What is that’s sung in that song at the end of Bugsy Malone? ‘You’re gonna be remembered for the things that you say and do!’ Yup… That’s true. After all… That’s all that is left when we’re nothing but old bones in the soil (or, eventually, dust or a cardboard box in the basement of a museum if we’re lucky.) Our faces and our personalities become enigmas, more or less. All that is left are our words and our achievements. Gosh that is a moribund start to an article isn’t it? There is a reason. A few days ago I had a bit of a mini moment and I started to wonder what I had actually done with my life… It ended with me making a list that included everything that could be regarded as ‘something,’ no matter how mundane or normal it seemed. Turns out I’ve done quite a bit that’s worth bragging about…
When I was nine years old I ran away. And I don’t just mean that I ran away from home. I mean I ran away from everything. I ran away from my parents, my school, my supposed friends… I ran away from life. And, to answer your question I can only say that I did it because I hated it all. I hated those nitwits who called themselves my parents. To put it mildly they were arseholes. In fact they were more than that. They were manipulative, selfish and greedy and they were just, in general, the wrong sort of people to be anywhere near children. Some of you might remember The Twits by Roald Dahl. Well that was them. They were a real life version of Mr and Mrs Twit. Those of you who do remember and have read the book will know what I am talking about here. You will be well aware that they were vile, nasty people who deserve no place in civilized society.
My miseries weren’t helped by the god-awful school I attended, Park House Primary on the outskirts of Bath. The teachers were a bunch of pseudo-yuppie louts who would rather have spent their time smoking in the staff room rather than teaching. When I once explained to my teacher about how awful my parents were she just laughed at me, which really isn’t the way a teacher should behave. The actual teaching, as I recall, was abysmal and half hearted. It was as if they had hired the least enthusiastic people for the job on purpose. This attitude even extended to the caretakers, who never actually did any caretaking you won‘t be surprised to learn. The place, as such, was cold and drafty and falling down around our ears. I remember once that a ceiling tile fell down in the main assembly hall (whilst nobody was there, thank goodness) and it stayed on the ground where it fell for a considerable amount of time afterwards. We children had to sit around the tile during assemblies and to sit next to the tile became something of an honour. It ended up as a reward for good behaviour and we would all vie with each other to see who would be the one to sit next to it that particular. It should come as no surprise that OFSTEAD was threatening the school with closure by the time I ran away. Maybe they did close it in the end. I don’t know. I never bothered to check back.
Finally there were my supposed friends. They weren’t really friends, not in the proper sense. Friends invite you around for sleepovers and share secrets and be nice to you. That never happened for me. My so called ‘friends’ frequently froze me out and although they had sleepovers I was never invited. I asked to be invited but they always said they already had too many people and they weren’t allowed any more. And when I asked to be invited next time… Well they said they would invite me but they never did. They were just absolute bitches and if it weren’t for the fact that Park House was a very small school I’d have found other people to be friends with.
So by the time I was nine years old I decided I wanted out. I was sick of my life and I wanted a new one. And I decided to do it in a way that would hurt everybody. I decided to do it in a way that would hurt my parents AND the school AND my friends. I purposely waited until there was a school trip. It was to some wildlife centre but I can’t remember exactly where this place was. It was near Cirencester I think. First of all, during the trip, I left my school jumper and coat in the middle of the centre and then, during lunch, I slipped a pre-written ‘suicide’ note into the bag of one of my so-called friends. How I came up with that extremely dark idea I do not know. I know I shouldn’t but it makes me chuckle to think of what I did now. It sounds insane, but such is the mind of a child.
The next part could have gone so very wrong but I’m pleased to say that luck was very much on my side. There were other schools at the centre that day and each one came by coach. I waited until mid afternoon and then very quietly slipped away from my group and into the car park. I ran over to the nearest coach and slid myself underneath. My intention had been to hide myself amongst the pupils of that school when they returned but something much better happened. The driver was a smoker and not long after I slipped under his coach he turned up and started to have a fag, leaning against the side of the coach and leaving the doors wide open. I seized my chance and whilst he wasn’t looking I slipped out from my hiding place and into the coach, settling down in the corner of the back seat where I thought that I wouldn’t be seen.
