The Renegade Press

Tales from the mouth of a wolf

Milk and honey have different colours, but they share the same house peacefully.

  • African proverb

One of the most defining moments of my admittedly short writing career came on December 20th, 2014 when I received my first death threat from a reader. The threat, received via email, was in response to an article I had written which drew comparisons between religious intolerance and a criminological model known as the Broken Windows Theory. Throughout the post, I suggested that the constant defamation of an ideology through misrepresentation and bigotry damages an individual’s perception of a subculture, and creates a rift in our society.

To illustrate my point, I spoke of the Islamic faith and the unjust insinuation that it is a religion defined by violence. I compared acts perpetuated by extremists as stones hurled through the windows of a beautiful monument in an attempt to damage its image and cheapen its perceived worth. At the time, I believed that what I had produced was ground breaking. The piece was my first attempt at blogging about issues far greater than my own, so I saw the influx of hate mail that I received from readers as a sign that I had struck a chord in the hearts and minds of my audience.

These days when I look back at what I wrote, I realise that whilst my intentions were pure, my message of peace and love was lost amongst a violent analogy of shattered glass and social disorder. The end of 2014 was a chaotic time in my life; I was treading water in an endlessly deep ocean of anxiety and despair, and I probably shouldn’t have attempted to write what I did. Nor should I have responded to the threats against my safety with an acid tongue and a willingness to protect my beliefs with bloody hands. By lashing out at those who refuted what I believed, I undermined my own message and became another wedge driven into a fracture between subcultures.

I have never been one to retract a statement that I have made on this site. I have never tried to apologise for expressing myself during my lower moments, or asked for a second chance at a piece that failed to hit its intended mark. But I’m not the same writer that I was in 2014. I’ve grown a hell of a lot since then. I have learned about who I am, what I aspire towards, and that I’m no longer afraid of being wrong.

So, almost three years after receiving a tirade of threats and abuse from readers, I’m ready to acknowledge that if I had my time over, I wouldn’t write a passive aggressive post about broken windows and intolerance like I did. Instead, I would write about milk and honey. And I would speak of how despite their difference in colour, they can still share the same house peacefully.

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When you strip back much of the hate that consumes us and examine the world with some objectivity, you begin to realise just how pathetic and illogical our prejudices towards our fellow man or woman truly are. We often hate because we fail to understand; conjuring up divergences and fears where there are none. And we disparage because we are insecure or frightened of our own position within the universe, beliving that the belittlement of others will allow us to prosper.

But the truth is that while some of us may choose to vilify or trivialise based on sexual orientation, religious creed, or ideological beliefs; we are all connected. And we are all human. It really doesn’t matter whether you are a man or woman; Christian, Muslim, Atheist or other. Nor if you are a heterosexual, transgender, or whether you have fallen in love with a member of the same sex. Or even if your skin is white, brown, yellow or black. When you take away all the bullshit labels, you are a human being; and you matter just as much as anyone else does.

Although we all have our lapses and moments of intolerance towards others; there is no one in this world who should ever feel less valued or appreciated than those around them. If someone does make you feel that you are unimportant, or that you are of a lesser worth than they are, then they’re wrong. It doesn’t matter what their reasoning for doing so is, or even how abhorrent their words or actions may be. There is no fault with who you are, the colour of your skin, or what you choose to believe in. The fault lies in the fucked-up logic and closed-mindedness that prevents them from seeing that perhaps you are the milk to their honey; or vice versa.

It’s at this point where a younger version of me would have flown into a tirade of insensitive nonsense and expletive comments about fighting against the closed-mindedness of others. I would have called myself a wolf and talked about baring fangs, tearing out throats and fighting fire with fire. But I’m not going to do that. Not this time. Whilst I still consider the threats that I received for writing Broken Windows to be some of my proudest achievements as a writer, I’ve learned that there is nothing be gained from becoming the very thing you seek to condemn.

To fly into a rage about bigotry and cultural prejudice would be to speak from a place of hate. Since writing Broken Windows, I have been called a lot of things. Some readers continue to take offence to the idea that I choose to believe in people rather than constructs. They cannot fathom that although I am far from perfect, I try to accept the idiosyncrasies that make each of us perfectly imperfect and wholly unique. Others still have accused me of promoting dangerous ideals, or questioned my sexuality for publishing posts such as Honey.

I used to be angered by the ignorance of others. When someone questioned who I thought that I was I would respond in vulgarity, believing that I had the ability to change someone’s opinions by berating them into submission. But almost three years after my first attempt at promoting cultural acceptance, I don’t carry the same anger that I once did. Nowadays I feel sadness for those who just can’t seem to grasp the concepts of equality and human compassion.

I have learned to feel pity towards the chauvinist who believes that women are beneath him; disappointment for the religious man or woman who ignores the teachings of acceptance they aspire towards whilst tearing down the beliefs of others. And to feel heartbroken for those who believe that the purity of love should be restricted to that between a man and a woman. Because when we close ourselves off to the possibility that the beliefs, ethnicity, orientation or compulsions of another person matters, we lose the piece of ourselves that could have grown through understanding their thoughts, feelings and experiences.

We shouldn’t hate those that are different. We should embrace them, learn from them, and understand that we can share the same house peacefully. Without diversity, the world would be a horribly mundane place. So, if you are someone who struggles to accept people who are different: try. Try to open your heart and mind to the idea that we are all connected, and that we are all equally important. If you do, you just might learn something new, or even help to make the world a better or safer place.

Love is love. Human is human. And regardless of what some may wish to believe; we are equal. We are all valued. And we all connected.

“Everybody gets lost somehow; it’s where we were meant to start”

  • Zachary Britt

Last month marked the fifth anniversary of The Renegade Press, as well as the first anniversary of a friend taking his own life. I had originally planned on creating two separate entries to celebrate my achievement and commiserate the loss of a loved one. But after a few failed attempts to produce either piece, I eventually decided to let the month of July pass without posting at all.

In hindsight, I’m thankful for the writer’s block that stopped me from blogging about either occasion. It seems macabre to revel in the success of a site that began as a means of coming to terms with my demons whilst mourning the loss of a friend who never managed to overcome his own.

