There is a wooden skewer beside my hand, with the spike tip reduced to charcoal – I have set it alight with a blue, glittering lighter decorated with hearts composed of white beads, that I might use it to burn the dregs of a red candle in a concave glass. Some of the charcoal I have used in mad skitterings across my desk and it culminates in a single question, in three words with too much weight in their arrangement.
An untouched tub of Brylcreem, sickly with dust, a Specsavers’ appointment card, an empty bottle of Pepsi MAX laying on its side and an unopened hourglass of Laura Biagiotti’s Tempore Uomo are my companions, and my free hand raises a wide black mug, embellished with a skull and crossed bones and bearing the legend St. Pauli, to my lips and back to the tarnished, black-streaked surface. A copy of The Immoralist skulks atop the desk’s edge, precariously balanced by its bookmark – I should move it to a secure position but I like it where it is, it is not up to me whether it falls and I refuse to take the responsibility for my inaction – it is my rebellion against Existentialism.
My right hand is occupied; it directs the mouse across the screen, flickering between the two possibilities: This is the final version of my book for release, or This is a draft manuscript and not ready for release. For days I have alternated between this decision and my bed, between my bed and this decision. As I have walked from the jobcentre to the bus, the 352, the 375 or the 385, and back again, it has been this decision which has rattled behind my eyes and forced my fingers to turn my headphones up until I cannot hear myself over the songs, until my doubt is lost in the wails of Brian Fallon or the self-pitying tones of the Retrospective Soundtrack Players.
I am crippled, crippled not by doubt – not by the fear of rejection or the knowledge that I might be releasing another stain upon the great face of the English Language. My debilitation is not an alien thing, to me, but rather a simple understanding that I am incapable of self-confidence. I live in the margins of self-loathing and narcissism and anyone lucky enough to live outside this narrow space would no doubt be amazed at how the two align.
But I take the deepest of breaths, the kind that the character of the novel would approve of, the kind that stretches the lung to its apex and sends splinters of flame across my musculature – it occurs to me, as I release my poison into the air, that, for this one decision, I am wholly in control. This decision, to highlight this sentence or that, is my own, and my own alone – no one but I will face the ramifications of its failure, though its success would be nothing but a benefit to those I know. When The Caitiff fails and that which I have tried to achieve falls flat, I will not sink into a maddening depression; if it rockets in popularity and makes a mark on the world with its personal honesty, then I will not bounce from the clouds and be buffeted by my joy.
I remember that I am incapable of such extremities, and I remember the times when I have envied the bipolar, when I have longed for the crippling misery of my youth to return or the unadulterated pleasure of hugging an author in a smoky barroom – I remember that The Caitiff was not necessarily a choice in of itself, but rather the product of compulsion and desperation and, then, I highlight the honest sentence.
And I smile.
The Caitiff will be available from the Kindle Store on Friday the 13th of February, 2015.