Friday, 24 October 2014

The Boys on the Bus - a sample of a story

When I was 17 years old, two boys set my hair on fire when I was on the bus.

Which wasn't very nice of them, was it?

It's an experience that obviously stayed with me but it's not something I really thought about much. It was just something that had happened, something a bit odd, a bit cruel.

Then earlier this year, I kept seeing women being attacked online with the line 'go die in a fire'. And it started me thinking about how being set on fire, is something that has happened to women over the centuries. Witches, heretics, adulteresses in old times. Today, violent men set their homes on fire to kill their partners and children. And I also started thinking about hair, and women's hair, and how destroying women's hair is another long-standing attack.

So I was having all these thoughts, about fire, and hair, and women, and what happened to me. I didn't know what to do with these thoughts. I didn't know how to process them.

And in the end I decided to do what I do best. I wrote a story.

It's called The Boys on the Bus and you can buy it for the bargain price of £1.53 for your Kindle. You can also buy it for your Kindle app. Even better, once you've read The Boys on the Bus you'll find a second story called Anna's Interlude.

I'm so proud of both these stories and I hope you will enjoy them.

And to whet your appetite, here's a sample of The Boys on the Bus.

The boys on the bus set my hair on fire.

This, then, is a literary dinner. This is the world of books and plays and poetry and conversation, washed down with good wine, and a smile. This is the world that I dreamed of when I was sat on the bus, daringly wearing my sixth form clothes, my eyes focused on the metal arch of the seat in front of me, my ears stubbornly silencing the noise from the seats behind me. 

I’ve made it. I’ve made it here, and I’m sat beside someone who I think I can now call a friend. She is a writer whose name you will probably have heard of. Opposite me, just to the left, is a pretty blonde-haired publicist who lives near to where I used to live. We have talked about that, in the way you do with strangers, trying to find a point of shared experience. Just to my right is the world-famous writer we are here to celebrate. You will have heard of her. You will perhaps have sat there, on the school bus, her GCSE syllabus-approved novel jostling for space with a lunch box, exercise books, pencils and illicit packets of chewing gum and fags in your backpack. 

I’ve made it. I’ve made it this far, to this restaurant where the chatter, and the clatter of cutlery against crockery, is loud and buzzing. It’s hard to hear, and so the world-famous writer leans in to ask me to repeat what I said. 

The boys on the bus set my hair on fire. 

I have told this story before, with a smile, and a shake of my hair, long now, long and glossy, good hair, free from charred flakes that lingered, stinking, for days afterwards. 

Tonight though, I don’t tell it funny. Tonight, in the dimmed light of the restaurant, it doesn’t sound like a story to tell with a side smile and a shrug and a wide-eyed, ‘I know, right?’

The boys on the bus set my hair on fire. 

We are talking, at this literary dinner, about bullying. We are talking about the ritual of bullying. We are talking about how the patterns of bullying hark back to rituals that centred on cruelty.  My friend, the writer you may have heard of, has been writing a story where boys go back to the Bible to find examples of ritualistic cruelty. In the Bible, they discovered the clues they needed to become the most famous bullies in the school. The world-famous writer wrote the book on the rituals children play out to torment other children. Perhaps you have read it. 

It was ritual for those boys on the bus. It was ritual for the boys on the bus, when they set my hair on fire, on that sticky May day, eleven years before. 

But why? the world-famous writer asks. 

They didn’t like my brother, I reply. 

I’m seventeen years old, and the bus is winding its way along the road from the bus stop outside my school, swaying slightly as it goes with the weight of its load. It is winding its way, the same way once, twice, three times a day, to the bus stop at the end of my road, and eventually to its final destination at the currently-under-refurbishment depot. 

On the bus, we sit in obedient pairs. Some, like me, wear our sixth form clothes. But most of the pairs are in the cheap polyester trousers and the shirts that were once white but are now one smudge of grey. The seats force us into order, but our behaviour refuses to be confined into neat, detached rows. 

Buy your copy of The Boys on the Bus today

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