Writer Of The Month: Ian Ayris
Introduced by James Marshall
I ‘met’ Ian about a year ago, online, when I was a student of the Creative Writing Class he teaches (hosted by Pen to Print). Known as ‘Edward Scissorhands’ by some of the students, Ian wields a red pen with dexterity, poise and compassion. His editing of our stories has made us all better writers, and it is a great pleasure to introduce him as October’s Writer Of The Month 2022.
an is the author of the Shining Like Rainbows trilogy, published by Fahrenheit Press, One Day In The Life Of Jason Dean, a novella published by Close To The Bone, and almost 40 short stories. He is a Fellow of the Royal Literary Fund.
Ian loves Charles Dickens and hates flip flops, make of that what you will, but the former appears to have more influence on his writing than the latter. The two pieces he shares with us are both set in London and feature a young protagonist.
The Crossing Boy
Dunno, sir. Long as I ‘member, sir.
I takes me broom, sir – when someone ain’t nabbed it, sir – cos that happens, sir, blow me, it does, sir – an’ I brushes the mud an’ the mess off the street, sir, so people can cross avout gettin’ their feets filfy, sir. Tha’s the poin’ of it, sir. People not gettin’ their feets filthy. An some’imes people they gives me h’apence, sir.
Yes, sir. H’apence. But once, I got tuppence off an ol’ gen’ an that was a wery good day, sir. A wery good day. A day I ain’t soon forgot, sir. Wen’ down the markit an buyed mesel’ an oringe, sir, an a li’l sumfin for me supper, sir. An I was smilin’ all the way back ‘ere, sir. All the way.
The markit, sir? Covint Gar’n, sir. Jus’ ‘cross the way, sir.
It was, sir. It was.
No, sir. I sleeps where I can, sir. Doorways, mostly, sir, but I gets moved on mor’n not, sir. Win’er times worse, sir. Cold, see, sir. An’ windy, sir.. Blows down ‘ere like you wouln’t b’lieve, sir. Blows right frew you, sir – off the river, sir. Blows col’ as yer like, sir, it does, sir. Be the def a me, sir, I reckon, sir. Be the def’ of us all, sir.
On’y this coat what you see on me, sir. S’all I got, sir. Got it from the charnly shop, sir, down the Stran’, sir.
A charnly shop, sir? All bits an’ pieces, sir. For boats, sir – mainly, sir – but you kin get anyfin you wan’, sir, there, sir. That’s where I gets this coat, sir. Did I tells you that, sir?
No, sir. Was up the top en’ o’ the Stran’ afore I come ‘ere, sir, ‘ad a crossin’ up by the Square, sir.
Too dain’rus, sir. Too many carts, goin’ up an’ down all day, sir. I’d sweeps me crossin’, sir, an’ one’d come rattlin’ ‘long an mess it all up, sir. Afore I ‘ad a time to fix it, sir, ‘nother one’d come along an mess it all up agin, sir.
It was, sir.
Yes, sir. More’n once, sir. I ‘member one time I gets knocked clean off me feet, sir – clean off. An’ no-one never even gives me a bye or leave, sir. Jus’ wen’ on goin’ pas’ me layin’ there, sir. Jus’ lef’ me fer dead, sir. Fort I was a gonna, sir., I really did, sir. But I wern’, sir. I wern’.
Lucky, sir? No, sir. Not on your nelly, sir. Some’imes wish I breathed me last that day, sir, layin’ in the mud, sir, lookin’ up at the stars, sir. What wiv the cold an’ the starvin’, sir.
Free days, sir.
Yes, sir. Free days, sir. An’ I is ever so ‘ungry.
A chop ‘ouse, sir? I ain’t never ‘ad nuffin from no chop ‘ouse, sir. D’ya mean it, sir? D’ya really mean it?
Oh, fank you, sir. Fank you. Le’ me jus’ put me broom ‘way, sir. Keep it safe, sir.
No, sir. No-one won’t never fine it there, sir. It’s me sicrit place, sir.
Sicrits, sir? No, sir, I don’ got no sicrits, sir. On’y where I puts me broom, sir. On’y that, sir. Are we goin’ now, sir? To the chop ‘ouse, sir?
Oh, sir, me mouths a tastin’ it already, sir.
Yes, sir. Lead on, sir.
Fambly, sir. No I ain’t got no fambly, sir. Never ‘ad none, sir.
Dunno, sir. Fink I could be ten, sir. Or nine, sir. But I dunno nuffin’ ‘bout nummers, sir. No’ fer certain, sir.
God, sir? I dunno nuffin’ ‘bout God, sir. There’s a kine lady what comes roun’ some’imes, sir, an she talks ‘bout Jeesis, sir. But I dunno nuffin’ ‘bout it, sir. I don’t take nuffin’ in, see, sir. Gots to keep an eye on the crossin’, sir. Gots to keep it clean, sir. Is it far now, sir, the chop ‘ouse, sir?
Dunno, sir. Never fort ‘bout it, sir. The lady, she said sumfin’ ‘bout ‘evan, sir. But I dunno nuffin ‘bout ‘evan, sir.
Jus’ down here, sir? I’s ever so ‘ungry, sir.
God, sir? Like I says, sir, I don’ really know nuffin’ ‘bout God, sir. Jus’ what the kine lady said, sir.
No, sir. I don’ ‘member none of it, sir. Are you sure we’re near the chop ‘ouse, sir? It’s so dark down here, sir. It’s so dark, sir. I fink I’s be goin back now, sir.
