Catharsis. Is it a good reason to write? We are bombarded with stories these days. We are constantly being told that we live a ‘storied’ existence. So what about our ‘own’ stories. How do we go about telling them? Particularly if they are not comfortable ones.
I first came across this kind of writing with Cally Phillips ‘Voices in Ma Heid’ and Ingrid Ricks ‘Hippy Boy’ both of which slapped me around the head in 2012 and showed me that there was much more to writing than meets the eye. More things in heaven and earth etc…
So to say these works changed my life is, while potentially risking being dramatic, also fundamentally true.
I wrote my first short story with no idea of publication. It was just to see what it felt like to write in – to see the words written down which represented painful real-life experience. Giving something of a fictional gloss to them really helped. Immediately there was a sense of something, not full catharsis, but a feeling of… well, it was strong enough to keep me writing.
Then the Jimmy Savile scandal ‘broke’ and suddenly a number of cats were out of bags. My story ‘The Price of Fame’ explored the issue of child grooming in a more complex way than perhaps is comfortable for most people. But I felt it was time the story was available for people to read so I put it out as an ebook.
But one story does not a book make, not even an ebook. So I pulled together a number of other stories – fictionalised versions of real events – and put them out as ‘The Price of Fame’ and other stories. This was just over four years ago.
Here’s the ‘blurb’ for them:
At times truth may be stranger than fiction. But sometimes fiction is the only way you can tell the truth. This is a fictional representation of things that really happen. In The Price of Fame, the narrator ‘Kirsty’ talks about her life with ‘Billy’ the celebrity she fell in love with at thirteen. It’s hard hitting. It takes you places you’d maybe rather not go. Talks about things we generally turn away from. But they happen and turning the head often results in an act of complicity. The other four stories in the collection: Girls and Boys Come Out to Play, Between Seeing and Believing and Shona's Magic Shoes voice other true 'stories' as fiction.
The stories are insightful and shocking but they are important. They grip you in the guts and don't let you go.
It’s not a comfortable read. This is the world of grooming and child abuse. Of domestic violence and family breakdown. They are also stories of love, of hope and of the power of the human spirit against all odds. The power of fiction is that it is able to address questions from a ‘position of safety,’ though there is nothing safe about what happens to the fictional Kirsty or the other characters who populate her stories.
I put two of the stories out on McStorytellers:
Between Seeing and Believing
Girls and Boys Come Out to Play
But kept the more harrowing ones firmly behind the paywall of ebook status. It will cost you a princely £1.99 from Amazon or Unco to read and weep. And I make no apologies for the fact that I hope you will weep when you read them.
There was then something of a hiatus, while I dealt with the aftermath of the ‘freedom’ I had found simply by writing down things that had been hidden away in corners of my mind for most of my life. This kind of writing isn’t something you can sit down to every day of the week.
I didn’t become a bestseller. I didn’t get snapped up by the ‘misery memoir’ brigade but I did become a McRenegade. I was inspired by Brendan Gisby and Cally Phillips not to ‘put myself out there’ but to espouse a philosophy of ‘My World Too.’ Most of the time I have to admit it feels like pissing into the wind. But not always. And anyway, it’s not about the ‘fame’ now is it?
The Death of Nelson Mandela in 2013 and the Loss of Hope following the failed Independence Referendum of 2014 had me writing again. This time ‘my’ story felt somehow less personal and more aligned with the universal.
Hope Over Fear
Is available on McStorytellers. I just re-read it myself recently and think maybe I should write like this a bit more often.
Which brings me back to catharsis, and the question: Who do I write for? There is a misconception that writing for oneself is vanity… well let me tell you in that case all writing is vanity, vanity… because whatever ‘audience’ or ‘reader’ we imagine we are writing for, if you write from the heart you are at least to some degree writing for yourself. Maybe to free yourself, or to understand yourself… I am a strong believer now in writing as,if not catharsis, then at least a creative birthright which offers the possibility for a kind of communication but also for justification – I don’t mean external validation in the form of approval ratings from others – but in a sense of bearing witness. And sometimes that’s all you can do. When your stories are so non-mainstream that most people will shy away from them, this does not invalidate them as stories, or you as either storyteller or indeed human being. At least that’s my belief.
