Writing about Writing: Being McMalkovich.
He shuffles awkwardly. The echoing hall is silent but for the gulp of throat, the twitching, nervous rustles and tremulous chair-leg screeches that fill the vacuum before somebody speaks…
Hey, everyone. My name is Stuart Steen McFaull and I’m writing a novel. Well, I’ve kind of, sort of, in a roundabout way, already written the fucker. We’re down to the editing part now. Then the re-write. And possibly, just another dash of tinkering. BUT then! Woah-oh! Just you wait.
I started officially writing it in August 2019. A simpler time where people could drink pints without fearing the cravat-sporting barman had designs to kill them; where Brexit just meant Brexit, damnit! And when fucking in the streets was mandatory. Simpler, purer times. Around then, I was wallowing. Like Daddy Pig whenever that bitch Peppa emasculates him. I do enjoy a spot of wallow-worthy reflection, there’s no denying that. Isn’t that the classic writer’s temperament? We just feel things, man. As Bukowski said — “Understand me. I’m not like an ordinary world. I have my madness. I live in another dimension and I do not have time for things that have no soul”. In many ways, these words speak more to Daddy Pig and his inestimable life of crushing disappointment, than to any of us.
For me, though, it was that the soul was taken away as soon as it had arrived…
My dream job had not long ended. For one day per week I was a paid writer! Can you believe it? You doubtless can. My insufferable subsequent Facebook posts about my future career path probably mean you not only believe it but you wouldn’t be too stricken had my gainful employment progressed to writing my own obituary. Well, I’ve got news for YOU Captain Cynic! I have…but despite the damage done, I hope to live another 20 to 35 long, illustrious minutes. Fuck you Satan!
Monday to Thursday, I worked in my usual 9–5 job. I was, of course, a male stripper. I performed under the guise of my pseudonym ‘Macchu Pichu’. Sadly, whomever wrote my first performing poster had wild dyslexia so I became known as ‘Massive Penis’. A nickname that has followed me to this day. Is there no justice in this god forsaken world?
On Fridays, I had the immeasurable joy of writing for Gef the Mongoose. You may have heard of them? A cheeky wee rapscallion full of acerbic, informative wit who have added nothing but colour to the exhuming grey Manx media landscape. That experience changed my life in improbable ways. Where belief quashed limbo-low self-esteem; where fun and wild creativity, revelry and devilment became the norm during the working day. It was alien, other and otherworldly. The sun would shine on, shimmering across azure-blue, alighting Douglas Quay. There we would be, this rag-tag gang of misfits and miscreants, drinking margaritas, listening to hip-hop, and laughing in between dreaming up our own brand of irreverent truth. I knew when I joined the madness overlooking the yachts, that it was probably finite…and I soaked up every moment. I did the rarest of things: I basked in the present. It meant I didn’t take it for granted at all. I thought it was a taste of what I always wanted. And, soon enough…it would all be over. Then, one day… it was.
The night it ended, I ended up spectacularly pissed. Drunk on dreams forlorn, spitting angst and propagating the end of days. Naturally, I fell asleep on the bus and woke up in Ramsey, much to the disgruntlement of the bus driver. It would be a couple of years until I moved back to Royal Rhumsaa on a permanent and markedly sober basis but it somehow felt like a prophetic tale.
Gef, of course, has regenerated like a Mongoose/Terminatior hybrid and, if anything, has come back infinitely stronger since my departure. At the time however, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel like another death-knell hammered into my creative aspirations. Sure, I’d always write. But who would give a fuck?
With the passing of time, I eventually sobered up. And then, I wondered…maybe nobody needs to give a fuck? There was a freedom in this. There’s no gallery to play to…so let the creative fires burn. I was quite possibly still inebriated.
Still, I decided to continue taking Fridays off and commenced writing my novel. Who needs money for a mortgage and two kids when you have scalding prose? Not I! A remarkable and quietly insane decision, in retrospect. Much like all writing endeavours when not contractually obliged. I spent 6 months in Douglas library every Friday typing away on my battered old Gef notebook, surrounded by idiosyncratic souls, who took me out of my own deranged scribblings and into the wonderful, curious now. There was one chap: elderly, curmudgeonly, a grunter. He would mutter to himself, smatterings of egg-mayo sarnie spewing out of his mouth as he worked his way through all the free daily papers. I loved watching him. He would intermittently blurt out “For fuck’s sake!” as he read The Daily Mail and I think he was well ahead of his time and needs a statue building at once. There was another, much younger guy, in his early 20’s, reading classic fiction, battering his forehead with inestimable (and relatable) frustration like an old paddle bat game as he sat to type. Or there was the girl who would sit with a 1 litre bottle of fizzy Lucozade opposite her every afternoon but I never saw her once take a swig. It was a strange little time. It felt as though a collapsing world brought me to this tiny corner of earth, where sprouts of weirdness flourished in the dark cavernous ruins of Douglas library. A hostile bubble of anarchic, unseen magic, brewing away as everyone else lived their lives. A beautiful depiction of the futile mania of the creative process, I guess.
There was guilt interspersed with that period, on account of the salary drop. I was still in a decent office job. But my Fridays were spent watching old men eat egg sandwiches. It was certainly not sustainable. Certifiable maybe. But I did get the bones, nae; the foundations of this bastard novel down in that time. Chicken & egg, innit.
A particular Friday highlight (‘Fri-light’, if you will) was when my wife, Lisa, returned home one afternoon, surprised to see me. I know she was surprised because her eyebrows charged towards the moon and she shrieked “What the fuck are you doing?”. In fairness to her, I was weeping on the sofa, draped in the fetal position.