So much has changed in my life since I first started blogging in 2012. Over the last five years I have beaten anxiety and depression, watched my father survive a health scare that should have killed him, had my heart broken, received death threats from readers, published a book and severed ties with its producer, lost friends to suicide, and found a way to connect with perfect strangers across the globe through posts just like this one.

Although many of the moments that define me have been tainted with heartbreak; I have managed to find myself amongst the chaos and cacophony of life, and right now I am happier now than I have ever been. When I look back at my earlier work, I can no longer relate to the angry young man crying out for help through posts laden with vulgarity and angst. I’ve stopped writing about masks, depression and violence. The contempt that fueled me to create pieces with an acid tongue is long gone. These days I prefer to create posts about cultural acceptance, flowers, and a girl who has been a drop of honey spilled into my soul.

I still don’t know if I’ll get to celebrate Christmas a day early with her; or if she’ll let me be hers. But the hopeless romantic in me hopes that one day I’ll be able to write another post about her. She just has to tell me that she’s ready to open her heart, and I’ll sweep her off her feet and make sure they never need to touch the ground again…

A reader recently sent me a message to say that she was struggling. She said that her life wasn’t where she thought it would be; and that she felt lost. We talked for a while, emailing back and forth about our own experiences. I told her about some of my darker days, and she shared hers. When we finished talking, I told her that although it may not seem like it right now; she’s not alone. And she is exactly where she needs to be.

There was a time when I felt exactly like she does. I was lost and alone. I was confused and I couldn’t see a way out of the sickness that was inside my head. I used to write horrible posts about death, depression and loneliness as a means of coping with a feeling like I wasn’t good enough. I thought that blogging about my despair was a healthy means of expressing myself. But it wasn’t. Because when those close to me expressed their concerns about my words or behaviour, I would shut down and become even more volatile than I already was.

I spent years thinking that I had found a way to manage how I felt through writing aggressive bullshit. But I was disoriented, journeying down a path of bitterness and depression. Eventually I became so lost that I couldn’t even see where I had come from. Chris Nicholas the young man with the world in front of him was gone; replaced by a boy so angry and afraid that people constantly felt the need to ask if he was OK.

But then something changed. I stopped barreling down that trail of heartbreak as fast as my legs would carry me. I looked around and realised that I had no idea who I was, what I stood for, or what the fuck I was doing with my life. I began to understand that perhaps I had always needed to become so lost that I was forced to start over.

I realised that maybe losing sight of who I was could be the best thing that ever happened to me.  

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When I started over, I had a chance to learn from my mistakes and become the one thing that I had always wanted to be: happy. That’s not to say that I suddenly became the best-selling author that I always believed I would be by now, or that I’ve settled down and started a family, brought a house, or seen the world. I still have a day job, I’m currently trying to convince a girl that I’m worth taking a risk on, and there’s still so much of this world that I’m yet to experience.

But what it does mean is that by becoming lost I realized what true happiness means to me. I now understand how wonderful it feels to be able to share myself with the world like I do, and that it’s a gift to have found a place in the lives of so many people. And I recognise that there is nothing more magical than the moments you spend with your loved ones, or with someone who just smiles and takes your breath away.

It’s been almost two weeks since I last spoke to the reader who inspired this post.

But I’ve thought about her a lot since then. I’ve thought about how the moments that have pained me in my life allowed me to reach out through time and space and connect with another soul who was going through what I had. I’ve thought about how alone I used to feel, and how I never want anyone to feel like I did.  And I’ve thought that maybe by acknowledging that sometimes we need to become so lost that we’re forced to start over, I could show the world that it’s alright to not be OK. And that things can, and will get better. They just take time.

If you’re reading this post and you feel like you’re lost, or alone, or that the world is pushing down on your shoulders so hard that your spine may break; I want you to take a deep breath and tell yourself that everything is going to be OK. If you’re not brave enough to do that just yet, then allow me to say it for you: You’re not lost. Not like you think you are. You’re finally at the place where you were always meant to start. Now that you’re there, it’s time to begin moving forward so that you can understand what it is that will truly make you happy.

If that’s to write like I do, then pick up a pen. If it’s to have a family, or to fall in love; then get out there and find your drop of honey and allow them to fall into your soul. Once you’ve figured out what it is that you want in your life; do whatever you must to make that dream a reality. Because even if you fall a little short of that fantasy, you’ll find contentment in your efforts. I promise.

Five years ago when this page started, I thought my happiness would come through being a best-selling author, and that anything short of that was failure. I never imagined that I would be twenty-eight years old with a day job, writing about honey to make a beautiful girl notice me, and producing books and blogposts in my spare time. But now that I’m here, I wouldn’t change a thing.

I closed out out my first ever post by saying that I wanted to “look depression and misery in the eye, and tell it to fuck off”. But I don’t need to do that anymore. When I started over, I learned how to beat depression with kindness and human compassion. So instead of beating my chest and ending this post by saying that I’m not lost anymore, I’m going to tell you that if you’re struggling like I was, it will get better. You’re not lost. You’re just at the place where you were always meant to start from.

A wise man once said that patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet. I always believed that I understood what he meant. I thought that he spoke of suffering; that one must sacrifice so that he may eventually prosper. I told myself that I wanted to be a writer, and that the yearning in my chest was the pain I had to endure in order to succeed. Because of this, I spent years fighting against a loneliness so encompassing that I could feel it in my bones. Then I met you. And I realised that I was wrong. It took my twenty-eight years to understand that the hole in my chest was the bitterness of waiting to meet someone who could take my breath away; and that there is no fruit as sweet as falling for a woman as beautiful as you.

It started with a photograph. Until then I had always considered myself a hopeless romantic. I thought that I would meet a girl and we’d hit it off right from the start. I dreamed that we’d bump into each other in the street, or meet through friends of a friend. I told myself that our conversation would flow easily; I would smile and say something clever, and as she laughed I would realise that our souls were destined to become intertwined.

I never imagined that I would stumble upon your photograph and feel a breath catch in the back of my throat. I didn’t think that I would spend weeks trying to introduce myself, before finally sending you an awkward message that just said hi. You were never meant to respond. You were gorgeous. I was just an ordinary man who felt his hands shake and his heart skip a beat when he saw you smile. But you wrote back and jokingly thanked me for not asking to see your feet. You seemed nonplussed by my awkward introduction, and as we spoke I realized that the beauty within you was even more incredible than the image that had captured my attention.

