"I was saying something. Oh yes. Maria and English literature. We argue about its relevance, English Lit. As an academic subject as opposed to a leisure activity. I write, she reads. I read, she deconstructs. What annoys me is the way they (as in ‘They’ – those buggers who populate an ill informed argument. Yes, ‘Them’.) er, yes, the way they take something that's for everyone and raise it above the heads of the people for whom it was originally meant. Alienation I believe it’s called. Yes, you can see I’m better read than I let on. However, it's all bollocks, your honour."
Tim Robson - Neil Diamond's Beard (early 90's)
I've been reading some of my stuff from the early 90's. The superbly titled unpublished novel - Neil Diamond's Beard. Was it any good? Was I a literary enfant terrible tearing up Brighton in my 20's? It's an attractive image but I'm perhaps not best placed to answer. However, what I would say is that lifting the lid on your younger self is sometimes a wondrous thing, sometimes a shocking thing. You forget so much, the passage of time smooths the edges off the anger, laughingly points out your conceits and can make a mockery of your juvenile attempts at a deeper truth, a coherent worldview.
But - and it is a big but - there's a vibrancy in the writing, no doubt about that. I know my brain had then been captured by Martin Amis, Jack Kerouac, by a cinéma vérité confessional style that confused reality for readability, and yet... It's a two fisted brawl of a novel, no punches left in the locker, no attitude unexplored. There's also a willingness to be honest and truthful which, however polished and skilled my writing has now become, and however much the self-edit red pen excises the wilder prose, I still endeavour to retain. Not for me plastic emotions and gossamer thin characterisations. It's all, or it is nothing.
So - what are the major differences I notice in my writings of the early 90's?
1) Smoking in pubs and restaurants (see picture above, Aug 1989). It seems like ancient history now. How we all accepted cigarettes in an indoor environment. How every table had an ashtray. How your clothes and hair would stink when you got home. Strangely I miss it - but only as a sensory shortcut to my youth, not as a going concern.
2) Lack of mobile phones. How the hell did we communicate back in the day? I seem to remember a lot of confusion and hanging around and detailed planning. Now we all just go out and kind of navigate to each other when we feel appropriate. Our 2015 ability to track each other would have been perceived as phenomenal, and perhaps sinister, in those pre mobile phone days. Conversations were more intense however without a constant distraction bleeping on the table, calling you to wonders elsewhere.
3) Political correctness. Strangely I found this worked both ways - both more and less at the same time. This was Brighton at the dawn of the 90's, not a Northern working men's club in the 70's. But some casual incorrectness creeps in. Words, phrases that I would be uncomfortable to use these days pepper the narrative. But perhaps that was youth. There's also a suspicion of the corrosive chilling effect of thought-crime in the writing. PC was both stronger but less prevalent. The war hadn't been won so the PC army wore combat fatigues.
4) How my world-view had more passion but less depth. An assertion is not an argument. Experience moderates the fires of youth. There's nothing like reality to piss on a dreamer's parade. Certainty is the preserve of youth.
5) I'm a better writer now. Fact. The work is littered with errors and stylistic howlers that poke the reader in the eye. I wouldn't publish what I wrote back then. There again, a decent and sympathetic editor (like me 25 years later) would have done wonders.
6) Despite that, I am very definitely - and distinctly - me. The themes, patterns, style, worldview are there, in infant form perhaps, but there nonetheless. It's reassuring isn't it, that stripping away temporary conventions and fashions, forgiving naivety, lack of experience, undeveloped skill, your voice and passions remain constant.
And rather frightening too.