A Long Journey (Final Part)
London is the place I was born and grew up in. It’s influenced both my life and what I write. For a good number of years I avoided it, only making occasional trips back to the city. It brought up too many memories for me. Even when I was there I never went home, home being Kilburn in North West London. My heart is in North London, I get dizzy when I cross the bridge over into South London but it was the place which held and still holds most of my memories. Even the simple memories.
Walking home from school as a kid and stopping in the corner shop to buy sweets, walking up the High Road on Christmas Eve as people go mad trying to do their last bits of shopping. Playing football with friends on summer’s nights until ten o’clock and then sitting on a wall and just laughing and joking about. They are the small things which stay with you forever.
You also have the bad memories, the times I’d have to wait until the shop opened to stop myself from feel sick, the times I ended up in hospital being detoxed. Memories of friends who are no longer here, wondering what you could have all done differently. Confronting those memories was one of the hardest things I’ve done and it took me many years to do it. Last year I went back home on my own and walked those streets. I wrote the following, which describes that trip better than anything I could write currently:
Getting off the tube today at Queen’s Park felt like I was going home. Even though I have no home to go to there, my legs were taking me where I wanted to go; back along the streets and across the roads I know so well. It’s taken me nine years to go back on my own, the feelings and emotions of being in the place I grew up a suppressed fear; the good memories and the bad ones too, all coming back as I walked.
Walking through Queen’s Park, a kid again, being with my dad as we strolled from Kilburn Park through the back roads to go and play pitch and putt. Crossing the small park next to where I lived for years I could see myself playing football. The cold, rainy days kicking a ball around the park, the long and hot summer nights playing headers and volleys until it got dark and then sitting on the wall and chatting shit with friends, laughing, joking.
The flat that holds so many memories. Nights spent with good friends, drinking, getting stoned. It was all innocent then, there weren’t any consequences yet. Staying up all night and then climbing up onto the roof of the flat to watch the sun rise above London. No cares, no thoughts as to what the future held, just enjoying that summer, a summer I’ll never forget, one I’d love to live again. There were bad times too, but today wasn’t about that. The bad times have had their moment, they’re not going to spoil my memories anymore.
Past Brondesbury station and that smell hit me. When I used to reach the platform, a wide eyed kid, the smell of the old trains meant I was going somewhere exotic, some place far away on the train. Back then Richmond and Kew were exotic, going to see the deer or those big, hot houses with all the plants in it. Peering out the window of the train trying to catch a glimpse of an unkown part of the city that you’d seen on the map, another world to a young child.
Down the High Road, the old Sainsbury’s, the butchers next to it that had sawdust on the floor. The walk up to school every morning, the clock that has now gone telling you how much time you had left until the bell rang. Sunday afternoons leaving the church, 45 minutes that had seemed like a life time, the smell of the Sunday papers, the high street deserted, the shops closed, men in suits sneaking into the pubs for a quick pint before Sunday dinner.
The homeless man that used to sit outside The Old Bell, his old black dog. The Old Bell, the pub that people spoke about with a whisper and a tut. Mum giving the homeless man money to buy the dog some food. Me wondering how he ended up like that, where had he come from? When he dissappeared where did he go?
Past Kilburn Park station and looking up at the flat I spent my earliest years in, I can see myself looking down out of the window. Watching the buses, wondering where all the mysterious places on the front of them were, what was there? One of the old red buses passing, number 31, the conductor looking out from the opening at the back. Is World’s End really the end of the world? Saturday mornings, watching waiting excitedly for my dad to appear, off to the Rec to play football.
Sunday evening, summer of 1990; my dad buys me a Coca Cola ball, the World Cup final about to start. Walking up to the Drum and Monkey in St John’s Wood, imagining I am Maradona with my new, small, red ball. The old man that was always there. Slowly drinking his pint, nodding at people as they came through the door. The walk back home to Kilburn Park, still warm, West Germany world champions, me tired from excitement.
The pub has gone now, a lot of the places I remembered as a child aren’t there anymore, but walking that route today I was a kid again. It’s been an emotional few days; old friends, old places, memories that will stay with me forever. Goodbye London, I’ll be back soon; the only city in the world where my heart rests easy.
