Selling Illusion

Saturday, May 07, 2005

[Enter story title here]

So I’m sitting by the computer this day last week, and I receive a message on high from the Lord. In bold type, from his position of the Throne of Ouatic, he issues his command. “Little Nab Gil,” his gravely voice intones, rising above the background noise, “whilst skill and sure writing is what I need in these sad days of empty guest slots in my green pastures of Ouatic, there is a lack of such types. So sadly I must turn to you. Write me a small piece on the life and times of being a Cardiffain. Make it interesting, and make it sexy. And remember, I am all knowing. Mess this up, me lad, and I will let all know of your involvement in the Rainbow River incident two years ago outside Callaghan’s.”

Being a writer, my response was a sure hearted and honest “oh fuck.” Luckily, I also happen to be Northern Irish, thus not just excusing me a multitude of sins, but imbuing me with a confidence (some would say ego) that would see me through this latest predicament with ease.

That was five days ago. The clock is counting down, and there lies an empty document on my laptop, eager to be filled. Sadly I find I am unable to deliver, having suffered from writer’s block at the precise moment I need my skills. The document is availed with excuses, “this has never happened before” and that “it’s a once in a lifetime occurrence”. My laptop sniggers in my general direction. Ever my mistress, she knows that I lie, knows the truth of my impotence. Four years together on the University essay circuit makes sure of that.

It’s not that I’m bereft of ideas or a lack of an interesting commentary on four years in another country. For Christ’s sake, I’m Northern Irish! Isn’t an engaging and witty, cheeky young scamp, loveable rogue stereotype supposed to be in my blood? So I’m not lacking in loving the sound of my own voice then, that’s to be sure.

But anyone can write, but to write and make it interesting, to capture the reader’s interest, now, that’s another matter. This isn’t fantasy, which is my forte. This is not about not creating a new world, imbued with unfamiliar social dynamics and heroes battling evil across the breadth of a novel. Hell, I started writing fiction to escape the shackles of reality, a place for my head. Over ten years of doing that, it’s bloody easy. I can readily apply my own secret formula for reality building.

But my own life? That’s another question, with a completely different answer. Could I keep the reader entertained? I’m not so sure. Easy does a slow fox trot out the window, hands entwined with my confidence.

Blank slate, a feeling of pressure.

Time ticks onwards.

I think back to the beginning point, the time I moved to Cardiff, the reasons why, my thoughts back then. What was I hoping to achieve?

To grow. To expand. To look outside the bubble that was my life to that point. To see the bigger world, and escape the limitations and narrow mindedness that dogged my country, my life. I wanted an adventure.

A small thought bubbles to the surface, to erupt silently in my consciousness. Isn’t that the beginning of nearly every fantasy story ever created?

That eruption affects the close by continent of Recent Memory. There’s a landslide, and a steadily larger selection of images, words and replayed segments thunders down into the plains of the present. They clash with the spent, hungry mouths of imagination, engorging them, feeding them. A fusion takes place, the birth of something new, components of something familiar sparking behind the eyes of this new creation. And there’s fire in its mouth, a new flame in its words, whispering a red hot stream steadily across my eyes, feeding down in my arms, my fingers. They lightly stroke the keys in front of me. Then produce a more urgent touch, a firmer tap, and then a contact that burns with its urgency, heating the inner workings of the processor. My laptop, my mistress, groans in compliance, struggling to keep up with my ardour. Words are spilling out, spreading across the page, eager for release.

Applying the formula.

Approaching my life as if I were writing fiction.

The fantasy? The young would-be hero, ready to start out on a new undertaking, that will see him travel the wide world to seek treasures both material and emotional. He is young, he is naïve. His journey will ultimately change him, for better or worse. The reality? Me, four years ago. The tender age of nineteen, never set foot outside my home country of Northern Ireland for more than three weeks, let alone on my own. I was ready for a fresh start in the city of Cardiff. Hadn’t looked at any brochures, hadn’t checked any references, all I knew was it was to be my University destination for a hopeful BA in Journalism Film and Broadcasting. I had a minimum of three years. Three years of possibility, three years of mystery, three years to explore. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out the quest I take took more turns than my intestinal track. It’s a ripping yarn, a real page turner, just like the best of fictions.

