Letting Yourself Go: How My Voice Went and Came Back

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Two years changed my life. The first was 1984, the year I lost my voice. I was twelve at the time, and on the cusp of adolescence. Things were going well. My family had moved to a small country town, where for the first time in my life I had enough freedom to flourish. My father was often away, so as his eldest son I grew in stature. I was popular at school and captain of my cricket team, and I even had a girlfriend of sorts.

Ironically, I also became one of the ‘voices’ of my school that year, being chosen to speak on some kind of recording – I can’t remember what. Boy, I wish I had that tape. Why? Because my fall soon followed, and I didn’t talk again for thirty years. Not freely, that is, not as ‘me’.

It was my own fault, I suppose. Instead of creating an imaginary world, as we usually did, a friend and I set about ‘reshaping’ a real one: a sewage works on the edge of town. Into the open tanks went sprinklers and rocks, on more than one occasion. Thus did we become vandals; thus were we caught and disgraced. Thus was I stripped of my new-found liberty and life, and of the town I loved. Thus did I drag myself back to that devil’s playground and try to drown myself in the muck. Thus did I fall silent, smothered by shit and shame.

Years later, I fictionalised my downfall in a story called ‘Adam and His Other’. It starts like this:

We begin and end with an image. A boy crouched on the edge of a tall concrete tank, staring at a face in the filthy water. His face. Overhead, the sky, faded and flat; close by, skirting the high chain-metal fence, a dusty track fringed by scrub. And silence, too, for nothing moves, not even the figure in the water. Yes, the boy above is no Narcissus; the face he beholds is not a reflection, but solid and real. Look closer. Study the looks on the faces. Are they not identical, like their features? There, around the eyes, shock and dismay; there, in the eyes, sadness and a shadow of hope. Now look down. Yes, the boy has his hands in the muck; yes, his hands are on the shoulders of the other. Effortlessly, the boy holds him under; effortlessly, one boy holds the other boy up.

2014. The second year that changed my life. Or will. Because a few months ago my voice came back, bursting up from below with astonishing clarity and force, like the unitary yowl of a newborn and its labouring host. How did it happen? Not through trying, oddly enough, but by letting go.

Since high school, I’ve been obsessed by two things: writing and singing. Both have been about recovery – I know that now. About recalling my voice and with it ‘me’. Thus I began book after book and took lesson after lesson; always, though, my voice – real or written – came out ugly and weak. The harder I tried, the worse it became, until something inside me gave up and gave. Only then did I let myself go.

Twelve years my recovery took. It started when I allowed myself be led to a quieter place, to live and work amongst people who like to listen. As I let myself speak, I found that my written voice grew louder. I produced articles, posters and displays at work, and I wrote children’s stories for magazines at home. I started to study again and, despite having failed before, I finally wrote my way through. Reflection, research and a receptive readership – all three things encouraged me to speak up. I graduated in April, a straight-A student.

This year, too, I ‘came out’ as a writer; I laid bare my literary persona by starting this blog, and I conceived a small writing business-to-be, my first. Slowly but steadily, I climbed out of the muck.

At the same time, my real voice grew stronger; by letting myself go, I grew into a man as well as a maker. The past eight years have seen me become a husband and father, and respect and responsibility have given me voice. Sure, arguing with my wife and yelling at the kids have loosened the cords, but only singing to and around my children has brought me release. The emotions my offspring invoke – all that agony and ecstasy – have filled me so full that I’ve come rushing to the surface, borne back to life on a sudden upsurge of song. Miraculously, my voice has regained its upper register, and with it me my higher self.

Of the songs that have served me well, ‘The Starting Line’ by Keane is special. I find the first two lines of its soaring chorus particularly ‘uplifting’:

Drag your heart up to the starting line
Forget the ghosts that make you old before your time

So, you see – 2014 has been a big year for me. By putting the ghosts behind me, I’ve made it back to the starting line. Now, of course, I’ve ‘got to get underway’, but that’s another story. What about you? What kind of year have you had? Go on – get in touch. Let yourself go.

