That one moment when I captured the zeitgeist

I WAS on a writing retreat. Well, I was staying in Cornwall with my then girlfriend and had taken my typewriter.
EDITOR'S PERSPECTIVE: Capturing the zeitgeistEDITOR'S PERSPECTIVE: Capturing the zeitgeist
EDITOR'S PERSPECTIVE: Capturing the zeitgeist

My career was on what might be called an upward trajectory as I had already seen success with a short story published in a collection of Yorkshire writers. Oh yes, I was on my way. Undoubtedly, I would soon be drinking in the Groucho Club.

Mirrors of Apathy was by some distance, in my opinion, the best piece of work in the book. A story of venom, vitriol, bitterness, anger and the general wasteland that is life, it deserved more than the space it currently occupied in the middle pages of this shabby compilation of mediocrity..

"I’ll turn it into a novel,” I thought.

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Cottage hired, typewriter and booze packed, off we pretentiously went (in case you think I must have had money to burn, it was 1994, I lived in the next county, the cottage was £100 for the week and being by the sea wasn’t a must for those with the means to buy second homes and an urge to display it).

A story in the local paper about Mirrors of Apathy, accompanied by an arty picture of me looking suitably downtrodden as I lent against the wall of a subway (because you would do that, wouldn’t you?) had inspired protest from a couple of moaners, one being my uncle. It was about the murder of a trainspotter and he was/is a trainspotter. How long does it take to see every train?

The expansion into a novel would see the character’s mood plummet as the world around him descended into madness and corruption, with people’s reactions being nothing more than turning to drink, drugs and, er, trainspotting.

My days in the cottage would involve a couple of cups of tea, some brief exercise to awaken the mind, a spot of writing, an energising stroll, some more writing and plenty of alcohol.

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Prior to our sojourn, we had thumbed through The Writers and Artists' Yearbook 1994. I had posted some poetry to Bloodaxe and was just waiting for the right offer to come back.. I was also trying to learn to play the guitar and write lyrics for a band that I would have been the singer in due to being the thinnest.

i did have dreams though and soon Salvation Army Strumming (my story’s new title) was taking shape. I had bashed out around 50 sides of A4 on a word processor bought from a vicar and was feeling pretty chuffed with myself, those I nodded to on my coastal walks clearly recognising that I wasn’t one of them, just there for some fresh air, an ice cream and a bit of fun. No, I was above all that. I had a purpose. I was going places. Another pub in Penzance, mostly.

At the end of the week, we read each other’s work.

She had produced a short story called The Hen House. I still have a copy – it’s very good – and might indeed publish it as a work of my own as she has probably banished all memory of it or me from her mind. She will not have kept my work.

"Yeah, yeah, yah, it’s not bad,” I said, thinking “damn, that’s better than what I’ve done”. “You could perhaps do with a bit more jeopardy, some causality perhaps, but it’s a good start...”

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I waited for the adulation. “”You’ve definitely, er, really captured the zeitgeist,” she said, as if I’d lassoed a rare wild animal. I’m not sure I knew what zeitgeist meant.

My story would clearly have gone viral, before anything other than illness did that sort of thing, but little did I know then that Irvine Welsh had written a novel called Trainspotting that was about to be made into a film and had hunted down said zeitgeist in a more articulately readable zeitgeisty way than Salvation Army Strumming.

In reality, I was no good at any of the things I aspired to be; the poetry, the songwriting. I didn't put the effort in and was perhaps 30 years ahead of my time now we are living in an era of the mantra 'dream it. be it', usually uttered by one of the 0.0007 per cent of people who did and are.

I was confident that now I’d taken a week off to write (not in one of those discovering myself retreats that the middle classes go on, obviously – this was keeping it real!) I would not have to endure the trials and tribulations of work for much longer - I was right on that count, as I was unemployed shortly afterwards.

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Since then, the other writer who spent a week in that cottage has had two books published and, well, it’ might be 2-0 but there’s, hopefully, plenty of time to be added on before the game’s over.

Actually, just looked up the prices of coastal cottages in Cornwall. Blow the whistle. Full-time.

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