Sometimes you come across someone so unbelievably talented, you have to check the age again to make sure they aren’t professionals. I had that feeling when first reading ‘The Jacket’ by Flower Violet. In fact, I checked the age more than once again and even asked her in a mail if it was true. It was hard for me to believe someone could write this story at barely 14 years of age. Even to someone who has read from a very early age, she is significant. And even though she is no friend of praise, she definitely deserves every single bit of it; reading her answers to my questions, she reminded me a little bit of Roald Dahl’s Matilda.
Read on for an interview packed with thoughts, inspiration and favourite books of this young writer as well as her story ‘The Jacket’.
I started writing as soon as I was old enough to hold a pencil, 4 or 5 I think. At that age, with a rather limited vocabulary and without a clue about grammar I didn't as much write as string words wonkily on the paper out of an inherent desire to do so. My godfather is a fantastic writer and he taught me how to get my thoughts down on paper. My mum has kept much of my early scrawls and I find reading them actually quite interestiting as I was at the age when the boundaries between the real world were (and maybe still are) pretty blurred.
What inspires you?
Much of what I write has a lot of personal meaning. It sounds cheesy, but while a story line may be imagined I often base characters on real people, and their emotions on my own. Sometimes a story is a way of expressing an experience or making sense of a part of my life. Song lyrics, magazines, dreams and random people in the street also play a part.
Two of the stories I have read so far described a connection between a person and a piece of clothing. What makes this theme so interesting to you? Is there a piece of clothing you have a deep connection to?
As an instinctive observer of everyone around me at some point I began to think about how people's physical appearance is often an outside manifestation of what goes on inside their heads. In 'Black Rabbit Summer' I noticed how Kevin Brooks used this form of metaphor to show one of the character's vulnerability and began to work on the idea.
The first piece of clothing I had a connection with was a pair of patent Dolce&Gabanna plat formed boots. They were so beautifully extreme, a neon orange finger in the face of conformity. I wore them to the point that they fell apart. Then glued them back together and wore them some more. After quite a few years they no longer fit, but I still keep them because they came to mean a lot, in a way that is best summed up in a poem I wrote about them; But my boots and I are/Fighters, individuals, quirks/ Never downtrodden/ What some call freaks.
Who are your favourite authors?
I have quite a few favourite authors. As with a band which I only like one song of, often particular books stand out rather than authors in general. But I remain faithful to; Joanne Harris, John Lennon, Bella Pollen, Lemony Snicket and Joan Lindsey.
Could you imagine working as an author or journalist in future?
I've never been able to imagine myself doing anything else. The question 'what do you want to be when you grow up?' has dogged for as long as I can remember. Saying that I just want to write is a simple answer to a very complicated question. The very idea of settling down with a 9 to 5 job sickens me; I'd far rather be a starving freelance writer with inky fingers and too many cats! Writing shouldn’t be constrained. Heck, I have my best ideas when crawling around under desks looking for pen lids…
How have reactions to your stories been? Do you get a lot of positive feedback? What do friends and family think of your writing?
I wouldn’t say most of my writing is particularly normal 14 year old stuff, but my family and teachers are amazing about it. One time I left a piece in a classroom, and it was found by my form tutor who, rather embarrassingly, showed it to some English teachers. Actually I treat compliments like most people treat insults and prefer criticism to praise in some strange way.
What was your favourite story as a child and now?
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events was one of the defining parts of my childhood. They are such wonderfully written, but twisted and beautiful books. But as someone who has always read a ridiculous amount my reading tastes are often very unusual. I read the encyclopaedia aged 6, the dictionary aged 7, the bible aged 8, though these days I enjoy slightly disturbing or unusual classics and little known books. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, Mr Toppit by Charles Elton, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, In His Own Write by John Lennon, Chocloat by Joanne Harris and Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsey are all incredible books that work on so many levels and have a beautiful, mind numbing effect. And I’d be lying if I said I haven’t spent countless nights reading Marley and Me by John Grogan, Rahl Dahl books and Harry Potter under the covers.
Visit Flower's blog here andRead Flower's story The Jacket below
The old man died on a Wednesday morning. It was an entirely miserable morning, the sort that seemed quite appropriate for the death of a reclusive, gloomy old man I hadn’t known.
But with his death a strange curiosity was ignited in me. Like when a building quietly crumbles for years, and the day after the demolition cranes swallow it, it takes on a new form of beauty and mystery.