The next part is where everything could have gone even more horribly wrong. The class returned and almost immediately the rowdiest boys, the ones who you just know grew up to be right proper ‘lads’ dancing around the streets of Barcelona, totally pissed off their tits and singing tuneless football chants. I feared the worst when I heard them coming but they were really lovely as it turned out. When they found me, huddled in the back corner like a tame and timid little shrew, they didn’t immediately shout for the teacher. They just stared at me in abject bewilderment.
“Shhh… I’m running away,” I hissed at them when I thought they might rat me out. They all looked at each other before one of the boys, without a word, took his coat off and threw it over me. I was startled but went with it. A coat was a decent thing to hide under, I considered. Then another boy did the same thing and then another boy. In the end I had about ten coats on top of me and when the teacher came to do a head count she barely even paid attention to the pile on the floor.
I stayed that way for the whole trip, a good ninety minutes. I spent it hugging my knees, hardly daring to move should the teacher come back and find me. The boys were loud and boisterous and she came down several times to tell them to be quiet, at one point threatening to move them to the front of the bus. If she had done that the game would be up. She didn’t and so, under those coats, I was able to make it all the way to Worcester, where I felt each of the coats being snatched off me in turn. Free of my hiding place I slipped myself between two of the boys, who were a couple of years older, and casually walked off the bus with the other pupils. I definitely saw the teacher do a double take as I passed by but by the time she could confirm what she saw I was gone, off down the road and out of sight.
But Worcester wasn’t far enough. I had to go much further if I wanted to make sure I was never found. That teacher who did the double take would certainly ring the wildlife centre and check to see if any other schools were missing a pupil and it might even be the case that the wildlife centre would ring her school just to make sure I hadn’t been found by any of them. I know I had written the suicide note but I was all to aware they were not likely to find that until much later on, not until my friend got home and her mum found the suicide note tucked into her bag.
As soon as I found a bus stop I stopped running, waited for the bus and when it arrived I used some spare change I had in my pocket in order to pay for a child’s fare into Worcester city centre. Afterwards I wandered the centre for a while, wondering how I could possibly get further. I didn’t pay much attention to where I was going or what I saw but from what I recall it was just like any other city centre, a mix of old and new buildings and plenty of people wandering around with bulging shopping bags and a deep look of concentration on their faces. They hardly noticed me as I waded my way through them, looking about for somewhere or someone who might assist me in getting further away from home.
Eventually I came across a railway station, Foregate Street, but having only a few pounds to my name there was no way I could afford a train ticket. But then again, I begin to think, If I just got on a train I would at least get somewhere. What could they actually do if the train got halfway down the line and the conductor found I hadn’t got a ticket? Even at nine years old I was sensible enough to know that the train wouldn’t reverse all the way back to Worcester because of me. They might throw me off at the next stop but the worst that could have happened was that they called the police and the police knew who I was and sent me all the way back to Bath- But I didn’t consider that at the time. I just thought that getting on a train would get me at the very least little further away.
And again, lady luck was on my side. The train I boarded, without looking where it was going, was an inter-city express service and it was one with no conductor checking tickets. It was just a bog-standard commuter train packed with full of themselves business men and would be yuppies talking loudly on mobile phones, trying to show off how important they were to all the other people around. And not one of them gave me a seat. Here I was, a child of nine, all alone on a packed train, and those bastards took all the seats for themselves and made me stand in the aisle, holding onto a low bar to stop myself being knocked about by the rocking and the rolling of the train. I hated those business men. They were so wrapped up in themselves that they didn’t even notice me struggling to stand upright as the train shattered along the line. So when I saw a wallet sticking out of one man’s trouser pocket I took the opportunity to enact some karma. I reached over and slipped it from his pocket without anybody noticing. Then I put it into my own pocket and acted like nothing had happened. Even when the man started to notice it was missing and looking around I pretended I hadn’t seen it. It was the only time anybody paid any attention to me during that ride and just one denial that I had seen the wallet was enough to make them leave me alone again. Nobody expected that a sweet, innocent looking girl might have stolen it. And when the train pulled into Birmingham New Street and the man was still looking for his ‘missing’ wallet I was rendered quite pleased with myself. He deserved to have it taken for being such a self interested, stuck up yuppie and if I could have pilfered the wallets of everyone else on that train I would have done.
