Monday, 20 April 2015

Update - second draft

Dear all –

For a long time now, I haven’t felt any sense of urgency about updating Contact, and it’s taken me some time to work out why. When I first started, I loved it. I still do love it, so why am I not updating? I asked myself.

After some thought, I have realised the reason is, basically, that the first draft of Contact is finished. It’s done.

I don’t always know which story I want to tell when I start a story; I don’t always find out until the end. This is the end, and the story I wanted to tell is Alice and Martin’s love story. The story, which I originally thought might be a thriller or a horror, is the story of Alice learning to genuinely open up to another person, which she has now done.

So, now comes the second draft. During the second draft this story will change significantly. It always does. Now I know what the focus is, and I know what Alice’s story arc is, I have to rewrite with a view to that. I know this is the right decision because I feel excited about it and frankly I am itching to get started.

I will have to remove or tighten up some things, add others, and expand on yet more. I will have to move things around – I’m not at all pleased with the pacing (the relationships with both Derek and Chris peak too soon) and I’m leaving a lot of unanswered questions. The style is uneven and in places clunky.

However, in general, I’d have to say it is a successful first draft. Alice’s voice, the feel of the writing, the characterisation and the slightly disconnected and elliptical conversations and scenes (Alice herself is disconnected and elliptical. I wanted to reflect this in the writing) are all doing what I wanted them to do. This means I have captured the basis of the book I want to write, and now I have to do the hard bit; the detailed rewrite.

I would like to thank everyone who has read Contact, especially those of you who took the time to comment on it. I really appreciate your taking the time to let me know your thoughts. If anyone has anything they would like to say now we have reached the end, please do – any kind of criticism is welcome as long as it is constructive (eg comments like: “This scene doesn’t work because that statement is badly written and not in character for Amanda” are helpful. Statements like “This is complete shit,” are no help at all. I need specific examples of where and why it is shit, or I can’t fix it)

I will not be doing the second draft online, as a lot of what I want to do will not be entertaining or fit easily into the blog format. However, once it’s finished, I will post it for sale on Amazon Kindle alongside my first book The Jungle Inside. There will be a note on here to let you know when it’s ready, should any of you want to buy it.

Thank you


Sunday, 9 November 2014

95. Territorial Pissings

I gain comfort in the fact that Matthew does not know me.

One of the identifying characteristics of abusers – rapists, bullies, people who indulge in any variety of physical or emotional subjugation - is their desire to completely define their victims. To own us. To say: this person belongs to me, I know everything about them, they are completely under my control. Every thought they have is mine. Everything they do is mine. Everything they are is mine. Mine, mine, mine, like the Finding Nemo seagulls. With pretty much the same amount of self-awareness.

And it's incredibly important to them that their behaviour is normal. That this is how "everyone" behaves. That any honest man will admit to wanting to rape or beat a woman. That everyone secretly wants to sexually assault children. That calling your partner every half hour to check they are where they say they are is common practice.

It has got to the point that if anyone ever spontaneously says to me "Everyone's like this, honey" with that patronising, world-weary tone of superiority that implies my naivety isn't doing me any favours, it immediately makes me deconstruct whatever it was they said to see where the bullshit is. 

But of course, they would have to think it's normal. Their lives are built on sand. If it's not normal, if "everyone" isn't doing it, then you have to start questioning whether it's right to behave like that or not. And you absolutely do not want to be going down that road. If you're an abuser. 

I guess it stems from some kind of fundamental insecurity or self-loathing or childhood trauma or whatever, but to be honest I couldn't care less. Abusers always do have excuses, strings of them, designed to justify or mitigate their need to hold you down and have sex with you, or punch you when dinner's late, or check your phone every hour, or text you abuse, or tweet graphic descriptions of their intent to rape you, or put you down constantly, or call you into their office and tell you you're a fucking moron. I don't accept excuses for bad behaviour. Your mum beat you, and that's why you sexually harassed one of your employees to the point of attempting suicide? Aw, poor baby. Grow up and get some fucking therapy. Because, for every one of you, there's ten other people who had the same thing happen to them who don't do what you do. 