The curiosity that the old man’s death brought was somehow sharper than I had excepted. For in death I had no knowledge, no safe facts to keep his memory clear. In the 13 years, from my birth to metamorphosis into a teenager he and I had lived side by side. But we had carried out our petty little motions in enclosed capsules, our actions contained and causing no ripples in the pond.
And Little Sister cried, because a death meant tears to her. The deceased was of no importance to her; only the tears mattered. Little Sister liked to keep her life as a string of crying outbursts, because tears meant comfort. And comfort was what she sought to fill the nameless cavern inside her.
For me though, the cavern was an aching mass of curiosity, and could be seemingly filled with the relentless search for information. So with my mental shovels primed I crossed the pavement to the old man’s house.
There were men outside the little house. Men in pinstripes and pointed, impatient shoes. Men who hovered, tapping nervously at objects in their palms. Men whose clean shaven, primed faces twisted with anxiety.
For the old man had died leaving nothing. Truly nothing, but a house filled with dust and emptiness. Not a single penny, in a bank account, a wallet or even under a floor board. Not one document, nor even a word upon paper. No books, no diary, no passport, no letters, no bills, no receipts. He left no evidence of his existence, not even his name.
And that was why the men frowned and tapped. For all their frowning and tapping they found nothing, knew nothing more and left empty handed. I watched them move off, like a heard of Zebras- home to warmth and comfort.
They were wrong though. They missed one thing, which could have told them all they needed to know. One thing that held the story of all that happened in the old man’s life- from his birth in Liverpool 78 years earlier to his death in dusty darkness.
I found it. Perched on the old man’s damp porch, I watched shadows tango across the unkempt lawn and finally disappear. And when darkness engulfed the world tiredness engulfed me. Unfurling my arms I stretched, pushing a yawn into the still air.
The papery touch my fingers encountered felt alien to my numb skin. Leaping up I moved into the porch’s darkness. With the light from my phone guiding me I found it.
It was just hanging there, on a bent nail. And it was unlike anything I had ever seen before. The sheer scale, the beauty, the specialness of it was incomprehensible.
The ‘it’ was a jacket. A black leather jacket. It was huge, tent like. The leather was faded, in places cracked, in other torn. But that was not what made it special. The objects, the thousands of scattered objects stitched to it where what took my breath away. Over every last faded inch there were things stitched, glued or caught in the leather.
I lifted it from the nail, staggering from the weight of it.
It was late when I stumbled into the house, but no one noticed. I could have stayed out all night and not been missed. At 13 I was surplus to the tired household. The happiness in the house was shattered.
There was a light on in the lounge. Pausing, I looked through the glass door panel. Mum and Little Sister were curled up on the sofa, which had once been soft and comfortable but now threatened to swallow you. The two were sat, side by side, crying. Little Sister wailed, her twisted face seeming too old for her tiny shoulders. Mum bawled, shrinking before my eyes to a little child. In the strange, half light the pair seemed to swap places, minds, identities. Adult, child, child, adult.
For a moment I imagined striding in and engulfing them both in a hug. But the truth was, I could not hug away the strife in Mum’s mind and Little Sister’s body. There was a time when I would have tried, for a thousand years if it had helped. But the love I had once felt for the two had soured, and turned to hate. They were no longer family; they were inconveniences.
So ignoring them both, I pushed upstairs, kicking off my shoes to herald my arrival. For a moment the inky hall swallowed me, blocking out the world. And then it appeared again, sharper than ever as I entered my bedroom.
The remaining few hours of night was spent slumped, broken, breaking, iPod headphones jammed into my ears. It was not fatigue that stopped the avant garde sounds of the White Album reaching my brain. It was the stupid, ugly misery that had manifested itself in the household.
6:00 AM. Dawn. 22 days into the summer holidays. Boredom. Emptiness. Whatever. It didn’t matter. Forcing my numb self up, I remembered the jacket. Dropped in the doorway, its hulking mass was a reminder of too much. I fell back sleep until noon.
But on waking, sticky and more tired than before I could no longer ignore the jacket. Id stolen it. God, why? Did I need anything more to worry about? It was just a stupid, ugly old jacket, that had belonged to some crackpot old man I didn’t know. Not my problem. Throw the filthy thing out. Still though, I could feel myself succumbing to its allure. I unfurled myself, stretched out every joint, and pulled it onto my lap.
And then spent the next two days like that. Leaving it, even for a second, was painful. It was bewitching, addictive. There were so many stories there in the leather.
