I’m now back in Australia for a large birthday party (my own.) Mid-life, I guess, and I’m confronted with the odyssey of many incarnations that have brought me to this point in my life. Naturally a fairly frenetic person with a frenetic lifestyle I don’t often have the luxury of introspection – in fact I feel like I’ve been on fast forward since about 16. One of the advantages of writing is that an author can escaped into her/his own narrative during the actual process of writing. This is particularly true of myself partly as the nature of my work takes me into the labyrinths of research, and purely fictional characters and lives. There is a glorious distraction from the real world in this – interestingly enough an editor I recently worked with told me that quite a few writers she works with suffer from agoraphobia and are reluctant to leave their homes. I suspect this is because there is a danger one can start to really live in one’s own stories and give up on the real world. After all you can control a fictional world.
Certainly when I was a child I chose to escape into the fictional world of reading to avoid a rather dramatic home life. I remember sitting for hours in the cupboard seriously expecting the back of the cupboard to dissolve and give way to the magical world of Narnia. As I grew up in London there was always the obligatory heavy coats and Macs musky with perfume and the street making a hanging dark forest that only added to the mystery. Likewise the wasteland between the back fence and the railway line (my closest girlfriend’s house backed onto the Bakerloo line) was also a fantasyland of tangled blackberries and undergrowth ripe for the imagination.
As children of the 60’s and 70’s we made up our own entertainment and stories – and as we had little but abandoned houses, vacant lots and the adults around us to project our imaginations on – we worked hard at it. Watching my stepsons on play stations I’m not entirely convince the new generation of electronic media exercises the imagination quite as much. We made up our own characters, monsters and spacecrafts from scratch, there does seem to be certain passivity in the multitude of options the kids are offered today.
But back to the big birthday – I take solace that on a cellular level we are entirely different creatures from moment to moment. Certainly I have been through many manifestations and do not feel the same person I was, even five years ago. I have been extremely fortunate to have lived in several countries and have close friends scattered across the globe. There are advantages and disadvantages one of these is the challenge of creating a continuum of history – Born in England, bred in London (to two people who themselves were migrants of sorts), 20’s in Australia, ‘30’s in The US – I have found that the time I’ve now spent back in the UK has created a full circle and many of the family myths and projections migrants experience when out of their home land for decades have been dispersed and old hauntings exorcised. Certainly my last few years in London as a teenage after my father died suddenly when I was sixteen were traumatic (on retrospect – then they felt wild and exciting), and really it was only the grace of God that I emerged fairly intact.
Actually for the first time, I placed myself as a minor character in Sphinx, (although I gave myself a couple of more years – 18 instead of 16 so that I was at least legal – in a fictional way and gave myself psychic powers – that is definitely fictional!) which was both fun and confronting.
A Polish friend of mine one said to me – a migrant is one who dreams of the palm when under the pine then when he’s back under the palm he finds himself dreaming of the pine; This is, in some ways, all our dilemmas. In a way, after a certain age, our childhood becomes the land we have migrated from – a tantalising horizon we find ourselves dreaming about yet unable to return. The trick is to never grow up.
Another sad coincidence: the building that recently collapsed in Cologne on the 3rd of March – the Historical Archive of Cologne – was one that both myself and my researcher/translator (and very close friend playwright Henning Bochert) utilised while working on my novel ‘The Witch of Cologne’. It is tragic that both lives were lost as well as invaluable historical records going back to the Roman Times that were irreplaceable, my condolences to the city and people of Cologne.