Read Raw Ltd
Promoting Creative Writing in Scotland
J. David Simons
J.David Simons was born in Glasgow in 1953. He studied law at GlasgowUniversity and became a partner at an Edinburgh law firm before giving up his practice to live on a kibbutz in Israel in 1978. Since then he has also lived in England, Germany, Australia and Japan, working at various stages along the way as a charity administrator, cotton farmer, language teacher, lecturer and journalist. He has been writing fiction since 1993 and has written three novels. His first novel, The Credit Draper, was published by Two Ravens Press in May 2008, and was short-listed for The McKitterick Prize in June 2009. He has also published a number of academic writings while visiting lecturer in English at Keio University in Japan and as a journalist has written extensively in the fields of media, telecommunications and the Internet. He currently lives in Glasgow with his partner, Sofia.
What first inspired you to write?
I always thought that I would write but didn’t believe I would have anything to say until I was at least 40. So I waited until then before I wrote my first short story. Unfortunately it was published straight away and I have therefore been under the misguided illusion for the last fifteen years that I could be a successful writer
What inspires you now?
Ideas inspire me. I like to bury some big ideas within my narratives – not in a preachy way because I am no more near to the answers than anyone else. But in a way that I hope makes the reader think and come to his/her own conclusions. The ideas behind my current novel-in-progress are socialism and feminism, especially in Glasgow in the early part of the 20th century. I had always thought that feminism was a 1960s phenomenon but there were some incredibly strong women bringing feminist issues to the fore 40 years previously.
What advice would you give to a new writer?
It’s all about the writing. Write for yourself – don’t worry about commercial trends and imaginary audiences. Write because it is important to you and not because you are trying to please someone else. That way no amount of rejection or lack of being published can ever take away from the fact that you are doing something you really love doing. I also realise that this advice will probably lead you to no commercial success whatsoever.
What are you writing now?
I am writing a novel tentatively entitled Celia’s Story which follows the life of one of the secondary characters from my first novel The Credit Draper. It is set against the background of events like the Glasgow Rent Strikes of 1915, the Russian Revolution, the Bloody Friday riots in George Square and involves a young woman dealing with feminism and socialism at the beginning of the 20th century.
What are you reading now?
I have just finished Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier which was a worthy but difficult read. I am just coming to the end of Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie which is a wonderful story set against events in Nigeria and Biafra in the 1960s after which I am looking forward to reading Ewan Morrison’s latest novel Menage.
Who is your favorite literary character?
There are so many – almost anyone created by Dickens but especially McAwber and Magwitch from Great Expectations. Also Shakespeare’s Brutus in Julius Caesar, Ishiguro’s butler Stevens from Remains of the Day, and Joyce’s Leopold Bloom. But if I had to choose just one it would be Harper Lee’s Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird.
What future projects do you have planned?
To finish Celia’s Story above and then I would like to go back to writing a couple of short stories – one will be about a driver of a shuttle bus ferrying tourists between the Auswitz and Birkenau concentration camps.
What interests do you have outside of writing?
Hillwalking – I pretend that I am not a Munro bagger but I notice that increasingly I am tracking them down. I swim. And I love surfing but sadly the waves are not very high down in Troon.
Any last words of wisdom?
Always dry between your toes after bathing.
In 1911, eleven-year-old Avram Escovitz is shipped off to Scotland by his mother to escape conscription into the Russian Army. Growing up in the heart of the Kahn family in the tightly-knit Jewish community in the Glasgow Gorbals, Avram discovers he has a natural talent for playing football. He dreams of turning out for Celtic - but war intervenes. He is sent to work with his adopted uncle, the orthodox Jew Mendel Cohen, as a credit draper, peddling goods on credit to the crofters and villagers of the Western Highlands. There, a chance encounter with a Royal Flying Corps pilot leads to fresh possibilities: setting up a new business venture and winning the heart of a crofter girl. But shaking off his Jewish roots is not so simple... The Credit Draper , a beautiful and original debut novel by J. David Simons, is more than just an immigrant's story about the search for identity in an alien land: it is also a book about whisky, football and waterproof clothing.
