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  • jacforsyth

News from Nowhere

Updated: Jul 9

Photo of a smokers pipe with tobacco

I wasn't a very interesting child. I was overweight, painfully shy and had a catastrophic tendency to turn scarlet if anyone looked at me. I was terrible at sport. I couldn't spell. My hair was so strong and frizzy you could have used it to save drowning fishermen. My mum tried to tame the triangular tresses by tying them in socks and leaving to dry overnight, suffice to say the ringleted result belonged with the kings of eighteenth century Europe.

Inside, nothing felt like it fitted together properly. Like I'd been born speaking the wrong language. I had these weird moments when I felt so utterly out of sync, I could have stepped through into another reality. Not in some magical, spiritual sense, but in a lost without a map and all alone in the woods kinda sense.

There was a copy of News from Nowhere in our oddball collection of books. It was old and crumbly and had an inscription from some random guy who was apparently in love with my mum. In all honesty, I was more interested in the story behind the inscription than I was in the story inside. Looking back, I can't believe I had the capacity or the reasoning to read a book so unfashionably flouncy, but I did read it. And it completely changed my mind.

A Victorian gentleman finds himself in a future utopia. A world with no social hierarchy and no knowledge of money. People find pleasure in nature, work and the company of others. Life is outward facing, rather than turned inwards for personal gain. The scene that stayed with me was in a pipe shop (tobacco not plumbing), where the gentleman tries to buy a pipe and gets told he can choose whichever one he likes for free.

Embarrassed, and trying to do the right thing, the man picks the smallest, most ordinary pipe. But the shopkeeper just says, 'Why would I want that for you?'

I remember crying uncontrollably. Not because I was sad, but because I knew I wasn't alone anymore. The way I saw the world was okay. I wasn't made wrong, I was just made like William Morris. Which is pretty apt, because he made a whole load of different things.

So if you ever doubt the power of what you do as a writer, remember that sobbing 11 year old kid. You never know what impact your words can have. And sometimes we read because we don't want to be alone anymore.

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