This is where I provide a rather overdue introduction to myself as a writer here on Spacial Anomaly. Though relatively new here, unless you find this article in fifty years’ time, I have been writing since the mid 1980’s. My first two stories came out in a college magazine in 1986. My first article in a university newspaper in 1987, and my first four poems first saw the light of day together in a poetry anthology I helped edit in 1989.
More recently, after working as a community radio presenter I turned my hand to radio drama. My first radio play, Wendigo Water, a horror story, went out recently. You can listen to it in full for free here.
https://soundcloud.com/john-topliff/wendigo-water-by-arthur-chapell Wendigo Water, transmitted after the live stage recording at Manchester’s Three Minute Theatre on Friday 27th February. Running time 24 minutes 45 seconds, written and directed by Arthur Chappell. With: Steve Cain, Phil Chadwick, Mark Hill, Louise Wilson, Derek Lawson, Sean Fitton and Arthur Chappell. Produced and Recorded by Gina T Frost and John Topliff for 3MT Radio.
They say you should write about what you know and experience so it should be obvious that I never experienced the events in my play; arrest, and shipwreck, flesh-eating demons.
I did however experience the living Hell of brainwashing through a religious cult between 1981 and 1985; people exploited my disorientation and despair after my sudden coronary thrombosis father’s death, aged just 49.
The cult, Divine Light Mission, (now officially called The Prem Rawat Foundation), is an illegitimate offshoot of Hinduism, teaching its followers to feel, not think. We were taught that our own minds are evil. Endless meditation was seen as a blissful release from thinking – after all our minds might ask, ‘why has the guru taken all our money and bought himself a mansion in Malibu?’
Writing was forbidden, as it involved cognitive analytical thinking as well as leaving written evidence of a cult that tries its best to shun publicity. A cult whose leader was called a charlatan by his own Mother has to keep a low profile.
My writings explore a collision between the real, the fantastic and the delusional. The cult created a very surreal unorthodox environment from which my awakening was traumatic. My stories seem to involve people facing earth shattering changes in their lives that shake them out of complacency; the monster they know in their hearts and minds can’t possibly exist is suddenly right there in front of them;
My writings frequently collide realism and escapism – the cult filled my head with deluded thinking; harsh reality came back with a vengeance; in my fictions, characters might find their cosy little view of reality is wrong; There are vampires, werewolves and wendigos. My writings explore the struggle to deal with life-changing events; waking up to find nothing is as it was yesterday – do you accept the new, or try to get back to how things were?
Trying to explain time in a cult to those it never happened to is a bit like being arrested for a crime committed by a monster or a mad-man while you weren’t looking as seems to happen to the unfortunate protagonist in my play.
Of course, any experience can change our lives and destinies. You don’t have to be Schrodinger’s Cat to branch off into parallel universes where other possibilities happen to you. Time travellers don’t need to kill Hitler to change history – catching or missing a bus can turn your World around. Writing is about capturing those moments of transformation and their consequences – the points in life where nothing will ever be the same again, for better or for worse; given my pessimism, cynicism and fascination for horror, more often my imposed changes are for the worse, but not always – the unexpected is a major ingredient in my arsenal.
What if my dad had lived? What if I had not joined the cult when a pretty girl invited me? Would I now be a writer? Would I have written Wendigo Water? Would you be reading this?
I’m attracted to writers of the bizarre and fantastic. Kafka’s Metamorphosis has Gregor Samsa wake up one morning to find he is a giant insect. His family behaves as much as possible as if nothing is wrong or different. Ionesco’s Rhinoceros reverses the idea by having everyone in the world turn into rhinos except for one guy, trapped by his own individualism. I spent four and a half years deliberately not thinking, and the rest of my life since then trying to make up for it. Which is weirder? That or waking up as a dung beetle, or to find your story about a mythical monster led to three people dying?
My writings explore changes, and how they affect people. If you knew the world was going to end on Tuesday, would you run screaming for the hills on Monday or go to work as usual and try not to think about it? How much do we accept change and how much do we try to get things back how they were? Luddites felt compelled to break the looms taking their jobs; we let computers kill the office typing pool without a fight. If Godzilla turns up, we’ll just shoot him and go back to our jobs talking about it before talking football and last night’s TV as usual.
The cult experience stripped me of spiritual notions but never stole my sense of wonder. I’m an atheist and a Humanist now, as well as an entertainer – To quote a much more respected and sincere religious leader than I was daft enough to follow, the Buddha wrote at the beginning of The Dhamapada, “You are what you think. With your thoughts, you make your world.” Makes you think, doesn’t it? Don’t ever let anyone deny your right to think and feel for yourself.
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