Since then we have spoken every day. With each conversation, I have learned more about who you are. I can remember your birthday, your favourite flowers, and the first time that you called me babe. I don’t think you meant it how I hope that you did. It was just an expression that you uttered without realising that it would make me stumble and fall head over heels for you.

But, while I’ve learned so much, I have said some stupid things too. I told you that I wanted to be your boyfriend; and you laughed and offered a polite no. It was naïve to say what I did. I know that I have found you at your lowest; when you are trying to find yourself. I understand that the timing is so wrong; but the butterflies in my stomach when I think about you just feel so damn right.

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I’m not writing this to say that I love you. We have really only just met. I’m just trying to find a way to tell you that you are a drop of honey that has fallen into my soul. The sweetness of your smile and the subtle touch of your kiss have stirred awake a part of me that I never knew existed.

You are a warm glow that has spread through my chest, and down the length of my limbs. I don’t love you. Not yet. But I know that I could be the single greatest thing that has ever happened in your life. If you gave me half a chance I would be the man who picked you up at 3am and dropped you home, and who carried your shoes inside when your feet hurt. I’d be the man who rubs your tummy when you’re sick, or writes terrible stories about your dog to make you laugh. And you…

…You would be my Lacuna.

I’ve been in love before. I still have the scars to prove it. I’ve never told you this; but it’s something that we both have in common. I found a girl that I assumed I would grow old with; she left me, and I thought that I would always be alone. But then came that drop of honey: the warm amber glow that lit up my soul when I saw you smiling in a photograph and realised that all hope was not lost.

I don’t know if you’ll ever read this; or if I’ll ever get a chance to buy you flowers, to celebrate Christmas a day early, or to make your next birthday the most incredible one that you have ever had. I really hope that I do. I hope that when you find yourself again and you’re ready to open your heart, you remember that awkward message that brought me into your life. I’m not asking you to rush; I’m telling you to take your time. If I can have some fun with you, and make you smile until then, I’ll be the happiest man alive.

But if I never get a chance to show you just how much you could mean to me, and what it feels like to know that you’re no longer wasting your time: I want to thank you all the same. We may have only just met, but you’ve already taught me that there is no fruit as sweet as falling for someone as incredible as you. You’re the woman that made me realise how wonderful it is to feel a swarm of nervous butterflies in my stomach. You are the drop of honey that warmed my soul.

Some days are harder than others. There are times when I barely notice that you’re not around. Some days my life can seem so busy that I almost feel complete. I have a job that despite my shortcomings, I have managed to excel at. I have my writing; I run a website, and I wrote a book. It’s a love story. I think that you would like it. I have my family and friends too. I’m trying to be a better friend, brother and son, yet I know that I don’t always tell them that I love them as much as I should.

But there are also times when I reach for your hand, only to grasp at air. There are days like today when I’m surrounded by the people that I love, and they’re all married, partnered, or engaged. Some have families; or are expecting. And I’m standing there alone, wondering when I’ll meet you. Or if I ever will.

I used to think that we had met. I found a girl who was so beautiful that I knew I was in love from the first time that I saw her. She was smart too. She taught me about flowers, about having an open mind, and how wonderful it is to feel content. I tried so hard to make her love me; and even harder to make her stay. But she left. And she broke my heart. The final lesson that she ever taught me was that true love doesn’t just happen. It takes hard work, and sacrifice. She taught me that just because you love someone, it doesn’t mean that they know, that they’ll love you back, or that you’ll get the happy ending you have always longed for.

I wish that I at least knew your name. That way when I lay awake at night and picture our life together I could call you something other than Lacuna. It’s not even a real name. It’s just a word that I found in a book. But I chose it because it means a blank space; or a missing part. I’m twenty eight years old and I don’t have a woman to love, or to hold. There’s a blank space in my life that I wish I could fill; a missing part to the puzzle that is me.

I promise that when we meet I’ll do everything that I can to sweep you off your feet. I’ll spend every waking moment trying to take your breath away. 

I want to be your husband; and for you to be my wife. It sounds crazy because I don’t even know what you look like, but thinking about the day that I ask you to marry me brings a smile to my face. That doesn’t mean I want to be hasty and ask you as soon as we meet. I want us to take our time. I’ll ask you out on a date, and try and hold your hand. You’ll look at me as if I’m insane, and my heart will skip a beat as our fingers interlock. At the end of the evening I’ll drop you home and walk you to the front door, placing my hands on your hips as we kiss goodnight. It probably sounds silly to you. I know that people don’t do that kind of thing anymore. But there’s no need to rush something that is meant to last forever.

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I promise to take care of you too. I want to be there for you during the tough times as much as I want to share our moments of joy. When you’re sick I’ll tuck you in at night and wrap the blankets around your body before dimming the lights. I’ll make you soup when your throat hurts; or rub your stomach when you turn ill.  If you need to talk I’ll listen with great patience. And I’ll buy you flowers on your birthday, when you get a promotion, or just because I can.

When we have children, I’ll be the best damn father you have ever seen. I’ll change nappies, and teach them how to count, or to read and write. We’ll laugh and cry as they say their first words, and take their first steps. I’ll make sure that they grow up in a house filled with so much love that it radiates from their smile.

If we have a little girl I’ll learn how to tie pig-tails and play with dolls.  If we have a boy I’ll teach him to ride a bike and that real men treat women with respect. I’ll be at the front row of their sports carnivals, their spelling-bees, and graduations. You will too. We’ll be hand in hand, just like we were when I took your hand on our first date. We’ll be older by then; but just as in love as we have ever been.

Eventually we’ll grow old and retire. I’ll have to give away the job that I managed to excel at; I don’t know where you work, but I’m sure that you’ll be missed. We’ll travel the world, our faces cracking into a series of wrinkles as we smile gleefully at one another. When our hips give out and we can’t travel anymore we’ll find a little cottage to live in where we can form bizarre habits, like eating dinner while the sun is still up, and drinking so many cups of lukewarm tea that we spend most our nights dashing to the bathroom.

I know that one day I will find you. My parents always told me that good things come to those who wait. I just never thought that I would be twenty-eight and still searching for the woman that I grow old with. As a child, twenty-eight had seemed so old. I thought that I would have figured my life out by now. I wish I didn’t have to hurt as bad as I have in the past. I wish that I hadn’t had to lose the girl that I thought was you, and that I didn’t have to write a letter to someone that I’m still waiting to meet.

