in a tearful rage, flinging anything vaguely unhealthy into a bin liner and ditching it in the wheelie bin in disgust at herself for owning so much of it.

Overwrought and determined to avoid eating that evening, she went to bed at nine o’clock.

Another early morning, another pair of size 6 tracksuit trousers, another revolted glance in the mirror as she left the house. Ignoring the texts from her colleagues, the cheery g’mornings from her neighbours, the pain in her sides and the sweat on her body, she kept on running. Always running.

On Writing: Last night, I dreamt a woman named September smiled a tremulous smile…

Last night, I dreamt that a woman named September smiled a tremulous smile and then got eaten by a shark.

Are you someone who remembers your dreams? The ones you have at night, while your unconscious mind is in charge, not the other sort. I remember only some of them – I guess they’re the ones that are most likely to wake me up for one reason or another – but they leave the general impression that my unconscious mind is rather energetic.

And I realised today just how far they tie in with my writing.

The dreams I can remember in the mornings are the type of writing I’m most likely to produce. They almost all involve gore, sex, or running. I’ve not written fiction for several months, but there’s a certain style, as there is with every writer. The most recent writings are erotica, but I entered  a short story contest a while back with a piece of straight fiction that had a running theme and got some pleasingly promising feedback.

All through my childhood and teens, though, I wrote horror . I remember painstakingly making a handwritten book when I was seven or eight – it had a decidedly bloody theme involving someone being chased through a forest, and would have been a comic if I could draw – I remember trying to illustrate certain scenes but being so unsatisfied with the results that I didn’t include those pages in the final product. I remember a story involving ritual sacrifice that I wrote for my GCSE English Language course getting one of the highest marks in the class  – and the comment that the teacher did not care for my subject matter (all credit to him for marking the piece according to its merit even though he really didn’t like it!).

I remember trying to write everyday things and finding that while I could conjure the scenes, I didn’t know quite what to do with them once I’d done so. They were nicely (if a little amateurishly!) drawn, but they lacked action and purpose – snapshot rather than movie.

Last night, I dreamt that a woman named September smiled a tremulous smile and then got eaten by a shark.