My Centaur Stories helped me to write myself out of severe depression.
I used to sell model rockets; ones that have a launch-pad and actually fly. I was known as the Rocket Man and I worked in a Sheffield toy and model shop, Beatty’s of Pinstone Street, for 18 years. You know you’ve been there a long time when a chap comes up with a child. He says ‘I’m glad you’re still here. You sold me my very first radio-controlled car to build and now I’d like to get one for my son…’
The depression started about four years ago. At the time I was waiting for a replacement knee. Literally, arthritis had worn a hole through my cartilage and there was bone-on-bone contact, to the point where Tramadol wouldn’t help. For a time, once I had a new knee, things were fine.
Beatty’s were a family company. The chain closed in 2001 and is missed. The shop kept going for a while but things changed. Single branch working; by this time I was manager. New target figures kicked in and I just couldn’t hit them. I couldn’t deliver what they were asking. I was placed on a slippery slope of four-week assessment, then disciplinary processes started. Six months down the line, I was dismissed.
I also started with arthritis in my neck, at the top of my spine. The Doctor starts me on tramadol. Then he puts me on Codeine Phosphate. They make me really angry. I snap at the slightest thing. I go back to the doctors and he puts me on Nefopam. You feel the pressure. You get that you don’t want to go anywhere so you go home and open a bottle of wine. I’d never been a heavy drinker, but suddenly…
Anyway. You’re trying to find another job. It’s exhausting. You need to make four applications every two weeks for signing on. Luckily they put me on a course called Working Win. That was excellent. They tell you what you are capable of, not what’s stopping you. You have some days where it’s one step forward and two steps back, but that’s fine. Little things bring your self-esteem back.
I started to spend a lot of time with my Grandson. One day I said, probably out of nowhere, ‘What’d happen if they had a centaur in Sheffield?’ The book kicked off from there.
My main character gets accidentally turned into a centaur. The first challenge he faces is, how do you ‘horse’? Or, how do you centaur? Suddenly, you’ve got 4 legs and 2 arms. How do you co-ordinate that? So the first thing he does is fall over. There’s a lot of fun. I won’t mention the werewolf chase down the canal….
The good thing about the research is that you go down some strange rabbit-holes. You find yourself suddenly e-mailing the waterboard, asking what would happen if a pony carcass was found in one of the conduits.
I self-published and did everything wrong. I just wanted to see a book with my name on it. It came out so fast that I even made a spelling mistake on the spine. I got my own name wrong. There are twelve of those books. Should I ever get famous they’ll be collectable one day.
I remember in my last year in school, my English teacher said, ‘I could keep correcting your work with red pen. But then you’d get fed up and I’d run out of ink.’ The deal was to start reading – any book I liked.
There aren’t many centaur stories. The funny thing about Amytriptiline is that you have very realistic dreams. Colour; audio; everything. I’d wake up at 2.30 and 4.40 in a morning to write. And the story progressed.
There’s lots of research even for Fantasy. The Unicorn for instance is a draught, not a dressage horse. I’d read about horses and I knew veterinary stories about horses, but I’d never actually been on one. So at the age of 58 I had a riding lesson at Smeltings farm, with a fabulous 6-year old Clysedale mare called Margaret. She was exactly the same height a Centaur would be. It gives you an insight into how it would feel to be so high up off the floor.
On the training campus there’s somewhere we go called Centaur Nights and the man running the bar is a Centaur. You bring your own drink in which isn’t allowed but….
‘Oh! It’s Welsh whiskey.’ The Centaur looks at you and then he says, ‘Well, I knew Merlin….’
Centaurs live a few hundred years on average, by the way. Did you know that? My stories, my rules.
I go against all sorts of precepts. I write in the second person. I don’t storyboard; it starts with a certain event. I put characters in, work out how would they react to that event and I write the story from there. I find that bit easy. You can have really good fun.
It was the technical tools that I lacked. One reviewer was kind, ‘loved the story but sort out the spelling.’ There’s a group out there called the the WEA. They give grants to help adults with further education. These aren’t Micky-Mouse courses, by the way. They gave me the tool-set I need to redraft my book.
You have Beta-readers and one lady enjoyed the book but said that there wasn’t enough sex. That got me thinking: how do Centaur have sex? Like men or like horses? I’m a member of Stannington writers group and I put the question out there. It’s good to get feedback. That’s important. I’m also with Story Origins, a website set up for readers and authors. You can put your book up for reviews. Of course, there are magic swords in my book. They’re literally a pain in the arse. No; I’m joking. My swords are actually brilliant. They talk back at you.
Anyway, it’s about having a passion. If you believe in the product you’re selling and you can bring that belief across to the reader, you’re there. I have been advised to tone certain subjects down in the redraft. Things like bestiality are obviously out, even though Centaurs are half-human. But surely, between mythical creatures….?
When I was in retail, I had a client who wanted pony boots reshod. They said ‘Have you heard of Bio equines?’ Turns out, they’re a group of people who enjoy dressing up as ponies. I like that. It allows them not to adult – or even to human – for a few hours. And that’s important.
Right now I’m up to book four which is going to be dedicated to my rescue dog Patsy. When I couldn’t sleep because I was in that much pain with arthritis, before my knee replacement, I remember sitting in agony, in the dark, tears flowing over my face. I just thought, how many pain killers have I got in that cupboard? And Patsy came over and sat by knee, like; you’re not going to do anything stupid, are you, Dad? She was a rescue. I saved her; she saved me.
I worry about trying to get an agent when I suffer from depression. I don’t think I could stand the rejection letters. I’ve found that humour can counteract most things though. My stories have helped me considerably. I might not be able to do much on this dimension on Earth but I can have a great time elsewhere. This is where you tend to find the sting that comes in the tail. You can do lots of magic but there have to be responsibilities too. Epona is the goddesses of horse and hound, my employer. Having run-ins with fate can be serious, unless you have a good team behind you.
Yes. I suppose that I do hide behind my stories. I’m such a happy, sparkly bubbly person on the outside and I can almost step out of my body. But I have known situations where people have been where I was and then committed suicide.
If my book never got published I suppose it wouldn’t matter to me. But it’d be nice. They always say “write for yourself” and creative writing has picked me up from a very deep hole. My Sheffield City Centaur self survives.