Starting with the collar I began to work my way across the jacket, taking in each little detail. There was fabric; little scraps of every pattern and colour. Jewellery- wedding rings, lockets, beads bangles, stopped watches. Paper, pages torn from books, recipts, letters, certificates. Badges, baubles, toys, dried flowers, photographs, keys. Objects I thought I recognised and ones that made no sense. Some were stitched onto the jacket, some glue, others pushed into rips. All were connected by ne thing though; a spiralling line of stitching. In every colour of cotton, wool and in places hair it connected the objects. The jacket seemed so untypical of the old man. What did it mean? Had he attached each of the objects? Why? Who was he?
I remembered the last time our paths crossed. It was over six months before he died. The old man was standing shakily at his gate, cleaning a pair of wire rimmed glasses with a grey rag. His frail hands shook, dropping both, when I called out to him;
He nodded and stuttered; “g-ggood-” he didn’t finish the sentence, just left it hanging in the air between us. The old man fixed with his pallid eyes.
“Your sister” he said calmly. It was not a question, it was a fact.
“Your sister.” he repeated, then he turned and walked stiffly back to his porch.
That was the day I returned home and found Little Sister shaking and grey. That was the day I called Mum from what was to be her last day at work. That was the day she drove me to the hospital, clutching my twitching sister. That was the day the misery came and never went. There were so many hours of waiting, in which I pondered the old man. Had he known? Maybe he had heard her crying or something. But I never believed that my self. I wanted to thank him, but we never met again.
The old man was buried on Monday, six days after he died. Funerals are depressing. That is a fact. However the old man’s funeral was even more so than normal. It was just me. Mum in faded black jersey and Little Sister who never stopped grizzling. No relatives, not even a name. Just a coffin and a few vague prayers from an aged vicar.
We stood in silence as the coffin sunk the belly of the grave. I dropped a lily into another sort of cavern. And then something, a tendril of thought, brushed my mind.
“It’s a map of his life!” I exclaimed, chipping into the silence.
“What?” snapped Mum, tired, impatient.
“The jacket I showed you last night”.
“Uh.” All her sentences were like that; short and clipped of syllables.
Mum turned her face skyward, and little the drizzle buffet her. She was 42. She looked a hundred.
“Look- just, just get rid of that thing. That old man was a bit, I don’t know, strange. He probably spent his whole life in that house.”
“No,” I said, “no, you’re wrong, so so wrong.”
And I told her the story of the old man’s life. His name was George Dillon. He was born in
Liverpool 78 years ago. George was an adventurer. The norm was to dull for him. As soon as he had left school he left . A boat at the docks provided the transport, and off he went. England
When the sailors on the ship first found him, stowed away in the hold, they were angry. But George soon earnt their trust and most of them came to like him. A sailor called Ralph disliked him though, and often taunted George. One morning when George was cross legged on the deck writing his diary the sailor set on him. He hurled the diary over board and threatened to do the same to its owner. Before he had chance to he was stopped by a kindly cook, who rescued George. Seeing his upset at the loss of the diary the ships cook, Richard Parker, took him to the kitchens and handed him a present. It was a leather jacket, far, far too big for the 19 year old.
“This is your diary now” Richard told him.
And it was. George used the glossy black jacket as a way of recording the many events of his life. He recorded the story of his travels, across
India, Germany, China, and on the back of a rattling old motorbike. Of the dark eyed girl who rode on the back of it. Of where his travels took him, and how they ended. All his life he adventured, until the misery over took him, and brought him down. And I told the story as we wandered home, meandering through the drowning streets. When the three of us, hand in hand arrived home we sat together, the jacket across our knees. For once we were together, as we traced the trailing line across the jacket and pieced together the story. And it doesn’t matter how George’s story ends. What matters is how our story ends. Egypt
What matters is that things changed. Mum decided it was time for our adventure to start. Ever since that day, when I last saw the old man, everything had been put on hold. Now, I took a step back and saw where I had ended up. Things changed. And our adventure began. And it didn’t end.
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events was one of the defining parts of my childhood. They are such wonderfully written, but twisted and beautiful books. But as someone who has always read a ridiculous amount my reading tastes are often very unusual. I read the encyclopaedia aged 6, the dictionary aged 7, the bible aged 8, though these days I enjoy slightly disturbing or unusual classics and little known books. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, Mr Toppit by Charles Elton, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, In His Own Write by John Lennon, Chocloat by Joanne Harris and Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsey are all incredible books that work on so many levels and have a beautiful, mind numbing effect. And I’d be lying if I said I haven’t spent countless nights reading Marley and Me by John Grogan, Roald Dahl books and Harry Potter under the covers.