Thus far (I looked for the first time today) I’ve only had 2 reviews of ‘The Price of Fame’ one from Brendan Gisby, who read the stories before publication and who indeed encouraged me to put them ‘out there’ so he may, you might think, be biased. Then, earlier this year, in 2016 someone left this review. I don’t know who they are but for me, while I don’t crave external validation, I felt that my bearing witness had paid off: Here’s the review:
Review for The Price of Fame.
'The Price of Fame' had me close to tears in part, while at the same time giving me the deepest respect for this writer's courage in finding a way to share her experiences. These experiences include being sexually groomed and abused as a child, dealing with an impossible parent and, perhaps worst of all, not being believed when you try to tell someone what has happened to you. All I can say is, Kirsty, I believe you, and I'd like to thank you for restoring my faith in writing and reminding me what I should be trying to do in my own work.
I don’t flatter myself that everyone who reads would have the same response. I wonder how I’d react to a really negative review. I hope that I’d rise above it. I had a friend who some years ago wrote a stage play with a pretty awful mother figure in it. The nice middle class people putting the play on couldn’t accept this character . And yet she was ‘real.’ What does it say when folk can’t accept the reality of life, even when sugar coated for them in fiction or drama? I wonder.
In an attempt to push myself a bit further towards full catharsis – or maybe just to lead by example, I wrote a McSerial, this time last year ‘The Greatest Advent Story never told.’ It was like a virtual advent calendar of Christmas ‘experiences.’ Not all of them pleasant. I didn’t want to spoil anyone’s festive season, but I did want to both tell my story in more depth and offer a suggestion that there are those for whom Christmas is not a season of unrelenting fun and that it would be nice if the whole extravaganza might be played down a bit for those of us who see it as little more than a time of trauma, which now extends for a good 6 weeks before ‘the big day’. We're coming up to Christmas again, so feel free to open my virtual advent calendar each day this year too if you want. Dickens knew that Tiny Tim might just be for Christmas, but that Christmas comes every year so the opportunity to hit pay dirt - or just wake folk up a bit - is an annual occurrence. Or something of a Groundhog Day experience.
I didn’t get a lot of feedback for my 'Big Fat' Advent Calendar last year. I don’t know that I want too much feedback (see above as regards a fear of how I’d deal with poor reviews). I think that the cathartic nature of the writing means that I would not feel personally rejected or violated if someone dissed my work bigstyle – I think I would be able to see that it was a reflection of them rather than myself. But it’s not something I’ve had to deal with yet, I’m happy to say. There are, out in cyberspace the kind of literary trolls who delight in pulling wings off flies in public, but fortunately, I’ve stayed under the radar enough not to be of any interest to them. And I’m happy to stay that way.
Maybe it would be nice if more people read my work. But only if they learned something from it. They are not the kind of stories you can ‘enjoy’ after all. But if by bearing witness and telling my truths through fiction, I can inspire anyone else to do the same and find their own catharsis – then that would be a worthwhile thing. But I don’t feel it’s my job to go out there looking for people.
As I’ve been writing this post about catharsis, I’ve realised there is one more story to add to the collection. So I’ll be writing ‘Fathers and Daughters’ some time soon and pulling all my work together into an ebook/paperback titled ‘Catharsis’ some time in the new Year. You heard it here first!
Whatever you write, whyever you write and whoever you write for - I wish you all the best with your endeavours. If you put heart and soul into your writing there is someone out there receptive enough to read it. And even if you are your only reader, there's a catharsis in that too. We are all creative beings by birth-right and don't let anyone tell you different because they are trying to sell you their version of the world.