“The Room Next Door”: Eleven Days Later

“The Room Next Door” has been out for eleven days, now, and that means it’s been in a few of your hands for nearly that long. This seems like a good time to thank all of you for your support, and also to ask whether you’re enjoying it?

It’s also payday here in the UK, which makes it a great time to promote a book by a newly published author!

If you’re enjoying the book, please tell people about it! Writing a post or a tweet to your friends or followers about how you feel about it, and including a link to it on Amazon or Markosia goes a long way!

Amazon.co.uk is here: https://amzn.to/2uJ3nod
Amazon.com is here: https://amzn.to/2O6lPxK
Markosia is here: https://markosia.com/books/prose/the-room-next-door/

If you have a few minutes, writing a one or two paragraph review on Amazon or GoodReads would also be incredible! For a new author, anything that puts the book in front of new people helps loads.
GoodReads is here: https://www.goodreads.com/…/show/49358818-the-room-next-d oor

I know I talk a lot – probably too much – about how we should all proactively support the creative endeavours of the people we know, or the lesser-knowns we’ve stumbled across. That’s because I’m admittedly a bit obsessed about the potential social media has for atomising and democratising culture, and the way I think we waste that potential when we recreate fame and elevate the same people who we were already watching on our TVs or knew from the big displays in bookshops.

But it’s ALSO because I’m a guy who makes things, and wants as many people as possible to see them! The love and support of friends and family is incredible and invaluable. But the adrenaline REALLY starts pumping when people you’ve never met start telling you they hated your book!

“The Room next door” is out now!

2019 was a hell of a year. A year of hell.
2020 looks almost the same so far, except for this:

My first book, “The Room Next Door”, it out now! And that’s A Good Thing. For me, and hopefully also for you!

Released on 20th January and published by Markosia, it’s a collection of 49 pieces of short writing – mostly stories, but with a couple of bits of poetry and experimentation in there – first written between 2006 and 2018. Early versions of a lot of them were originally posted up at Elephant Words, and all of them have been polished up and made shiny for this collection.

Click here to buy it from Amazon.co.uk.
Or click here to go to Markosia’s dedicated page, where there are links to buy it from places that may not be quite as evil.

I’m hoping to write a lot more about the book in the near future, including a little bit about the launch party that happened last week, and a bit of a look behind the curtain on what it’s like being a newly published author.

In the meantime please do buy my book! And tell everyone you know about it!

Yes, I know one more piece would have made 50, which is a much more pleasing number. I’d like to pretend I had a good reason for that. I’d like to.

If you don’t know what Elephant Words is, ask me in the comments or somewhere else, and I’ll maybe write a post about it. It was swell.

Sleep Shallow

I stir from shallow sleep, the faint memory of a dream of a voice still on my mind. I haven’t really known any other sort of sleep since the birth, in truth. Mothers sleep like soldiers who’ve seen combat; a combination of the lingering trauma of giving birth, and the alertness of knowing you might be in the thick of it again at any moment. You still sleep with your ears open, even when you don’t need to any more.

A year on and I still don’t sleep right.

Jon sleeps the sleep of the untouched and innocent next to me. His weight and the low rhythmic roar of his breath reassures me, though. It’s hard to resent his ability to go on as normal, so I try not to.

The light on the monitor woke me. Lying in bed, frozen in place; trying not to make any noise, trying to hear. Eyes open watching the monitor. Not even breathing as the house breathes around me.

The light on the monitor flickers again, and the sound set so low I can barely hear.

Blocking out all other sounds I can hear Lily snoring quietly in the next room. Jon can never quite make it out, but I can; I can picture the rise and fall of her chest, her legs wriggling.

She’s stirring, and I can tell close to waking up. I would have slept through if not for the light and that would have been fine, but it’s right in my eyeline, beads through my closed eyelids. Jon’s been trying to make me move the monitor for weeks, but I keep refusing.

I need these moments in the dark.

Lily murmurs, and she moans quietly, and then she mutters baby babble in that way that sounds like people chattering and also like ducks and that freaks out all new parents.