Off the train I stopped by an eatery to examine what was in the wallet. There wasn’t much of any value, mostly store loyalty cards, debit cards and something which I now know was a condom. There was, however, quite a considerable number of bank notes in there. There was at least one hundred pounds worth and I reflected that these would do me just fine for getting where I wanted to go. The only question was where?
After buying a cheese sandwich for myself, and depositing the wallet and its more useless contents into a bin, I wandered off through New Street to find a destination board and decide where I wanted to go. I can’t say I liked the place much. It was dark and dingy and full of the smell of diesel oil. The noise of each train that came through echoed around the station with a horrid, ear splitting screeching sound that caused everyone on the platforms to reel backwards and cover their ears. It was an awful place and for a girl of nine it was like the terminal to hell. Every person that boarded a train was just another damned soul, departing this life for an eternity of torment. I almost felt sorry for them but I knew that I too would soon have to board one of these trains if I were to continue my escape.
I found a destination board on a screen at the back of a well lit but drab little waiting room to the side of one of the dark and unforgiving platforms. The only occupant of the room was an elderly lady wrapped in a battered brown shawl, rocking back and forth and muttering to herself. She scared me so I gave her a wide birth, though she kept one beady brown eye on me the whole time I was in that room. I stood and gazed up at all the names of the places I could go, so many of them. There was Bristol and Gloucester but I knew I didn’t want to go there. They were too close to Bath and I would be quickly found if I went there. I wanted somewhere distant from those places, somewhere nobody would think of looking for me, somewhere nobody thought I would go. I spied a train to Edinburgh departing in twenty minutes but in my childish, nine year old’s mind I decided against it for the sole and incorrect reason that I didn’t want to have to spend the rest of my life wearing tartan and adding ‘och aye the noo’ at the end of every sentence. Next I thought about Worton… It was up there, bold as brass and calling my name and I was sorely tempted to go for it but another name then caught my eye. I had never heard of the place and had no idea where it was but I liked the sound and the way it rolled off my tongue like liquid honey. Had I known then what I know now I would have opted to run to Worton but once my mind had settled on this strange place I had never heard of there was no changing it. I wanted to go there.
A train was due in ten minutes so I hurried away to find the right platform. A helpful guard was just outside so I pulled his trouser leg and asked for him to show me the way. He gave me a warm smile, took my hand and guided me all the way there, asking who I was and why I was all alone in a place like Birmingham New Street. I lied and said my name was Alice Crittenden and that I was on my way to see my grandma, who was very sick. Being a simple lie and very believable I got away with it. The name Alice Crittenden stuck too. I use it to this day and I’ve almost forgotten the name I used to go by.
Getting onto my train and buying a ticket from the conductor I couldn’t believe all my luck. I had escaped Bath, my parents and teachers and my loathsome friends. I had gotten away with stowing away aboard another school’s coach and I had even managed to make my way further, to Birmingham. I had even successfully stolen the wallet that was to get me the rest of the way without being caught. It was as if providence was smiling upon me, pushing me on and supporting me in my endeavours to escape my previous life. I was filled with all sorts of joys, hopes and dreams. I was going to do amazing things and my new life would be the best life to ever have been lived. And very soon I had arrived, ready to begin that new life in the terrifying and twisted city of Silbury…
There has been a point this summer where rejection has become routine. I’ll check my inbox, see an email from an agent, read the usual text saying something along the lines of ‘thanks but it isn’t for us’ and then just move on, forget it and casually send out another to someone else. I kind of knew when I started that I was going to get a lot of rejections… It’s a competitive market and not everyone is going to be enthralled by my work. Second is the books I’ve been sending out. D.S Proctor is short (only about a hundred pages) and the Rebels is already published (albeit in e-book form). I knew they might not be what agents are looking for and whilst it stung at first, especially the very first rejection, I now take it all in my stride now and just send out another email whenever a rejection comes through. You can’t let it get you down. You just have to keep fighting and keep going.
