It used to be so easy. I am Jimmi Campkin, and I am a writer. These days it sounds like, at best a fantasy and, at worst a lie.
There must be a point when a person realises that something has been irretrievably severed, and perhaps that is where I am now with writing. Despite all the blogs I’ve written in the past about how I’m just one good idea away from reigniting that spark, the reality is that writer’s block is supposed to last for weeks or months, but not years. “Solid” was the entirely accurate description of my most recent output – a short story that almost certainly had the legs to be a novella but I didn’t have the desire to follow it through. Solid is not bad but not amazing. It’s golf par. To be expected. Painting by numbers.
I don’t get the same rush I used to with writing. Photography seems to have usurped that, quite unexpectedly. Whereas in the past I would rush home to write a short story based around an uttered phrase, or a tableau spotted whilst meandering around town, now I am more excited by what I can picture. The way you can manipulate light, angles and create little stories with one click of a button. I take my camera everywhere with me now, and no two beach walks or strolls through a city are ever the same.
My aim in my stories was always two-fold. Firstly, to try and come up with the perfect paragraph. For me, one of the most perfect passages in all of literature is Douglas Coupland in Life After God, describing a traumatised father playing with the figures in a daughter’s doll’s house. Secondly, I wanted the reader to feel as I felt as I wrote what I did. When I wrote a ghost story called The Girl it was an exercise in deliberately scaring myself to transmit that to the reader. I wanted the reader to either love or look up to Julia as I did when I wrote her into Julia. For someone usually so private, I wanted everyone who read my story to have a free pass inside my head. I didn’t achieve any of those things. I never could hope to; they were impossible ambitions.
I haven’t learned my lesson of course. The greatest camera in the world is still the human eye. Every time I take my camera out, I want everyone to see what I see and to feel what I feel. I then take a photo of it but it is never quite the same. The human eye, even from a purely technological point of view, is so unique in vision and focus over any camera. But that drive is still there. Instead of trying to write the perfect paragraph, I’m now trying to take a snap of the perfect photograph. The photograph that is exactly as I envisaged it when I saw it with my own eyes. I aspire to achieve it. The important point, however impossible the dream, is that I’m enjoying the challenge.
I still feel like a fraud. In the past, my photos have been cheats frankly. I kept the camera on ‘auto’ setting, so that it did everything for me to ensure the light and the sharpness were perfect. I put filters on to disguise any blemishes. It was a point-and-click artistry that required minimal effort. Now, I keep it on manual. I play with the settings to get the vision I desire, but I have to work at it. I throw away almost as many as I keep these days, because I struggle with shutter settings, aperture and ISO levels. But it feels more real. I’ve read far more on the fine details of photography than I ever did for literature – and I have a shambolic literature degree. I have, if I wanted them, initials after my name. But for me, this dive into the technical and theoretical aspects of photography (so often my nemesis) is the difference between writing a story and hiring a ghost writer to pen your great idea. When I take a good photo, I feel involved more. And sometimes, a good photo can tell any number of stories. Like this one.
This will be my next step I hope. Landscapes and industrial wastelands are all fine, but there is nothing like a bit of human emotion. This was taken ‘guerilla’ style – which is to say that I didn’t ask for permission to intrude on this intimate scene and it bothers me to publish it. But I use it as an example of the duality of the two mediums of literature and photography. I never felt guilty about taking the personality of someone I know or once knew and putting them into a story, or using an anecdote involving a third party to advance a plot point. Yet I still feel anxious about asking someone if I can take their photograph. It happened in Durham recently. A young woman, sitting on a bench in a flowery dress, almost camoflaged against the enormous bloom of flowers that swallowed her from behind. I bottled it and walked away, even as we made eye contact and she smiled and laughed at me standing in a patch of stinging nettles to get a good angle on Durham Castle. What exactly is the difference?
If I could summarise Durham in a couple of pictures, it would be these.
Durham is a labyrinth of alleys and snickleways, ancient streets and low ceilings. I like Durham – it feels like a mini-York. A heavily student town, with more than enough hills to help sweat the lager and kebabs away from the belt, it feels like a suburban Uni city. Quiet and tranquil with not much going on. No doubt, all the best nights out occur in nearby Newcastle. Durham feels like the sleepier parts of York – Ogleforth, and the areas around the Minster.
I’m sure I had more to say, but it has evaporated from my mind. In the meantime, here are…
Other Thoughts As They Occur:
I really want to attend a gig. I don’t care if it is a terrible pub band doing wretched covers. I long to feel the pulse of a bass drum in my chest, to dance my legs down to the knees like a complete arse, even if it means acknowledging Bon Jovi.
I have recently become obsessed by this section of The Beatles Abbey Road. Ignore ‘Your Majesty’. The rest of the trio of songs has been a part of my conscious and sub-conscious for a while now.
I write Beatles lyrics on the beach when I walk in the evenings. This is just one example.
As ever, it is always about the connection. Always. Sometimes, I genuinely wish I had that perenially desired Super Power of invisibility. Not for any financial or perverse gain, but just to see a smile without the responsibility of maintaining it.
Quod Erat Demonstrandum
As I walked back along the beach, after putting most of Abbey Road into the sand, a couple approached me. They asked if I knew anything about The Beatles lyrics ‘someone’ had scrawled. They loved the band. They thought it was really cool. I agreed. I didn’t tell them who did it though. They didn’t need to know the truth. The enigmatic, romantic stranger in their heads was far better than the reality in front of them.