A short piece about my contribution
I don’t think I have ever been asked to select a notable piece of my own writing. Of the hundreds and hundreds of pieces I have produced over the years, not one of them springs to mind as particularly suitable. I guess there might have been some that were more popular than others, and there might have been some that were more controversial than others – and therefore worth noting – but I haven’t thought of any of them as particularly significant. Maybe this is because since I started writing primarily in English, aged 19, my writing has been functional rather than personal – maybe it’s because I never really found my true voice in English, so to speak. Maybe in English I am more of a wordsmith than a writer. I no longer write in any other language. I find I lack vocabulary in my native tongue due to a lack of regular practice. I find I can be more logical in English – I can argue and express my feelings in the English language more precisely. But then I find I can still be more creative with words in my native tongue. I can do all kinds of nonsense in Serbian better.
There is one piece of writing I thought of in response to this exercise – for two reasons: I had written it on 20th May 1989 (exactly 26 years ago today), and it was the first piece of writing of mine which received a really encouraging response. Having sent it in to a radio programme dedicated to urban prose which I particularly liked, I received a personal phonecall from the presenter asking for permission to air it. It was kind of a big deal – my mother had initially picked up the phone while I was out, and was a bit concerned that Radio Belgrade wanted to talk to me.
- How old are you? – Darko Kocijan asked when he finally got through to me.
- (I had only just had my birthday).
- Keep writing, just keep writing, OK.
Though I certainly didn’t think of it as such at the time, the piece was a cross between a music review, a fan letter and a short story. Quite hermetic and lyrical in style, it did not necessarily present itself in terms of the circumstances of its origin. It was primarily concerned with conveying an experience which felt profound and extremely significant. I wrote it the night I attended for the first time a gig of my favourite band – so in a way, it was a kind of rite of passage in retrospect too.
I cannot upload this piece for two reasons. One: because it is in Serbian and therefore a bit pointless for this purpose, and two: because, when I read it now, 26 years after, I find it too exposing in a way it didn’t seem to me at the time. I mean the piece is pure erotica. The stuff of Freud’s dreams. There is inadvertently sexual language in it, unselfconscious (though still quite subtle) talk of contact and throbbing and sweat, for example.
At the time, I took Darko’s advice really seriously. But I must say I now wonder about his motives.
I also wonder what might have become of my writing had I continued to write in Serbian, and that question is particularly tantalizing. Might I have gone down the route of 50 Shades of Grey instead of making my living from being a university teacher? Has writing in English made me more of a prude? Could it be that it’s not my voice I am still looking for in English, but maybe my balls?