I don’t know where you are right now. Or if you’ll ever read this, but I want you to know that one day you are going to be my wife. And that I am going to love you, you are going to love me, and we are going to be happy. I promise to sweep you off your feet so that we can create a life so wonderful that your heart never aches again. When that day comes, I won’t need to call you Lacuna anymore. You won’t be a blank space, or a missing piece in my life. You’ll be my best friend; and I’ll be yours. We’ll be in love with one another, until the day that we die.

My mother knows that I am sick, but I hate that she can’t understand that whilst I am grateful for her love; it won’t stop the shaking of my hands.

  • Tom Weaver

One of the hardest things about dividing your time between blogging and writing manuscripts is that it often feels like one body of work must suffer so that that the other may thrive. When I blog, my desire to work on a larger manuscript wanes; and when I devote my time to creative fiction, it can be difficult to transition into the mindset required to produce entries for this site. At times it can be overwhelming to try and find an equilibrium between who I am as a blogger, as an author, and as a man. This complex balancing act is what has led to the recent lull in activity here at The Renegade Press.

I haven’t given up on blogging: I still have a notepad full of half thought out entries and epigraphs that will eventually become completed posts. But I have been focusing my attention elsewhere. In the past month, I completed the first draft of a love story; a piece unlike any other manuscript that I have ever produced. While the script needs a rewrite and a hell of a lot of editing, I can honestly say that I have never been so proud of something that I have created. I often write about concepts such as heartbreak, vulnerability, and anxiety on this site, so to be able to explore them in greater depth while producing what (I hope) will one day become a published novel has been a liberating experience.

In the excitement that followed completing the script that is named after an entry on this site, I hurriedly edited the opening two chapters so that I could share them with my mum. I sent her an email that was just under four thousand words in length, and waited with baited breath for her to tell me what she thought. While she told me that she loved it, I may never really know if she did. Mum has always supported me. I can’t ever imagine her suggesting that something I had written was shit. Yet despite her bias, being able to share something I am so proud of with someone who I love, and who has stood by me through the lowest moments of my life means more to me than I could ever express.

But that moment of intimacy sparked a thought. And that thought soon led to another, which then led to many more. Before too long I realised that although my life is no longer ruled by the anxiety and depression that I have often blogged about, I have never really taken the time to say thank you to the people who stood by me when I felt as though I was suffocating under the weight of my existence. I have always assumed that people would just instinctively know how much their support has meant to me, and that their kindness and compassion saved my life.

But I don’t want to assume anymore…

I want to say thank you to my mum. And to my dad. To my brothers and sister; to the woman with the little blue hearts that I loved and lost. To my friends, and to you, the reader. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all your support, and for never giving up on me; even when I was so close to giving up on myself.

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When I started blogging in 2012 I was sick. When I look back through the archives of this site I can feel the pain woven into my words. Yet even though I was hurting, it took me another four years, and to lose someone that I thought I would spend my life with to finally hit rock bottom. When I did, the anxiety and depression that I had been battling with for so many years won. I lost myself. I felt like a failure. And I wanted to die.

In the months that followed I spent hours locked in my room, crying my eyes out as I read the kind words of strangers who had stumbled across my blog and learned of my heartbreak. Although I never responded to most of the people who reached out to me, I read every word that they wrote. Had it not been for the love of my family and friends, or the compassion of strangers who shared their own experiences with me, I may never have rediscovered who I was, and learned what it feels like to be happy.

I’ve always said that I want to leave the world in a better state than it was when I was brought into it. Which is why just saying thank you doesn’t feel like enough.

I mean, shit; I wanted to die. I felt so low that the idea of taking my life played over inside my head on an endless loop for longer than I care to admit. I could have easily been another man who had their life cut short by mental illness, contributing to a statistic that is already heartbreakingly larger than it should ever be. But I was lucky. The love I felt from my friends and family, and from every single person reading this was enough to help me through the fear and loneliness that I felt.

Unfortunately, not everyone is as blessed as I am. Not everyone suffering from mental illness has that support; and some that do still struggle to find the strength to carry on. Despite the love and support of their peers, they can’t find a way to face one more day in the hope that their life can get better.

So, I want you to help them. Just as you helped me. I want you to tell your family and friends that you love them. I want you to tell your work colleagues, your neighbour, and the people around you when they do something amazing. And I want you to offer a smile, a wave, or even a hello to a perfect stranger who looks as though they may just need to see a friendly face. I want you to promise to never take someone for granted. Don’t ever let someone you care about question just how much you love them. Take every opportunity that you can to show them what they mean to you.

As a society we often state that we need to have a conversation about suicide and depression. Yet we’re too scared to open our hearts to the possibility that we, or the people around us, are not OK. We feel as though opening a dialogue means that we must have a solution, an opinion, or an insightful response that will take away someone’s pain. But we don’t. There is no definitive solution to mental illness, and you’re not expected to provide one. All you need to do is listen; to allow someone who is fighting an illness inside of their head the opportunity to talk.  And more importantly; to be heard.

You may never know the impact that your kindness has on someone’s life. They may never offer their thanks, or find the courage to tell you how much you mean to them. But a random act of kindness; a smile offered to a passer-by, or the compassion to ask someone if they’re OK, could be the catalyst that helps them find the strength to control the shaking in their hands. By offering to listen, you could be the reason for someone to keep fighting, even when they feel like giving up.

If we keep offering our hands to those whose hands tremble, and we continue to listen when their minds are filled with fear, then you and I can leave the world in a better place than we found it. We can help fight suicide, anxiety, and depression. And we can make a difference. With nothing more than an open heart, we can change, or possibly even save the life of someone close to us who is struggling. I know that for a fact; because you have already saved my life.

I hope that together, we can help save many more. 

“You may not realise it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”

  • Walt Disney.

One of the most universally recognised concepts of ancient Chinese philosophy is the idea that all things exist as contradictory, yet inseparable opposites. Commonly known as the Yin and Yang, the principle states that there can be no light without darkness; no man without woman; and no joy without sadness. The earliest known depictions of the Yin and Yang characters are found on the skeletal remains of animals that were used in divination practices as early as the 14th century B.C.E. The Oracle Bones were carved with various symbols that served as questions to deities, before being subjected to extreme heat until they cracked. Those cracks were then read by diviners, and interpreted as the word of their gods.

