Anyone who knows me, would probably say I am aloof and somewhat distant. It is one of the things I hate most about myself, and causes relationships with those I love and value to become difficult to maintain. Today I met a very dear friend, who I have not seen for a long long time. It was a chance meeting, and shouldn’t have occurred, because my friend, Neil, happened to be walking past me in the street, after he had been delayed an hour. Years had passed, perhaps even a decade, since we had met. He is one of the few people outside of my family who I love and think about regularly, without doing anything about actually seeing him in reality. I allowed too much time to pass by and one of my dearest friends became a plan in my head, a person I would see in the future once I had time, but today, he was there! I looked up from my phone, and saw Neil beaming at me, looking very debonair and bohemian, and we hugged, and went to a cafe, and all those feelings of connection came flooding back, as we talked, and I just want him to know how special he is and that even though so many years have passed, he will always be one of the few dear friends I will love and value until I die. I have been so consumed with my writing, and the mundanity of work and life and the loss of loved ones, I’ve managed to neglect the people who are still here. I’m sorry. You know who you are.
Recently I have been fighting apathy and tiredness and although still able to illustrate stories, I haven’t written for months.
Days are very long but time seems like it is being fast forwarded. I promised I would put myself first this year, but being so drained I’m dispassionate and can’t break my way out of this perpetual state of sameness, and monotony. Sometimes I feel high, and then low and then apathetic again, but until I actually do something to make this stop, it will continue, until I’m incapable of producing anything worthwhile. I hate my life and want to get away from reality. It used to be enough, living it through my characters, but recently I need more than they’re giving.
There is a reason I have dedicated all of my stories to my father. He died far too young, and has left a lasting void in my life. I think about him every day, despite decades passing, and details fading, my writing is my own fantastical remedy to a fragile reality, broken by his death.
His name was Eric Reginald Richard Moore and he was born in Belfast on the 9th March 1943. My Nanna decided to give him two middle names, because she was one of eight siblings, and the only one not to have a middle name. Dad died before the internet became what it is today, so there is no virtual trace of him other than what I have written. It’s approaching the anniversary of his death again, (2nd December 1995) and I wanted to talk a little about what I remember of him.
He was a charming, but serious man, who was witty, and intelligent. He was thoughtful, and only spoke when he had something important to say, so people listened to him. He worked as an engineer for Marconi in the seventies and our family found ourselves transported to Iran, and we lived in Tehran for nine months, right before the revolution. I remember my father used to get alcohol from behind the counter, even though it was banned. We spent our time having pool parties, sitting on rooftops at curfew, exploring the mountains by cable car. We had a Jeep, there were camels walking past our window each day, I’d hear the call to prayer in the mosques and found those voices beautiful, as they echoed around the city. My parents would record tapes and send them to our family back in England. I had no concept of time back then, and because of my dad, I was learning to speak two languages, Farsi and English. I had American and Iranian and British friends, and my world was, so unlike England, rich and diverse and magical.
We had to come back to England, just before Christmas, due to the Iranian Revolution, but my dad stayed in Iran for another few months. I can’t remember missing him then as I was too young to understand the danger he was in, and I knew that he’d come home, but I do remember his absence. I had no concept of loss, and just as my mum had promised, he came back, safely, just before things got too dangerous. Living in England was a stark contrast, but I had my family back, my grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins. There was snow, and I had my dad back too.
I will skip ahead, and leave out a lot of the linear story of our family life together, and tell you that my dad was my hero. I looked up to him, he was constant, unbreakable; aloof and slightly broody; but I loved him and he made me feel safe. He spent a lot of time studying for the Open University, and was interested in every conceivable subject, from astronomy to religion. He built a telescope, made his own wine, he could draw, (he couldn’t sing though, he was completely tone deaf) he built a garage, a remote controlled plane, could rewire a house, do the plumbing, all the old fashioned skills. At the beach he would be the first in the water, snorkel ready, and he’d be in there for what seemed like hours. Once back on land, he’d build me and my brother sand palaces, and dig holes deeper than we were tall, with sand steps leading down (probably illegal now)
I always felt an infinity with him. We were both quiet, and needed our own space. In another life, he may even have been a writer (like his own father, who was also called Eric, and was artistic) He loved science fiction, we’d watch Star Trek and Star Wars and Doctor Who, and Wonder Woman, and I’d like to think that my dad would be proud of what I’ve written, more than anyone else, he would understand why I can’t stop, why there are so many stories and illustrations, because if I stop, then so do I.
