Some of us were born reading right out of the womb. Others came to their love of literature later in life.
I am most definitely one of the former.
Jonny Gibbings, author of the upcoming novel Remember to Forget (March 2014, Perfect Edge), is one of the latter. The survivor of a rough young life, Jonny shares his story with us today, explaining the strange nuances of the English language and how his unique sense of humor grew out of a desire to hide his illiteracy.
I still think it's odd that the first word you see at an airport is 'Terminal' – that isn't a word I want to see before getting on a plane. Thing is, I see words differently, and this is a product of not being able to read or write properly till late teens. To be fair, the English language doesn't make it easy. How can 'fish' be singular, plural and what one does to catch fish? Even letters, there is a 'U', then 'V' and then push two V's together... and call it double U? Seriously, why isn't it double V? Are they trying to make it hard?
My sense of humour too is a product of the same shitty past, a coping mechanism, that if you couldn't find something funny you'd give up, so you end up seeing things differently too. Staying with airports for example, I think it is crazy that there are so many luggage shops at airports. How late must you be to need to buy your bags at the airport?
“Just put everything on, EVERYTHING on, we'll get a bag at the airport!”
My sense of humour disguised that I was illiterate, it deflected and hid what was vulnerable inside, yet when someone knows there has been trauma, they want to see the scar. People wanted to know about my past, at readings would always ask, “Why don't you write a memoir?” I am a child of unspeakable violence. Beaten, burned and bullied. Most of my childhood was spent exhausted from surviving the night or residing in care homes, that schools mistook my exhaustion for being learning disabled. To escape the violence I became homeless at 14, so for a few years I lived under railway bridges, in sheds, broke into caravans to sleep and burgled homes for food. Literature wasn't high on my agenda. It wasn't until I found myself in prison at nineteen, a place where you are locked up for 23 hours each day, but had a library, that I had the time to fall in love with books and learn to read and write.
I read everything I could get my hands on, and have now an unending love of words and literature. It amazes me that with just a pen you can invent worlds, villains and even bring people to tears. This is also why I hate book snobs, there are no bad books – just books. It would seem that for some, as their knowledge grows their perspective narrows, developing a kind of book apartheid. Some pour scorn on authors like J.K. Rowling, saying her books were poorly written. Harry Potter wasn't a book, it was a transport system that took kids to another world, told them that it's okay to dream about being a wizard. It didn't try to convince kids that demons are real, only that they can be beat.
I tried to write a memoir, because people kept asking me too, but it read like a long suicide note. Why would I want to remember all that I had tried so hard to forget? And with such a massive investment in alcohol to bleach the past away. Each time I considered it, I just laboured on what might have been if things were different, and this is what gave me the idea for my Novella 'Remember to Forget.' The idea wasn't to write some Franzen-ish tome, not a life and times of a family with issues delivered over many more pages than needed, but to be simply write an event. I didn't want the novella to be received as preachy, as, well I'm in no position to preach, but having been homeless and freezing, so that that it felt like the cold was gnawing at my bones and being so hungry it physically hurt, you lean to love what you have rather than what you haven't. Rather than a downbeat piece, I wanted to write of how change can happen.
Fortunately 'Remember to Forget' has been well received, however, oddly, those who were anti my first book for it being bad taste and dark humoured were first to ask: “Why are you turning your back on comedy?”
“Who said I was?”
I don't set out to write any one type or brand of literature. I certainly don't write for approval from literary snobs that seem to be like ants, following the same route to the same authors. I write simply because it wasn't so very long ago that I couldn't, and am all to aware what a privilege it is.
Homeless at fourteen, prison by eighteen, Jonny Gibbings endured a violent and difficult start to life, resulting in being illiterate until late teens. With a distorted world view, his first book, the shock-comedy 'Malice in Blunderland' was well received and due to be made into a film late 2014.
However, it was his mini-memoir that received critical acclaim and a 'Pushcart' nomination. Lyrical and thought provoking pieces for Thunderdome and Revolt illustrate a deep and thought provoking side that can only be the product of painful experience. Jonny Gibbings was described as 'schizophrenic' by film and television producer Kieron Hawkes, due to his extremes of comedy and sensitive writing. A committed vegan and animal rights campaigner, he donated all the proceeds of the film rights of his first book to animal welfare. He lives in Billingshurst, UK.