Interesting, right? But completely irrelevant to a website that is supposed to be about writing. Don’t be alarmed; I’m not about to try and bluff my way through a post about Chinese philosophy, or ancient rituals. I already walk the thin line between deviating from my intended topic, and becoming a self-absorbed narcissist standing atop of his soap box. I wanted to make a point. It just so happens that the best way to do so was through ancient philosophy, an animator, and characters carved crudely into the bones of animals.

My point is this: Everything has an opposite. Which means that while we long to feel successful, happy, or complete; sometimes the best thing that life can do, is kick you in the fucking teeth.

A lot of readers are going to disagree with me here. They’re going to say that the entire purpose of the human existence is the pursuit of happiness. They’re going to state emphatically that there’s no pleasure to be derived from pain, and that only a sadist would ever believe otherwise. And while their opinion is admirable, it’s wrong. Without an understanding of pain, our happiness is meaningless. How the hell could you ever expect to feel content, if you don’t know what it’s like to be left wanting?

The reason that the concept of the Yin and Yang is so easily palatable to the human psyche is because it’s through the acceptance of opposites that we can develop appreciation of people, experiences, and things. We know what is right, because we know how it feels to be wronged. We know what it feels like to be safe, because we have also experienced fear. And, on a personal level, I understand what it means to be happy, because eight months ago I was kicked in the teeth so fucking hard that I momentarily forgot who I was, and almost took my own life.

OK, I’m not about to pick at old wounds here. There’s already a plethora of posts written by a man who had his heart torn out all over this website…

But, I am going to call out a society that is so fucking afraid of failure and heartbreak that it attempts to ignore the cyclical nature of the human existence, perpetuating a bullshit mentality that we can, and should, feel happy all the time. I’m going to say that for every positive experience that you are blessed with, you are also going to be met with a negative. And I’m going to tell you that if you want to be happy, and I mean truly happy, then you need to stop trying so damn hard to avoid your darker days, and learn to embrace them instead.

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While the thought of ancient diviners carving questions into animal bones may sound like a bunch of voodoo to most, they were right in their belief that there is pain in every pleasure, and pleasure in every pain. For me personally, the pleasure that came with suffering through heartbreak and contemplating suicide is that I finally learned who I really am, and what matters in my life. I learned that I am a stronger than I ever believed; that I can be humble and still believe that I am a great writer; and that being kicked in the teeth was exactly what I needed to become the man that I should have always been.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that learning through heartbreak is easy, or even that I enjoyed the experience. It was horrible. When life kicks you in the teeth the last thing you want to do is smile your way through indignation and defeat. You want to sit down on the ground and cry your eyes out while blood seeps through your lips and spills onto the earth. And that’s fine. In the short term. Shit, I spent the better part of six months in tears. Even now, I still have days where I need to remind myself that sometimes it’s alright to not be OK. But after months of crying and feeling fractured, I eventually picked my teeth up out of the mud, and found the positivity in my defeat as I started over again.

Having found my positives doesn’t mean that life will never try to kick me in the teeth again either. It’s naive to believe that I will only ever face one monumental setback in my life. The recurrent realities that we exist within means that disappointment and failure are destined to arise periodically throughout my life for as long as I shall live. But knowing that I had the strength to find the bright side of suffering within the lowest moment of my life fills me with the courage that I can overcome any adversity I may face.

I am not defined by my failures, nor my successes. And neither are you. It is our ability to grow from our pleasure and pain that make us the men, women, and children that we are destined to be.

If we learn to embrace our defeat, and to be spectacular in our failures and heartbreak, then we can begin to find the positives in negative situations that will ultimately allow us to become stronger individuals. When life kicked me in the teeth, I tried to hide from my failures and lost myself in the process. I nearly walked away from writing, and from life altogether. It took me months to rediscover who I am. But thanks to the support I found by writing on this blog, and through the love of my family and friends, I survived. And in writing this post I found the wolf in my heart, and the world eater in my head that I thought I had lost forever.

So, I want to issue a challenge to you, the reader.

It goes like this:

Stop running from your pains. Stop telling yourself that you are broken, or that your life sucks because you experience hardship or difficult days. If you feel as though life has knocked you down and driven its boot into your teeth, take a moment to catch your breath and tend to your wounds. Then learn from your pains, and turn a negative into a positive. Accept that sometimes it’s alright to not be OK, acknowledge that life can hurt, and realise that heartbreak and defeat can become a catalyst for happiness and contentment.

When you do find the positives within your pain, help others to do the same. Tell them a story about ancient philosophy, animal bones, and how sometimes all we really need is for life to kick us in the teeth so that we can be reminded about just how much we have to be grateful for.

A Sufi holy man was asked, “What is forgiveness?” He said, “It is the fragrance that flowers give when they are crushed.”

  • One Sufi’s Saying

I have always viewed the individuals that make up our society as a collection of candles. Inside the mind of every man, woman, and child are thin strands of consciousness bound together like interwoven cotton, forming a wick. These wicks are the idiosyncratic and cultural beliefs that guide us; they are the past experiences, thoughts, and feelings that govern our realities and establish how we see the world. Although our individual philosophies, and how we choose to interpret them may vary, they are central to who we are as human beings.

From an early age, we are taught about love and human compassion through the various fables and religious analogies that are passed down from generation to generation. And as we grow older, our physical bodies become the solid foundation of wax that surround the emotional facilities of our wicks, and allow them to burn.

But sometimes those strands of consciousness and cotton can become tainted. Prejudice, bitter experience, and extenuating circumstance can alter our beliefs, causing the flame that burns atop of our candle to flicker and fade. A terror attack against innocent people can cause our belief structure to shift away from tolerance, to wariness and fear. A failed relationship can break our heart, and cause us to treat the opposite sex in a derogatory manner as we attempt to hide our own fragility. A statistic, or series of unfortunate events can transform our perception of a racial subclass from an equal, to a violent, seemingly lawless community. And a difference in the ideals and expression of love can make some of us feel uncomfortable with the idea of a man loving another man; or with a woman falling head of heals for another woman.

