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He takes a heavy book from the loaded shelf. Looks at me with a challenging glint in his eye, why, why write? Good question asked a million times before, and answered by greater minds than mine. Why fiction? Even better, entire books have been written on this subject. Isn’t it all just imitation now? Maybe, but surely every age thinks this and while cracking open a beer, cold in hand, wet, while half watching the pre-kick off preliminaries, teams, stats, managers quotes, previous meetings etc, etc, these were not questions I felt equipped to answer.
He’s articulate where I am coarse, educated in areas where I am apathetic, calm where I am angry, wound up, taut. He thinks. He muses. He moves on to Marxist, Feminist, Electioneering theories. He wants to put literature into context. Modern. Streamlined. Did you know? Did you see? Did you hear? I heard the roar in the stand. Saw the first ball kicked. I know I am swigging beer. Thick. Flat. Branded.
So why write?
A cross comes in from the far side. I am on the edge of my seat wondering is he actually asking me or preparing to tell me.
What is the point of fiction? Why in this day and age do we still bother?
I am aware I am not speaking. I came to watch football and that is what I intend to do.
You got any crisps?
The ball is pumped up the other end of the field, two giant men, well groomed, bearded, jump to claim it. One of them falls to the ground clutching his face, the other looks on in disbelief. My friend continues. Where are all the thinkers, the philosophers, the manifestos, ideals for living? Don’t you think writers just write for other writers? Don’t you think they’ve stopped trying to connect, to put forward ideas?
You sure you got no crisps.
He leaves the living room, taking his pacing; his gesticulating arms, and goes into the kitchen. I tell myself that now would be the time to prepare your rebuttal, now would be the time to iron out the creases in the answers for the defence, to find the modern day Sartre, Camus, De Beauvoir. The midfielder brings the ball forward, moving like a dancer, strong, powerful, elegant. A gap opens up, will he go left or right, through the middle. No names come to mind.
Ready Salted or Smokey Bacon?
A second later a packet of crisps is thrown in anger. Catch. Thanks. Soak the hops with salt. Goal. He sits down next to me and puts his feet up on the table. The replays begin and despite my intentions, my desires, to drink, escape, he has me thinking. Why write? Why fiction?
He takes a swig of his beer, leans back into the deep leather sofa. Literature in its modern form was created…he tails off, or to be more precise I do. He has already claimed my interior monologue with his why write questions, he is not allowed to confuse the issue. I have questions now. Things I want to know. The ball is drilled across the box.
So what would you write?
I’m not a writer.
Goal. Tension rises, I feel as though I am being led into saying well as a writer, which I loathe doing, or into speaking for others, which one should never do, however I want to know what he feels should be being written, so I ask again.
What would you write?
Where’s our generations Communist Manifesto?
You want to write a new one?
No, no, I want new ideas, something relevant to our time, I want…
Some sort of universal truth?
Not exactly…it’s hard to explain.
Yes. It’s hard to explain. We in the west live in what could easily be described as a secular age. We have science, reason, and logic. For us there are no mysteries. We have facts, honesty, and truth. These though depend on perception, mouldable, corruptible. They come with an attached point of view, and who wants to be slapped in the face with a cold, hard, point of view?
Ok. Has a book ever changed your way of thinking?
It doesn’t matter.
On this we can’t agree, and giving ground could concede or ultimately change the debate. This is a chess match, and right now I am in check. He wants to know a book that has changed my way of thinking. Another goal flies in, I look up, my team is losing now. He is still waiting. My mind is blank.
Just one book, that’s all.
I’ll give you five.
Why the bravado? Boys will be boys I guess. I’ve read hundreds of books. I could reel off anything, but he’ll want proof. He’ll want a few words, a solid explanation. I take a swig of beer, and another, and another.
Surely it’s not that hard.
Demons. The Plague. Nausea. Fight Club. The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter. Factotum. He cuts me off. He gets it. He sees my point. Then flips it and says,
Well none of those have been written this century though have they?
Of course this is true, but its mouldable, corruptible. Sidestepping I counter by offering, The Road, Cosmopolis, A Death In The Family. Ok. Ok. But why do YOU write? Why is fiction relevant to YOU?
Why? Because I don’t want black and white ‘truth’, I want to make a connection with something else, intangible, grey. Fiction is the fine lines between, the place we go to think, to explore, to stretch our ideas, our manifestos, our escape. It does not need to preach to us, or pressure us; it cajoles, it teases, and draws out a response, a thought, a feeling. Of course I would have felt ridiculous actually saying this, so I shrugged my shoulders, took another swig of beer, and cursed Jesus for the fact that my team had just conceded another goal, for the truth that they were losing.
Turn this shit off will you.
He didn’t. Thankfully he didn’t continue either, I guess he thought he’d won. On my way home something I once read came to mind, access to the artistic universe is more or less the preserve of those who are a little fed up with the world. Going further I would say it was for anyone who wishes to try and understand themselves within it. And this is why I write, to understand, to try and make sense. If along the way someone reads this, that or the other, and they feel the same, or it gets them thinking about something, anything, then great, fantastic. If not, well, it wasn’t meant to be, but I’ll still be here, trying to make sense, trying to find a connection, reading, writing.