Wednesday, 3 August 2016
Dear Teen Me
A few years ago I was invited by the fabulous "Dear Teen Me" website to pen a letter from my contemporary self, addressing the teenage me. Sadly the website no longer functions, but I'm reproducing that letter I Wrote for the site.
Dear Marc from author Marc Nash
Seeing as like the primitive tribesman you have a dislike of having your soul captured by a camera, tracking this shot down from your Gap year back in 1982 was something of a coup. Fortunately even though you have no pictures of your youth, your mother clung on to the few photographic morsels you granted her. This is you sat at the top of a cathedral either in Paris or Italy in the days you used to travel. And yes you are wearing a music T-Shirt, that of Joy Division a band who were to play a very important part in your life, not least because one of your first plays was about them and the fact that their lead singer committed suicide. But here at age eighteen, the sun is shining, you’re underneath the sky on top of the world where anything is possible ... and you’re wearing summery black!
1977 aged thirteen and the year of family parties sitting in marquees in back gardens talking about punk rock. Well Marc, you never did master the paltry four strings of a bass guitar and fulfill your dream of being in a band, but you did make it into the arts. You didn’t write any lyrics, but you did still compose words in the form of stage plays and novels. Even though you have still never read a classic novel other than the handful you studied at school. At the age of fourteen, it was a recommendation from one of your cool older cousins to listen to The Cure’s song “Killing An Arab” and then read Albert Camus’ novel “The Outsider” that kindled your love of modern novels, while still burning the fires for music from which you have never looked back.
Teenage years were when you finally turned your head away from the childish world centred around the home and started to think about the wider world. You discovered politics through a concern with the nuclear arms race and mutually assured destruction. That fusion of the political and the fear of death has never left you and permeates all your writing as you now approach the age of 50. Cleaning the blood up off the floor of a parent after a serious suicide attempt in your last year of teenagehood probably saw to that. Though a terrifying and brutal initiation into other people’s misery, it has set you up for not shying away from tackling dark subjects in your writing and probing the extremes of human behaviour. When you wrote about suicide bombers in “Not In My Name”, you could balance the ‘bomber’ aspect with the ‘suicide’ part like few others possibly could.
There were wars a plenty around the world while you were a teenager. On your doorstep there were the charmingly euphemistically named “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland. There was the ongoing conflict in the Middle East which was of grave concern to your family, but which you couldn’t engage with as you held an opposite point of view from them. In your Gap year Britain sailed an army halfway around the world to bafflingly fight over some barely inhabited islands against the Argentinians. That was when you realised you had a love-hate relationship with your own country, another theme you would go on to write about extensively, particularly in your debut novel “A,B&E”. Interestingly you chose to write that from the point of view of exile from Britain, even though after extensive Gap year travel as a teenager, you resolutely decided to stay in London and set your face against further travel. These days you don’t have holidays, you only write in your time off. You travel extensively in your imagination.
Yet it was a another conflict about which little was reported because journalists couldn’t gain access to the closed country, which really caught your attention, perhaps because you could not confront these other wars which were supposed to prompt your allegiances more directly. And that was the rule of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the subsequent horrors of the Killing Fields and the disastrous famine. That warzone resonated more than any other with you, but you could never find the words to express such a scale of depravity and horror. It would take you 30 years until you were finally able to write a story about it. Before then you had written on Northern Ireland and the Middle East, intricate, complex works making no judgements of the various parties involved. But your story on Cambodia pulled no punches in delivering its searing condemnation of the cult of death.
And where did this passion for writing and particular the novel develop from? Well you got into Britain’s supposed best university to further you hunger for knowledge, But your were appalled by the closed and prejudiced minds of many of your fellow students. You were also disillusioned with your History course as you felt the teachers were not really interested in teaching, only in pursuing their own research. You were on the point of walking out, when a new student theatre stage space was opened and you decided to try your hand at writing stage plays. Even then with no experience, instinctively and temperamentally you opted for some radical staging and the whole play was performed behind a wire mesh fence separating the cast from the audience. And because you had difficulty casting it, you decided to back up your words by stepping in and performing yourself. You even learned to smoke for the part and scaled the fence to confront the audience at the play’s ending. From that short 20 minute piece, you then went up to the Edinburgh fringe Festival with two new plays, which in retrospect was complete madness, but you had no fear. You were hooked by creative writing back and you also completed your degree, as playwriting kept you in college.
You knew an office job wasn’t for you, so playwriting seemed like a good way to avoid that, which of course it wasn’t as there was no money to be made. After four years you secured a job in an independent record store to pay the bills, but the number work there left the word side of your brain free to continue writing in the evenings. You kept pushing the boundaries in what you did, moving away from dialogue and more towards movement and dance. The dancers looked at you like you were mad, what need did they have of the written and spoken word? It was only cut short when your beloved twin boys arrived and you became the main carer for them. No more hanging out networking in theatre bars for you, with bottle feeds and dirty diapers to see to at the double.
So you turned to writing novels through the night, interrupted only by feeds and changes. The books you liked to read weren’t really out there in the market, so you set out to write them. Stories that pushed the narrative form into new places, books of ideas and a rigorous pursuit and examination of language. And once self-published, you started giving live readings, the closest to the dream of performing live in a band. And you put on a show live. You inhabited the characters, you dialogued with the audience through the way you staged your readings.
So it wasn’t quite how you imagined it might turn out, but looking back a lot of the seeds were in place in the teen you. Here’s to our salute of the old age us, pen in arthritic hand still writing and challenging the status quo.
Love and respect