I’ve never grown out of wanting to stay up late. There’s a glamour to the night time, a certain electricity in the air. When I was younger, I liked to stay up all night with my friends. I was always the last to go home or go to sleep. Now, all my friends have grown up, and the last time I stayed up all night I felt horrible the next day, like my body was made of gravel and dirt, and my brain was busy with voices… So I thought I won’t do that again.
I used to like to write at night, because I felt like I had the world to myself. Growing up in a big, loud family, you learn to carve out time, solitude, peace, and then to defend it tooth and nail. I read a lot and was usually able to leave my body and live inside the story. Sometimes I think that I wouldn’t have survived my family at all if it weren’t for books.
Nowadays, night times are not so peaceful. My neighbours disturb me. Living in cities, so close together… I hear them moving around. Their music is intrusive, the boring thump-thump-thump of a bass line. I want to live somewhere I can hear silence. I want to see stars in the sky at night, and be a little afraid to walk along the path to the water, and stumble, and hear the unearthly cries of the foxes in the woods.
For a long time I’ve been feeling that I want my life to change. But I have not known the shape or way it should change. I don’t want anything, or the things I want are everyday things. To sleep without earplugs. To hear the rain. To spend my time reading and writing. A very simple kind of life. But I’m not a simple kind of person, I’m complicated and full of contradiction. I want courage, is what it is.
It was a real thrill to hear Armistead Maupin read from his new novel, The Days of Anna Madrigal. In fact, it was spellbinding. It was like being in a room with all his characters, all rolled up into this one extremely funny, lovable, compassionate, quick-witted, joyfully acerbic man.
Maupin’s books are a roly-poly mix-up of Dickens, Oscar Wilde, Jackie Collins and a weekend at Burning Man. With their silly, sometimes preposterous, plots (it was funny to hear him talk about the plots he discarded along the way – glitter killer, anyone?) and campy subculture referents, the Tales of the City novels might have been too outrageous to become popular. But the books succeed and endure because they are about people – ordinary, dysfunctional, flawed, funny people – and Maupin makes us care about them.
It was clear to see from the audience reaction just how much Maupin’s stories matter to people, and what a difference he has made in their lives. It’s fantastic to be reminded what it is that writers actually do, and why we cannot survive without them. Writers like Armistead Maupin make the world a better place. Even if all we had to thank him for was the ‘twat cosy’ (which reduced a 300-strong audience to tears of helpless laughter) it would be a brilliant, unforgettable contribution.
We’re getting older and we’re starting to feel trapped. We are old women now and we have grey hair and we don’t give a shit about anything. We have been walking in the forest, we have been looking for mushrooms, and slowly the trees have been closing in on us and now we have lost the moon.
It feels like life is very hard now, and getting harder.
We wanted to live as artists but now there is no way. There’s no time for reading and writing, nowhere to stay, no gentle places. The hungry machines come snapping and pull us in by our hair and fingers. We work in tall buildings. We work at contentedness and gratitude, but we are not grateful or content. We are raging, incandescent, furious, terrified that the flickering light will go out before we’ve had our chance to burn.
We are old women and we never married and no one pays our bills. We want to live in the woods, in a small brick cottage. We want to live in a wooden house with chicken legs. We want cats and dogs and secrets. It’s our right, as old unmarried women, to set up house in the deepest part of the forest. It’s our right to be ugly and full of wicked laughter.
But we have been fenced in, we have been surrounded. We are living lives that we never intended.
I love the cover art for my story in the current Interzone. Mars, dogs, a secretary, a dream – it’s like the inside of my head fell out and landed on the page. Had some interesting reviews of this – it’s very pleasing when readers understand what you’re trying to do with a story.