Back in the heady days of 1997, my drama teacher Dad ran foul of the local churchgoers of Preston after he decided to stage a theatre show which gender-bent the holiest of holies. The full story of how Jesus became Jessica is the subject of my creative non-fiction piece The Fourteen Stations of Blasphemy, which I wrote for the First Draft/Real Story Christmas event in December, and is now risen again on The Real Story website for both your eyes and your ears. I won't say anything more about the story itself, except to say that it is all completely true and only happened about 20 years ago. It's an Easter feast of a tale.
It is also my first proper leap into the realm of 'Creative Non-Fiction', as it is rather clumsily being called. I say 'first' - I have, of course, been blogging for years and most of that has been based somewhere in truth, most of the time. But this was notably different: this was the storyfication of a real life event with an autobiographical sheen and an anchor of hardcore facts. I approached it properly: did a bit of research, decided how to approach it structurally (the 14 stations of the cross was an absolute gift, thank you Jesus) and which of the truths I might be able to massage to better fit the shape (there was a bit of truth-bending, but not too much). Given that this particular tale was more my Dad's story than my own, I held a little mini interview in his living room (the same one referred to under 'station nine' of the story) and lifted the fog that had settled in my memory chalet, given that I was only 11 at the time and only at the fringes of the action.
When it came to the writing, I really rather enjoyed the experience. The story itself is laid out and ready - you don't have to feel around in prose to find it, like I do with some of my fiction. You have the beginning, middle and end right there in your head as a whole, like a shiny bauble. The hard part is deciding where your storyified version needs to begin and how fictionalised you want it to feel. Where to slot in something poetic, or whether to avoid poetics like the plague it so clearly is. Given the theme of Fourteen Stations, I had imagery and grandeur gifted to me in the form of gods and priests and biblical bilge - things I know a fair bit about (thanks largely to the period of time between by birth and these events in 1997). I'm rather pleased with the end result, and was glad of the mental break from writing my particular blend of weird, spine-licking fiction.
There has been something of a patient, persistent and proud current of 'Creative Non-Fiction' running through the fabric of Manchester's spoken word scene. Local gangsters of this trend include the ever-fabulous Mark Powell and his co-conspirator Lee Moore over at Tales of Whatever. Queens of the Scene Nija Dalal-Small and Kate Feld, who preside over The Real Story with their court jester Adam Farrer, have long been non-fiction favourites of mine, as has Dr Danielle Peet and her tales of desperation and redemption in the chaos-factory that is the NHS. The Real Story website is a good place to start if you want more truth-bombs, which clearly you do.
I've slightly and quietly resisted Creative Non-Fiction for a while now, labouring under the mis-belief that I had no interesting realities to tell, beyond Dad's blasphemy and this one time when I was head-butted by a cow. But I can feel the tingles of conversion tickling my insides and it's definitely an area I will revisit, and regularly. Consider me a devotee. An acolyte, even. Time to finally face my demons. Time to write about that cow.
In the meantime, if you'd like to read more about my messianic father, you can. He has self-published a number of works, including his excellent post-apocalyptic novel Ice and Lemon and a whole load of his plays. His most recent publication Will at the Tower explores the lost years of an obscure English playwright called William Shakespeare and his book on how to do Drama is well worth a read too. But if you want to see one of his plays in action, get yourselves over to Preston on the 6th or 7th of April for his latest production; Game of Gnomes. Yes, it is. And yes, it will be fabulous.