richard pierce

richard pierce

27 December 2013

Breaking The Silence


My annual Christmas purdah from social media and emails has given rise to some interesting thoughts this year. On Christmas Eve, I puzzled my family by coming out with a statement some of the younger ones failed to understand.

People don’t feel like Christmas anymore because our lives have become too secularised.

Once I’d explained what I meant by secularised, they all wandered off in different directions, leaving me to explain to myself what I was actually trying to say. So I, too, wandered off, to find a decent definition of secular, one that doesn’t treat organised religion as true faith, one that sets aside how faiths have been misused, and focuses on what it really means. I found it, too.

Worldly rather than spiritual.

Yes, that’s it. We have all become too worldly, too focused on the material, rather than spiritual, rather than looking at what we can do for others without putting our hands in our pockets, looking instead for material gain in all the things we do.

But it’s all about money; everything. Especially in these times.

Times are indeed hard, and England, as a country, has, for centuries, been led by hypocrites and liars, as have, actually, all countries in this world. Their failings and malevolence are, in fact, just an extrapolation of our own selfish instincts, where we put ourselves before others and where, for a few days every year, we put on a face, and pay lip service to a mawkish representation of Christmas.

But Father Christmas doesn’t exist.

That’s what people say to me. And I tell them that if they believe in any good in the world, then Father Christmas does exist, that if they believe in anything magical, then Father Christmas does exist. And I believe in Father Christmas.

Father Christmas is a symbol of the secular and represents materialism.

Only if you want him to. Giving isn’t about you giving something tangible, it’s about how you give whatever you give. A real gift is a gift of the soul, something spiritual, something more real than an expensive toy, a ring of pretence wrapped in shiny paper and ribbons and bows.

I took Holy Communion on Christmas Day morning for the first time in a while, and said my prayer for peace in the world while bombs were going off in the Middle East.

You’re just being a Bible Basher now.

I don’t really believe in going to church. It smacks too much of organised betrayal of religion, but I like to formalise what I believe from time to time. I don’t believe in forcing my faith on anyone. I don’t believe that Christianity is the best religion; I don’t believe any religion is the best religion.

Then what’s the point?

I believe that all faiths are valid, that we all need spirituality to be able to move forwards in life, to give us strength to create something that will remain when we have died, something that’s made someone else’s life better.

Yeah, well, Christmas still doesn’t feel like it should.

Take time away from the relentless chasing for the grand gesture (that’s cheap, into the bargain). Move away from the crowds, move away from the rich telling you to buy stuff to make them even richer, move away from wanting to receive to wanting to give.

I can compose no philosophical arguments or theories; my mind is not precise enough. I have not studied theology or philosophy or ethics. But I have studied reality and have to live it every day, however little I might like to.
 
And I believe that the best place of worship is the one we carry within ourselves, that flame of spirit in our hearts that makes us what we are. Just spend a little time listening to it, spend a little time on your own, in a bright corner of your existence, and spread some warmth to those you love and those you would like to love. Then go back to Christmas and see what it feels like.

14 December 2013

New writing draft


He was a sprawl of a man. In his chair. In his bed. On his feet. On his back. And today he was staring, staring at the wall, through his man servant, nothing in his mind but his dreams, his secret dreams, the dreams that never ever reached his eyes. And the swell of the sea only magnified his reach, his power, his control.

          ‘And?’ he said, lifted the glass of port to his lips.

          ‘Nothing,’ the man servant said.

          ‘You must have found something.’

          ‘Not what you were looking for.’

          The big man rustled his rump into place. ‘What was I looking for? Remind me.’ His lips were red from the port.

          ‘Gold. Pearls. Moonstones.’

          ‘Quite right. You couldn’t have missed it.’

          ‘There was nothing to miss. Nothing to find.’

          ‘You’re much too eloquent to be a man servant,’ the big man said.

          ‘I listen well.’

          ‘Too well, maybe.’

          ‘Only you can be the judge of that, my lord,’ the servant said, and bowed.

          ‘Or too much.’

          ‘You digress.’

          ‘I’ll digress if I want to.’

          ‘You are the master.’

          ‘You think I should look for the loot myself, don’t you?’

          ‘You think I haven’t looked hard enough.’

          ‘You know me too well.’

          ‘Only as a slave knows his owner,’ the dark servant said.

          ‘You were cheap.’

          ‘As you remind me often.’

