I got a withering look the other day.
It’s OK, I often get withering looks, and they’re usually well-earned. I was determined to fight my corner on this one though.
You see, I was boarding a train back to our fair capital from Devon, and my other half was passing judgment on my selection of reading material (or my bag of toys, as she likes to call them). Apparently two magazines, three novels, about fifteen comic books and three graphic novels was excessive for a three-or-so hour train journey.
I know – to think that I was accused of being the mad one!
I’ll admit though, I have a vice. A condition if you will. I am a storyholic. I am addicted to storyhol. I am fixated on fiction, passionate about plot and obsessive about epics – have been for longer than I can remember. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t bury my head in the sand and ignore the real world completely; I just find illusory counterparts infinitely more enjoyable.
I can probably trace my love affair with narration way back to early childhood, where I seem to recall being fascinated by film. I’m not claiming that I was demanding a screening of Raging Bull from my high chair, but I certainly remember the occasional treat of a trip to the cinema being a highlight of my young days, with my eyes glued to the screen and having no trouble concentrating for 90 minutes. Apparently I learned to read at a young age and devoured books of fairy tales (not literally of course. That would be foolish). I do recall spending any time I wasn’t in physical company with my other family and friends; the Secret Seven, Famous Five and Mr. Pinkwhistle … Enid Blyton was a third parent in my formative years.
While the roots of this fascination with fables were sown by film, they were nurtured by the four-colour world of comic books. I discovered a tatty market stall in the tatty market town of Romford at the age of 8, which sold off a treasure trove of the colourful adventures of Marvel and DC for a mere 20p a pop. I threw pocket money at that proprietor like a rapper in a Cristal bar, and clichéd though it may be, those books changed my life. The likes of Clark Kent and Peter Parker taught the younger me that being good and doing the right thing could be cool, and were not just ways to avoid getting into trouble with my parents. I frequently still refer to them at the age of 32 to avoid getting in trouble with my girlfriend.
That wide-eyed child grew up (sort of) to be an adult panelologist (basically a word invented by comic collectors to make our hobby sound respectful). For many years, post-teenage comic readers were treated with suspicion. They were the kind of people you’d be reluctant to leave your child alone with (you still shouldn’t for the record – we’ll just steal their copy of Batman). The world has changed though, and comic books are now a big business, no longer the sole preserve of socially maladjusted young men. Just the other day I was collecting my weekly standing order when a real live girl walked into the shop, and everyone almost managed to not look nervous and slightly confused. That, my friends, is progress.
It wasn’t just pretty colours that caught my eye; throughout my younger days I devoured novels and film at a rate of knots. I’ve never been able to resist hunting out new wordsmiths or visionaries, new influences on the humble art of simply telling a compelling story. Naturally, there has been some indescribable nonsense along the way (I look back on my teenage dedication to the dubious work of Shaun Hutson and cringe), and I’ve never been able to resist a cultural phenomenon, to my own detriment. I’ve read The Da Vinci Code, the Twilight saga … my face resembled that of a man sucking a lemon whilst trapped in a foul-smelling room with no windows throughout the experience, but I’ve read them all the same.
It’s a habit that has continued into adulthood, with book, DVD and Blu-ray shelves groaning under the weight of their contents. That’s right, I have kept both feet firmly planted in the past while embracing my interests, and have remained a physical media guy, resisting the inevitable march of technology. Frankly, Kindles and tablets scared me as much as printing presses no doubt frightened people used to telling tales around a campfire. I have finally taken the plunge and ‘gone digital’, though , mainly for my own nefarious benefits.
The dawn of the aforementioned e-reader has opened more doors for potential story-spinners, and your humble narrator is beavering away on a novel of his own for self-publication on Kindle. I’d be lying if I said it was my first choice of format – the book will be a tribute to my favourite form of fiction, the humble ghost story, and for me ghost stories should be read from red leatherbound hardback tomes with yellowed pages, not an illuminated screen – but the opportunity is to be celebrated. Elsewhere online, I have taken to the internet to spread the gospel of other quality tales. If I was a cynical man intent on hawking my wares I’d point out that I write and edit the website www.dragondark.co.uk, or that I act as the Features Editor and supply content for the new e-Magazine Cult TV Times – the first issue of which is now available at www.culttvtimes.com for a mere £2. Fortunately, I would never be so crass.
So it seems that the world of storytelling has changed … but the stories themselves haven’t. A well-told work of fiction will always nourish the soul, and never fail to find an audience – we all need a distraction from reality from time to time.
Especially on a three-hour train journey. No matter what anybody else may say.