When these experiences taint our wicks, our flames diminish, and the light that we shine into the lives of others fades. Regardless of whether these bigotries are developed consciously, or not; when we stereotype, judge, vilify or disparage, we cast a shadow across the lives of the people around us. When too many of us allow our flames to flicker and fade, the world around us grows dark, and becomes a very scary place.

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Agh. Let’s pause for a second. That last comment sounded fucking bleak. It almost as if I’m trying to paint a dystopian world view as a way of expressing concern that too many people are being caught up in bigotry and hate. As if I am subtly suggesting that too many individuals have allowed their fires to fade, and that we’re living in a world ruled by intolerance and darkness…

Despite my candle analogy being an ideal that I have long believed in, I’m beginning to realise that I have only ever been partly correct in my thinking. For the past few months the posts on this site have been deeply introspective in nature; I have erred away from writing about the more contentious topics that occupy much of my thought processes, and focused instead on the idea of self. In doing so, I have come to realise that while there is a candle that burns in the minds of every man, woman, and child; there is also a rose garden that blooms within our hearts.

Love, tolerance, and human compassion are attributes that blossom within the souls of men and women who open their hearts to the world and risk having their rose gardens trampled; and who chose to allow the fragrance of their humbling moments to radiate and compliment their light, rather than diminish it.

Confused? You should be. It’s taken me months to come to this conclusion, and even as a write it out it still sounds like the ill-thought-out ramblings of a madman. So, let me try and explain…

I’ve said time and time again that I am a humanist. I believe in people. But I’m also a realist. I don’t believe that it is possible to live in a world without hate. The idiosyncratic nature of the individual means that we are inevitably going to find someone that we just cannot connect with. But if you are going to hate; then hate justly, and express your hate through love. Don’t hate someone because they are different, or because their views run incongruously to your own. Hate the person who diminished their own light and cast shadows into the world by attempting to destroy the rose gardens of their fellow man and woman. And love the people that they sort to hurt. Bask in the fragrance of their humanity, and show them that even in their lowest moments, they are beautiful. By doing so you can help create a world where tolerance trumps abhorrence.

If a terror attack robs the world of innocent people, don’t condemn a religion. That’s bullshit. Condemn the misguided individual who twisted their understanding of series of teachings to fuel their own rage.  Rise above their actions and use the fragrance of the flowers that they have crushed to build a world devoted to compassion. If your heart is broken; find the courage to love again. Don’t withdraw into yourself and rob the world of the flame in your mind, or the roses that bloom within your heart. And if you cannot accept that a man can love another man just as much as two members of the opposite sex can love one another, then seek him out and learn what it is that makes them so hopelessly devoted to his partner.

If you don’t, and you feel the need to vilify, disparage, or segregate based upon an individual’s beliefs, anatomical makeup, ethnicity, or the love that resides within them without seeking to understand who they are, then you are an arsehole. And you don’t deserve to shine light into their world, or to bask in the aromatic fragrance of the rose gardens your own insecurities and intolerance seeks to destroy.

People often think that in order for the world to experience love, change needs to occur on a grand scale. We turn to governments and leaders and ask them to make decisions about the rights of sub communities, or to dictate who it is that we should direct our angst towards in moments of great tragedy. But this kind of top down mentality towards human compassion and understanding is wrong. Real change comes from within us. It comes from helping to rebuild the rose gardens of those who have been hurt, and in allowing your light to illuminate the shadows caused by those who choose to stunt their own flame through anger and parochialism.

Whether we choose to accept it or not, the truth is that we are all connected. Every man, woman, and child on the face of this earth is both wonderfully unique, differently the same, and perfectly imperfect. If you struggle to accept those who you don’t understand, I implore you to open your heart and your mind, and learn how to accept rather than condemn. One of the reasons that I have always loved the analogy of a candle is the that as beautiful as its light may seem; it will burn far brighter when inverted. The same can be said for the way that many people, myself included, perceive the world around us. An inversion of thinking; acceptance as opposed to abhorrence will allow us all to burn brighter than we ever thought possible.

And if you step into the rose gardens of those who you have hurt, or who have hurt you; take a moment to breathe in the alluring fragrance of forgiveness; then help them tend to their damaged hearts, and cultivate a more tolerant world.

Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

  • J.K. Rowling

August 28th, 2016.

Remember the date. Because it’s important, and I’m going to come back to it a few paragraphs from now.

In 2015, I lost a friend to suicide. In 2016, I lost another. The passing of my friends devastated me. To lose a loved one is always a sobering experience. To lose them prematurely because of mental illness is earth-shattering. I have always believed that a family is defined by much more than biology. I consider my friends to be a band of brothers that I love so dearly that I am willing to sacrifice anything to protect them. The knowledge that two of those brothers could be so affected by mental illness that suicide became their only hope of salvation breaks my heart.

I know what it’s like to feel low. I spent years feeling angry, confused, scared and alone. And for the longest of times I never believed that I could feel any other way. I used writing to express myself, and created this website as a means of trying to work my way through the endless fog inside my head. And yet despite spending years writing endlessly about my periods of self-loathing and misery, I never actually hit rock bottom. I came close. But the people I cared about had always given me hope; they were my reason to carry on, even when I felt like giving up.

And then on August 28th, 2016, my life fractured. I lost the girl that I believed I was destined to grow old with. In doing so, I lost my happiness, and the desire to be Chris Nicholas anymore. On that day, I hit rock bottom so fucking hard that I didn’t want to write, or eat, or be anything. And then fate kicked me while I was down, taking away the certainty of printing my sophomore novel with the publisher who had produced my debut piece.

Until that day, I had envisioned a life where I would marry my partner and create a living from writing books. When I was down, or angry, the knowledge that I had a woman who loved me and a future brighter than I deserved spurred me on. Her love brought a smile to my face when the demons in my head were trying to eat my alive. So, when she left, and my battered body collided with the unbreakable surface that is rock bottom; all I could do was lay in a damaged heap and cry.

As I cried, my parents asked me if I was going to be OK. When I told them that I didn’t know, they asked me something that made the hurt I was experiencing feel so much worse. My mother and my father looked me in the eye and asked:

You’re not going to hurt yourself, are you?”

