Room – First Draft

Women have always done it, unrecognised, hidden. And even once allowed, we deny it, because being allowed in itself takes something away. Who offers the permit, and do I want it anyway? I may continue to write in secret. No-one will know, either way.

it’s warm and dark red and the woosh-thump-woosh-thump’s always there, and I’m on my own/never alone safe warm nourished part of you and that’s all I want and ever need

jerked screaming, fighting every push and brutal squeeze, too bright, too hard, can’t go back, let me back let me back, let me in … skin touch soft warm fill me keep me safe together

I have a room where I go and close the door so no-one can reach me. It seems like I’ve had it forever, but there must have been a first time that I discovered it. Everything has a beginning …

rewind until I can hear her screaming at me, until she’s grasping my wrist, and I’ve done something wrong and I don’t know what still don’t know, and her breath smells and I look up into her eyes and know that I’ll never be right so I need to vanish. I stand still, her bone-witch fingers surrounding my wrist, and as she shouts down at me I can’t move. Tell me it will be okay, but there’s no-one else but me and her and brick by brightly coloured brick I build until I vanish. I’m gone where she can’t touch me anymore and that’s when I find my room.

Ten years on, my room has materialised. I learned to read and a door opened into somewhere I never knew existed. I can retreat until I don’t hear the screaming anymore. And when I’m all wrong, don’t fit it, don’t get the joke, can’t play with us, my room’s still there, where I can’t be touched. John Peel’s on the radio, though, and I believe that somewhere there’s a way out.

In time, I discover that I was right, and I pretend the room’s gone. I watch as the sky fades, blue, green gold, to darkness, setting sun, silhouetted trees and chimneys. I’m in the attic, real room of my own. Mismatch thrift shop furniture and peeling wallpaper spell freedom. Rent paid, I can enter and leave when I want. I lie on the worn grey carpet and reward myself for each page I write, each sunset I paint.

At night we drink and smoke and dance and the music’s louder than my heartbeat, until the sky lightens from navy to turquoise again. Milk fresh on the doorstep, we stumble back indoors. And later when I’m heaving the night into the toilet, my t-shirt clings against my skin, and I go to my room, but I’m not telling anyone. I creep in, furtive, would never tell, never share, can’t admit that the room’s still there.

I’m spent, another night, red wine in jugs you can’t tell how much you drink and we were laughing so hard my throat’s sore and my ears are ringing and now it’s all stopped, and I’m chilled, skin clammy, but inside my head is quiet and I’m not dangling on the edge of madness, won’t see a counsellor, see her, won’t see her again.

Another ten. I’d get up if I could but the gap in my symphysis pubis is too large, and the baby stretches my belly, I’m seventeen stone at my biggest, and my mind has slowed like my steps. The sun shines in, cats rolling on the golden carpet. My world has titrated down to one room, can’t diminish any further, but it’s not the room I was thinking of.

I’m never alone, and it’s eating me and I want to be one, own, me, gone, and the drugs take the edge off and gradually I claw back a tiny place that’s my room. I can sit still, feed the baby, watch birds in the garden and think. There’s something new, though, and it glows green as I realise I’m not allowed to be alone.

Maybe the end should have been when I delivered the baby, but I’ve found that’s not an end. And now, behind a barrier of books, I am rebuilding my room, stealing back moments to write. My desk is tall, broad, blue-stained, grain of the wood still visible, family photos backdrop my thoughts. Does time need to be scarce so I write every word?

Mum, mum, I need a drink, did you get more eggs, can you wipe my bottom, can you drop the car at the garage, what’s for tea, I’m going to be late, can you help me with my homework, you never told me it was parents’ evening, where’s my socks, I need a lift, is there more cake, he’s got all the socks in his drawer, that’s mine, I want it, it’s not fair, I want, it’s not fair, I want, I want, I want …


Aneurysm (2nd EDIT)


Stumps from a scarred branch dig into my belly as I lie here, but you can’t see me. Sunlight in streaks passes through gaps in the leaves. Lime green, grass green stripes and splatters hide me.

