Our sense that something is ours often has little to do with ownership. In 2007, influenced by the tearing down of my old middle school (not the use of ‘my’), during the writing of Half-truths and White Lies, I allowed Peter to voice my emotions.
“I walk past the double glazing and the paved-over front gardens to the place where I expected to find St Winifred’s. In its place is a large block of newly built flats with little personality. An advertising board describes them as ‘luxurious accommodation sitting within the footprint of a prestigious school’. A second block sits where I used to play marbles in the playground and a third and fourth where the football pitch and playing fields were. I feel as if something else has been stolen from me. Is it possible to mourn the loss of a building as you would a person? Or is it simply that St Winifred’s was the shell that I stored so many of my memories in? How is it that my old school was torn apart and I didn’t feel a physical wrench?”
Graham Joyce, I suspect, has suffered a similar injustices. In The Tooth Fairy, the Heads-Looked-At Boys are appalled to find that ‘their’ pond has been halved in size to make room for a football pitch. They sit on the new mud-bank with an “inarticulated sense of grievance.” Later, on finding that the council has fenced off the pond and plans to reduce it further, Joyce tells us, “It was another violation, another marking off of the boundaries of childhood geography.”
My first reaction to the horror of the bulldozers was not to write but to to document the destruction, each lunchtime talking my way onto the demolition site with my camera to witness the four storey building being ripped open and its innards exposed, before it was finally reduced to a pile of rubble. The men in hard hats had no affiliation with the building. It amused them life-sized cut outs of people remained sellotaped to the windows of the art room when the wrecking ball struck.
Photography has long-since been a passion of mine. One of my favourite photographers, Lartique, only too aware of the temporary nature of existence, expressed anger when he missed an opportunity because he did not have his camera with him, or failed to capture an image faithfully. These faithful records, which allow a piece of the past to exist in the present, prove an invaluable toolbox for writers. Together with a biography of model turned photographer, Lee Miller, Lartique’s amazing body of work (which spans an eighty-year period), was the chief inspiration behind my next novel, I Stopped Time.