Friday, 2 October 2015
The Telling of Tales
Where do stories come from? What inspires a story? Whether it is Romance or Erotica, Horror or Adventure; any genre that you can think of, they all have a beginning; the germ of an idea. Anything can be a source of inspiration for the creative writer. Our night time dreams; our waking dreams. Newspaper articles, childhood, other writer’s stories. Jealousy, fear, loathing, desire, love, hate, death, grief, greed and of course sex: every emotion that you can think of can spark a story.
My favourite writer of plays for television, Denis Potter talked about his own torment about the creative writer's calling, a word with religious significance to Denis. He weaves together his only partially assimilated realization that God and sex, guilt and anger, longings and frustration are inescapable aspects of his creativity.
I wonder about a writer like Edgar Allan Poe. I wonder what he thought about his feverish writings in the cold light of day; those hallucinatory worlds; those bloody visions.
Psychoanalytical theory is interesting. Freud talked about “the return of the repressed”. Our dirty thoughts, our bad thoughts will find a way out, whether in our dreams, or for writers, through our stories. Jung talked about “the Shadow”. We must acknowledge our dark desires; again, perhaps as writers, we face stuff we’d rather not face in reality, in our stories.
If it is absolutely impossible to give our fantasies a voice then the old Mythologies are there to help us; to teach us that there is nothing that we can dream up that the Myths have not already confronted.
The Mythologist, Joseph Campbell (“follow your bliss”) felt that Americans, both the general public and professionals who worked and studied overseas, were uninformed with regard to the world's myths and cultures. The Myths have a wisdom that is relevant to us, even today, in modern society.
My writer friend, Jan Vander Laenen and I have talked about the roots of our stories on numerous occasions. Jan and I both write Erotica; the sort of Erotica that some would describe as Pornograhic. Neither of us can reach a conclusion that satisfies us both. Here are Jan’s thoughts.
Unusual associations – this is something I read in a book about creativity – are frequently made in the nebulous zone between falling asleep and waking up. During an afternoon nap, I suddenly wake up with a start and with a complete story in my mind. It seems a repulsive story to me. Nevertheless, I hope to develop it into a novella one day – not with the title “The Foundling”, which gives away the point, but, rather, “Sabrina”.
Sabrina “works” as a shemale in the pine forests around Torre del Lago. On a porn website, her profile has the name “assbirth” on account of her being able to dilate her anus in an incredible way using all sorts of objects and her greatest fantasy being the ability to bear a child at any time. Her movies are almost surreal: after some investigation in the area of the average head for a baby, she should indeed be able to do this.
One day, she finds a newborn baby boy in the forest, a foundling. She takes him home with her straightaway and rubs Lubrifist all over the baby. And then she manages to have him reborn out of her arse - the renaissance! The baby suffocates, of course.
She hides the child’s body under a bush in the woods. The corpse is found and the police soon arrest the real mother, who is prosecuted and brought before the court. They don’t know what to do about the anal mucus and traces of Lubrifist at the time.
Sabrina sells her movie as a “nasty”. She has no sense of guilt whatsoever. And perhaps she will never get caught. Her deed becomes an urban legend.
Before writing it out in full, I will have to ask for counsel from the ghost of Pasolini during the night. Maybe have a chat with a shemale. Preferably not a viado from Brazil but, rather, a real Italian – I feel I understand the way they think. Fate will help me run into the right person to make this tale into a long story.
It is 1968 and I am 8 years old, sitting in the third class of the boys’ school in Tongerlo. Master Verboven is giving a history lesson, relating all the gory details of the plague epidemic in 1348, how people suddenly get a sore throat and lumps and languish under the most excruciating pain for a day and a half, how the streets are strewn with rotting corpses, and how nobody knows what to do to escape the horrors of the Black Death.
I feel scared. My throat contracts. I start sweating and run out of the classroom in panic, from Abbey Street, past the parish church, towards Trannoy Square and to my GP, Doctor Caers. He consoles me, gives me a tablet to calm my anxiety attack and tells me I have indigestion.
“Now go home,” says the doctor in a fatherly manner - we live a little further on. “But it’s only half past three, they expect me to be at school. Can I stay here till four o’clock? If I get home earlier, my parents will be really angry and maybe even hit me.” “Ok”, says the doctor. From that day, his wife will only talk bad about my parents.
When my elder brother lays in a coma for two weeks in 1978 and eventually dies from injuries suffered in a road accident, this Mrs. Caers tells everyone it is a concealed suicide and that my parents do everything to make life a misery for their children. My dead brother. I am seventeen. And I do not go and pay my respects to his body, nor that of my grandfather when he wastes away with grief six months later. In fact, I don’t see my first dead person until I am thirty-seven years old.
Strangely enough, I develop an unhealthy predilection for horror from childhood. “Godfather Death” is my favourite fairy tale. As an adolescent, I discover Edgar Allan Poe. And Dracula. And Frankenstein. And Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
My first book, “A Spark of Genius”, appears in 1988. Stories about suicide, crushed phalanxes, abused children, corpses and skulls. In an Italian and Brussels atmosphere – in Brussels, everyone drinks the famous “half & half”, a mixture of sparkling wine and white wine in a champagne flute. Mrs. Caers rings the doorbell. She has come to congratulate me on my first book and presents me with a gift of a bottle of sparkling wine and white wine. For a “half & half”.
