I’m lucky. I have always been lucky and, unless some all-seeing power gets pissed off with me making that statement (I’m not scared of you), I will always be lucky.
Don’t worry I balance it out. I’m clumsy.
I’m short-tempered and I’m broke, but I am very very lucky.
My luck started at birth. I was born 4 minutes after my mom’s birthday. Imagine having the same birthday as your mom. Yeah Polar, that would be ace! No. It wouldn’t. It would mean neither of you getting a fair crack of the birthday whip and, as much as I have grown to not enjoy said whip, I did enjoy cracking that bad boy for many years in my youth.
The biggest manifestation of my luck in my opinion is my family. I am the product of an Englishman from South Yorkshire mining stock and one half Irish/half Jamaican woman from Birmingham. As a result of this I have close family from at least three distinct and fascinating demographics. At one point there were no less than thirteen of us, spanning three generations, living as residents of 184 Park Road, Bearwood.
I grew up in a house that resembled Rent-a-Ghost. Characters arriving, disappearing, staying, flying off the handle, casting spells, turning into horses, and every single one of them told stories.
People told stories over breakfast. I got first person accounts of picket line miner’s strikes over my boiled egg and soldiers. My english granddad once told me about a man down the pits who he worked with called Gripper. Gripper got his name after watching his own arm get cut off by the machine that crushed the unrefined coal, picking it up himself and walking the three quarters of a mile up the shaft to ground level before dialing an ambulance to go get it sewn back on.
I remember holding my arm trying to imagine having to carry it.
I heard animated tales about the 1981 Handsworth riots over my (uneaten) ackee and saltfish. I remember my Jamaican grandmother’s brother, uncle Lenny, telling us about the events that unfolded after he walked into a National Front pub over in Northfield with a machete in his pocket, went up to the bar and calmly ordered a white rum.
(Think Resevoir Dogs with more patois).
At larger family get togethers I got tales from second cousin Mitchell about having 12 brothers and fighting over fish heads mixed in with aunty Coral talking about gigging as a backing vocalist at the Hummingbird.
I’d sneak around on my knees stealing swigs of red stripe and rum mixed with nourishment listening to everything. Like a cast party to some kind of un-fashionable Benetton film set to a backdrop of Lovers Rock and Led Zeppelin.
Like I said, I’m lucky.
Stories were never a choice. They were daily food.
– What’s for dinner Nan?
– Chicken and rice and coleslaw and stories
Despite the oral tradition of my youth I actually started writing stories long before I ever felt qualified to speak one. I guess I always thought it would be like Dean Windass running out at the Nou Camp. Writing felt safer.
I used to write stories to impress my mates. Putting them and me in lead roles on epic adventures where we battled psychotic villains who somehow survived being dropped into chemical waste, or evil cartoon doctors masquerading in human body suits.
I’d write stories to get into girls pants, well to see their pants. In fact not even see their pants really, just for them to say the word pants was enough now, I mean then.
I remember once inventing a girlfriend called Sonia to make a real girl called Amanda jealous. I wrote a story about us having a picnic in the park. The description of the kiss at the end was the best bit. Amanda got angry. I had my dream that she liked me confirmed and somewhere deep down in me I became aware of the power of a good story.
Just for the record, the name Sonia was stoled from a substandard pop star from Liverpool. Kind of a poor mans Tiffany, if that’s possible.
Nowadays, in 2012 and beyond, stories make up the crux of my professional life and I’m glad to say a massive chunk of my personal life too. I have two sons who, like every person with a functioning heart, love stories.
We make them up. We play with them. I get paid (relative amounts) to use them to figure stuff out about myself and how I fit into a world that does not stop moving.
Like I said, I’m lucky.
I now firmly believe that through a story, any and every statement about people, life, politics, war, religion, badgers, love, knife crime, beer, memory, family and anything else, can be made without the selfish control of who is making it and why.
If your characters feel real (be they wizards, ninjas, single moms or prison guards) and their story is powerful in whatever way, it’s not solely about you. It’s about everyone.
I’m just reading that sentence back and a voice in my head said the words ‘Who do you think you are? Ghandi?’ I shit you not. I heard it. Bollocks. I mean it.
For a while I used to make a definite distinction between stories that were spoken and those that were written to be read. The differing crafts of the two and the skills needed for both and whilst I still believe in the difference, I am less and less concerned with it.
I like to do both and hopefully over the next few years will get to share examples.
Speak them. Read them. Steal them. Make them up. It doesn’t matter.
Use them more and I promise, the more you do, the luckier you’ll feel.
(The views expressed in the above article must be cited as being those of an individual who was sitting in the window seat of a cafe on a friday afternoon whilst sipping his fourteenth cup of tea of the day, miles from a real job, and therefore may include whimsy).
– Dazed & Confused