Of Smoke and Skirts: Up, Up and Away

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It’s a rare sight these days, someone smoking a pipe. If you’d been sitting on my shoulder a few weeks ago, though, that’s exactly what you’d have seen. A drifting dome of smoke and, somewhere underneath, a bedraggled young bloke chugging away at a churchwarden.

And it wasn’t one of your blunt, British-bomber-squadron kind of briars either; rather something resembling half a handlebar moustache gone wrong. Bent to buggery, it was, like a saxophone. Boy, that cat was burning up the scales.

Pretty wild vision, huh? So wild, perhaps, that it might simply have been a pipe dream – is that what you’re suggesting? Well, as I was office-ensconced at the time, anything’s possible. I do one-handed work, you see, which leaves a lobe free to roam the busy street below or, if things come to a pretty pass, to romp like a rabbit through time and space.

Too wild, as my four-year-old son would say.

Real or otherwise, that bloke and his briar took me back to my own pipe-sucking days. The past, it seemed, was sending up smoke signals, drawing me back. Years ago, in high school, I’d had big plans. First, I was going to buy an old car, rip off its roof, fill its back seat with soil, and grow flowers. Then, presumably, I was going to cruise the streets, the proud captain of some kind of vehicular vase.

I’d do things differently now, of course. I’d grow vegetables instead of blooms. Form follows function these days.

Later, after washing my hands, I was going to get me a pipe. Oh, yeah.

Pipes denote personality, you see, and personality is something I’ve always wanted. Motorcycles are the same, but I never got a bike much more than I never got a pipe. I blame my parents for this, of course, since they threatened to insert such devilish devices into a pipe of a different kind – my exhaust pipe – if I was ever caught in possession. Thus did my quest for a pipe-driven personality go up in smoke.

I’ll leave you with a lame lament about women’s skirts, because these groin-concealing garments are something else I’m seeing a lot of through my work window at the moment, it being summer and all. Or not seeing a lot of, to be more precise. And that’s my point: hemlines seem to be scaling new heights.

Soon I won’t have to exercise my imagination at all in public, and that’s a bit of a bummer. For what we’re witnessing here is – yes, you guessed it – a reprehensible race to the bottom.

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Feathers and Fur (Part 1): Doctored Strangelove or Sexual Stuntfest?

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What’s your stance on erotica? Haven’t settled on one yet? Well, don’t panic – as with sex itself, there’s an abundance of attitudes to choose from, so one is sure to take your fancy.

Let’s say you’re the upright type; well, you’re bound to be attracted to the missionary position, which means you’ll demonise any book that even hints at humpty-do. If, however, you’re more of a ‘cowgirl’ at heart, then you’ll happily bend over backwards for any old porn on the page.

My standpoint is different. When it comes to erotica, I prefer to play leapfrog. That’s right: I jump about, taking each text as it comes and trying to judge a work on its merits. Good writing excuses anything, I reckon – even a splash of the sauce.

Trouble is, I’m yet to put my approach to the test, having never really read any raunch. I like sex, so it’s not that I’m averse to its depiction in fiction; it’s just that I get bored by artless stories, of which there seem to be plenty.

What is artful erotica, then? As we writers are always being exhorted to ‘show not tell’, I’ve decided to try a little experiment. Rather than attempt to catalogue the qualities of the ideal erotic tale (as I see it), I’ll present for your delectation a purpose-written story instead.

More ‘doctored strangelove’ than sexual stuntfest, here then is the first stimulating instalment of ‘Feathers and Fur’.

‘I’m very passionate,’ she said, inspecting her nails in the light, ‘about the power of plumage.’

‘You’re into feathers?’

Goldie studied me for a moment. A long, searching moment.

‘Wait here,’ she said, before slipping from the room.

Groaning under my breath, I watched her go. She was swaddled in a sleek orange sari but had the kind of figure that would look good in a cassock. I mused for a minute, picturing her draped in a wet shower curtain. Not quite what I’d meant, but it proved my point – that for a woman she was remarkably well hung. Full and firm where it counted, like my fiancé, Christine.

