I suffered from insomnia as a child. I still do. When I was little, I had a huge selection of audiobooks. At bedtime, my mother would pick one, click it in the tape deck and flick the light out. I would cocoon myself in the blanket against the malevolent night, reach a careful finger out into the black and press play. Lying there, I’d listen to the dead space of the tape as it turned around, its circular ticks tocking through time, my ears full with the audible fuzz of recorded silence. And then a voice.
I listened to the usual things: Lewis Carroll, Tolkien, Alan Garner. I am still able to repeat sections of these, learned via repetition each night. Those types of strange stories were the perfect bridge to traverse that foggy, unmapped landscape at the edge of dreams.
The strange story I wrote for Twisted50, Paper Cuts, is horror fiction, albeit with erotic underpinnings hidden beneath its coat. It’s about the interaction between books and the reader. To my mind, books are a secret, personal experience. For example, when you read, you hear the narrator’s voice in your own head and make the intonations yourself. An audio reading does this for you. It is storytelling. Someone is whispering in your ear. It’s intimate that whispering, a thing you reserve for friends and lovers. It is incredibly important therefore, given the subject of my story, for the narration to work well on that intimate level.
For my first listen of the audio extract of Paper Cuts, I squeezed my eyes closed and held my breath for the entire length of it. Thankfully, Ana Clements does a great job and the music is pleasantly unpleasant; eerie and foreboding. I was particularly worried about hearing my sentences being read back by someone else because I compose them with a great deal of effort and anxiety. I’m interested in things like alliteration, onomatopoeia, rhyme. I’m always trying to write a sentence that is like a cryptic crossword clue. It’s something that can be dissected to give an answer. Ana’s reading emphasised the carefully constructed rhythms of my sentences with an accuracy I was not expecting and I am so grateful to her for it.
One more thing. I want to tell you why audiobooks are so important to me. At one stage I was so sick with ME/CFS that I couldn’t move or speak and even looking at a page in a magazine was completely impossible. I was unable to read even a few words on a page or write anything for years. I also found sound and bright light really hard to cope with. I had to start with a few seconds of audiotape at the same time every day and build on it. It took six months to listen to Money by Martin Amis, and I have to tell you, six months spent with John Self in your head is a very long, slightly obscene six months. By the end of it, I could listen to five minutes of tape at a time. I will never be able to get the narrator’s voice out of my head. It was kind of like having a really troubled friend phone you every day and blurt out a string of drunken expletives for a few minutes before slamming the receiver back down halfway through an anecdote about trying to masturbate to Renaissance art. So…audiobooks gave me a tiny window into someone else’s imagination when I was so physically disabled I was constantly locked in my own. They are really important tools for communicating and telling stories.
Lastly, thank you to everyone involved in Twisted50 and the creation of the audiobook. I am more than aware of all the hard work everyone has put into it. You did a good thing. You made a lot of people very happy. Thanks again. And thank you for listening.
Silent tape ticks through the deck, clicks off, full stop.