I published The Unwashed in 2016, I had no idea how it was going to do and I still had a safety net of being able to go back to China in the event it only sold a couple of copies. To this date it’s sold over 5,000 and the other books I’ve published have sold another 1,000 copies. If I actually knew how to market, I’d probably be a millionaire already!
I wrote The Unwashed because I’ve always felt there are sections of society who are often ignored and I thought the book would give them a voice. Some said it was depressing, that was the point though, those who are ignored don’t have the most inspiring of stories but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen to them.
When I was spending time researching how to self published I found most of the advice out there was pretty useless. Most forums on the internet dedicated to writers are generally filled with insufferable egos, people who are all to eager to point out what is wrong with someone’s work. My advice for people who want to write is write what you know about. You can’t build up emotion and feeling for something you don’t know about. Forums on the internet will tell you to look at what is selling most and write about that. If that’s what you’re doing you’re chasing the money and not doing what you do for the love of it.
When you use Amazon to self-publish you have a little chart which shows you how many books you’ve sold each day for the last month and it gets updated as each book is sold. I refresh it regularly, hoping to see a massive spike in sales. It hasn’t come yet but I know it will, you have to believe in what you’re doing or you’re just setting yourself up for failure. The day that spike does come I’ll probably cry!
In 2017 I went back to China for three months, I realised I had missed it. There’s a sense of freedom you get living abroad and when I’m back home I find it hard to settle back in. In China I’d eat out every night, I could watch the football at a mate’s bar, life was good but I knew if I really wanted to achieve the dream of being a successful author I had to go home and completely dedicate myself to it. It’s too easy to be distracted when you’re abroad, you tell yourself it’ll be no problem sitting down and writing for a few hours a day but instead you end up sitting on the beach and being lazy.
I spent a couple of weeks in Thailand before I came home. I found an island in the Andaman Sea called Koh Phratong which is one of the few places left in Thailand which isn’t completely consumed by tourism. There is miles of deserted beach, the internet doesn’t work very well and everywhere is powered by solar panels. The lights only came on for a few hours at night. It was nice to be cut off from the world for a period of time.
I also went to Japan for a few days, Japan has been a place I’ve wanted to go to since I was a kid and it was another place I could tick off the list. After Japan, I went back to China and then finally back home. I was lost when I got home, I knew there wasn’t going to be another trip for a good while, I also knew I would be living somewhere I didn’t know many people and it would be lonely but I was prepared to make the sacrifice to get where I wanted to be.
Sometimes I sit here in front of my laptop and thinks to myself ‘what have you done?’. I could have chosen an easier path than this, if I’d wanted to I could have stayed in China and taught, done something I didn’t enjoy but earned good money. It wasn’t something I wanted to do though. I’d always wanted to write and there is no way I will accept failure.
I set out to write this because I wanted to give myself some perspective, put down into words how far I had actually come in life. Sometimes you forget. On the 8th February I’ll have been clean for eleven years, eleven years ago to this day I was trying to struggle through another month before I could get myself detoxed and then into treatment. Since then, I’ve been to thirty countries, lived in India and China, learned new languages, published books and met amazing people along the way.
I hate saying if I can do it anyone can because it implies you faced harder struggles than anyone else. I didn’t, there are people out there who were worse than I was, also there are people who won’t have the opportunity to set their life straight like I did. That’s not downplaying my own troubles with addiction. I was given two years to live at only twenty one year’s of age and came so close to death at twenty three the doctor told my mother I might not make it while I was lying in intensive care.
I don’t regret the path I’ve taken, not even the years of madness and addiction. It was what has shaped my life and allowed me to become the person I am today. I appreciate life and I appreciate the opportunity to do the things I’m doing. Who knows what way life would have gone if I had never gone through it all? It probably wouldn’t have been as exciting and as colourful as it has been.
The last year hasn’t been the easiest, I came out of a long-term relationship, I’m living somewhere which is quite lonely, most people’s social lives revolve around going out to the pub which I have no interest in doing anymore. What I can accept though is that these were all decisions I made, and decisions I knew would be best for me in the long term. I’ll keep writing and I’ll keep publishing and I know that I’ll be back on the road before long. Travelling and writing are my calling in life, it took a long journey to realise that but I managed to reach it in the end.
Thank you for reading, I hope all I have wrote over the last week shows what motivates me as an author and I hope you have enjoyed reading.