Ex-fiancé.

I sighed and put down my pen. Fantasising about my clients wasn’t going to pay the bills. Maybe Chrissie was right – maybe the time I’d sunk into this ‘business’ of mine was all for nothing. Maybe I just didn’t have what it takes to be a freelance writer. I mean, I’d wasted an hour already this morning thanks to this woman and her cat.

‘Sorry,’ Goldie had called, as she’d come pattering across the street in her neat little sandals. ‘My puss usually wakes me at the crack of dawn, but I think she’s on heat or something. Went out through the bathroom window.’

Digging around in her shoulder bag for keys, she gave me the once-over. Twice.

We’d arranged to meet here fifty minutes ago, a full hour before opening time, so I could get some background for a puff piece I was writing on Goldie’s latest venture, a niche clothing store called ‘Feathers and Fur’.

Finding her keys at last, Goldie let us into the shop, a bright open space set out with racks of lingerie and outré outfits of all kinds.

‘So,’ she said, leading me across the room, ‘you’ve come to do a little digging.’

I dodged around one of the half-naked mannequins that dotted the room.

‘That’s the general idea,’ I said. ‘If you can still spare the time.’

She sniggered. ‘Oh, things don’t hot up here until later on. Actually, I’m kinda hoping you’ll warm these mornings up for me a little. You and your piece.’

‘I’ll do my best,’ I said, following her into a stylish office furnished with black leather couches and a desk. I glanced around. Two windows framed neat hedges and a strip of sky, while a door in the back wall opened on to what was presumably a storeroom.

‘The first thing to know,’ Goldie said, dumping her bag on the table, ‘is that this place runs on coffee. Good hot coffee.’

And she spent the next ten minutes fiddling with the espresso machine that stood on a bar fridge in the corner.

When I tried to shoot her a question, the response was swift.

‘No talking,’ she cried, over the whoosh of the machine. ‘Making coffee is my morning ritual. It grounds me for the rest of the day.’

‘Fair enough,’ I said, grinning at the pun.

Spotting my smile, Goldie decided I wasn’t taking her seriously enough, and launched into a detailed explanation of her ‘coffology’. To my discredit – I suppose I should have been taking notes – I tuned right out, preferring instead to visualise her in various forms of dress. The cassock was a flop, I decided, although the cross on a chain around her neck brought out two of her best features.

I was about to try her in a nuns’ habit when she turned and charged across the room, a cup cocked in each hand.

‘This’ll get you going,’ Goldie said, giving me one before dropping on to the couch opposite me with the other.

She drank with obvious relish.

‘Thanks,’ I said. A second later I was spluttering.

‘Some like it hot,’ Goldie said, with a smile. ‘I did warn you.’

I dabbed at my lips. ‘I’ll listen next time.’

‘Good boy. It’s the first thing a man should do. So,’ she said, settling back on the couch, ‘what’s your piercing first thrust?’

‘Well, I was going to ask about the mannequins.’

‘Wrong,’ she said. ‘People usually want to know about my name.’

‘Goldie. Right. After the actress, I suppose.’

‘Hell no,’ she said. ‘The metal.’

‘Gold. I get it.’

‘I was a weighty newborn, apparently, and soft – super soft.’

I pretended to write that down. ‘And precious too,’ I ventured.

‘Not half as valuable as my sister,’ Goldie said, with a pout. ‘Titty.’

I looked at her blankly.

‘Titanium,’ she added.

‘Of course. Atomic number 22.’

‘I’m impressed. Next question, Chemistry Man.’

‘The mannequins?’

‘Hooked on them, aren’t you. Trust me, you’re not their type. Let’s get back to my type. Your piece. Ask me something probing, about Goldie.’

‘Okay,’ I said. ‘The shop. Why’d you open it?’

And that’s when she said what she said.

‘I’m very passionate. About the power of plumage.’

And that’s when I said what I said.

‘You’re into feathers?’

And that’s when she disappeared, mysteriously, into the back room.

