Almost exactly a year ago today, I met Jason Dean. I didn’t know it. Not at the time. But I know it now.
It happened like this . . .
In mid 2011, my writing pal – Luca Veste – asked me to write a story for a charity anthology he was planning. Of course, I agreed straight away. Luca is such a gentleman, and the cause so worthy, how could I not? As always, I had no idea what to write. The story ended up becoming – Down in the Tube Station at Midnight – the protagonist an unnamed hitman with a penchant for poetry, philosophy, and high-faluting literature. An odd mix. And, like I said, he had no name. He just wouldn’t tell me. The hit man thing was odd, but it was just a job to him. And he had a daughter he loved very, very, much. Sophie.
I wrote the story, and I moved on. My debut novel – ABIDE WITH ME – was due out in a few months, and I had loads to do on the promotional side of things. My head, it was going at a million miles an hour.
When Byker Books asked me a couple of months later to write a novella for their ‘Best of British’ series, I again jumped at the chance – and again, with no idea what I would write. It surprised me, then, that the same protagonist from the OTR short story popped up. And this time he had a name. It took him two paragraphs to tell me, and he insisted on giving me a book review of Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey first, but eventually, he told me. ‘My name is Jason Dean,’ he said. ‘And I’m lyin in bed.’
During the writing of ABIDE WITH ME, I met John, and I met Kenny. And Keith and Thommo, and Dad and Mum, and Dribblin Albert, and all the others. They were the first to show me what it was like on the inside of me, what those jagged edges looked like I was so scared of – those jagged edges in the darkness that when the light was shone on them did nothing but shine so hard and so beautiful.
John was the name of my child fears, my child anxieties. Those feelings you get for the first time that seem so dark and so huge. John was scared all the way through that book, but the courage of Kenny, the pure-hearted courage of a simple boy who knew no better than to be himself showed John the darkness inside him was not due to the absence of light but existed purely because his eyes were squeezed so tight.
John explained my child fears to me. I don’t mean fears created in childhood, as such, I mean those irrational fears we carry with us, the stuff we convince ourselves is real in order to keep ourselves locked in the same old familiar, comfortable, place. Jason was different. Jason was closer to the me I have become, to the experiences I have had as an adult.
Part of me wants to stop writing this article now. The part that is scared, scared of what might come out. Scared of the feeling of breaking apart. But that feeling of breaking apart, Jason has shown me, you just walk straight through it, because sometimes, there’s nothing else you can do.
I took a deep breath. I knew this was going to be a heavy one. Over the next three months, Jason described the birth of my eldest daughter – Mollie – he described my epilepsy and my lifelong conflict with my own self-worth. In short, he put into words things I’d been struggling with longer than I can remember. Almost like he was there. Tears are coming to my eyes as I write now. I think it’s that aloneness I always felt, or perhaps the recognition that during the depths of that aloneness, during all those times, I never was alone at all.
Mollie turned fourteen a couple of weeks ago.
And she is my best friend.