In the darkest moments of my life my parents were so concerned for my wellbeing that they were worried that I would try to harm myself, or that I would take my own life. My mental state was so fractured that they were frightened that after years of moving through cyclical battles with depression, I was going to give up.  I told them that I wouldn’t. Until that point in my life I had been petrified of death, and even though I had been down, I didn’t ever want to lose myself. But what I didn’t tell them was that in the months after my partner left me, the thought of no longer existing had crossed my mind.

Agh, shit. I’m getting all teary. This isn’t the easiest thing to talk about. So, let’s take a brief interlude for a moment. I want to clarify a few things. I don’t want your pity. I don’t want you to feel sorry for me, or to be concerned for my state of mind. August 28th, 2016 is the most important date in the history of who I am not only because it’s the day that I hit rock bottom; but also, because it’s the day that I stopped running from my demons and began learning how to overcome them. In the months that have passed since, I have used my heartbreak and devastation to build the solid foundations of a happy life. It hasn’t been easy. I have had to confront my shortcomings, and learn to love my flaws. But in doing so, I am beginning to become the man that I should have always been.

This post isn’t about me. It’s about you. And the people you care about. It’s about talking openly about suicide and mental illness, and starting a conversation by saying:

My name is Chris Nicholas, and know what it feels like to lose someone that I love to suicide. And I know what it is like to feel so worthless that the idea of no longer existing becomes a viable means of coping with pain.”

Maybe in doing so, I can encourage someone else who is going through what I did, and what my friends did, to reach out and ask for help. Maybe by sharing my lowest moments with you, I can encourage you to lend your heart and mind to someone who is trying their hardest to fight their way through the hells of a life plagued by depression, anxiety, or whatever else, giving them a reason to live when all hope is lost.

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The World Health Organisation estimates that 45% of the global population will experience mental illness of some form in their lifetime. Of those that are diagnosed with a mental disorder, a staggering two thirds will never seek professional help. When you factor in the percentage of sufferers that remain undiagnosed, and that 90% of people who take their lives experience mental illness; and that suicide ranks within the top twenty causes of death on a global scale, the need for a societal change to how we perceive suicide and mental illness becomes apparent.

The bullshit inference society has created that says that mental illness, anxiety or depression shows a weakness of character is wrong. You are not weak for feeling down. You are not alone for feeling fractured. There is no shame, stigma, or dishonour in admitting that you need help. Mental illness is a fault in your psychological makeup caused by a chemical imbalance inside of your brain that you are in no way accountable for.

Take it from someone who has stood on the precipice between life and death and found the strength to survive: it is alright to not be OK. It is alright to feel unwell; or to be angry, or scared at times. That doesn’t make you weak. It makes you human. What isn’t alright, is for our society to continue to lose so many lives to self-harm because we’re simply not doing enough to help those in need.

When I hit rock bottom I found a peace in myself that I never thought existed. Sure, falling from grace hurt. I lost someone who I had believed would love me for the rest of my life, and in doing so I lost myself. But I talked to my loved ones, and they listened with endless patience as I cried myself through the hurt and attempted to find who I was once again. Had I not have known what it was like to lose people that I love to suicide, I may never have found the courage to confide in them, and to get out of bed and face each new day.

Through conversation, my friends and family saved me. And I guarantee that if you ever find yourself feeling as low, and as worthless as I did, your loved ones will do anything in their power to help you through too. All you need to do is cast aside the stigma of mental illness and ask for help; or to offer your heart to someone you know who is going through difficult times. Once you start a conversation and remove the perception of weakness and fear that surrounds mental illness, you can find hope, compassion and love within your peers.

When I began to talk, I realised that the people around me weren’t afraid of holding a conversation about my depression. I had just been so angry for so long that they didn’t know how to approach the subject without pushing me further away.  They had been waiting for years for me to open up and tell them why I felt the way that I did. And, maybe if I had of confided in them earlier, I wouldn’t have lost as much as I did. Maybe I wouldn’t have had to hit rock bottom and start over again.

I used to be a boy who suffered from depression. I called myself a world eater and a wolf as a means of inspiring the strength within myself that I needed to keep fighting when I felt like I was falling apart. Since August 28th, 2016, I have become a man who calls himself a world eater because by doing so I can inspire strength within others when they feel as worthless as I once did. I don’t feel down anymore. I don’t feel angry. And I have just two regrets in my life. The first is that I didn’t speak out about how low I felt sooner. And the second… Well, I think that goes without saying.

To anyone who is struggling through anxiety or depression right now I would say this: It is alright to not be OK. And you are not alone for feeling broken. You’re with me; and millions of other individuals who make up the estimated 45% of people who experience mental illness in their lifetime. If you ever find yourself standing on the precipice between life and death, searching desperately for a reason to continue to live; I want you to reach out and take the hand of someone that you care about. Do what I did: cry. Cry your fucking lungs out. And when you have no tears left, talk. Let your loved ones help you find yourself once again.

If you’re not ready to talk to the people that you love; then use this page. Talk to me, or the other people who will read this post. Share yourself, and find solace in the knowledge that no matter how low you may feel, you are never alone.

Authors note: On November 17th, 2015, my friend Jason lost his battle with depression and took his own life. Since his passing, his brother Ben has been working tirelessly to raise awareness for anxiety, depression, and suicide prevention. In June of this year, Ben will be riding his bike around Australia, covering more than eighteen thousand kilometres as he attempts to encourage others to talk openly about mental health and suicide. Ben’s courage in the face of adversity and heartbreak has been a huge inspiration to me, my friends, and family. If you would like to follow Ben’s journey, or offer your support: you can find more information here at www.rideforjase.org

 

I need a moment to compose my thoughts before we get started. This post marks a turning point in the evolution of who I am as a man, so it’s important that I try not to screw it up…

There are certain topics that cause a writer a degree of apprehension whenever he (or she) approaches them. Trying to articulate how these concepts, realities, or situations alter your perceptions, or define who you are can be daunting.  For me personally, I have always struggled to broach the subject of death. I have battled against anxiety and depression in the past, and openly acknowledging that I will eventually die used to leave me feeling petrified.

Which explains why it has been a few months since we last talked about death here at The Renegade Press.

In that time, my life has changed more than I ever imagined possible.  I’m not the man that I once was. I’m not ruled by a fear of death, or the melancholy feeling of failure. I hit rock bottom. I had my face stamped into the dirt, and my humility exposed to the world. I lost something amazing, and I crumbled. Badly. But in my lowest moments I learned that the depths of my own fortitude are endless. I beat depression, let go of my ego, and now I’m learning how to walk after a lifetime of forcing myself to crawl.