There's this myth that people can own each other like possessions. I sometimes hear people I know talking about their boyfriends or girlfriends with the emphasis on “my”, and I wonder what on earth makes them think they can just lay claim to another person like that.

You might say that bullying and possessiveness is different from rape, but actually I would argue it's not. Rape is an extreme form of bullying, to be sure, but bullying it is; it's about the desire to control, not the desire to embrace.

Remember how it feels to be drop-kicked by intense desire? We have all been there, all of us. You know that feeling. The one where your palms sweat and you lose the ability to form sentences. The one where you stare at them out of the corner of your eye and then pretend you weren't when you're caught. The one where you burn for that one beautiful person, you think about them all the time, you imagine what it would be like to be with them...

Tell me, did you ever want to take that person by force? Of course not. You want them to desire you as much as you desire them. You want them to be filled with uncontrollable passion at the very sight of you. Maybe, in your fantasies, both of you would be so gripped by desire you'd rip each other's clothes and bite and grasp, but do you want to see terror in their eyes when they look at you?

Think about the reality of it for a second; how they'd struggle. Would they cry and plead for you not to do it? Would you slap them to get them under control? You'd have to do it hard. Maybe a punch would work better? Feel their lip mash against their teeth? Can you see the blood? How would that feel? Now, how it would feel to grasp their arms so hard they'd bruise? Can you see the way the light would go out of their eyes as you took away their right to dictate what happens to their body?

Turn you on? No? And that's because you are not a rapist.

One of the great lies we have been sold is the “uncontrollable” nature of sexuality. That rape and abuse are somehow connected with desire. That if you provoke desire, you can expect rape; that if you become the object of someone else's sexual interest, even unknowingly, then you can expect attempts to control and subjugate you. You can see this everywhere, and you hear the excuses everywhere, and there is always the subtext that somehow the victim deserved it for inciting desire.

You don't even need to talk to other people. All you have to do is look inside yourself to know that's a lie, sold to us by a fucked-up system designed to normalise the horrific actions of a minority.

Next time you hear that, imagine the actual reality - of taking someone by force, or deliberately coercing someone into bed with you, or taking the calm decision to get someone drunk or put drugs in their drink so you can sexually assault them after they pass out. Think about it. Imagine it. And you'll see just how far from sex it is.

Wake up. Take the red pill. See things as they are. Don't ever let the abusers con you into thinking they're normal.  

Sunday, 2 November 2014

94. This was all fine in theory

I'll be the judge of that,” says Martin.

The day after my night at Sally's, I asked Martin to meet me for a drink. I prepped myself carefully on what I would say, and then I said it. I wore a take-me-seriously pinstriped dress.

This was all fine in theory, but the actual conversation is not going at all how I expected. I have, apparently, prepared for every outcome except the one where he refuses to be dumped.

I'm not good enough for you,” I say. “I have all these...issues. There's stuff that's happened to me I haven't told you about - “

My mum and dad had a acrimonious breakup when I was four,” says Martin. “One of my earliest memories is of Mum hurling my older brother's Nintendo at Dad's head. My first girlfriend had depression and committed suicide when I was 16. Tina broke my heart into little tiny pieces and then put the pieces in the blender by cheating on me with the be-mulletted bass player from the world's worst amateur metal band. What's your excuse?”

His first girlfriend committed suicide? I didn't know that. God, that's awful. Tina slept with someone else?

Martin is making an obvious effort to be calm. He's clearly very angry and very upset but I can see he is working on talking to me reasonably. He looks down at his hands. His hands are shaking minutely. Then he looks back at me.

Look,” he says. “I feel more comfortable with you than anyone I have ever met. I like you more than any other girl I've ever been with. We have so much fun together, I'm thinking – I was thinking – long term – I don't know how you feel about that - “

He stops, starts again.