          ‘Go look again,’ the man said, shifting on his cushions. ‘I can’t go rummaging through a dying man’s possessions.’

          ‘Is it only dead men you rob then, sir?’

          ‘I only ever take what’s mine.’

          The servant bowed again, wordlessly this time.

          ‘And don’t come back until you’ve found what I want,’ the Earl of Lindsey said. He waved his hand. ‘Go.’

          ‘Very well,’ the servant said and turned to leave.

          ‘Job,’ Lindsey called after him. ‘I’m serious.’

          Job, dark and his real name in his mind, stopped and swivelled on his heel. ‘I am quite aware of that, as always.’

          Lindsey waved again, dismissive. ‘Enough.’

          Job pushed his way through the gasping door of the quarterdeck, his hands calm on the greasy wood, out onto the soaking deck, rain and fog sluicing along the grain, land now finally out of sight, and the sea swaying in time with the sails and the warren of masts. He shrugged, wiped his face against the weather, strode across the straight-lined decking, lifted the nearest hatch and jumped down into it, ignoring the ladder, bracing himself as he landed, silent-soled, on the grey treads of their guest’s quarters. There, the gloom held at bay by an orchestra of candles, flames floating a distance away from their wicks, or at least that was how they seemed to him, he, hidden away around a short curved corner, watched the mystery guest heave a shallow breath as he moved heavily around the cabin. That’s why everyone knew he was dying, for slight men do not tread weightily when they are well.

          ‘I know you’re there, Job,’ the man called in an accented whisper. ‘Is he still sending you to find what treasures I have?’

          ‘Yes,’ Job said, still in darkness.

‘How long have I known you?’

          ‘Two days.’

          ‘And yet I trust you.’

          Job raised his arms, spread his hands, and made a low sound of assent.

          ‘Why?’ the man said.

          ‘Because we’re both foreigners?’

          ‘Or both slaves?’

          ‘You?’

          The man shrugged. ‘Look at me.’ He scraped his way across the floor. ‘What do you see?’

          ‘A rich man.’

          ‘How deceptive appearances are. … What else?’

          ‘Death.’

          ‘Look harder.’

          ‘I don’t know what to say.’

          Outside, the wind pushed the boat harder into the oncoming swell, the room rolling and swaying, the table shuddering with the contradictory motions, and yet neither of them sought out anything to hold on to.

          ‘I am a slave, Job,’ the pale man said, his ribs showing even through his baggy shirt. He walked back to his table, held his cold hands over the candles. ‘To the hunt.’

          ‘The hunt?’

          ‘The adventure. The craving to search for what your master thinks I already own; to find, somewhere, riches, gold, jewels, precious things I can mould into my own.’

          ‘Greed?’ Job stepped into the guttering light. ‘I don’t believe it.’

          The man laughed, lowered himself into one of the rickety skeleton chairs, pushed his legs under the table, and shook his head. ‘Not greed, my friend. Addiction, obsession. That’s what I’m in thrall to.’

          ‘So you have a way to escape if you really want to.’

          ‘And you haven’t?’

          ‘His power reaches further than I can run or swim.’ Job nodded at the small window. ‘Look outside. The land has gone now.’

          ‘I’ll buy you and set you free.’

          ‘He wouldn’t allow it.’

          ‘You’re too valuable to him, you mean?’

          ‘I couldn’t say. Only a master knows the true value of his slaves.’

          ‘You should call me Francis.’ He ran his hands, palms down, along the table smooth with age and touch and salt. ‘Why do you mean so much to him?’

          ‘I’m a shadow,’ Job said. ‘No-one sees me.’

          ‘You spy for him.’

          ‘And other things.’

          ‘What makes this different?’

          ‘You don’t treat me like a slave. You see me.’

          ‘All men are free in my mind.’

          Job bowed his head.

          ‘Do you want to know a secret?’ Francis said.

          ‘Don’t I already know them all?’

          Francis shook his head, a familiar gesture by now. ‘Oh no. The best is still to come.’

          ‘And you’ll tell me?’

          ‘Of course.’ Francis got up, achingly, took too many deep breaths, and put his hand on Job’s shoulder. He waited for the silence to settle, for even the wind to subside, and for the ship to sink into a soundless rythm. ‘The secret, my friend, is that I have none of the things your master wants.’

