I have been in a dark place recently (although not in a cupboard – that would be weird) – for various and serious reasons. I have wanted to skulk, be invisible, be sad. No writing except one bullet fired short story for a local competition in this time, but a lot of thinking. A skip full of brain matter amount of thinking. Already in this dark place, I woke up one morning to discover that one of my cats had disappeared. A neutered tom – a house cat of thirteen years, whose only outdoor pleasure has been to potter in the garden, rest in the warm soil and sleep. I would look at him and feel peace. Now he was gone. No sign. No clues. A frantic campaign of search followed which included exploring the grounds of the local school, discovering a vast allotment full of kindly old men growing beautiful fruit and vegetables. Then as time passed and I became more desperate, I have knocked on doors and even accosted strangers in the street. Tried to spot ‘cat’ people – the old ladies in dressing gowns (one who told me that if anyone had hurt my cat she would break their legs and go to prison for it – which had me crying on her doorstep). Then I approached ‘dog’ people – because at least they had animals, would understand. Discovered the huge and wonderful world that he might have found beyond his doorstep, with crunchy mice, delicate birds and perhaps even an indulgent saucer of food donated by one of those ladies who talk to themselves.
I have been awake every night – my animals are precious to me, very bonded into my psyche. Moriarty – so named after Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis – is so very unlike his name. He is soft in heart, goes limp and heavy when I pick him up and lets me put my face into his fur. That fur has been cried into, ruffled when I’m happy – all those stupid sentimental moments that we all try to hide from our adult counterparts. We are supposed to be grown-ups after all, not children. But with an animal we can indulge the child, the primal, the id if you like – it all depends on whether you embrace Freud or Jung.
What has got my molecules all stirred up, made me feel insecure and lost – is the not knowing that so many people talk about. Losing something, someone – and never knowing their fate. Whether they are in pain or dead – it haunts to an unhealthy degree. Then I did some more deeper searching – navel-gazing if you like, discovered that I have never liked losing anything, losing control of myself or anything around me. But in writing – now here is where I found a strange truth – I can control everything. I am the puppet-master, the leader of lives. I can hold in my hand the fate of my characters – but also know that the encapsulated world is real on the page, but cannot hurt me as much as life can do. I can step out from the page and breathe afterwards. I may feel for the characters I create and similarly, I feel real grief for those I read about in fiction. But I perversely enjoy that feeling – which is why I am fond of the Russians, who can make melancholy sweet and satisfying. It makes me feel alive to feel deeply to care, as I do for my family, friends, animals.
One lost cat. My friend, my writer’s muse. Grief that cannot be understood by everyone but hurts more than anything. It has made me think very very hard. I love unhappy or open-ended endings in books – that palpitating resonance. Here, I need a happy resolution – to believe that the universe is a good one. I have thought about God too – a little – but I am not ready to negotiate with St Anthony for Moriarty’s safe return. Still atheist/agnostic – not sure, but realising that it must give a lot of comfort to some to ‘hand over’ worries.
Last night I was sitting on a bench in the local school with torch, cat food, even a recording of my cat’s sister so that he might hear and respond – my last night because it is a boarding school and I was not allowed to wander around at night when the girls were back – looking at the bats, seeing a fox leaping after prey as if a small trampoline was hiding in the bushes. I was calm.
I hope to be writing soon and also contacting friends and colleagues that I have badly neglected. I do want to stay in the darkness though a little longer, until I feel able to face the scrutiny of light.
- Julia Bohanna
- Shortlisted Bath Short Story Award 2013 Runner-up Cinnamon Press Competition 2013 WNNER: Don Louth Writer of the Year (run by Reading Writers) WINNER: Bradt/Independent on Sunday Travel Writing Competition 2012. SHORTLISTED: Scott Prize (Salt Publishing) 2012 for a short story collection. Writer/ Journalist - assistant editor and writer for the art and books pages of Wolfprint. Most recently published in Independent on Sunday and short story anthologies: Sentinel Champions No 9, 100 Stories for Queensland, 50 Stories for Pakistan, 100 Stories for Haiti and From Hell to Eternity. In a recent writing competition, Joanne Harris described my writing as '...compelling (but quite creepy)'
- ► 2009 (13)
Prizes and Writing Awards
- Winner Bradt/Independent on Sunday Travel Writing Competition 2012
- Shortlisted for Salt Publishing's Scott Prize for short story collections 2012
- Finalist in Brit Writers' Award 2011
- 2nd in Sentinel Literary Competition 2011
- Whitechapel Society Anthology to be published 2010
- Shortlisted for the Mslexia Short Story Competition 2009
- Shortlisted for The Asham Award 2009
- Joint winner of the Penguin/Decibel Prize 2008 - Asian Invisible. Published as The Map of Me
- Highly Commended in The National Galleries of Scotland Short Story Competition 2008
- Runner-up in Segora Short Story Prize 2008
- Joint Winner of The Lancet Short Story Competition 2007: The Resurrection Girl.
- Runner-up in Virgin Trains/The Guardian Short Story Competition 2007: A Small Revolution
- Winner of the Woman and Home Short Story Competition 2006: Ghosts of Jamaica.
- Shortlisted for The Asham Award 2005
- Runner-up in the Good Housekeeping Short Story Competition 2003
- Winner of The Sunday Telegraph Tourism for Tomorrow Travel Writing Competition 2002: Wolves of Rumania. Winner
- Winner and also Winner of Most Original Short Story in the Competition in Trowell and District Writers' Competition 2006