If you really want to split up with me – if you don't feel the same and this isn't working for you - I can't stop you and I wouldn't want to. If I have to force you to stay with me, then it's broken anyway. But what I want to know is – do you actually want to split up with me, or is this just some thing where you think I can do better than you, because of some self esteem stuff you have going on or whatever? Because I absolutely don't want to split up. I want to be with you, and I have the right to make that decision for myself and I think it is a bit disrespectful for you to just make it for me. I'm a grown-up and I have the balls to change my life. If I decide it's not working out, I'll do the break up with you myself.”

Oh dear. That's a good point. In fact, it is a remarkably good point. I may have miscalculated here. My cheeks are starting to burn with embarrassment.

You could be with someone who isn't all weird and fucked up,” I say. “Someone who knows how to behave and looks normal and, I don't know, doesn't listen to industrial rave and wear latex dresses.”

You mean someone boring?” says Martin, beginning to smile. “You mean a boring woman? Come on, there is no way you would be friends with a girl like that. You wouldn't even be interested in talking to her for very long. What did you call Fiona McGivern the other day? A basic bitch? So if you know that basic bitches are boring, why do I have to go out with one?”

He reaches over and takes my hand.

He says: “Why are you so fucking ashamed of who you are? And more to the point, if you hate who you are so much, why don't you go out and turn yourself into one of these mythical “normal” women? And why don't you ever tell me anything about yourself? I want to know who you are. I want to meet your friends properly, not just see them from afar at a gig. I want to be part of your life and sometimes you let me in and sometimes you work as hard as you can to keep me out. Look, if you genuinely are not feeling it with me, just say it, but if you think we have a chance can we work at getting to know each other? I'll take it as slow as you like - ”

He stops. I realise he is on the verge of tears.

I'm so tempted to lie to him. For his own good. Tell him I don't care about him, that it isn't working out. But he's right, that's patronising, and all this stuff I'm telling myself isn't even true anyway. We're good together, and I know it. I'm only doing this because I am terrified of him. He's going to make me change, he's doing it already, he's changing me just by existing and wanting to be in my life and know me. This is something I have never had before and I'm terrified of it because it will mean I have to be honest with him. About everything.

Then I look at him, I see how much I'm hurting him, and I think fuck it.

I do want to be with you,” I say. “I know we're good. It's so good it's terrifying me and I think that's a large part of the problem,“ and as I say that I recognise how hard it must have been for him to say it because saying it feels like falling off a cliff.

He relaxes a tiny bit. But I need to do more, and I know I do, I need to share Matthew with him. I need to explain where I am coming from. He's shared his feelings with me, and now I need to share mine with him. That's how connecting works.


He's not like that.


You see, the problem I have is,” I say, and as I start speaking I feel myself float upwards, disconnect from my body, and it is as if I am watching myself tell Martin about Matthew, “there was this guy. When I was little. And he abducted me - “

Sunday, 26 October 2014

93. The bubbles are teasing the petals of the flower

I am in Sally's flat. I am drinking a glass of prosecco. Sally has put a preserved wild hibiscus bud in the bottom of the glass, and the bubbles are teasing the petals of the flower so it slowly opens. Traces of the juice it was preserved in are turning the wine a very pale pink. The glass is a fragile vintage bubble with gold around the rim.

Sally's sofa is covered in fake fur throws and velvet pillows, and the lighting comes from a softly glowing lamp, with a shade shaped like a huge gold paper flower. The room smells faintly of jasmine. There are no hard edges or bright lights here.

Sometimes I need to get away from the too-loud, too-bright, too-hard world where people are full of anger and the plastic tables are stained with tea rings. Is this why men over the ages have idealised the realm of the feminine? This soft fantasy world, with all the colour and frippery and slippery satin they weren't allowed to provide for themselves, because they were men with everything that entailed. A world of soft voices and soft lighting and physical pleasure - not necessarily sexual, but in the silk under your hand and the taste of the delicate food. A quiet world where you can finally rest your tired senses.

Well, at least until the children came along. After which things would never be quiet again, unless you were rich enough to afford Nanny. Maybe that's one of the problems between the sexes. We give them a glimpse at solace and then take it away tired brain isn't working very well. My head is spinning. I can feel the tears burning in my eyes.