“What’s wrong?”, she said.
“What the fuck am I doing?, I sobbed. Words that sum up my entire existence to date.
It was all shit, I said. Nobody cares, I said. I spent my Friday morning thinking of synonyms, I said. Let me read it, she said.
No, I said…
George Orwell, before becoming the most wilfully misinterpreted and misunderstood person since Nietzsche, said this about the book writing process. “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand”. He’s not wrong.
It’s a cunt of a process this novel-writing lark. Thankfully, Lisa is a badass, no bullshit queen who knows how to negate my indulgent propensities. She went against my wishes and insisted I did not pour petrol on my early ramblings nor did she pay any credence to my masterplan of becoming a Master Chocolatier at Lindt. God save me, there’s a part of me that longs for that vertical fuck-off hat, whiter than angel’s teeth and fancier than Mr Kipling’s bedtime routine. We all have our cross to bear.
Instead, she quietly and with great consideration read the first ten pages. Lisa is mercilessly frank and as such, a fantastic editor. She said it was the best thing I’d ever written. And so… we marched on. Not today, Switzerland!
Oh, the fragility of the writer. As James Mercer from ‘The Shins’ once sang “The lonely are such delicate things. The wind from a wasp could blow them into the sea…with stones on their feet, lost to the light and the loving we need”. Beautiful words to live by. This is why my only motto is to live by the word of the wasp.
It can apply to writing as a whole, to be honest. There’s a myth about the form that you’ll see in movies. Where the troubled genius, smoke-billowing, whiskey-guzzling and fresh out of ideas…suddenly is inspired. They catch a spark of an idea! Then we see them tapping away at the typewriter with the rabid frenetic energy of Sting during another bout of tantric banging. And that’s how The Great Gatsby was written, kids.
Not for me. It’s an arduous and torturous process but I am addicted to it. Writing is an abusive relationship. She leaves me black, blue and sleep-deprived but I still come back for more. The whiskey drinking is, I’m hastened to clarify, a merciful bonus.
It’s funny the seemingly inconsequential moments in one’s life and how the size of their impact only grow with the passing of time. In the rear view mirror, trivialities become eventuality.
I was a mostly quiet, eyes to the floor kind of kid. A mongrel Scots-Manx hybrid who bounced from Ramsey, Isle of Man to Kirkintilloch, sort of Glasgow, and back again. The burdensome cape of difference was carried through my accent — which was until I trained myself to rid myself of such shackles- always the opposite of where I lay my head. The psychic assault of being both an English and Scottish bastard in the space of a few months was a lot to take. Which is why I now identify as wholly innuit.
However, shoegazing shyness in the school was cast aside in the McFaull house, where I was chief performer. I was a show-off at home, where, cocooned under the warming safety of love and acceptance, I could truly be the scattergun clown I wished to be. Prancing round the living room, I would dance when the theme tune to ‘The High Road’ came on, with a camp-like glee, putting on an ever more affected Glaswegian growl. Or, when the staid, dutiful bongs of the BBC News announced themselves like flag-shagging servants of imperialism, I would don my glasses and put on my ‘Manx voice’ to read about Belfast bombers in the voice of Moira Stewart.
My friends now find it frankly unfathomable that I still consider myself an introvert.
“Are you joking McFaull? You’re the loudest, most opinionated prick on earth”
“You literally got reprimanded for being too loud…in a pub at 6pm!”
“Who is this? Stop calling!”
The tributes go on.
But the ghost of the introvert never leaves. In truth, I’m probably somewhere in between extrovert and introvert. A typically irritating dualism that compromises my ability to fully ingratiate myself anywhere.
“What’s that idealistic lonesomeness? You long me to heed your call to disillusionment? I’m on it!”
Grace Dent in her excellent memoir, Hungry, spoke of that working class dislocation of wanting to show off but not too much due to crushing self-awareness. You want the acclaim. You wish to show your chops but not so much that your mates would call you a thundering bellend. Acting? Too upper class. Radio? Too riddled with affectation, too disingenuous. Writing? Where the introverts play at extrovert for a while, and cower under a blanket fashioned entirely from goosebumps, tears and Smiths songs as they read the comments sections. Hello, future.
There was a period where I didn’t write. A druggy fog of nothing. A mild depression perhaps, more a sort of ennui, where the days bled into one another and the nights converged into soft black nothings. A friend who has known me in more recent years remarks that he couldn’t imagine me not writing, such is my profligacy. The poor fucker is often my sounding board for novel excerpts, lofty pretentious poems, visceral and barbed articles or even nonsensical quips. One day I shall compile the litany of WhatsApp messages I am most proud of. They are, in many ways, my finest, purest and most irredeemably offensive, cancel-culture-inducing shards of work, ready to shatter upon any misguided notions of my supposed decency. It felt like an eternity but was, in reality, at most 8–12 months. It was pre-Lisa. Pre-kids. Pre-job. Pre-existence, truthfully. I didn’t have anything to say.
I hadn’t lived.
I moisturise my face now. I try to monitor what I drink (and fail but at least I try). I’m not wantonly abusing my body in Class A degradation nor traversed in the mire of early 20’s wankageddon. It was the briefest time; a hiatus where all I did was watch movies and escape, in myriad forms. Funny because now, that version of myself feels most alien of all; an ambling curiosity to my set disposition now.
And therefore, most interesting to write about. Maybe I’ll write a novel about him…in 37 years time. I’ll hate every moment.
(working title: ‘The Junkie Wank Sloth’).