Alright. I think I’m good. Let’s do this…

I was recently told that the only certainty in life is death. At the time, I viewed the idea as a pessimistic way to look at the world. But the more that I have allowed myself to consider this notion in relation to my own life, the more I am beginning to realise that there is some truth in the sentiment. It may sound incredibly macabre to view the foundations of our reality as so fractured and unstable that our inevitable demise is the only solid platform which we have at our disposal to build a life upon. But the truth is that understanding our own humanity, and the inescapability of death allows us to grow, to be happy, and to cherish the time that we have on this earth.

Oh, yes. This is a post about death; but it comes with a twist. It’s not a depressive, or self-depreciating diatribe oozing with anxiety and fear. Instead, it’s a big fucking swing at complacency; and a way for me to stand up, beat my chest and say that I’m not afraid of dying anymore.

As a society, we continuously remind ourselves of the fragility of the human existence. We sit glued to television screens, or stream endless content when tragedy befalls our fellow man or woman. We seemingly revelling in the idea that a life can be dramatically altered, or taken away in an instant. When a loved one passes, we console one another with observations about the fragility of life, and the preciousness of the gift that we have been given. Yet, despite openly acknowledging the metamorphic nature of our existence, we still allow ourselves to try and build upon the shifting foundations of space and time, assuming certainty where there is none.

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The only certainty in life is death. So, rather than chasing dreams that can evolve or be abandoned at a moments notice, wouldn’t it make sense to establish the underpinnings of who we are on this fact, and work backwards to establish our values and beliefs? Wouldn’t it seem logical to confront the inevitability of our demise as a means of asking ourselves what it is that defines us, what we truly value, and what it would take for us to pass away with the knowledge that we have no regrets? So many people spend their entire lives desperately scrambling to find their place within a world of uncertainty and change, afraid to acknowledge that one day they will die. And that when they do, they will not be defined by the possessions they own, the job they have, or the money in their bank account.

One of the greatest failings of the modern man is that we convince ourselves over and over that the materialistic shit matters. We do so because it’s tangible. It’s a way for us to touch something we have earned, or to show it to a friend or lover and say that we have lived a successful life. It makes us feel great for a few moments to bask in the superficial. But that instant of gratification fades, and no one will ever be defined by something so shallow. When we die, we are remembered for the experiences we shared with the people we love, and the way in which we brightened the lives of those around us. I know that probably sounds like a bunch of contrived bullshit penned by a hopeless romantic. So, let me put it like this…

…When I die, I want to look back on my life and know that I achieved the things that mattered most to me. I want to be able to say that I was loved; and that I loved unconditionally. I want to know how wonderful it feels to be someone’s father, brother, son, lover, friend, enemy, and entire world. I want to be shaped by the experiences that I have lived through, both good and bad. And I want to be able to say that I have had a positive impact on the world around me.

I would like a few other things too. It would be great to say that I wrote a best seller, or that I earned enough money to live comfortably without the fear of financial ruin. I’d like to have owned a fancy car too. Who wouldn’t? But if I had the choice between owning a Lamborghini or holding my newborn child in my arms for the very first time; the car would become meaningless in an instant. There’s a reason that people talk about money, cars, and possessions as dreams.  They are something to aspire to; but they’re not a necessity. Love and happiness are. They are the framework of a life well lived. Without possessions, you can still live an amazing life. Without love and happiness; you’re going to be fucking miserable.

When my life fell apart I realised how often I was sacrificing my own happiness to focus my attention on trivial and incidental shit. It became apparent that my pursuit of perfection and possessions was exacerbating my fear of death because I was subconsciously creating a life governed by anxiety. I had lost sight of what really mattered most. And as I looked around at my friends and family I realised that I wasn’t alone in my mistakes.

I saw couples who I knew were madly in love growing apart as they pushed themselves to buy a bigger car, or a better home, rather than allowing their love to blossom simply by acknowledging that they already had everything they could ever need within each other. I saw strangers sitting in silence at bus stops, their eyes fixated on mobile devices; desperate to feel connected to something or someone, but too afraid to share a moment of intimacy or awkwardness with the person sitting right beside them. And I saw that so many people were lost and afraid because they felt like they had no purpose. When all they needed to do to find themselves was to accept that one day they will die, and then work backwards to understand what mattered most to them in that space between birth and death.

This post is a swing at complacency, because that is exactly what we as a society have become. We are so complacent in ourselves that we take the people and experiences that matter most for granted; failing to realise that possessions, followers, or moments on instant gratification don’t equate to happiness. We’re neglecting to acknowledge that we are shaped and defined by the moments we share with our loved ones, and the way in which we touch the hearts and minds of the people we meet.  We feel contentment in community, and experience true joy through love. So, don’t be complacent. Don’t make the mistake of focusing on the trivial and neglecting to nurture yourself. Accept that one day you will die, figure to what it is that matters in your life, and make the most of the time that you have while you still can.

If you love someone; show them. If you have a child; hold their hand and teach them to grow. Cherish every moment, opportunity and experience that you have between birth and death. Because even something as certain as our inevitable demise is uncertain in its timing and deliverance.

A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to catch up with Franki from Hamline University’s Lit Link for a conversation about life and writing.

It has been a little while since I had participated in a formalised interview, and I had forgotten just how much fun it is to really reflect on who I am, what I have achieved, and what it is that I want in my life.

If you have a few minutes to spare, you can read the interview in its entirety below.

Hamline Lit Link

This is a Q&A with Chris Nicholas. Chris Nicholas is a twenty-eight-year-old author and blogger from Brisbane, Australia. With over a decade of writing experience, Chris won his first writing competition in 2011, appearing as the winner and panellist of the Heading Northing Young Writers Competition at the Byron Bay Writers Festival. Since the event, he has entered numerous competitions (with varying degrees of success), had works featured on websites throughout America and Europe, run a weblog, published his debut novel, and completed a manuscript for his sophomore release.

How did you first get into writing?

I started writing in my final year of high school. I was seventeen at the time and should have been studying for my final exams, but every time I sat down at my desk to study I would suddenly find myself absentmindedly creating character profiles, plot points and endless pages of horribly punctuated stories.

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