They’re coming to the end of their gauntlet anyway, D.S Proctor and The Rebels. I’m a few weeks away from Max and Anna (Which may yet end up being called The Princess and The Spy… I haven’t decided yet) being finished and once I’ve edited it to an acceptable standard that will replace them. I’ll e-publish D.S Proctor (the only reason it hasn’t been publish yet is because it’s been making its way round the literary agencies of the UK) and Rebels will go back to being my underappreciated masterpiece (featuring such gold standard dialogue as ‘He meant the bathroom? I thought he was just talking limey shit!’) Somewhere in the future I’ll make sure that they’re published properly, along with the Dark Legend books (which I haven’t been sending out,) but with Max and Anna taking the fore they’ll have to go to the back seat.
It’s a book that has taken me by surprise, one I never planned to write just yet. I’ve had the characters around for a while- Anna, though older, made her debut when I started writing Charlie Fuller- Which I still haven’t finished by the way (Though he’s finally about to cross the border into Spain… Hooray!) and Max in an attempt to write a military based story (The Khyber) which I discarded. I’ve toyed before, coming up with various ideas about how they met, it was originally going to involve an opium den and be set entirely in and around Victorian London and she would be hiding from would be assassins in some sort of slum dwelling. But then the optician told me my eyesight had degraded by forty percent so I had to find some way of stopping them from degrading further… Cue one day a week without my computer and the subsequent need to do some work on that day to prevent me from getting bored. I started to write by hand and what resulted is a mostly light hearted romp around North Wales- The story of a Princess, hiding from a group of revolutionaries, and the man assigned to protect her.
It’s been the fastest book I’ve yet written- I seem to write more when doing it by hand, it appears. And it is quite fitting that I should finish the book at around the same time as the summer ends and the leaves start to turn… And (with a fair amount of hope) this will be my last summer in this dump so it will forever be a reminder of that, a good reminder of how I got out from this place. My next hand written book is already in the planning stages… I don’t want to say too much about it yet except that the plan is stupidly detailed, as a matter of necessity. The main plot is another one that’s been floating in my mind for a while but the idea behind what I want to do with it (and the reason why the plan needs to be stupidly detailed) is another product of the summer.
It hasn’t been a great summer in all. The only adventure I had was right at the start when I tripped off to Bangor and the mountains for a few days and the weather has been more than a bit foul for the rest of it. Most of the time I’ve been stuck inside, dreaming of the future and the places I might soon be able to go… Copenhagen and Florence have been occupying my mind for the last week though I’ll still probably try Dublin first. It hasn’t been a great summer but it has been one that, despite those rejections, has had some good results… The winter ahead may be a long one but the summer has provided fruits that I may yet feast on for years to come.
I decided that I would try and look for my DVD copy of The Time Machine. I’d read the book not so long ago and I thought I’d like to watch the film again, compare the two. And I mean the decent film from the sixties and not the rubbish modern one with Guy Pierce and Samantha Mumba (Remember her? She certainly dropped off the radar didn’t she!). I am convinced there is a black hole somewhere in this room as things tend to vanish- I still haven’t found those Narnia books that were definitely under the bed before I went to university but luckily, this time, I found what I was looking for in a box under my desk. And with it, a few old favourite video games of mine- Theme Hospital, Master of Olympus and Pharaoh. They were all ‘best seller’ copies and I had a vague recollection of why they were in the box… They wouldn’t install on my laptop. But I didn’t let that stop me from taking them out and trying to run them once more.