Dad died, in a convent at a barn dance, as I’ve written about before, but I haven’t gone into detail about the impact his death has made on my life. When I visit my family, on his side, I see his absence, so in a way it causes me to experience his loss over and over. It’s my own fault, I’m too emotional, and I love people too much, to the point I’d rather keep them at a safe distance than have them die, or leave or betray. I’ve become a character removed from the world, unable to properly connect with anyone, unless they are fictitious. I’ve named my protagonist (Alexand’s) father, Eric, after my dad, in an attempt to keep him alive in another world. This fantastical remedy disguised as Unbound Boxes Limping Gods, is like a drug enabling me to cope with reality.
Just under twenty four years ago, I was 17 years old. I was taking a walk in a park called Borelli’s in Farnham, escaping from a theatre studied class, that I really didn’t want to take part in. I sat on a bench and blocked out the noise of the traffic, from a nearby road, put on my head phones and listened to Cyndi Lauper’s “The World Is Stone.”
There was a river nearby, and a bridge. It was Autumn, but still hot enough to pass as summer. In my left ear, instead of the cars, I heard a woman talking to me. I didn’t know her name, and couldn’t see her. There was something different about her. She understood why I’d walked out of that classroom. She told me she wanted to take me with her to a place far away from my own world. Her name was Alexand Merek. I consider her my fictional child. She was in a way, born on this bench in Borelli’s Park.
She has become one of the most important parts of my life. I write about her, draw her, translate what she has told me, and she is now a living breathing woman, with stories and dreams. I’ve met her wife. She’s left handed, like me. We have things in common, but she exists outside of me. When I die, she, and her stories, will live on. Today, I took my real baby, Sam, to the bench my fictional baby, was conceived.
This may seem a bit odd, and you can tell from his face, he was patronising me. It wasn’t something I had planned. We just happened to be in Farnham, and were passing by the park. I hadn’t even visited Alexand’s bench in decades. But here am I, sitting on her bench, with my son. The river and the bridge are still exactly the same as they were back then. The sound from the road, and people walking along the pathway, probably similar to how it was, when Alexand had introduced herself to me. I wanted to mark a moment, in time. My son and my daughter. Two very different and precious worlds, sitting on the bench with their mother.
Now I’ve got myself a job I enjoy, I’m able to not only think about writing again, but can get back to talking candidly about the processes behind my writing.
When a character is born, just like any human in this physical world, they need to have a name. Some names come naturally, but others have taken time to reveal themselves to me. I’m going to tell you about a few of my characters who were either named after or dedicated to, people in the real world.
Almost twenty years ago, my father was training to be a lay reader in the church. He had, at the time, already survived two heart attacks, and a triple heart bypass. My mum, (a nurse – who had saved his life on previous occasions -) and my brother and I knew we were lucky to still have him around. I was away at university at the time, doing fine art (and writing a very scruffy prototype for Unbound Boxes) Well, my father was an academic, an artist, an engineer, he could build anything from telescopes to garages, and despite his bad health, he really did take every opportunity to throw himself into life. He was the type of man who would go on a holiday to Turkey, and end up meeting someone who knew him.
To be quite honest, I was in awe of him, and getting back to the point, his latest project involved training at a convent to become a lay reader.
I spent my 21st birthday at university, writing and painting, blissfully unaware that two days later, I’d receive a knock at the door, (mobiles were like breeze blocks back then, and my land lord didn’t allow incoming phone calls) so I answered the door, and unceremoniously my friend, (who my mum had managed to contact) said “Cheryl, your dad’s dead,” so one very surreal journey later, I arrived back home and my mum told me that he had another heart attack, barn dancing at a convent. In retrospect it was a very good way to go, but back then, it didn’t seem so great. Anyway, the nuns at the convent invited my mum, my brother and I to visit, as they were very upset about what had happened too, and wanted to offer us some support. So we drove up to the convent where he had died. (Yes my dad died, barn dancing at a convent) anyway, one of the nuns, was a very kind lady called sister Ancille. She showed us around the gardens, made us coffee, and told us we were welcome to visit them any time. She took us to the hall, where dad had died, and let us have our own time. I suppose, that sort of kindness has a lasting effect and so I decided to name Alexand’s daughter, after sister Ancille. Ancille means God’s handmaiden. If you knew a little about the story of Ancille in Unbound Boxes, you’d realise that this is a woman who offers hope in very bleak times, to Alexand, after she almost loses the will to live.
