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Tome On The Range

Bobby Parker Loses The Plot: Review By Fire
Bobby Parker , July 21st, 2013 13:45

Upon finding the sole surviving manuscript of his first and only novel, poet Bobby Parker undertakes a ritual exorcism of his demons

Photographs by Matthew Wyndham

'Have you still got The Satanic Bible I bought you for Christmas?' There was a pause before my friend sighed and said, 'No, but let me explain...'

The phone was already warm against my ear as he went on to say that a couple of weeks after Christmas his wife (a lovely woman I have known since they got together in their teens) was tidying the living room when she heard an evil voice clearly say her name. She ran upstairs, crying and shaking. Frank told his wife that perhaps it was somebody messing around outside, but it continued to plague her for weeks, mocking her, its voice like a burnt animal, scratchy and wheezing as if it had crawled cackling out of a forest fire. It even followed her to work.

One night as she climbed into bed with Frank, who was reading the Christian bible and eating cold pizza, the voice hollered her name loud enough to echo round their house. This time Frank heard it too. He didn't admit that he heard it because he thought he would make things worse. 'No, sorry,' he lied. 'I didn't hear anything. Maybe it was next-door's telly?'

A couple of sleepless nights later he heard it again and finally picked up the phone. His pastor came to the house immediately, bringing two members of the church. They went from room to room, praying and blessing the house, until the pastor stopped in front of the bookcase. 'What's wrong?' Frank asked. 'That,' said the pastor, pointing to The Satanic Bible. 'Who gave you that book?'

Frank told the pastor about me. 'Your pal Bobby,' the pastor said. 'Is plagued by demons, they have been with him for a long time, and one of those demons hitched a ride on this book. You must get rid of it.' Frank's wife nodded at the pastor, 'I would feel more comfortable if it wasn't in my home,' she said. So the pastor plucked it from the shelf and took it with him when he left. And with that the ''haunting'' stopped.

'Wow,' I said, switching the sweaty phone to my other ear. 'That's fucked up... I don't know what to say, I mean, I'm sorry but... Wow!' Frank said he would pray for me. Pray for the tortured soul of Bobby Parker, purveyor of sinful books and blasphemous artworks. 'Erm, thanks,' I said, cupping my hand over the phone as my wife came into the room. 'Sit down,' I hissed. She sat on the edge of the bed and shivered as a cool breeze blew in off the dirty street. 'You're not going to believe this...'

A couple of weeks ago my wife and daughter were playing in the garden of our new house while I unpacked the few remaining boxes upstairs. When I came to the last box I found a thick envelope under a pile of old photographs, and my blood ran cold. It was my first novel, written ten years ago when I was twenty. It took me a little over a year to write. It is the only copy - the laptop I used to write the book was tossed like a Frisbee from our high-rise window late one night when I was drunk. This manuscript is it.

I took it out of the envelope and flipped through the yellowed pages. Christ, it was worse than I thought: untitled, dreadful writing, terrible memories; poor spelling, awful grammar, pathetic piece of shit. I slammed the manuscript onto my desk and stared at it for a while.

Then I posted a picture of it onto Facebook.

Why did I keep it for all these years? I don't want anyone to read this book. Not just because it is crap, but because it is filled with things I want to forget. A life I desperately want to leave behind. But on the other hand I want to do something else with it, besides publish it and add more crap to an industry already saturated with mediocrity.

I want to turn it into an idea. Make some kind of statement about novels: my failure to finish a novel I feel happy with, my recent lack of enthusiasm for reading novels, and my frustration at the lack of support for experimental art and literature.

I pick up the manuscript and flick through it again. There's quite a long chapter separate from the rest, stapled at the top left corner, it's about the miscarriage of our first baby. I couldn't read it. I don't want to remember how we coped, because I know we fought darkness with darkness, and barely survived.

After that, the book goes a little crazy. I was wrestling with drug-induced psychosis and a daily procession of oddball characters who filled our flat with low-grade cannabis and high-grade foot stench. The structure of the novel, which I spent months assiduously plotting in (now lost) notebooks, loses its already tenuous grip on reality and drifts into the nut-job dreamland of a man - no, a boy - lost in his own stupid head.

Along with the usual, run of the mill teenage experiences building up to leaving home, I briefly describe, in prose that makes me wince, my days as a low level drug dealer: how I almost had my knees smashed with a hammer over a small debt to a local gangster. How my addictions took over my life and my weight plummeted so dramatically our doctor said I would probably die and my family threatened never to speak to me again unless I got clean.

In a chapter near the end I write about the night a man in our building was stabbed to death because he owed a greasy smack-head twenty quid. We sat in the window, hugging our knees like frightened children trying to wake up from a nightmare, watching blue lights flicker through the autumn leaves...

Demons. I thought. This is a book of demons, and I don't want them any more!

Then I remembered Frank and The Satanic Bible, what that pastor said about my darkness hitching a ride into a happy house, a house of light and faith, love and peace, corrupting it with negativity. My negativity.

That's why tonight I'm going to burn the fucking thing.

My one and only novel, which has never been, and never will be, read by anyone, is coming with me to my friend's house, where the fire is waiting. All I am prepared to offer is the last word. After this it will be ashes on the wind, drunk under the stars, a chunk of baffled moon peeping over the paranoid rooftops:

''...Smile.''

A full photographic account of the burning of Bobby's novel can be found here

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