Being a fan is like fear or pain, or perhaps even a little bit like love. Even without admiration, in the face of celebrity—actual celebrity rather than boy band shelf-stacker celebrity—the sense that what you are doing is unusual creates pressure and discomfort. Your head fuzzes, your blood runs fast and heavy, and the world becomes loud but muffled.
I have spoken to fans of mine—once the stuttering and gasping and general incomprehensibility has subsided a little—who talk about the feeling of being held in a fist or struck in the chest. It’s impact and compression. It’s violence. This explains the petrified silence, the startled gaze. Celebrity has just struck them, driving them into a spiral of fight or flight. In their bedrooms putting up posters, recording interviews, writing the names of pop stars over and over again on whatever young people have instead of rough books these days, they are cutting into themselves, creating a tender wound that the everyday business of living stitches and scars. And I, or whoever else is on that wall, can reach out and tear that carefully-dug wound right open with nothing more than our presence.
The young, of course, heal quickly. In the usual run of things, they can take off their skin like selkies, their hearts due-northing to you for weeks or months before their compass and compassion switch poles suddenly, leaving you adrift.
There’s no logic to this transfer of affections; at first, I took it personally, but in the end you have to realise that these are the rules, that they may come back to you or they may not, that their love is entirely arbitrary. Of course, there are those who take it too far—being young is a terrible test, and some don’t pass it. Again, though, you have to separate the object from the act. The first time a teenager was found clutching my photo between bloodied wrists (in Japan. They’re so often in Japan), I was horrified. By the tenth, I was starting to feel a little flattered and undeniably important. There hasn’t been a fatality for months—no suicide pacts, no despairing emails to the fan club address—and I was beginning to worry. Fading fame affects people in strange ways—bottling their piss, marrying the president of their vestigial fan club, blowing their brains out metaphorically or literally—none of which I felt would work well for me right now.
Still, I was worrying about nothing. The books kept selling, the mail kept coming in—some gushing, some romantic, some disturbing, disquieting or disgusting. And the fans kept coming: goths, mainly, and goth girls in particular—apparently I speak to the darkness within them or something to that effect—stuff about tender wounds and selkies seems to go over big in the tenebrous community. It wasn’t exactly the plan when I started out, but they’re a good audience, fiercely acquisitive and with phenomenal cross-marketing opportunities: diaries, sparkly notebooks, photoshoots with bands with ridiculous names and ridiculous trousers. They’re never quite as attractive as I expect from the fan mail, but on occasion attractive enough. With the force of celebrity tearing through their minds, seduction is more of a tap than a push.
All of this might help to explain what happened last night. But that’s the final chapter. This is the epilogue.
Chapter one was a book signing, three years ago. I noticed her at once, for any value of ‘at once’ that recognises that some of my fanbase are quite large and pack quite close. She was older than the teenage selkies, unusually normally dressed, and very attractive—the sort you hope a degree of celebrity will actually attract. I was surprised for a moment, but recovered when I saw the pile of books. All of mine, by the looks of it. I composed my face—gracious yet interested—and waited for either the silent thrust or the gabbled explanation of how much she loved my work.
Neither was forthcoming.
‘Morning. Could you sign these, please?’
You get these, occasionally. Collectors, often, or friends dragooned in by the absent or housebound. I gave her a professional smile, to acknowledge that we were both discharging our duties here.
‘Not a problem. You buy, I sign. Would you like a name in them, or just the signature?’ That is, is this for your tragic sister, fighting for life in a nearby hospital, or for the shelves of a bookshop?
‘Oh, name please. My name’s Jen.’ Not even ‘Jen… well, Jennifer, but my friends call me Jen.’ No hesitation.
‘Jen. Right you are. So… uh… you like these?’ You like these? For God’s sake. I admit I was floundering.
‘Oh, yeah. I think you’re my favourite living author.’ Just as if she were communicating a reasonably interesting fact about the local history of this shitty, shitty market town where I was spending the day behind a wall of my own name, printed in raised letters slightly larger than the title.
I signed in a daze, robotic. As soon as the door closed behind her, the urge to rise and pursue, to grab her and demand to know why her favourite living writer was so fucking unimpressive, almost capsized me. I finished my duties with only half an ear for the usual breathless declarations. Changed my life. So beautiful. All my friends call me [insert name here]. My LiveJournal is named after the Princess. None of it mattered.
The routine of writing, reviewing, back-biting and screwing claimed me after that, and a degree of peace was recaptured. But. But more and more, I found myself sitting in front of my PC, thinking of that composed, increasingly beautiful face, meeting my eyes fearlessly.
‘You’re my favourite living author’.
I wrote and deleted those words a chapter’s worth. A book. A trilogy. Nothing else.
It had to change. So, I did what any writer does at the beginning of a project: I researched. A private detective found her with surprising ease. I collected information—name, eye colour, relatives, job. My next book, produced in a kind of fury, was set in a town very like her town, at an office very like her office, and starred a woman very, very much like her. I killed her family. Her friends betrayed her. Her boss was not, had never been human.
The book had been a long time coming. Perhaps the goths had grown up, but sales were slow. It was easy to persuade the publishers to arrange a signing tour. Back behind the table in that crappy market town, I waited for my prey. Would she dare? Would she be duly reverent? Whether she came chastened or not at all, it felt like the balance was back. The next book would sell. Everything would be back to normal.
‘Hello again. Just one this time—the new one. Liked it a lot.’
Startled by the voice I had misremembered, the new hairstyle, I choked on a sip of water. Red-faced, flustered, I took the book, looked up and… froze. No words. No restoration. I muttered something incomprehensible even to myself.
‘Short for Jennifer?’ I croaked, despairing. Short for Jennifer Susan Green, I knew.
“Well, yeah, but nobody calls me Jennifer. So, if you could just put Jen, that’d be… are you all right?” I waved my hand uselessly, signed the useless bastard book. She took it with an airy thankyou and walked away. I watched her go, hollow hands tearing my belly into pieces. The shock. The mingled fear and desire. The stupid, pointless questions. I was a fan.
Not all plans are perfect. Not all sequels are successful. This may not entirely explain why I was apprehended by Police early the following morning attempting to break into the woman in question’s house with twenty unsold hardback copies of my latest novel. I feel I have to point out once again that the knife and the duct tape also in the bag were there purely by coincidence. What the sensationalist press have not mentioned is that there was also a ballpoint pen in my jacket pocket. I just wanted her to sign the bloody things.
By Dan, 22 February, 2006; direct link.