2 December 2013

Fighting the black dogs

I spent most of yesterday evening, last night, and today fighting against the double broadside of unwanted and frustrating physical ailments and an attack by not one black dog but a whole pack of black dogs, coming to the conclusion that this really had to be the point at which I said, “Ok, I’ve had enough, I’m not doing this anymore, because no-one wants to hear me, no-one wants to read me, and I’ve done my very best with it.” And decided to stop social networking, to stop using twitter and facebook, and to use only email or private messaging to communicate with those people I know and who might want to stay in touch with me.
 
Ok, so far.
 
Decision made, I went to the dentist, something I always enjoy, as I find it relaxing, and also a test of my powers of relaxation. When the dentist offered to numb my mouth before drilling for one of the fillings, I declined (I’ve had drilling done without anaesthetic before, when a doctor told me I might be allergic to whatever analgesic they use in those injections, the feeling of which sliding into my gums I enjoy, too, I have to admit, but not the feeling then of not being in control of my face). I was pleased with the way I controlled my breathing, felt no pain (the suction tube sandwiching my lips against my upper jaw hurt more than the drilling, which I didn’t actually feel). My spirits climbed, briefly, because I was enjoying something not many people enjoy, because I was achieving a target I’d set myself. And then it was all over. I paid my money, left the dentist, drove home to where I knew I’d left my cigarettes.
 
Enter the cold house, and the black dogs and the physical symptoms come storming out of the shadows again, running round my feet like the over-excited little demons they are, and jump back into my head and body without me being able to resist them. Back to Square One, and back to trying to shut out the world and try to hibernate in some way or another until it’s all over.
 
So, on the day job treadmill, clicking this, clicking that, entering data and comments into my database, reading emails, answering emails, ploughing on and on, and I turn on BBC Radio Norfolk, because everything on Radio 1 sucks except for Zane Lowe (although he can occasionally be very suck-uppy to stars), because Radio 2 nose-dives after Chris Evans (whom I’ve started listening to because my favourite DJ, Simon Saynor, who did Sine FM’s Breakfast Show, has finished after four and a half years) and Ken Bruce, because I love Stephen Bumfrey and Thordis Fridriksson, partly because they gave me a chance to go back onto the programme again and again, and still invite me back because they like who I am, and partly because they play good music, and the chat between 2 and 4 every weekday afternoon is hilarious, or riveting, or educational, or all three at once.
 
And that’s how I came to be listening to Franko Fraize, a rapper from Thetford, at twenty to four in the afternoon, the mist rising, the darkness already descending, talking to Thordis, and telling it how it is, for artists trying to get a break. Ok, he was talking about music, but it could equally well be applied to writers published for the first time, or writers who are self-published, or writers who are just finding their way. What he said, and I paraphrase, was “If you want to go and do something, you’ve got to go and do it. If you don’t like it, don’t do it. And if you’re doing it and don’t like the hustle, don’t moan about it.” That sort of woke me up. I can’t just give up on the words and on the books, nor on the causes, like pulpculturemagazine, like local music and writers, like the libraries campaign nationally, that I support, no matter how I feel inside. I need to marry the wastedness with something that’ll grow.
 
And there I am, back on the networks in my head, because no-one will have noticed me not contributing for a day (which is a good thing not to be noticed for something like that). So there I am, deciding that I will plug Dead Men again, after I finally managed to persuade my recalcitrant publisher to cut 75% off the price of all ebook versions for December (though I didn’t manage to persuade them to cut the paperback price or to think again about supporting a new talent for more than one book and taking on A Fear of Heights after all).
 
And here I am, back plugging my self-published The Failed Assassin again, because it’s one of the best serious erotica novels anyone could hope to read, because there are five fabulous hand-bound copies, works of art, of it for sale at £50 each (and I’ll do a separate post explaining exactly why I’ve done that), and because I finally decided to do a paperback copy of it after all. I’ve got to get my words to market somehow, even if they reflect my black-doggedness, even if my black dogs want to discourage me from doing something, anything, and would rather I sat here under my SAD light realising it wasn’t really working, and descended into the dark for always.
 
So, here’s to not being helpless under siege, here’s to even momentary relief from bleakness, and here’s to celebrating my words, my achievements, because after all, the effort’s been all mine, just like the efforts of all artists have been theirs, no-one else’s, because it’s always 95% perspiration, 5% inspiration.
 
And, if after all that, you don't want to order a signed, dedicated copy of Dead Men as a Christmas present for all your family, friends and enemies, I still won't give up.