Down there, you’re writing, and I need to see. This need consumes me all summer. Are you writing about me? I try finding the book in your room.  I follow you after you have written, hunting your secret, but you detect me, elude me, two years more in the world enough to give you every advantage.

So I’ve been here since I ran from the dinner table, her voice calling after me. This time I was the one who eluded capture. I wore green today, I planned this as I pulled on a pair of your old shorts. She raised an eyebrow, said nothing at breakfast, nothing at lunch. She looked, though, and there’ll be plenty to say when I get back.

I’m too high. I know that the moment you open the book, when you pull out your fountain pen. The blackbird in the neighbour’s orchard competes with your scratch. Can’t see him, can’t see me. I can’t see, your script too tiny from my vantage point. I lie, branches burning into my belly. I am only invisible as long as I stay still. One move, I’m no bird, a twig will crack, leaves will betray me.

I think like our cat, brown dapples in the green, unseen enemy of small fur and feathers. I can be cat, slide, glide, slip along the branch. I know from the scrape and burn on my legs that I’m making progress.

I pause. How close must I be? The branch dips, I’m lower, lower still. Can I see my name in there? Or hers? You’re scribbling still, black scrawl indecipherable.

I stop, lean, peer. The branch scrapes at my stomach, tugs on shirt buttons as if I’m moving. Twigs claw my face and I put my hands out, clasp the leaves, then I’m flying like the blackbird, and the text is getting nearer, and you look up and   I   can   read   …   every   ///   word  …



Let me entertain you drives through her head as she focusses on the blood. It’s important to make the grey of the blade more silvery, to make the blood stand out, the red more crimson, oldword for #DC143C, for #E30022, and she shudders at the imprecision. How can she replicate the experience, seen onbrain across the ‘verse, if there’s no exactitude? She needs the feed as the music swells in her mind. Little Bo Peep has lost his sheep, He popped a pill and fell asleep. She shifts, cold metal bar pressing against her thighs. Grand-mère said that they used to have cushioned seats, adjustable seats, seats to make sitting at the computer for hours more comfortable. She remembers the sentence, but the meaning twists. Computer, a stand-alone box of circuits, heavy, clumsy. Apparatus. Apart. Sitting at the computer, like you could leave it. A tremor runs through her at the thought of not being connected.

She swipes in the air to heighten the #ED2939, increase the shadows of the giant dovetech’s incisor as it carves through the skin to make the glint of the metal that little bit brighter, pulls at the code so that man’s guts spill out towards her, zooms in on his screaming face until you can tell when he last shaved. It’s going to be the full VR experience, for everyone, onbrain.

She steps back to view the scene better. It enlarges anyway, no need to step back, and the soft wall reminds her of this. One day she won’t need her body, her cell, one day everyone will be in total VR, no need for this futile human dance.

Maybe in the next box, maybe thousands of miles away, someone else is enhancing the sound, the smell, and as soon as they are done, as soon as the scream reaches the right intensity, as soon as it balances the clash of the dovetechs, the thud of their mechanised limbs, and as soon as the rust-metal smell of blood and oil is embedded, this episode will feed. She fizzes at the thought that her #DC143C, her #808080 will be viewed in everyone’s minds tonight. Perfect entertainment.

She pulls her hands apart, zooms in so she can see what no-one will notice. She scans the background and somewhere there’s a blackbird singing. Shouldn’t be there. Has to be erased. A twitch, pain sparks from her neck, shoulder, arm, hand, forefinger and she’s found the small black shape, zoom in. Onbrain, there’s a spark, she twitches again, and tremors shoot down her spine. Maybe it’s the bird where it shouldn’t be. They’re nearly all gone now. A vicious jab in the air with her shaking hand and the birdchant stops. The sparks stop too and she leans back against the padding, sweating as she slides down the wall.

The song loops back to the start, pounding bass, screaming vocals blacking out the pain. Hell is gone and heaven’s here, and she can see the redbrown stains, dried #c4302b on #d7000 and a faded #A81C07. One hand flickers, and if she could, if this was VR, she#d heighten the #A81C07, soften the rough beige cotton that lines her cell, /// erase all trace of her blood, #erase the walls, wipe out this cell and the next and the next,/// and take away the bloodstains on the soil and #paint the world #3DF500.