Sir?… Sir? … Please, sir, let me go, sir. Please … please …
(c) Ian Ayris, 2022
One of Ian’s mantras is to ‘write with courage and humility.’ A writer needs to be brave to explore new topics and reach parts of the human condition that touch us but also be open to advice and criticism on how to improve.
As a lifelong fan of Dagenham and Redbridge, Ian is used to pain and suffering and in this extract, from his current work in progress, he shows us the view of a young child enduring what seems to be the Blitz.
Death On A Pale Horse
(Extract – work in progress)
When the school finishes, I am told I am to live with my mother’s sister in the big city where the school is. I did not know my mother had a sister. I wonder if she runs or does she sit in chains.
The house I am taken to is like a million other houses in a million other streets. A door opens. She stands there. My mother’s sister. My mother. Look at you, she says. So big. So grown up. She wants me to love her. But her chains are so tight I only see her mouth move. Bring him inside. Out of this cold.
My bedroom has a bed in it. There is the smell of pain and loss and deep, deep yearning.
My mother’s sister. My mother. How I miss you.
I drown in the yearning, and I sleep a godless dream of softness and spikes.
He’s so tired, I hear someone say. But it is a faraway voice that does not understand that my tiredness is my heart slowing and my brain grinding and the chains around me cracking.
My mother’s sister. My mother. How I miss you.
When the bombers came, the air hung thick with fear and crying and loss. I come home from school one day and my house is not here. The million houses that all look the same are half a street less. Just one side of the street. But that is enough. I see the crowds of tears and people, and I turn from the rubble and feel the first chain around my throat. I wander the broken city and I carry my chain with me wherever I go.
I take to stealing into the empty houses when the sirens sound, seeking food and love. I find a toy in the bedroom of a boy I once knew. It is a train made out of wood. I sit on the floor of his bedroom as the sky falls apart outside and I run the small wooden train along the floor with a choo and a choo and a choo, screaming to drown the breaking of my heart.
Love does not exist in broken hearts. That is why they are broken. But a vacuum must be filled, and if there is not love, there can only be not love that fills the void.
One ragged morning, I wake up from a ruin of a house where I bedded for the night, and besought myself to look in upon my old school. As I turn the corner into the street, the sirens explode. And then so does the school – shattering into a million pieces, sending chains and people running across the skyline of this broken place.
A little shoe lands at my feet. Inside the little shoe is a little foot – torn off at the stump. I pick up the little shoe with the torn off stump, and I hold it to the light of the flames engulfing the city. And I wonder how this little boy would run, or is he destined for a life in chains.
Someone grabs my hand. Without words I am dragged with a throng of wailing humanity along the street and into the underground.
If ever there was a descent into Hell, this is it.
There is wailing and screaming and snatches of tearful song amidst a backdrop of dull thuds as the city is ripped apart above us.
I say us but there was never any us. There was only me. All these people, young and old, hard-crying babies and melancholy old men, they are me. How could it be otherwise? What is that in your hand? Nothing. I tuck the torn stump of the child’s foot into my shirt.
Bang. Bang. Thud. Bang.
Screams and tears. Screams and tears.
And then . . .
Blood and bodies, cries and bits. I lay flat on the floor. Bodies crushing me. Their blood dripping onto the side of my face, seeping into my open mouth. Silence. Death. Coughing and screams. The dust, the dust. Help me. Help me. Coughing and silence and screaming and death.
I am crushed. The weight upon my body is the weight of death, of lives that lived just moments before and that now are empty. But I am safe. I am free. I live so they may die. It was their destiny. The moment they were born they were to end their days covering me with their twisted, burning flesh. From babies to toddlers to children and people, it was always going to end this way for them.
I live. They die.
So it is.
The city is emptied of children. The Pied Piper with the tin helmet has played his tune, and they are gone. Come with me. The blood has dried around his ears and his tin helmet is dusty and dented. I did not know he was talking to me because I could not separate who is me from the torn off foot of the child inside my shirt. He takes my hand. Come with me.
They put me on a train with smoke and goodbyes. But not for me. No goodbyes for me. Only a satchel and a number, and a destination to remember. I am dressed in clothes that are not mine. Clothes clean of blood and fear. They scratch my skin and tear at my hope. They smell of the dead boys in my dreams, and I ever live with the shape of their faces, their naked bodies wordless and gone.
The train goes on through the blackness. But the dust in my throat, it never goes.
There is a river and fields. The green and the yellow and the blue, blue sky lift me from the darkness, and they are one. I do not know where I am, but I know nothing can hurt me now. I am not afraid. Come here, don’t be shy. He takes me to the house. It is not like the houses in the big city. It is flat and big and has little windows and a thin door. A lady is standing there. She is arms crossed and has no smile. This is Mrs Sterman. She is my mother. You will live here. She will take care of you. She goes to touch me.
The river rolls down. It will take me home. It will save me. I jump. I am in. It is cold and it is red. It takes me. I will die. I want to go home. I see mermaids and turtles. I see crabs and sea-lions. The air sparkles and the fragments dance in my eyes. A hand.
The world breaks open as my dreams.
(c) Ian Ayris, 2022
I hope you enjoyed this selection of Ian’s work. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank him for his help and advice with my writing. As Jo in Bleak House says, He wos very good to me, he wos!
You can read more of his work at: ianayris.org and follow him on Twitter at: @ianayris
If you want to take part in one of his writing workshops, sign up here: pentoprint.org/about/events
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Ian loves Charles Dickens and hates flip flops, make of that what you will, but the former appears to have more influence on his writing than the latter.