I sat and toyed with the idea of calling Chrissie. I’d promise to chuck this writing thing in and go back to being a photographic model. Doing shoots all the time was a drag, but at least I got paid for daydreaming. And, boy, what material I’d had to work with. Dress ’em up, dress ’em down. Back then, fantasising had actually paid off – it’d given me the hunky faraway look for which I’d become known.

‘Yes,’ Goldie said. ‘I’m into feathers.’

I looked up and saw a coppery feather boa shimmering in the doorway. Behind it was a body, mostly naked. Butt-naked, as far as I could tell.

‘You’re in feathers,’ I pointed out, somewhat pedantically. Then I raised my eyebrows, adding, ‘And now you’re not.’

To be continued, as they say, with apologies for the eroticus interruptus.

[Breaking News: ‘Feathers and Fur’ is now complete, its climax having been posted here.]

The New Fat is Thin: Why It Pays to Make a Pig of Yourself

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Fat is back! Well, not fat but fat. Whoa, boy – I think you’d better start again.

Fat is back! On your fork, that is, and not on your figure.

That better?

I saw something on the telly the other day that has all but saved my life: a ‘science’ show about fat. Guess what? We’ve had it all wrong. That food thing we’ve been calling ‘fat’ really isn’t – it’s ‘thin’.

Hearing this, I almost choked on my skinny latte, whatever that is.

I’ve been worried about my health for years, you see, ever since I first realised that ‘success’ was taking its sweet time coming. Hence the need to hang around indefinitely, by keeping myself healthy and rude. In rude health, I mean.

Science has stepped in to help. Not that my diet has ever been low in fat – buttered cheese triangles are a staple of mine and I won’t touch yoghurt unless it comes laced with double cream. It’s just that my menu was missing the best fat-bearing food there is.

Bacon.

To think I might have perished prematurely – all because I eschewed cured pig. Oh, the horror of it all, the horror!

Now, though, my diet is truly complete. Any day that doesn’t begin with a dose of bacon – ‘fatback’, of course, because there ain’t no other cut – lacks something special: a porcine slimming pill. I mean, look at pigs themselves. If we didn’t have to rend them into rashers, the poor swine would probably live for ever. How? They’re made of bacon. Think about it.

Because when it comes to being healthy, it pays to make a pig of yourself.

Oink, oink!

On Being a Back-to-Front Writer: Story-telling and Self-promotion

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What happens when, as a would-be writer, your illusions are shattered? When, say, one of your articles goes viral, only to be followed by – silence. No knocks at the door, no alerts in your inbox, no flutters, no tweets. No nothing.

Before long, those million or more hits you took really start to hurt.

What happens? You blog about your disenchantment, of course, as one Lily Dunn has, er, done. Shocked by the apparent insignificance of her overnight ‘success’ – of an online article making a massive splash – Lily admits to being a little disheartened. ‘I want to give up,’ she writes.

In an eloquent and engaging appraisal of her bruised state of mind, Lily wonders what it takes to kick-start a literary career. If good writing – writing that attracts millions of readers – is not enough to win you your first contract, then what the hell is? The answer she arrives at only adds to her angst: it’s shameless self-promotion, silly.

‘Being a successful writer is no longer about craft or talent or art,’ Lily writes. ‘It’s about who is the most provocative, who is the most visible on social media, who is the most aggressively self-promoting.’

As a fellow aspiring author, I feel Lily’s pain; I, too, harbour the hope that one day, come what may, good will out. Here’s the rub, though: I don’t really believe it. Experience has taught me otherwise. But that’s okay, and I’ll tell you why.

Self-promotion – that bugbear of many an unheralded writer – is not antithetical to story-telling, it is story-telling. And not just any old story-telling either, but the biggest and best kind there is. Why? Because self-promotion is about composing your ‘self’. It’s about creating a real life-story that has the power to validate and enliven not only you as a writer but every thing you’ll ever write.