Shades of green machine, lime, and grass shoot through her head. She lolls to the side, spring green, Persian, olive, Kombu, Granny Smith, jungle, laurel, rifle green speed towards her face, three dimensial VR, onbrain gone wild as she smells, she tastes, the blood, the oil, the earth.



I can read the words now.

Blackbird wings beat in my head, ants scurry along the lines. There’s grass and mud between my teeth, bruise on my cheek, ink on my skin, and a torrent of anger in your voice pouring over me.

I try to sort my limbs from yours, but the script still scores tracks through my mind.

I can hear her screaming as she thuds down the lawn,

… I’m too old for this … you come here right now … what will your mother think … she left me in charge … I’m too old for this … you’ll give me a heart attack … I’m not letting you out of my sight again!

Nothing matters, now. I’ve read the words.

And in the news today …

Giacomo Balla“It’s a swan on the road. Why the fuck are we writing about a swan on a fucking road?”

“It’s not the words, Bill, it’s the pictures. Picture sells a thousand words. No one buys the fucking paper now anyway. It’s all about clicks and shares. Citizen journalists. Anyone can take a photo on their iPhone and it’s in the Mail. You get writing the subhead and be glad you’ve got a job.”



giacoma 2Do you know the feeling of vibration, shaking the floor, when the washing machine is on? Imagine that, a million times over, the whole building pulsating, from concrete floor to corrugated ceiling. That’s what it’s like when the printing machines are on, and they’re always on, and the sound courses through my skull, my spine, right down to my toes. There’s a back-up generator, the news must get out, and I’m used to it now, the spin and the rattle and the crunch and the click, the beat as familiar as that of my own heart.

And like coming to shore after a sea voyage, missing the sway, they say, it don’t feel right when there’s no vibration, no clacks and whirs, and that’s something I never thought would happen.

They said they could see it coming. I didn’t. Sure, things changed. They stopped charging for the Standard, had to after all those free papers took off. But it was still papers, wasn’t it? More of them, if you judged by the tube at the end of the day. Someone should have done something. I mean, what about the jobs? There were hundreds of us, even with the move to Wapping. Thousands if you counted the men selling papers all across town. Papers needed people, people would always need papers, or that’s what I thought.

The building sounds lost now, or maybe I’m lost without the noise, unused to hearing my footsteps echo, and it wasn’t just machines, there was always a shout going up, people coming in, vast reams of paper being delivered, processed, printed, chopped, folded, and taken away again by the fork lift truck. It’s all gone, now, and next week I’ll be gone too. We don’t need a caretaker for an empty building, they said. Don’t take care of it, no-one needs it, it’s all about cutting costs. I sit half way up the metal staircase, watching the machines lying still, and feel my heart thump in my chest.


The news will still get out. No early morning paper boy, it seeps now, rather than thuds. It’s a silent swipe, and you’ll see what someone else has read, and follow the story, click and share, but then it’s time for a quick game of Candy Crush and what Gina did last night and you’ve gone again.

The news will still get out, but you can select what you want. No need to plough through grim items about Gaza, economic analysis of the cost of going into Syria, of bombing Iraq. Deselect, it’s gone, and all you see is cats stuck in blinds, news of the bake off, and is it really news if Diana did, or didn’t take Ian’s ice-cream from the freezer?

You choose what you consume. Don’t get indigestion.


‘Swan holds up traffic’

“Look, Mum, its wings are as wide as that lorry.” Click, click, share.

“Bet it caused a real traffic jam.”

“Can you imagine picking up a swan, isn’t she brave? I wouldn’t want to work for the RSPCA.”

“No swans here, anyway, and who’d stop for a seagull?”

“Well they can fly, they wouldn’t need picking up.”

“Can’t swans fly?”



It’s thrashing in her arms, strength enough to break a bone she’s heard, but she’s not scared, it’s her job. She grips more tightly, too tightly, and the swan goes limp.


