Third Time Lucky
When I began my first memoir, ‘Paperboy’, about craving books and growing up in a home without them, I faced a problem. I had kept notebooks filled with fiction but never wrote down what actually happened within our family.
The reason is clear to me now; I felt more comfortable inside a fantastical world than writing about my parents’ disastrous, violent marriage. Having a terrible memory, I tried to marshal the main events in some kind of order and what emerged was as much about my relatives as it was about my love of books.
It shouldn’t have worked, but blurring the two subjects made perfect sense to me because life doesn’t break down into separate categories.
I tried to reshape the narrative in the second volume, ‘Film Freak’, about my travails in the British film industry, and the timelines became even more scrambled than before.
The resulting book was as much about friendship as it was about movies. Again, I’d kept no notes and had to rely on friends’ recollections and my subconscious memories to find a timeline, which I set down almost entirely in the wrong order. Did it capture anything of that mad scramble through the decades?
My third and final attempt has been proving even more problematic as bouts of chemotherapy robbed me of memories. The faces of friends had faded from view as whole years were erased. I realised I had never tackled the subject of writing – reading and stories, yes, but not the actual nuts and bolts of what I’ve been doing for the past 40+ years.
But once again, other subjects intruded. Battles with illness and peculiar friendships began to appear in the narrative almost as soon as I started it. The result is ‘Word Monkey’, and the finished book will be delivered in early spring. The jacket blurbs expected to go something like this.
‘I have some bad news for you, Mr Fowler.’
Christopher Fowler survived an eccentric childhood and his film-obsessed working years to reach maturity stirred and shaken, when fate dealt him an unexpected hand. Just as he set out to write a new novel, the pandemic arrived and he was diagnosed not with Covid but with cancer.
He embarked on a new journey that combined horror, laughter, a lot of hanging about in corridors and some surprising lessons about the art of writing.
Then a bad situation suddenly got worse; his treatment failed, his husband lost his job and his ability to write vanished. Setting down his experiences to encourage people not to be afraid of a stupid noun, he was thrown into a world of miscommunicating doctors, Kafkaesque rules, topsy-turvy beliefs and talking squirrels, until he rediscovered the secret power of storytelling.
‘Word Monkey’ is about how defying the threat of imminent death can make life richer, more irreverent and a lot funnier.