Playing the long game: Storytelling and the city

In 1997 I started writing a story as a form of therapy. I’d had some appalling and heart-breaking news, and found solace in putting my thoughts and feelings down on whatever you call the paper bit on a word processor.

I chose to write a fiction piece as I found I could be more honest and frank hiding behind the disguise of imaginary characters. I didn’t impose a deadline or particular structure on myself, I just wrote, and eventually the story naturally dovetailed to a conclusion of sorts. I didn’t plan chapters or anything, I just let the tale go wherever my imagination took me as I typed. Sometimes, I left whatever desk I’d been working at deeply surprised at the turns the tale had taken. It seemed to have a life of its own.

I lived down south in 1997, far away from Nottingham, and – I imagine as a result – my tale was deeply embedded in my home town. I was wrapping myself in a semi-fictional version of the city I loved, as a comfort. The real city was too painful at the time, as every street and landmark held painful, harrowing memories; not unpleasant in themselves, but reminders of who I had lost. I felt a traitor when I went back down south (where most of the tale was written) but writing the story seemed to allow ‘me’ to still be there by proxy. You’re allowed to have weird thoughts like that when you’re grieving. One kind review mentioned that the city itself appeared in the story as a character alongside the walking, talking ones, and I think that hits my feelings about Nottingham right on the head.

In the 1990s I loved going out in Nottingham, and did it a lot. I was quite good at it, but I guess anyone would be with that much practice. Subsequently, night life featured a lot in the story. When I read it now, I can smell the Marlboro Lights, see all the neon and taste the Becks all over again. Sometimes I wander about town nostalgically, checking places I used to go to and amusing myself with the memories that pop-up at the site of a particular building or street.

There’s a section in my tale (published as Born in Mid-Air) where the gradual disappearance of people in work clothes and their replacement by people dressed-up for a night on the town is compared to the changing of the guards. It’s imperfectly expressed, but I understand the younger me’s meaning. There’s a steady routine to life, a combination of mechanisms that work together to order the world.

It’s interesting as you get older because you start to see the routine on a wider scale as you play the long game. The tide goes in and the tide goes out; green leaves appear on a branch, decorate it for a time, then turn brown and fall; newspapers feature columns remembering the people who have died, and announcing the ones that have just been born.

If ever you find yourself heartbroken and appalled as I was in 1997 and need time out from the routine, take it. The world will still turn, and you’ll be able to fall back into step once you’re ready.

You can download Born in Mid-Air from Amazon for Kindle here.

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