So, I started writing my first novel. And writing a novel is, well, it’s different.
I was keen to begin writing a novel, to embark upon what will be a journey of new discoveries for me, of finding new things within myself and of further exploring the craft of writing (and trying not to turn into a pretentious arse in the process, which could be a losing battle given that I’ve just referred to ‘the craft’).
As this is a new venture I’ve decided to post the first draft of the prologue on here, a sneak preview as well as a kind of publicly declared challenge to one day complete my first novel. Not that I know what this prologue is going to be a preview of. See, I have very little clue of where this story is going. Like, no idea. I have a theme in mind, and a structure. A handful of key characters. A main plot device. And that’s pretty much it really. As for details, well, you got me. To be honest it might not even work.
And that’s kind of the point really. A great piece of advice I’ve often heard about anything you wish to achieve is to ‘just begin’. So that’s what I’m doing.
Already I’m finding it to be a very different challenge to my previous writing. Despite the sometimes heavy subject matter writing the material that eventually became my first book, ‘Something Changed’, was pretty easy really. What I was writing was already there, it was me, and it was just waiting to come out.
Writing a novel, at this very early stage, feels very different. All I see is a blank page, without the sense that the content is already there and the page is just waiting to be filled. The writing is (much) slower, more deliberate, more considered. This may change as I progress, as the characters and plot emerge and make themselves more clear to me. But whilst undoubtedly a challenge, writing with absolutely no idea of what will come out also offers a certain sense of thrill.
What has come out so far? An early sketch of three key characters and the need, as a writer, to inhabit their world, their thoughts. Dialogue that comes from somewhere I’ve never accessed before, words that come from me but at the same time don’t. Phrases that would never come out of my own mouth seem to flow naturally from the mouths of my characters, a process that has led to early questions about censoring a voice that isn’t actually my own, a voice that is true to the character that it represents.
So here it is, the first draft of a prologue to who knows what. Your guess is (almost) as good as mine.
Wherever it ends up going, I’ve started so I’ll finish. I hope! And I hope you enjoy my first baby bookwriting steps.
‘It doesn’t get any better better than this.’As the clouds cleared, the music swelled and the sun set about erasing the memory of the afternoon’s downpour, Seb turned to his best friend and smiled.
‘Fucking too right mate,’ he agreed, ‘it almost makes those cesspit portabogs worth bearing.’
‘Wouldn’t go that far like…’
Their first music festival was just the latest milestone in a lifetime’s friendship. Rolo – Danny Rowlands to his family and the teachers whose pleasure it had been to teach him – was finally perking up after a particularly spectacular gastric disagreement with a carton of prawn noodles.
‘Where the fuck’s Cash got to with those drinks? I need to restore my fluids here.’
Right on cue Cash emerged, a sea of inebriated youth parting to make way for the rolling gait of Seb’s younger, cockier brother.
‘Alright girls, miss me? Here you go, three pints of piss. What’s this shite we’re listening to now?’
‘For fuck’s sake Cash, remind me why you forked out over a hundred quid for a ticket to see this ‘shite’ again?’
‘Must be the company Rolo my mate.’
‘The pleasure’s all mine. Really.’
Seb cut in, determined to avoid a repeat of previous skirmishes fought on the self-righteous battlefield of superior musical tastes.
‘Let’s put the handbags down hey?’
Cash grinned, inwardly claiming an implied victory achieved through tacit acknowledgment of his sheer force of personality and a deeply ingrained refusal to entertain the opinions of his cultural inferiors. And while a certain disappointment accompanied the aborted launch of his verbal missiles his attention was soon diverted by the energetic and unapologetically uncoordinated dancing of a group of nearby girls.
‘Alright ladies, mind if I join you? Mint song this.’
Principles suitably parked Cash turned his attention to deploying the heavy artillery of a well drilled charm offensive. With a sniper’s eye and a target in his sights it was but a matter of time before the white flag of her surrender would be raised and her resistance – and hopefully more besides – would be dropped and swallowed by the West Yorkshire mud.
As the weekend’s final musical notes were carried away on the chill northern breeze and darkness enveloped the site, Seb and Rolo headed for the cold comfort of their tent.
‘You think Cash will be making it back tonight then?’ asked Rolo, his virgin envy betrayed by the pained curl of the lip with which he greeted Seb’s reply.
‘Well, right about now he’s either ankle deep in mud or balls deep in whatever her name is. And it’s my best guess that it isn’t a pair of wellies he’s currently wearing for protection.’