So I don’t see my first corpse until the age of thirty-seven. My 89 year-old grandmother. I go to see her at the funeral home. I speak timidly to her: “Grandma, I’m here.” I make the sign of a cross on her forehead with my left index finger. And my legs feel they will give way. “Zet aa ressekes”, “Sit down,” says the funeral director in Lebbeeks dialect as she pushes a chair towards me.
I come out confused. And go for a cup of coffee in the café on the other side of the street. I have to go to the toilet. So, at the urinal I take my member out of my pants with my left hand. I haven’t washed my hands. “There are now dead skin cells from my dear old grandma stuck to my penis”, I think.
That evening, my Albanian lover, Fittim, owner of the Fritland take-away restaurant opposite the Brussels Stock Exchange, calls by unexpectedly. Our romp is a relief for me. And when he takes my member in his mouth, I get outrageously worked up. “Now he has dead skin cells from my dear old grandma in his mouth”, I think.
2012. In the meantime, I have become very well-read in the genre of horror. And I am even a member of the World Horror Association. It is dusk and I am playing with the idea of visiting St. John’s Hospital as well as the mortuary. You know, as a horror writer I have to brace myself and dare to stand face to face with everything I write about: corpses, diseases and murders.
I push the idea away and walk towards the Coal Market. Fittim has since died and his sons have taken over the business. The take-away is also a meeting place for many homeless people, as well as drunks and beggars.
On the footpath in front of Fritland, I witness a scary scene. A drunk has bitten off his tongue during an epileptic fit. It gets stuck in his throat. He is choking to death. Bystanders look on. A drunken mate phones for an ambulance: “Je crois que c’est grave,” – I think it’s serious -, he stammers.
That evening, not only do I see my second corpse, I also see someone in the throes of death. The drunk has turned as blue as a ‘smurf’, his eyes are bulging and blood is coming from his mouth. He is lying on his back and continues to convulse and shake uncontrollably for another ten seconds, upon which his soul departs from his body. I carry on walking and think about how fragile life is.
Crime of passion
I would almost want to start this alienating tale with the beginning of Poe’s “The Black Cat”: “For the most wild, yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief.”
My story is set a few years back. I literally immerse myself in everything that
has to do with horror: books, movies and theoretical works. The English translation of my horror story entitled “The Sleeping Beauty” receives nothing less than a Bram Stoker Award in America. I am also invited to attend a congress on the aforementioned Edgar Allan Poe, and a New York horror publishing house is issuing my recent story entitled “Lise”, which is a cross between “The Night Porter” and “Flatliners”, in a compilation. So yes, of course I am proud of myself!
My love life is also doing ok. A year earlier, I run into an ex-lover, Mimoun from Algeria, and we start to develop a relationship. We are in love with each other, which means, of course, that the devil known as jealousy also rears its ugly head. Using his own key, Mimoun drops into my apartment at the most unexpected time, fearing to catch me in bed with someone else.
I don’t ask him any questions. Very early in our affair, I think I can smell a different perfume on his stomach. Right at the beginning of our affair, I find a single louse in my pubic hair. A French fortune-teller tells me our love is pure and that a happy future lays in store for us.
She also tells me that Mimoun knows another man somewhere in the city: he wants to finish with this fellow as quickly as possible but the person concerned does not shrink from employing dirty practices in order to keep the Algerian for himself – such as threatening to disclose Mimoun’s homosexuality to the members of his family.
A few nights before Halloween. I have seen Mimoun the evening before. I am at home alone and reach the conclusion that I, as a horror writer, have never seen a corpse apart from that of my grandmother or have first-hand experience of people dying, let alone attending a bloody operation such as a leg being amputated. I am a bit tipsy. I walk resolutely to St. John’s hospital and go a step further. I want them to let me into the mortuary.
The person I encounter there is Evert. He is the night nurse in the emergency department. He earns a bit more by also working as a waiter in the gay bar, “Le Duquesnoy”, where he served Mimoun and myself our drinks at the time - a Duvel beer for Mimoun and a small lager for me.
Evert looks at me aghast and takes me in his arms. “Mimoun’s family has to be informed, quickly; I will let you pay your respects before they get here.” He then leads me into the morgue. And shows me a lifeless Mimoun, with fatal stab wounds to his chest. Evert takes me by the arm and leads me outside. A group of North Africans come running up, relatives of my forbidden lover.
A crime of passion, my lord! The nasty guy somewhere in the city does not want to let Mimoun go alive. Is the rest a coincidence? Synchronicity? Mimoun’s soul giving me a sign? Why, in God’s name, do I run to the mortuary at St. John’s Hospital the moment Mimoun’s dead body arrives there?
My thoughts at the beginning of this post are partially my own, but are also influenced by sources from the Web and my dear friend Jan Vander Laenen
Thanks to Mister Mojo for reminding me of Joseph Campbell. You can follow Mister Mojo at Twitter; @FunkedUpRadio
Jan Vander Laenen loves to hear from his readers, his email is; firstname.lastname@example.org