In short, it’s about being a ‘back-to-front writer’, since it asks you to bring your ‘back-story’ to the fore – to the forefront of your mind. Get your back-story right and the readers of your work will become your readers. You – and not just your writing – will go viral, and ‘success’ is sure to follow. Prepare for knocks at the door and alerts in your inbox; for flutters and tweets. The world will come calling.

How else do we explain the irritating success of ‘celebrity’ writers and the undying appeal of our ‘classic’ authors? Sure, their works are often exceptional, but they always come with rich, ready-made back-stories, self-propagated and otherwise, in which readers revel. I mean, why buy one story when you can hook a whole series?

What we as writers ought to be creating, then, are multi-story constructions. High-rise ‘libraries’, if you like. For each of our works we must lay a foundation floor – the back-story that best supports any impending upper levels: the ‘front-story’ we want to tell, along with the stories others might one day write about us and our edifice. In this way, we end up with a veritable stack of stories, the height and heft of which determines the ‘standing’ of our work in the teeming cityscape that is the marketplace.

Worried about authenticity? Don’t be. As ever, the style of your back-story more than its content will trumpet the ‘true’ you. (Yes, I do believe in such a chimera.) Back-story not selling you well? Then write another, donning a costume your ideal reader will recognise and rate. Write better, work harder and, as always, trust to luck.

Personally, I find the prospect of crafting characters for myself daunting yet exhilarating. We authors are protean beings, so the possibilities seem plentiful. Too plentiful, perhaps. Sometimes the hardest advice to take is your own…

Like it or not, the stories we tell about ourselves are the weightiest we’ll ever have to write. For if self-promotion is, as I suggest, simply the telling of stories about ourselves, then our success rests in the right place: in our ability to write. It’s just a matter of learning to write the wrong way around.

Think about it. Are you a back-to-front writer?

Hanging on Every Word: Why Minor Moments Matter

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There you are. Stuck in prison for the rest of your life, a fraudster of the most despicable kind. For you, there’s only one way out, and that’s in a box. Since it’s only a question of when and not whether, you decide to end the suffering. Hanging it has to be.

But with what?

Cut to the future, where a couple of ‘lowlifes’ are busy quizzing your overwrought former wife about your demise. ‘What, did he use a belt?’ asks the short guy. A curt shake of the head. ‘A sheet, then,’ says the other, a muscled mechanic. The woman rounds on them. ‘No,’ she says, with a touch of pride. ‘He managed to get some rope.’

You did? What, then, does this tell you about yourself? That you wear suspenders? Probably not. That you wash your sheets daily? I doubt it. Nope, it tells you just what it told me: that you’re the kind of character you’re made out to be – a charming, well-connected confidence man.

Mission accomplished.

As writers, we’re told to make every word count. Here we see the mantra in action. It’s but a minor moment in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, and yet it sticks in my mind, a fine (and funny) illustration of how the masters have us hanging on every word.

Off the Couch: How I Saved Civilisation

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In the ideal office, each and every drone would take messages. As it is, most simply leave them lying around, thus endangering the safety and security of all.

Not me. I safeguard civilisation by collecting, from desktops and drawers, these incendiary scraps of paper, which I publish on the internet as a service to society.

Here, then, is a message I removed from a desk today. Brace yourself…

Krystal 1

Now that’s how you take a message!

A Tale with Teeth (Part 1): Putting the Bite Back into Fairy Stories

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It was the last straw – again. There I was, blithely corralling kids’ books, when I came across a sheep in wolves’ clothing: yet another work in which an author has her wicked way with fairy tales. Enough’s enough, I thought, rough-housing the offending object into a corner; if I encounter another novel that neuters those venerable yarns, I’ll, I’ll, I’ll…

Do what? Scream like a girlie-man? Beat my hairy breast? Never! Such things are beneath me, as you well know. Instead, I thought, I’ll do my own bit of bastardising, so as to put the acid on these con-artists and the sting back where it belongs – in the tales, of course.

