Writing ‘Soft to Good, Heavy in Places’ Grahame Williams

I began this story last October, on the day and date the story takes place, in the town in which the story takes place, sat in the passenger seat while my brother drove us home from our grandfather’s funeral. My girlfriend sat in the back, five months pregnant with our first child, and we listened to a podcast about charlatan psychics as the car became so filled with my brother’s vanilla-scented vape smoke we couldn’t see the road (we wound down the windows).

I wrote the story on my phone, deliberately only on my phone, with note-taking apps and To Do lists and maps of Downpatrick. To begin with I wanted to avoid the usual shape and sense of a story altogether, I was aiming at a poem without wanting to write a poem either. I had an idea that all the paragraphs would be the size of an iPhone screen, beautifully justified rectangles not quite filling the page, but I couldn’t make it work. Amazon warehouse robots were also going to feature but they didn’t work either. I kept thinking of the phone as a little glowing coffin.

In November I wrote in the corridor of an antenatal clinic while I waited for my girlfriend to return from having bloods done. I wrote at home while I waited for her to wake, belly-big. I wrote on deep winter mornings while I waited for the kettle to boil, while waiting for emergency plumbers and endless deliveries.

I wrote too many drafts that didn’t change enough of what needed to be changed. A couple of times I read aloud with my hand resting on the unborn boy, God help him.

In December I worked on the story when I should have been working on something else. It was an easy means of hiding from other things that felt too big and too uncertain. The story became a place to go when I was scared and probably plays it too safe as a result.

I tried to get some of my grandfather’s personality onto the page but all I’ve managed to do is steal some lines from him. Perhaps that’s enough.

At the almost-end of January, five o’clock on a Monday morning, I wrote on the floor of Labour Room 2 in the Jubilee Wing of Kings College Hospital. Thirty-four hours into labour my girlfriend was finally able to lie down and get some sleep and I was terrified it would never end. I wrote cross-legged on the floor-mat I was supposed to be sleeping on myself but I couldn’t sleep and there was nothing else I could think to do.

I must have rewritten or at least fiddled with the opening two pages a hundred times or more. I knew I was working on the wrong part of the story but it was all my head could cope with.

In February I wrote while my days-old son lay asleep in a sling on my chest, the brightness of my phone turned low so as not to disturb him and I could barely see the words on the screen. I was amazed to do any writing at all. I was amazed by everything.

I wrote in the nine minutes of the train journey to work, minutes that felt like hours, incredible gifts in my new world. I wrote in the dead seconds while I waited for coffees to be made, sometimes in the toilet and in lifts when I happened to be alone.

In March I sent the story to a friend to read and when it came back I changed names and sexes of characters, cut scenes, tried to fill in some cack-handed blanks, made the town a snake, unmade the town a snake, stole ideas from poems, a line from Dermot Healy and even still didn’t change enough.

As I write this now, the following September, I can’t remember exactly how the story goes. I’m reluctant to re-read it for fear that parts of it may make no sense and sentence rhythms may be all over the shop, the result of my newborn delirium. For the last few weeks I’ve been calling people by the wrong names (‘Ping’ is a frequent one and I’m certain I know nobody called Ping), forgetting things and getting my words mixed up – the story will certainly have some of that. However, I’m at home and the squeals of joy from the next room mean I’m happy to live like this for as long as I can.

Grahame Williams is from County Down, Northern Ireland. His work has appeared in the Stinging Fly, the Letters Page and in 2014/15 he received an Arvon/Jerwood Mentorship for fiction writing. His current work in progress is a novel about a father, a son and the construction of a giant girl in the last of the Belfast shipyards.

You can read ‘Soft to Good, Heavy in Places’ in Issue Ten of The Lonely Crowd, which may be purchased here

© Grahame Williams, 2018. Image © Jo Mazelis, 2018.