Interview for the Birkbeck Published Alumni Series

It was a huge pleasure to do an interview with Melanie Jones for the Birkbeck Published Alumni Series. I discuss the themes behind The Otherlife and the writing process; the things I found difficult and the things I enjoyed, and how the Birkbeck experience helped me on my way.

Interview here – and there’s also an extract of The Otherlife over at MIR Online – here’s the first bit:

Ben MAY 2012

There’s a God in the Stonehills’ garden.
I’ve been out here for a while now, waiting for my T-shirt to dry. About a quarter of an hour ago I made the mistake of going into the library, where some girls were making Flaming Sambucas, cackling with drunken hysteria. Clear liquid splashed on the carpet; shot glasses cracked underfoot. Someone pushed past me. I staggered, and somehow, as one of the girls was waving a long-handled lighter like a malevolent wand, the hem of my T-shirt caught fire. Not just any T-shirt: my vintage, ’94, Pushead-designed Metallica T-shirt, and the most precious item of clothing I own.

Pushing my way through the crowd, I drenched it in the downstairs bathroom, where a genuine Matisse stands watch over a shell-shaped sink. I lamented the scorch mark, a dark scar on white cotton. Then I retreated to the terrace, where the wicker furniture is set out in a mathematical arrangement and every potted plant is so beautifully maintained that it could have come straight from a gardening catalogue. Normally when the Stonehills have parties, there’s a handful of people out on the terrace, drinking and smoking and shouting, and maybe a few people here and there on the lawn. But for the moment, I’m the only one.

The low drone of guitars and drums surges in waves from the basement, where a jam session is going on. In a bit, the Stonehills will let off fireworks. More and more people will come, alerted by social media. Sooner or later the police will turn up. They always do. It’s definitely time to go home, but I’m slightly too drunk to make the decision to leave. I’ve had three Coronas: too many, considering that it’s a Wednesday night, and I have an exam in the morning. Nobody here cares about exams. Money will get them wherever they want to go. I don’t have much in common with any of these people, apart from a love of metal.

I shouldn’t have come to this party.

All day I’ve been feeling different. On edge, my head full of unwanted electricity. I’ve been feeling like something unusual is about to happen.

Now I think maybe it is.

Eyes unfocused, I look down the stretch of polished lawn. The garden is lit by solar lights, glowing like half-buried stars from the flowerbeds. Counting them, I let my gaze travel further and further back. And that’s when I see it. Another light. A different light. Right at the end of the garden, past the fishpond and the organised ranks of roses and miniature lemon trees. Up where the yew trees grow tall and close together and the ground rises higher as it reaches the wall. There’s an old treehouse that the Stonehills used to play in when they were younger, custom-made by some bewilderingly expensive company. That’s where it is, this other light. Just under the treehouse. But it can’t be a solar light. For one thing, it’s the wrong colour. Also: it’s moving. Fading in and out, circling, dipping . . . as though it’s looking for someone. I have seen this kind of light before. I know what it means.

There is definitely a God in the Stonehills’ garden. And that means the Otherlife is back.