To my amazement and alarm, I got a chance to put my pen where my mouth is within hours. While ferrying Boy Wonder to a friend’s, I happened to put my daughter to sleep in the car. Rather than try and shoehorn the little dear out of her cosy capsule, I opted to ride it out – to sit behind the wheel and write.

It’s the fruit of this wee spree that I now want to share. Entitled ‘A Tale with Teeth’, the story goes something like this…

Once upon a time there was a wolf – a very sad wolf. His teeth were falling out, you see, and that’s enough to make any beast blue. One day the wolf woke up feeling so low that he just had to see a doctor.

‘Doc,’ he said, ‘I’m losing my teeth.’

‘Hmmm,’ said the doctor, fiddling with her phone. ‘I’d better run some tests.’

Tucking his tail under his furry flanks, the wolf sat and waited.

At last the doctor let out a shriek.

‘What is it?’ cried the wolf. ‘Give it to me straight, doc – I can take it.’

‘It’s my blood pressure,’ groaned the doctor. ‘It’s way too high. I need a holiday.’

And with that she raced from the room, grabbing her golf clubs as she went.

As you can imagine, that didn’t make the wolf feel any better. Not one to give up easily, though, he went straight to the dentist’s.

‘Come back when you’ve made an appointment,’ snapped the girl at the counter. The wolf sighed and did as he was told.

‘What seems to be the problem,’ asked the dentist, as he strapped the wolf down.

‘It’s my teeth,’ said the wolf. ‘They seem to be falling out.’

‘And I suppose you think I’m going to stick my head into your mouth to have a look,’ said the dentist.

The wolf nodded, miserably.

‘Gladly,’ said the dentist, and stuck his head right in.

He emerged a little later, feeling around in his ear for something sharp.

‘You weren’t foxing,’ he said, holding up a tooth. ‘Your fangs are dropping like flies.’

The wolf gave a groan. ‘But why?’

‘Not sure,’ said the dentist. ‘And don’t think I’m going in there again to find out. Who eats garlic for breakfast, anyway?’

It took the wolf a few months to pay his bill. As soon as it was settled, he rushed off to see a therapist.

‘I’m sad,’ the wolf told her, once he’d got comfortable on the couch. ‘And my teeth are falling out.’

‘Don’t let a little thing like that get you down,’ said the therapist, smoothing her slacks. ‘Is there anything else that might be making you unhappy? Your parents, perhaps?’

The wolf thought hard.

‘Well,’ he said, finally, ‘there is one little thing that’s been troubling me.’

‘Go on,’ said the therapist, pen poised above her iPad.

‘It’s just that I used to feel so big and bad. Hardly a week went by without me nibbling on a kid or two, and scaring some half to death.’

‘So that’s it,’ said the therapist, turning on her phone. ‘Nothing to do with your family at all.’

The wolf craned around to look at her.

‘Do you know what that does to a carnivore’s self-esteem?’ he said.

‘Yes, yes,’ said the therapist, briskly. ‘It’s an open-and-shut case. You’ve lost your identity and the new you doesn’t need teeth.’

She cast an eye over the wolf’s lithe figure.

‘Just out of curiosity, what do you eat?’

‘Shakes, mostly,’ said the wolf. ‘It’s a complete diet, only minus the children.’

‘Might be worth a try,’ murmured the therapist. ‘My sister’s getting married next month, you know, and I’d like to be looking my best.’

‘You go grrrl,’ said the wolf, giving her knee a squeeze.

The therapist threw him a grateful smile.

‘It’s just that my mother had such enormous –’

‘Hams?’ said the wolf.

‘Expectations.’

The wolf nodded, sympathetically.

‘Sure,’ he said, ‘but what about me?’

‘You? You’ve just got to find yourself again. Get back to being the real you. If, that is, you want to keep your canines.’

‘I get it,’ said the wolf. ‘I’m an open-and-shut case.’

The therapist looked at the clock.

‘Start now,’ she said. ‘Just open the door and shut it once you’re through.’

The wolf got up from the couch, feeling a little stiff, and padded out into the waiting room.