Then she calls out in the dark, not quite “mamma”. Louder again, not quite “mamma”, and I shift in place in the bed, wondering if she’ll calm herself.

She doesn’t; she goes from murmuring to crying to screaming in under a minute.

Every parent has to learn to sit and be okay with hearing their child in distress. But if I ever had the knack, I’ve lost it again. I sit in the dark and listen to her call for me; she probably only needs a hug or a nappy change or a feed and she’ll settle. She’s almost at the age where they’ll cry for attention and you have to decide whether giving them it is more harm than good, but has she made it there yet?

I don’t know, so I go to her. Jon sleeping oblivious behind me.

I stand outside her door, listening a second to my screaming, wailing daughter, gathering myself in the dark.

The crying stops the second I step into the room. She settles.

Moonlight streams in through the window; one of us forgot to close the curtains again. I have to step around half-packed boxes of toys and books on the way to pull them closed. On my way out of the room I linger near the cot bed, hand resting on the soft wood of the headboard. The side is half off and hanging over the mattress. Jon must have tried to dismantle it again at some point, and faltered. Not for the first time.

After a few minutes, I quietly leave the room and go back to bed. My sleep is shallow.

All The Things We Ignored

Jessie has just finished pointing out another person to me, and explaining who they were to Millie, and how they screwed her over.

“So anyway, she can fuck off.” she says, and I’m suddenly aware of how muted and low everyone else here is talking, and how few other people I know at the service.

“That over there, that’s Dave. You know, her old boss at Gamez Market? Surprised he’s here.”
“She was there for nearly ten years, Jess.” I offer.
“Yes, yes she was. And they treated her brilliantly. Do you remember why she left?”
“Another… she started at the school?”
“Yup. Took a pay cut, did you know that?”
“I didn’t, but didn’t she want to work with kids?”
“She’s… she was allergic to kids. They did her head in. No, that prick bullied her out of the job. Had a mate on the staff who went for the supervisor job that she managed to get, and the two of them made her life a misery after as punishment.”

I didn’t know any of these stories. It’s a worry. I thought I was Millie’s best friend when most of this happened.

I mention that.

“She always seemed so cheerful, and so on top of things?”

“Yes, well. At school she was desperate for you to like her; everyone, really, not just you. And then afterwards, well…”
“Well, you were a needy fucker, weren’t you? Always ending the world over some girl or other. Would you have noticed, if she’d said anything?”

I remember that Millie was always a good listener.

“Her mum looks devastated.” I say weakly a few minutes later. Jessie grunts. “Oh come on, you can’t begrudge her mum, today of all days.”
“Okay, she’s probably gutted.” Jessie concedes. “But she should be ashamed of herself.”
I look at her, an awkward grin on my face, amazed at her nerve.
“She should.” she says. “She was bloody horrible to Millie when we were kids, and she hasn’t improved. Why do you think Millie was such a pleaser?”
“I just thought she was nice.”
Eyes rolling hard away from me, Jessie says “You’re a damn fool. She wasn’t nice, she was fucking terrified. She was terrified you’d leave like her dad did. Like she was terrified of saying anything to set her mum off.”


Jessie has tears in her eyes, and pushes a snort away with her sleeve. A few people are pretending not to notice us.

“Millie could be a dick, you know. When we shared that flat, remember? She’d always, always be playing her music too loud, and wouldn’t stop. She had… god, awful taste in everything. All of that shitty… some bloke, sounds like folk music, like it’s about something, but actually he’s just whining about a girl. There’s a line in one of them, though. It’s been stuck in my head for days. He says: We should learn to regret all the things we ignored.”

She goes quiet for a second. Then she says “You know when she left Mark – every time she left Mark – she had to come and stay with me? Her mum wouldn’t let her in, told her she had to go home to her husband, sort it out.”

“There… was more than one time?”
“Three. Three times. Did she not put that on Facebook?” she sneers at me. Very specifically, it feels like, at me.
“Come on, how was I supposed to know?” I say. Some of the people who’d been pretending not to notice us tut and shush me.