Sally is sitting in the chair opposite me, watching me. One hand is pulling restlessly at the buttons of her high-necked blouse; the other holds a burning cigarette. She's worried about me. So am I.

I don't know what to say, Alice,” she says.

No,” I say, looking into my prosecco.

Sally is quiet. She reaches out and taps her cigarette into a green cut-glass ashtray.

I wish I could be one thing or the other,” I say. “Either happy in a relationship or happy alone.”

No-one's happy all the time,” says Sally, taking a drag. “Life is hard work. Other people are hard work. Sometimes I even find myself to be hard work.”

I really don't -” I break off, close my eyes, try again. “He's my friend. I don't want to hurt him. I want him to be my friend. I want us to carry on having sex. I want him to be around and make me laugh and get stoned and watch stupid films with me. I want him to hold my hand. I don't really get the whole being in love thing, or what it means, or what it's meant to feel like, but this feels good. It feels good.”

I imagine if I finished it and had to watch Martin happy with another girl. It makes me feel as if someone has slid an cold icicle slowly into my heart. But the thing is, he probably would be happier with another girl. How can I possibly make him happy?

This morning we woke up together. I turned my head and he was looking at me with love, an expression of happiness so deeply stupid it made him look like he had a subnormal IQ, and I suddenly wanted to hit him. It was an uncontrollable wave of rage from somewhere deep inside; I was furious. I buried my head in his neck so he couldn't see my face, and it passed, but it terrified me.

Let's break it down,” says Sally, waving her cigarette.

I want to hurt him because:
he loves me. What is he, an idiot? 
of my belief that sexual love is ownership. I've spent most of my life looking for an "owner" because without one I'm worthless. Now I have one, and the other side of the scales kicks in. I hate being owned.
I'm in pain. How the fuck is he allowed to be so ridiculously, stupidly happy? Why should he have that, when I can't? How can I make him happy, when I can't make myself happy?

I want to drive him away. I want to laugh in his face, to take the piss out of how pathetic he is and see him freeze up with unbelieving hurt and then turn as cold as stone, and while I would hate that expression there is a bit of me that would like it much, much better than the vulnerability and affection I'm seeing now. 

Why, Alice?

Because this is outside my comfort zone. Because I don't know how to do this, I can love but I don't know how to be loved, and the idea of it makes me frightened and angry.

But I'm lonely. But I want him.

So what does what I want matter? I want a lot of things I'm never going to have. The problem is that understanding how and why I feel what I feel doesn't change shit.

I realise, suddenly, that whatever the truth is of my thoughts, it doesn't matter how much I love Martin. I can't be in a relationship. Do this, over and over, for however long, maybe for the next 20 years? It's just too hard. I will, inevitably, end up hitting him or yelling at him to fuck off one day. And it will be just because he openly loves me. I'm too damaged, and I'll end up damaging him. He deserves better.

It's too big a mountain. And it hurts like fuck to admit it, and I know how much I am about to lose, but there is only one thing I can do. 

Saturday, 11 October 2014

92. A two-hour bubble bath

I am late for work. Phenomenally late.

It's nearly 10am, and I haven't left the house. I know this, and I'm still curled up in my dressing gown on the sofa, drinking coffee. I don't seem to have the impetus to move. Everyone will be cross with me. I'm cross with myself, in a sort of distant way. But I'm still not moving and it's getting to the kind of “late” where I will have to call in sick just to save face.

I want to call in sick. I want to stay at home and have a two-hour bubble bath, drink wine all day, and listen to Type O Negative. And then call in sick again tomorrow, and do the same thing. Maybe Amanda could come over tomorrow afternoon. And then it'll be the weekend.

It's been two years since I had a day off sick. Maybe I should just do it. And today I'm supposed to be meeting Martin for lunch, and I need some time.
We had lunch together Monday and Tuesday and he stayed over twice this week already. We have been in constant text and email contact. Maybe if I tell him I'm ill, he'll leave me alone long enough for me to regroup.