Sound poem images are from Macchina tipografica (Printing Press) by Giacomo Balla

The peculiar desperation of selling blood

There’s a price on everything, I find, and it’s not just tins of beans and jars of coffee. I could write about coffee, script dreams of vente lattes, towering foam, sing a macchiato, black/white clash, soul sold for cappuccino, is it fair trade, hold the chocolate, but even the deficiency of own brand instant won’t explain the lack.

There’s a price on everything, you see. Some people have money but no time. You claim time but no money endows you with a different sort of richness. Richnesse, richesse, largesse, how will you share it, spare it? Can time flow over, abundant excess?  Can you really give time, donate, donner, Dona? What do you do when neither time nor money mean anything, the money isn’t there, or it is yet it is valueless, and the hours are too long, but are too short to fill the lack?

There’s a value to everything that you don’t see. The value of knowing each of your possessions is there. What do you need? It changes, with time, with person, with the life that you are living, but think. What is the value of knowing that jar of coffee is there, when you don’t want a drink? Take it away, takeaway, small cardboard cup, no longer warm in your hands, and for a moment sit with the lack.

There’s a value that you don’t see. You don’t see. Not seeing, does that mean it’s still there? Is the cup still warm? Am I, are we, are you still valuable? I pour the boiling water, listen, hope, scald fingers again. I pour the boiling water, listen for the bleeps, success. You don’t see, do you? Moments pass as the water runs from metal to clay, energy of heat, of movement, transferred, transported. And if I cannot see it, am I blind, or are you? Sight is priceless, is that not true? Or is it a commonplace, too easy to say, too easy said, falling off your tongue like the water falls later and burns me? I pour, switch on the tap, tap, taps, fixate on the flow, the rush, feel the rush as the water flows, scalding. Listen. Can’t you see? Does the noise of flow fill the lack?

There’s a value, don’t you see? A value that says pass or fail. No six six, no six sixty, now you’re blind. But in blindness, we still see together. What’s blind, and what is partial sight? Classify me. Put me in a box and ignore my discomfort until it hurts you too. Did you see the girl in a box, no arms, no legs. Pure torso. Uncomfortable yet? Stay with me. Come with me, and watch as light transforms, each silhouette a life. The contrast has a certain clarity, life is beautiful when you can’t see the detail. Can you see? Face the sun. What’s glare to you transports me, new world with each change in the weather. It’s the value that you put on clarity, clairity, éclairité, éclaire, and I become lighter and lighter until I float away. Do you feel the lack now?

And where’s the value in the binary, the black and white? I see the silhouette: do you? And the black is no longer black. Tones shimmer, sepia brown and gold spills from the edges as solid men morph, a gentle transformation by that light, by my sight, my lack. My lack transforms men. Tell me, what do you lack? Manques-tu le manque? Manques-tu le manqué? Manques tu les disparues? What has gone? My chest tightens at the thought of loss, and again when it is not lost. I lack nothing in my eyes. Do you perceive, per-see, through-view a lack?

(And in that binary, we missed the white. It’s easy to miss it in the glare, to miss what’s always there. Blank page, chora, womb: that’s red, not white, and if there are no words, how can we read, what is read? White on white, j’écris à l’encre blanche. And if you don’t see that, it’s not my fault. Why should I worry if you don’t realise that something is missing, that you’re missing something, that the lack is yours.)

We’re heading home now. Are you coming home? Home, where there is no lack. Home, without lack. An in a duplicitous leap, we lack the lack. Home lack, home less, and my home diminishes, less and less, homeless, one great semantic leap to the unheimlich. Do you see it now? And can you put a price on it, other homes in this area have sold, sell now, just get in touch. In my house, do you feel the lack, the lack lack? And when it is sold, can you tell me how much it costs, when you have turned my home into cash?

My books aren’t my books anymore

My books           

My books sit on my shelf. I watch my books: they increase, flying to the flock by post, in bags. I see the ones that come by day, and I can’t turn them away. I invite them in, welcome them home. Some are slipping into my house at night, I think.