Central premises of the fantastical are almost always based upon the foundation stones of myth, incarnations of god like figures, bastardisations of the lowest of the low. This is the by-product of time’s embrace, of the hero’s journey retold over and over, as past is swallowed by gross exaggeration. The great thing about Cardiff is that this exaggeration is made redundant. Those characters dwelling in mythical fairytales? They live round the corner; they pass you in the street. They breathe the same air as you, their footsteps marked on the streets you walk every day. They are alive. Be mesmerised by the singing revolutionary Wolf Man, who resides in one of the many underpasses of the city. He is ready to whisper dark deeds and foul play of local governments, chasing at the heels of unsuspecting Irishmen who do not offer him greeting on artic winter nights. But also equally capable of hounding you with a wolfish smile and a jaunty song, no matter what time of night it be. Be a feared of the Shaky Hand Man. A lonely soul who’s want for human contact hides a dark secret, wandering the streets of Cardiff forevermore, the rumour of reasons for his incessant need reaching the ears of one particular Irishman precisely three minutes after first contact. Or simply revel in the sheer joy of the penniless singer Toy Mic Trevor. Many a time when our hero was feeling low, he would look upon this humble fellow and be cheered. Come rain, sleet or snow, Trevor would sing in his own mumbling way, a smile never leaving his lips. He did it not for money, or the eventual fame that would come to him. Why he did it, I’d never know. But that mystery of his eternal good hope and humour keeps his legend alive to this day.

There I have my gods, my demons. They lie on the backdrop of my story. But what is in the foreground? If any fantasy story’s core focused on its hero, it was the characters he met on his journey that were the soul of the piece. A Han Solo or Chewbacca, a Gandalf or Aragorn. Friendships forged over journeys eternal taught so much, gave unselfishly. There would be betrayals, arguments, but there would be those that remained steady, un-wavered. My tale would be different in this respect; it would not tempt the reader with the usual shock tactics, surprise reversals, cruel back stabbing. For there was none of that in my time in Cardiff. It’s not many a tale where it’s hard to fathom a solitary bad figure in which to closer scrutinise, to mark as the villain of the piece. But this tale is such. All those I met, be it University, work, or chance meetings in clubs, not one single individual could I offer up a damning tirade on. These good people gave me heart, gave me strength, through numerous good times had, through laughter shared and close ties forged. Many a reader may damn me for ‘treading too carefully’, or plain being boring. But it will always be with a smile in my heart that I write of my adventures with friends old and new in all my time in Southern Wales, and I will always be happy and content with that.

Now, there is something else missing, something that every good fantasy story has, hidden away, in pages verging on the three digits. The twist, the shock, the ending that was not expected. There was a villain in this piece, but their identity remained secret. All those awaiting my downfall through another’s hands will be sadly wrong. The battle was not lost to external sources, but an internal one. Through a steady decline I became my antithesis, buried deep into the mire and murk to which I had looked at with disgust so long ago. But the course followed the same as many had done before. A path of the lost, of destruction, the slow painful climb upwards once more, the rebirth and salvation. That it matters not that you fall; it is in the getting back up again that is of importance. The messages at the end of the tunnel, the lessons learned at journey’s end.

And yes, like my peers, this story is not hollow in tales of love and romance. Of discovering the realisation of a dream once believed to be a romantic’s naivety. But that is one part I will keep private. An enclosed part of my heart that only an ever flowing line of beverages, a small open log fire, and a salty packet of peanuts would manage to overthrow. Of that section of the hero’s tale, there will be no more written.

So in all, I may just have an idea for a tall tale or two. In four years, my life was quite an adventure. It goes something like this…


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