It's not that I don't like him. I do like him. He makes me happy. At least, I think he makes me happy. Somewhere among all the buffeting waves of emotion I can see glimpses of contentment and happiness. Something I can nearly grasp, it's right there, I just have to swim through all the other stuff first and then when I'm used to having him with me, when we are used to each other, when it isn't new any more and I can actually relax, I'll be able to enjoy it.

But at the moment the conflict between my desire, for him and to be with him, and my fear, of how vulnerable that desire makes me feel, is such an intense combination that I can barely function.

I suddenly realise I'm shivering as I sit on the sofa. I'm hunched up too, squashed into just one corner of it. My knees are to my chest, and my arms over my breasts.

I decide to call in sick. Fuck it. This isn't physical, true, but it is definitely some kind of existential sickness and the truth is it's not like anyone will miss me. It's not like my job is even worthwhile, or important. Pushing press releases no-one will publish on how great our new loan package is. Justifying why the firm are hiking the interest on debts, when we declared a large profit last year and the economy is so bad that we are likely to be actually causing suicides -

My eyes close. I don't want to think about it.

Why do I do what I do? Why do I hate myself so much? Why can't I just be happy that I've met someone? I've wanted this for so long, and there have been so many failed attempts, and this might actually work and I'm so terrified I'm calling in sick to work.

My phone beeps. Someone's texted me.
I honestly don't know what I would do without Amanda sometimes. I try to remember the next line of the song to text it back, but I can't and I can't be bothered to google it so instead I text “Smoke Meth and Eat Pussy”, which I think is probably a decent guess.

I call Jeremy and get his answer machine. I'm not supposed to leave messages on the answer machine when I'm calling in, but I do anyway. I text Martin to say I'm sick, add in that I'm going back to bed for some more sleep so that he won't worry when he texts back and I don't answer, and then I turn off my mobile, unplug the landline and run myself a bath.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

91. Facing each other

Martin and I are lying on my bed, facing each other, staring into each other’s eyes. His left little finger is wrapped around my right little finger. We have not said anything for at least a minute. I have a horrible suspicion that we are in love.

In love. Alice Chambers in love.


And why is that, Matthew, may I ask?


Martin likes me.


We had sex ages ago, so if he’s that bored and repulsed by me why hasn’t he put his trousers on and fucked off then?



Yeah, you don’t have an answer for that, do you? You fucking loser.

Martin gives me a slow smile. It makes his brown eyes crinkle up underneath. It is a sly, shy, happy, utterly beautiful smile. I feel my own smile start in response and in this moment I feel there is nothing more I want from life. I have now tasted the best - the absolute best - that the world can offer a human being. This is the pinnacle. Anything good from here on in is just a bonus

I remember, just for a second, that what I think is Matthew is actually me. Of course it is me. The real Matthew, from what I remember, could hardly string a sentence together and is unlikely to use “verboten”.

He's probably graduated to internet chatrooms now. Course he has. Stalk children in the comfort of your own home why am I thinking about him now? I'm lying on my bed with a beautiful half-naked man who is - however improbably - apparently interested in me. Why am I thinking about Matthew now?

Is this not ever going to go away?

The answer is no, it's not. It doesn't ever go away. You just learn to accept it as normal and live with it. Or spend your entire life out of your head on drink and drugs, or selling yourself, or hysterically scrambling to the top of the corporate ladder in a desperate struggle to be someone different, or any of the other variations on “not living with it” I have seen in my time.

Sometimes I live with it, sometimes I don't. Sometimes I should just fucking forget about it.

I'm suddenly terrified. I can't have sex with Martin, what if he thinks I'm laughably crap in bed? What if I freak out and have a flashback at a crucial moment? What if he gets upset by my pubes?

(One of the insecurities I have, sexually speaking, is that I flatly refuse to shave my pubic hair. I don't know why that is, exactly; I have no trouble with armpits or legs, but the thought of anything more intimate provokes an immediate and hysterical emotional response along the lines of: "I WON'T DO IT AND YOU CAN'T MAKE ME!" As a result, my hair sprawls where it pleases, wild and untamed. Occasionally I clip it a bit, as I have a couple of very long tufts which give a kind of Mohican effect if left, but usually it just does its own thing. The idea of shaving makes me feel like a prepubescent and, for obvious reasons, I hate that. But it's also the norm. People expect it. Martin probably expects it.)