Moving swiftly on, to another character named after a real human being, Jarad Vijay, (Ancille’s father and Alexand’s husband.) I’m not sure whether this is before or after my dad died, because that time was very surreal and I’ve blocked a lot of it out, but I was in Cardiff, on a night out with some friends. We stopped to get some chips, and there was a homeless man sitting outside of Macdonalds. I got talking with him, and it turns out he was an ex gurkha, who had been made redundent from the army due to mental health issues. I remember thinking how disgusting it was that someone who had served in the British army was now sitting on the streets with a hat full of coins. He told me he had a son and a wife, but he didn’t know where they were. He had a scar across his face, which looked like it had been made by a knife. But we sat and talked, and he asked me if I could guard his coins whilst he went to the back of Macdonalds. Apparently the staff at Macdonalds knew him and used to give him the left overs, that time of night. So true to my word, I stood and guarded his money, my friends hanging around patiently for me. A few minutes later, Vijay walked back with a Big Mac in his hand, and thanked me for looking after his money. I had sneaked a few coins from my pocket in there, possibly to relieve my own guilt, and he began to eat his burger, grinning at me as we parted company. I made a promise silently that I would name a character after him. It was the least this ridiculous, privileged, white girl could do under the circumstances. I’ve never forgotten Vijay, or the guilt I felt, at not being able to do anything for him. I still wonder about what happened to him, and hope that somehow he was able to build his life back up, and that he found his family. I’ll never know, but I’ll always remember him through his namesake, Jarad Vijay.
Other characters are named after people I haven’t met, but admire. One of my favourite actors, Salma Hayek, is the inspiration for Heyem Merek’s name. I changed it a lot, but I like the sound, it rolls around so easily, and to be perfectly honest, Frida Khalo is one of Heyem’s heroes. Apparently Salma Hayek spent a long time trying to get that film made, and I have a lot of respect for her work. Heyem, in the Unbound Boxes world, means “Home,” whereas (her identical twin sister) Alexand’s name means “the People’s defender,” Alexand’s middle name is Heyem and Heyem’s middle name is Alexand. Heyem became a lecturer, in women’s herstory, in Hong Kong University, before the Amanojuko took power and banished the humanities. Occasionally, a few historical figures appear in the stories. Women such as the pirate queen of Rockfleet Castle, Grace O’Malley, Boudicca, and Queen Elizabeth the 1st, but that’s skipping too far ahead…
The Balsara family, which consists of Eldenath, Giselle, Bernadette and Yemi, were all named after Freddie Mercury, whose real name was, Farrokh Bulsara. I think I’ve mentioned before about how adorable my mum is, and how she is the kind of person who brings happiness with her, wherever she goes. She loves to sing, and when I was growing up, one of her favourite renditions was the complete works of Queen. I had a very happy childhood, and can remember my mum dancing and singing “I want to break free,” at the top of her lungs, as she cooked us dinner. Or she would occasionally sing to her cat, “All we need is Radio Ga Ga!” whilst clicking her fingers and dancing. Alexand Merek isn’t named after my mum, whose name is Barbara, but she certainly has a lot in common with her, personality wise. Anyway, getting back to the point again, Freddie Mercury reminds me of my mum, and a very happy childhood, and so I honoured him, (and mum) by lending Eldenath and her family his name.
Alexand’s brother, Farokh is also named after Freddie Mercury, in honour of my mum. Farokh is eight years younger than Alexand and Heyem, and he’s quite an immature and wayward boy. He’s nothing like my own brother, (my brother is a lot like our dad.) I named Alexand’s father, Eric, after my dad, as there’s nothing like fiction to keep someone alive. In a way, when you’re writing for multiple characters, parts of the real world merge together with what you’re creating, so that eventually you can’t tell the difference between who is real and who isn’t. To be honest, I’ve had far too many people die in my life, and I will admit that writing is a very easy remedy to bereavement. When I name a character, I am naming a real person. I’ve even done the reverse and named my own son, Sam, after Alexand’s son, Sam (although my ex swears he’s named after his dog). For me, Unbound Boxes Limping Gods is a part of life, it’s where I go to escape. I am a conduit, nothing more than that, but if I can throw a name into the mix, then that person is essentially immortal. I don’t like death, in fact I’ll do anything to avoid it. I’ve named characters after my friends, my best friend, Rachel has a place in my book, Alexand’s best friend (or one of them) is called Rachel. Anyway, I feel I’ve written enough. I’ve shared too much, and I’m going to stop. My ex told me once, that everything ends. Not if you capture that person, and put them inside a story. You can make them live forever.