Seb had never been short of a wisecrack, the gift of the gab an inherited gene passed through the entire male branch of the Farrow family tree. Untouched by similar gifts himself, Rolo had at various times in his life found himself entering and exiting scrapes large and small thanks to Seb’s smart arse mouth. It was this fact more than any other that made the preceding months so difficult to comprehend, three months in which the person that Rolo knew and trusted more than any other, keeper of his secrets and dispenser of timely words of encouragement and advice – and the occasional, ‘shut the fuck up you big lass’ when merited – had been replaced by a mute, lifeless imposter. A Seb-shaped imposter drained of the substance that made Seb ‘Seb’. A cracked shell.
Outside of their tent the night reverberated to the intoxicated sounds of festival revellers determined to drain every last drop of hedonistic irresponsibility from the remaining hours of the weekend. For Seb and Rolo life had imposed a stricter curfew, with alcohol intake strictly moderated by the sobering influences of mental health care and food poisoning respectively.
Zipping himself into his sleeping bag Rolo turned to Seb and asked him the question that had been playing on his mind since the day his best friend became a stranger in the exam hall.
‘What did it feel like, did you know what was happening?’
‘Rolo, mate, you won’t be a virgin forever you know, you will get to find out for yourself one day. Maybe.’
‘I didn’t fucking mean that!’
Seb gave him that sly look that Rolo knew so well, an expression untouched by the passing of their childhood, an expression that had been neutered by the frozen, expressionless mask of depression.
‘Well, it wasn’t much fun mate, I can tell you that. It’s hard to explain, I don’t think you could ever understand it unless it had happened to you. It’s weird, you know what’s happening and you know it’s completely fucked but there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s like a switch has been flicked in your head and you’re not you anymore and your brain doesn’t work anymore and you feel desperate and alone and you know that there is nothing that you can do to stop it. All you want is to feel like yourself again, to be able to flick the switch back so that you can laugh and smile again but you don’t know how to and you don’t believe it’s possible.’
That day, the first day of their mock exams, was etched in both of their memories for different reasons. For Seb it was the day that another Seb revealed himself, the day his deepest fears took hold of the reins and ran, taking with them all trace of who he had thought himself to be as he crumbled in tears in the corner of the hall, the only words capable of forming in his collapsing mind, ‘I can’t do this, I can’t, I can’t…’ For Rolo the moment brought forth a paralysis as an inability to comprehend what was happening to his oldest friend rooted him to the spot, wishing it wasn’t real. And, when he found the courage to be honest with himself, it revealed his own fears of being judged and mocked by others by association, burying the courage of his conviction that he would be there for his best mate no matter what under an avalanche of self-recrimination.
‘I’m sorry mate, I just wish…’
Seb cut him short, ‘Don’t worry about it, I don’t know what I’d have done in your shoes. And anyway, more importantly, what’s happening with you and Marie? You any closer to sealing the deal?’
‘I’m not saying anything, a gentleman never tells.’
‘A gentleman – is that what they’re calling virgins nowadays?’
Rolo threw a playful punch that thudded dully into an exposed shoulder. ‘You can fuck right off, being mental doesn’t stop you from getting a good slap upside the head.’
Laughter filled the tent before drifting away to be sealed in their memories as the weekend’s abiding soundtrack.
‘Fucking hell Seb, it’s good to have you back mate.’
‘I know, thanks. Bender.’
Sleep, when it finally came, was forced to beat an early retreat as Cash returned noisily to the tent.
‘Wake up girls Cash is back, full of craic and empty of sack!’
‘For fuck’s sake Cash you wanker, some of us are trying to sleep here.’ Seb buried his head under his pillow.
‘Wanker? Not for a while, think I’ll be dry for days after the few hours I’ve just had.’
‘Oh yeah? So why are you here using your talent for pissing us off when you could be with whatever-her-name is using the talents you never fucking stop going on about?’
‘First rule, got to leave them wanting more kidda. Even our mate Rolo there knows that, been keeping them waiting for 18 years he has!’
Rolo opened his eyes surrendering to the inevitability that any further sleep was out of the question. ‘Arsehole.’
‘Not telling.’ Cash winked and Seb and Rolo burst out laughing in spite of themselves.
‘Seriously though,’ Cash interjected, ‘she’s a cracker is our Lisa.’
Seb feigned open-mouthed shock, ‘Fuck me, he’s remembered her name. Slow down bro, don’t be getting too carried away now.’
‘Too late for that Sebby lad,’ he said, slowly rolling up a sleeve to reveal an ink phone number surrounded by lipstick kisses.
‘You took her number?’ Seb looked at Rolo, ‘Keep the faith my man, it looks like it’s the season for miracles.’