He's kissing me again. It's really nice. No, it's more than that, it's great. He smells lovely, and I want to bury my face in his neck but I don't because I'm not sure whether he wants me to. Whether this might not be real, or somehow might turn out to be some huge hurtful joke. There are so many conflicting emotions – happiness, lust, astonishment, guilt, shame, fear, insecurity, the overwhelmingness of being this close to another person after so long – that I'm starting to feel nauseous, which isn't helping on any level.

Oh God. I can't do this. 

Sunday, 28 September 2014

90. Black suede peep-toe stilettos

It makes me look like a cow,” Gin complains, turning in front of the cheval mirror.

The beautiful navy dress ties with a satin ribbon. It runs under her breasts and round to her back, where it ties in a large bow. She is wearing black suede peep-toe stilettos, slightly scuffed at the back, and I notice her thin, pretty feet are starting to look veiny. We are all getting old.

Gin tries to catch the tag to see how much the dress is, but it's tied to the zipper in the back of the dress and she ends up going in circles like a cat chasing its tail. Finally she gets hold of it and pulls it towards her face, craning to see the price.

Not worth it just for six months,” she says.

It's not just a maternity dress,” Amanda points out. “You're not showing much yet, and it still looks nice.”

The beauty of this dress is that its softly pleated front has room to expand with a burgeoning pregnancy, and the long length of the ribbon under the bust means Gin will be able to wear it as easily at nine months pregnant as she does today.

Don't forget the baby weight. You'll have that for a while,” says Amanda.

Gin disappears into the changing room. Her voice floats back: “We are not mentioning weight gain ever again.”

As you may be able to tell, Gin currently faces an uncertain future. She has made what some people might think is a rash decision.

Do I think it's a rash decision? I don't know. If Chris had accidentally got me pregnant, what would I have done? I don't know. I picture a tiny newborn, a cuddly toddler, a five-year-old coming home from school with finger-painting to put on the fridge door. First steps, first words, home-made pine cone decorations for the Christmas tree. For a second my entire body aches with love and need but children aren't for me so I put that to one side. I can't even take care of myself properly; any child I brought up would end up in therapy for years. Or possibly a serial killer.

Anyway, it would have Chris for a father. I would have to tell him. I'd never get rid of the fucker then.

It's going to be bloody hard for Gin. I'm terrified for her. All of us find it hard enough to survive in David Cameron's Britain even without a helpless newborn in tow. Babies cost money, and lots of it, and Gin is currently refusing to discuss any of the practicalities.

I understand why. If she thinks about the practicalities for too long, she will have to admit that what she is doing is going to be near impossible and it is still not too late. Physically, I mean. Mentally it was too late on the day she found out.

Gin is trying on a short pink dress with long full sleeves and tight cuffs.

Very Mad Men,” says Amanda, appreciatively. “You look like you belong in The Shirelles.”

Gin twirls in front of the mirror. She likes this one. I'm tempted to say that she should save the money for the baby, but she will run out of money in seconds flat anyway. There's no way she will have enough money to live on. She has debt, no savings, no home of her own, and her job doesn't pay enough to afford childcare. This is going to be rocky, to say the least.

At least this way she will have a decent wardrobe to see her through. And something to sell on eBay when the two of them can't afford to eat.

Can you sound Jena out about the 25th?”she says. “For my baby shower. Find out whether it's good for her?”

That feels like a sharp knife to the ribcage. Jena isn't answering my texts or calls, and I know that she doesn't want to hear from me, and sooner or later Amanda and Gin will have to know. It doesn't seem fair to have to drag them into it. Well, I will have to email Jena and copy Gin in; at least then she will have to decline herself.

I hope she'll decline, anyway. Getting given the cold shoulder at my best friend's baby shower will be more than I can bear.