I used to be quite good friends with Clive Barker. The next time I see him, remind me to kick his teeth down his throat.
Clive knew quite a bit about pain. He wrote about it in the most visceral, extraordinary way, as if no-one had ever written about it before, as a living thing, something so solid-edged and real that you would come to savour it and even learn to respect and love it, greeting it like an old friend. I often wondered if he had experienced some debilitating long-term childhood illness. Knowledge like that doesn’t come easily.
I should have listened to him. After signing off on the diary yesterday and expecting to gently bring my medication schedule to a rolling stop I was instead plunged into the most astonishing pain I have ever experienced, my ‘peak’ hitting later than anticipated, too powerful to be halted by drugs or even books. If I wake up transformed into a gigantic cockroach I shall not be best pleased.
I spoke to someone online who has experienced this seventeen times. I wonder if it scars you, if you become less frivolous, less able to launch written flights of fancy. Mervyn Peake’s powers waned so shockingly and suddenly that reading his third volume ‘Titus Alone’ was quite unbearable, and revealed what he had been through, how difficult it was for him to continue writing.
Many authors pen silk-light prose that becomes calcified and unreadable over time. Does the sheer hard work of life scour away its pleasures? Can the earliest sensations we experience still be recaptured on the page in later life? There’s nothing worse than reading an author who has grown cynical and weary. I’m sure readers prefer finding the shock of delighted recognition in themselves rather than life’s shared disappointments.
The odd thing is that with the Bryant & May books I was writing about states yet to come, and although I’m still a way off from my characters’ ages I feel more sympathy growing for them. They endure, because it’s what we do, but importantly they remain wide-eyed and laugh, because that’s my nature too.
‘Two coffees please,’ Bryant requested.
‘What kind?’ asked the barrista, not unkindly. There were forty varieties listed on his blackboard, the most complex being a freetrade organic half-whole milk split-quad decaf soy-whip vanilla cinnamon great white with sugar-free syrup.
‘The one made with beans,’ said Bryant.
That’s from ‘Bryant & May and the Devil’s Triangle’, a missing case in ‘England’s Finest’ that has just been longlisted for the Short Story Dagger Award. There’s no danger of my mind maturing for a while yet, don’t worry.