‘Hello,’ he said to a witch, her warty nose buried in a dog-eared Reader’s Digest. ‘Fancy meeting you here.’

Thank me later.

Sleep On It: How I Stopped Bowing to the God of Nod

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Here’s something my biographers don’t tell you: sleep used to keep me awake at night. For a time there in my twenties I’d sit up half the night reading books about the stuff and about all the sweetness and light it sheds on human life. The experts would tell me that –

Happily, I can’t remember what they told me, if anything. I seem to recall, though, that their texts were dotted with cautionary tales from history, just to give me nightmares. Titanic tales, you might call them. For if that iceberg hadn’t been asleep at the seal, then the ship of the century might never have sailed into the movies. Yes, that’s the kind of ‘experts’ they were.

I was worried, you see, because I seemed to be sleep-walking through life, unable to awaken. Something was wrong, I knew – I’m perceptive like that – but rather than blame my misfortunes on, say, me, I decided the problem was sheep.

Not sheep, but sleep. It’s funny, though, how often one concept invokes the other. Trust me, the link is more than linguistic.

Sleep. Opium of the masses, drug of the nation. Sleep. Superfine wool you pull over your own eyes. (That sounds pretty sheepish, doesn’t it.) Sleep. An alluring apparition you can have but not hold, and which shows itself only when your back is turned. Sleep. The word I keep repeating.

Shut-eye. Clearly, I was short of it. But how much did I need? In the end I came to a radical conclusion: none was enough – nay, more than enough. Sleep, I decided, was a waste of precious time, time I’d be better off wasting myself. Impressed by my logic, I wrote ‘Think like a bull’ on a piece of paper, pinning it to the wall with my horns. Then, in one extended sitting, I set out to finish the novel I was writing.

The sound I’m making now is the sound my brain made when it broke. Did I tell you my brain broke? Good, because it’s a secret.

Okay, it was a bad idea – having since heard about Operation Sandman, I now know that sleep deprivation is a form of torture, a fate worse than tickling. So, yes, I made an ass of myself, and, yes, my thinking was a load of bull. (My ‘novel’ was nothing to write home about either.) Verily, I had sinned against sleep and paid the price, my ship-like cerebellum being brained by the immovable iceberg that is science, or nature, or something. Unlike the Titanic, though, I got a second shot at going under…

Fast forward to the future, to the here and the now. My life is wide awake and fully dressed, even if my fly is undone. I’m a homemaker, a father, a husband; I’m the owner of a lonely blog. I am living, it would seem, at the coal-face of life. And yet (he writes in hushed tones) I’m still not completely sold on this sleep thing.

Fact is, I’ve had a bellyful of the whole palaver. Chased from the matrimonial couch by the late-season fruit of that union (a real little peach), I’m lucky to fit in twenty-two winks a night, let alone the full forty. Then there are bumptious beagles that bay, nocturnally, and an inner writer that mercilessly wags the dog – the Timm who tumbles me from my makeshift mattress in the early hours, so I can pen piffle like this. The wee early hours.

Sometimes, I’m just too damned tired to sleep. And, yes, I have tried counting to sheep, but, gee, they’re slow learners.

There’s a lamb nearby now, as it happens, in a neighbouring yard. A real one, I think, and not just an ethereal ewe sent to mock me. The little nitwit bleats mournfully at any hour of the day or night, weighed down, no doubt, by its woolly woes. Like me, the poor thing seems to struggle with sleep. Would some simple mathematical task help it nod off? Counting people, perhaps, as they jump through hoops? After all, what works for worn-out public servants ought to do for Ewe too…

See what I mean about sleep and sheep?

Chop, chop, I hear you say. My point, if you insist on hearing it half-baked, is this: the Sandman has feet of clay and the experts are dreaming – sleep just ain’t the holy grail it’s made out to be. Look at me. Six hours’ shut-eye and I feel terrific: I’m at one with the world and, best of all, the words are flowing, every one a winner. Enough said?

So here’s my advice if you’re thinking of bowing to the god of nod by going to bed early. Sleep on it, for heaven’s sake.