David won’t give books away. And I don’t help the problem. I write.

My books grow, yard by yard, author copies come by the dozen. Quick thrill, quickly sated, write some more.

I give books away to friends, my books, books I have bought, books I have been sent for review. But still they multiply.

I took two shopping bags of books to the charity shop the other day, after the shelves fell down. I still have more books than space.

Would I like the remaindered books? Where would I put a few hundred copies of a book that didn’t sell? In the basement, watch it float. Otherwise, will it burn? I don’t care. I am writing something new.

Non fiction

My books are other. Other amongst others, defined by the absence of fiction. No stories here. But there are stories, real stories. Is truth necessarily a not-fiction? When I write about someone’s experience I fictionalise it, with beginning, middle and end, even when the true story is still ongoing.

What is non fiction? Is it critical writing? A description of something real? Can it be poetry too? How can a whole genre be defined by it’s ‘non’ness, by something it’s not. And is it a genre anyway? There’s a story in there.

Non, no, n … an ancient sound, prefixed to so many words. No, not, lack, sham, from the Latin “not, by no means, not at all, not a,” from Old Latin noenum “not one”, ne oinom, from the Proto Indo European *ne “not” + *oi-no.

Fiction derives from the old French ficcion, something invented. Is writing based on research, invented? Is everything invented in some way? This is then based on the Latin, fictionem, a fashioning or feigning, from fingere, to shape, form, devise, to knead or form out of clay.

I mould words too, shape them, make them perform, change lives, yet my writing is non. Is it not fiction, a lack of fiction, sham fiction? My writing lacks. What does it lack?[1] Is the meaning of what I write as clear as I think? How do you interpret it? What do I lack?

Non academic

By definition, what I write is not academic. It takes what is written by academics, and that which is known by professionals and translates it for consumers. Your words: I consume them like a mother bird, pre-masticating mouthfuls of information, making it easy to digest. Diluting, simplifying. I lie, because nothing is ever as simple as I write.

Not mine             The books I write might not be mine.

From the moment I sign the contract, when I accept the cheque, (publishers still write cheques), when I pay it in, I need to check. Have I ensured that the words are still mine? In print, online? Pennies accrue each time my books are bought, borrowed, photocopied, all according to contract.

If you buy one of my books, it is yours. Do you need to read it for it to be yours? Probably not. It sits on your shelf, clearly one of your possessions, or on your Kindle exerting a lesser demand.

If someone translates what I write, whose words are they then? They are not the words I wrote … or are they?

Can a word ever be mine? How silly: words belong to everyone. What about two words together, or three or a whole sentence? If I create a combination of words that has never been used before … I search on Google, will that tell me ‘never’? … is that sentence mine? What if you say it, write it, photocopy it, paint it, print it? Whose words are they then?

What if I quote myself, or use a phrase I wrote last week, one that won’t stay unwritten, wants to be written again, I repeat? Does reiteration make it more mine? What about another print run, a second edition? No shift in ownership there, but I feel my ownership lessons if a book escapes online.

If I buy your book, it is still yours. Maybe when I run out of shelf space I should release my books into the wild, hoping that they will find their authors. Or are they, like graduates, reluctant to return home, too big, too full of new ideas, once I have read them?

My father read Swallows and Amazons to me as a child, then followed up with eleven more Ransomes. He collected a set of hardbacks for me, a set for my sister. I have those books and they are forever his. Ransome and my father intertwine: his voice, other-his words, my memory. On my shelf, in my house, a piece of myself as a child, and of my father then, and his childhood before, and his brother’s in there too. My books are other people.

My books are my children. I nurture them in early days, then let them go. I help them on their way, then sit back, always interested in their progress. My books are loose in the world, watch out.

When I die, my books will belong to my children, double edged legacy. What would you do with a house full of books, ownership transferring to you on death? They will inherit the words. Perhaps all their own books will be digital by then.

My books have power. They’ve changed my life. Read with caution, in case they do the same for you.

[1] My books are bound in facts. Can I reference creative work too? Is work critical only if referenced? This footnote intended to talk about lack. Please note its absence.