‘The Credit Draper’, is published by Two Ravens Press
If you wish to purchase a copy of The Credit Draper, then you may do so directly via the publishers Two Ravens Press (free postage anywhere in the UK) or via online booksellers such as Waterstone's or Amazon
‘Maimonides’, a short story published in London Magazine, Nov. 2000
‘The Lovebirds’, a short story published in Printed Matter, Japan/USA, July 1993
Extract Where Celia returns to the Socialist Sunday School picnic in the Botanic Gardens after being raped in the bushes.
She hadn’t cried out when he had split her, when her whole universe had split. She hadn’t screamed at all. Even though there had been plenty of opportunity as his hand had slipped from over her mouth the more he had become engrossed in seeking out his own satisfaction. Her arms had freed slightly too so that she could beat hard on his back but he didn’t seem to care. It was as if her own violent onslaught only deepened his pleasure, confirmed to him what he already knew about her. But she didn’t cry out. Just suffered in silence. As thousands of years of practice within her race had taught her to do.
She stumbled up the path to the clearing where the meeting had taken place. Thank God there were still some people there. She only hoped that Agnes was still among them. She brushed away as best she could the mud and leaves from her coat, straightened her stockings. Underneath, her drawers were torn and stained. There had been blood on her thighs and some other fluid she had wiped off with his handkerchief. She ached from the tear between her legs, from the lead of his weight against her breasts. She had left her hat somewhere, the black velvet one she only wore for the synagogue. She gulped in a breath, walked towards the gathering, trying to keep her body upright. She had slipped and fallen down the grassy slope, that is what had happened, caught her head on a stone, might have even knocked herself out, look you can even feel the bump, how long had she been away?
‘Miss Celia,’ one of the children called out as she approached. ‘We were waiting for you.’ And then. ‘Where are your shoes?’
Celia kept walking into their midst, one hand pinning her collar to her throat, the other bunched around the soiled handkerchief in her pocket. ‘I fell,’ she said to no-one in particular. ‘I fell down the slope. I am so sorry. I should have been helping. But I fell.’
Two firm hands against her shoulders stopped her. ‘For Christ sake, lass,’ said Agnes. ‘What happened to you?’
‘I fell, Agnes. I fell down the slope.’
Agnes pulled her into her grasp, patted her head, picked out the leaves and twigs from her tresses. ‘Of course you did, lass. Of course, you did.’
She had no recollection of walking barefoot with Agnes through the Botanic Gardens to the park gates. There had been a ride in a hansom, she remembered that. And it had started to rain. The smell was so sweet as she listened to it drum on the leather canopy. She stared out from under the cab, watched the downpour cleanse the dusty streets, saw Luigi the ice-cream man pushing his cart in the rain. A penny-lick. She would have liked that now, her mouth so dry. Or a glass of ginger beer. There had been two flights of stairs after that, children running down them as she was helped upwards. Even in the fog of her distress, she felt a sense of anticipation about seeing Agnes’ home, her flat in the West End, it turned out not to be as austere as she had expected. There was an ample hallway with quite a few doors leading off. Tall windows and high ceilings. Fine rugs on the floor. Quite grand really for a teacher’s salary, she couldn’t believe these were the thoughts to arise out of her grogginess. Piles of pamphlets everywhere. RENT STRIKES AGAINST THE INCREASE. WE ARE NOT REMOVING! She was led into a large kitchen.
‘I’m getting you into a hot bath as fast as I can,’ Agnes said as she fired up the range. ‘You sit down there. I’ll bring you a blanket.’
She watched as Agnes boiled up the water, tipped it into a tin bath in the middle of the room. Then she was made to strip, sit in the water, even though it was hardly six inches deep, watched with fascination as she splashed the last of the blood from her thighs.
‘I want you to douche,’ Agnes said. ‘I’m going to add vinegar to the water. As much as you can possibly bear. Then I want you to wash yourself out.’
She did as she was told. The sensation mildly irritating but it pleased her too to feel the acidity flush out the ugliness from between her legs. She smelt like a fish and chip shop. Wrap me up in newspaper and take me away.
‘I don't know if the vinegar will do much good,’ Agnes kept saying. ‘It’s old wives’ tales really. But sometimes these old wifies knew what they were doing. And anyway, I’ve got nothing else to offer you. Except for this.’ Agnes handed her a glass.
‘What is it?’