Men are louder. Women can say a lot, they can describe or dismantle whole worlds, and you’ll barely hear them. They can attack you, make you stand up for yourself, and your voice is all the people around will hear. Like you’re angry. The big bad man. It isn’t very fair.

We sit in silence for a bit. My ears feel hot, and I know that under my beard, my cheeks are pink.

The vicar thanks us all for being here, asks us to stand for the first hymn. We stand, but neither Jessie or I are singing.

“Did you visit her?” Jessie whispers.
“You told me she didn’t want visitors.” I try to whisper back. This feels all wrong, disrespectful. It all feels disrespectful.
“Not at the hospital, you prick. Did you visit her, after the wedding, at all?”

I try to remember, fake singing as I try.
“No. I don’t think I did. We… we’re just all so busy these days, you know?”
“That’s bullshit, though, isn’t it? You didn’t visit because you were angry with her for getting married.”
“That’s not…”
“You told me on the day, you idiot. Just after you did your reading. How you’d always believed the two of you would end up together. How much it hurt you being there.”
“That’s not fair.” I blurt, the instant after the hymn abruptly ends. Everyone nearby shifts uncomfortably on their feet and a murmur of disapproval goes around the church, like the wind in autumn leaves.

The vicar doesn’t hear and continues with the service, introducing the first reading, gearing up for the eulogy.

I try to lower my voice. “It hurt, losing her to him, Jessie. I loved her.”
“She loved you too. But what did she ever do to make you think she fancied you?”
“Look at this cunt.” she murmurs, as Millie’s brother, shoulders dropped, walks toward the vicar shuffling paper. “Everything she told him and he’s still out drinking every other night with Mark.”

She watches the man like a hawk for a few seconds, preemptively angry about what he might say. She relaxes a little when he starts to stumble through a classic poem, rather than a speech.

She looks at me. Leans in and speaks, low and sure, into my ear.
“She told you, Nick. She tried to tell you over and over how unhappy she was, how small she felt. How sick to her stomach. I saw the messages. She didn’t put on a show, and most of the time you either took it as an opportunity to message back whining about your own shit, or didn’t reply at all.”
I’m staring straight ahead and have sudden terrible clarity. I don’t care if anybody can hear us now, but they’re all stuck in their own funeral.
“Not just you. A few of us. A few of the people here. Everyone down there on the front row. She did what she was supposed to, in the last few years; when it got too much, she asked people for help. But because she didn’t scream and wail, or because we were petulant pricks like you, we didn’t help her.”

The reading finishes, and the vicar asks us all to find a prayer in the photocopied booklet we were handed as we walked in. There’s a shuffle of noise as everyone sorts themselves out.

“So she helped herself. We didn’t hear her, so she helped herself. And then a few months of freedom later it turned out that the poorly stomach she’d had for years, that everyone told her was just her being weak and nervy and stressy and she needed to be more resilient… Well, it turned out we shouldn’t have ignored that, either.”

She’s silent throughout the prayer. I try not to look at her, not to steal glances at her face, but I fail. I’m braced for what she’ll say next.

Instead, the prayer finishes, and everyone is shifting position again, and the vicar starts talking. As he does, Jessie speaks quickly and quietly to me.

“We let her down. We spoke over her, told her she was wrong, everything was fine, and she needed us and we were worse than shit. And now they’re acting like her dying was something that was done to them, not something they did. It isn’t right.”

Now someone is saying Jessie’s name, and I realise that the vicar is calling her forward, saying she’s going to say a few words to the assembled mourners. She puts herself together, gets up from the pew, rearranges her clothes, turns to me.

“I’m going to tell them so.” she says, and walks away from me, toward the pulpit.

I watch her go, but I don’t want to hear what she says next. I’m desperate not to hear it. My body tenses up, muscles telling me they’re ready for me to get up, get out of here. How can it hurt, now, to stay a little ignorant?

If I’m here when she starts talking, I’ll have to stay here forever.

a noodle in a haystack