I used to look forward to Christmas so much. My cousins, Stephen and Paul would come round for Christmas day, along with my Aunty Kath and Uncle Norman, my Nan and Granddad, joining my Mum, Dad, Brother Richard and I. We’d play games and spend the holiday as a family. Seeing them meant so much more than any gift under the tree. These people who I will always love but very rarely see now, influenced my writing, some of them even became characters. It’s how I keep them with me, so they’ll never really leave. Christmas is smaller now. This year it’s just me, my son, my ex and our cats. A modern micro dysfunctional family. But back in the eighties, back in a distant happier time, Christmas past, haunts me. I wish I could take my son back there, so he could experience the joy and delight my childhood self was given by her own rather more traditional, stable family. We were close, and I felt safe and loved and wanted. I still do, but as an adult things have become somewhat complicated and I’m quite disconnected. My dad died, right before Christmas 1995. Things changed. There seems to be a natural disintegration with strong families. Eventually people move away, they die, they become distant. Unless of course you’re lucky enough to build a large family of your own, but that didn’t happen for me.
I’m sitting here watching A Nightmare Before Christmas. It was the first film that made me laugh again, after dad’s death. It was dark humour, and I appreciated that it reflected how random and apparently chaotic life can become. There is no good, and no evil. Things are much more complicated. As a Christian I had been sheltered from different perspectives and from the bad world outside. That sense of protection had gone, when dad died. But before then, I believed if you prayed hard enough God would protect the people you loved. That isn’t true. In fact if you look at how lucky people are in the western world, and how little other people have, you can see that the concept is very naive and redundant. My dad’s death has influenced a lot of my writing, and my sense of my own mortality has driven me to the extent that I hardly exist outside of my own writing. I often wonder what I’d be like if he were still here, I’d probably be happier, probably may not have made so many mistakes in my life. I know that Unbound Boxes Limping Gods, wouldn’t exist in the form it does now. Although Alexand Merek chose me to tell her story, I wasn’t as driven, wasn’t as frightened of ending, of becoming nothing, before dad died. I believed I would live forever and that allowed me to procrastinate when it came to my writing. If I’m truthful it’s a lot less painful living in Alexand’s world, translating it into stories and illustrations. There are little stop gaps which remind me I should be living outside in the real world, one of those gaps is Christmas.
I think at some point, all writers encounter obstacles. Life, simply gets in the way. This past year has been the most challenging for me, since I was 17, in terms of being able to find enough time to sit down and write (or illustrate) stories. Many things (including redundancy) have thrown invisible scatter bombs into my routine, and I’m finding myself scrambling around attempting to find those precious moments I used to take for granted. I am seeing only fleeting glimpses of Alexand’s world at the moment. My son and my cats depend on me making a living. My new job is hard, and I work longer hours than before, and so, Alexand doesn’t speak to me as much. It’s not because she’s upset with me, but because she understands I need to exist in this physical world, and that I have responsibilities outside of her own. I’m grieving for her, of course, but I know this lapse is only temporary. I also know I’m good at scheduling. I have eleven stories in my story bank, issues which last up until late February 2015. I’ve got others which need illustrating, and so many unwritten stories inside my head, which go as far back as the time I first met Alexand on a park bench in Farnham in 1992.
In the illustration above, (From a story called, Love in a Box,) Alexand is grieving for the loss of her fingers. She thinks she will never play the piano again, and that makes her deeply unhappy. Like my writing, Alexand’s music is her life. She feels lost and empty when she isn’t creating something. It’s one of the things we have in common, and possibly why she chose me to write her story, and not someone else. But, as with a lot of things in life, she was unable to see that things would get better for her.
In fact the woman she is deeply in love with, a very practical and misunderstood scientist called Katherine De Somme, came up with a solution. She cared so much about Alexand that she had a fellow scientist develop some metal fingers for Alexand. This enabled Alex to play again, but not only did Alexand get her music back, she and Katherine, finally admitted that they were in love with each other. Who knows, maybe my own life will get better some day, and I just can’t see it yet.
I was 17 years old when I first met Alexand Merek. Yes, you heard me, I didn’t invent or conceive her, she came up to me and started talking, very quietly at first, in my left ear. I could hear her through my head phones. I remember listening to Cindy Lauper’s the World is Stone, after bunking off a Theatre Studies class at college that day. I didn’t like the noise, couldn’t take the drama, so my teenaged self decided to be alone.
I was sitting on a bench in a park called Borelli’s in Farnham, a rather disconnected and moody teenager. Alexand asked me if she could sit with me and listen to the song, as she needed a break from her world for a bit. The song reminded her of her life, and she asked me if she could talk with me, so she sat beside me, an invisible woman, who seemed somehow familiar, and I started to listen. I’ve been listening to her for the past 22 years, and haven’t stopped. She’s introduced me to her friends and family, and I’ve drawn them, written about them. I’m so glad I decided to sit on that bench in Borelli’s park that day, because I’m not sure I’d have met her if I hadn’t. She chose me to write about her, and I’m so thankful, as she has become my life. This is the very first drawing I sketched of her. For some reason I would only draw in black ink on lined paper back then. How weird was that?