‘Whisky. Drink it down. You’ll feel better. And I’ll fill up the bath now so you can have a proper soak.’
When she woke, the rain was still coming down against the dark windowpanes. She had a headache, a pain between her legs, a tingling around the tops of her thighs from the vinegar. The water was still hot. Agnes must have been re-filling the bath while she slept. Her neck was sore too where she had lent her head against the cold tin. Agnes sat in a rocking
chair by the fire, knitting at a pace that would have impressed even Madame Kahn.
‘How long have I been asleep?’
‘Not long. About fifteen minutes.’
‘Oh, it felt like forever.’
She lifted herself up from the water but fell back again, as if her body was refusing entry back into this hostile world. She tried again. Agnes brought her over a large towel which she stepped into, the fabric scrubbing rough against her hot skin.
‘I must go,’ she said. ‘My mother will be wondering where I am.’
‘You’re not going anywhere,’ Agnes said, pushing her gently down into a chair. ‘I sent a neighbour’s child over to your parents with a note.’
‘What did you tell them?’
‘I just said you had a little turn, probably from something you ate, nothing to worry about, said you’ll be home later. I’ll make you up some food meantime. You should get your strength up while your clothes dry.’
Celia saw that her dress, bloomers and stockings hung in a line over the fire. She closed her eyes. All she could see was Petr’s face, close up against her own, his lank hair brushing against her cheek, the pox craters in his skin, the tree branches above, some with leaves already, others with their tight little buds. A grey sky, clouds moving in, rain on its way. The rest of her body gone from this picture in her mind as if she had been cut off from the neck downwards. The song of the thrush. She wished she could re-produce that precious sound. A boy at her school used to do that. Make bird sounds. No-one paid his skill much notice. But how wonderful that must be. To be able to carry that birdsong around with you always. That optimism. She sensed Agnes in front of her now, felt a napkin placed in her lap. She opened her eyes, took the plate of macaroni held out to her.
‘Eat,’ Agnes said.
Which she did. Scooped down her food with a spoon, dribbling the melted cheese on her chin like a baby, couldn’t remember the last time she had felt so hungry. Agnes just watched.
‘Thank you,’ she said, handing back her empty plate, hoping there was more but there wasn’t. She asked for some water.
‘It was my fault,’ Agnes said as she brought her a glass.
‘What was your fault?’
‘I saw you go off with him. That boy.’
‘Yes, that’s his name.’
‘I thought you knew him?’
‘Not at all. He came to the hall that once when you met him. Then again to give me the envelope for you. That was all.’
‘So you don’t know where he lives?’
‘No. I know nothing about him. His address. His family. Nothing.’
‘Good. I don’t want to know anything about him.’
‘I’ll never forgive myself. I saw you go off with him. I should have known.’
‘Don’t fret. I’m fine now.’
‘Aren’t you the brave one? You’ve had a bath and a wee whisky, that’s all. But you’re still in shock. You won’t feel so fine tomorrow. And there’s nothing we can do about it. If the bastard had beaten you up, bruised you a bit, broken a few bones, then perhaps the police would take an interest. Rape? They won’t listen to a woman. There’s no proof. It’s his word against yours. And I know whose they’ll believe.’
Celia leaned back in her chair, listened to the rain. She didn’t want any police. She just wanted to go on with her life as if nothing had happened. Except for that one question she wanted to ask in her ignorance.
‘Can I get pregnant? I don’t mean to be stupid but the first time it happens what with all the blood and everything. Can a girl get pregnant the first time?’
Agnes came over, kissed the top of her head, pressed her to her lap.
‘Oh, my little lass,’ she said. ‘Oh, my little lass.’
Celia pushed her gently from her. ‘Well, can I?’
‘Yes, you can.’
‘I wouldn’t want it,’ she cried. ‘I wouldn’t want a child by him.’
‘Let’s not worry about that now. It might never happen.’
‘I do want to worry about it now. Can you help me, Agnes? Could you do something? Please.’
‘Yes, I could arrange something. But it would be dangerous. Too dangerous.’
‘I don’t care. I’ll do anything.’
‘Then it might be safer to have the child,’ Agnes said softly. ‘And kill the poor thing afterwards.’
Copyright © J. David Simons