Sunday, 1 April 2012

Life Writing: Onion Country

On a sunny morning, in rural Lincolnshire, a young woman wakes up to her day’s work. She is no ordinary young woman. She is the forefront of a revolution, but she does not know this yet. Her name is Victoria McDonagh. The backdrop to this revolution, the all-important catalyst is the pub her parents bought when she was twenty. Little would she ever realise what an impact this place would have in the course of history.
      Quietly she gets on with her day’s work, trying to set herself to writing something. But mostly she ends up texting her friends when she feels bored or uninspired. There are a few texts to the friends she’s left behind from University There is the occasional joke sent to her friend Toni Cox, lamenting her singleness.
     ‘We should just get married!’ is one text sent early in the year of 2012. The Facebook records show it has been a long time since her last relationship, two years perhaps. Her diary from university reveals scant facts about her dating life, but the joke clearly shows a point of frustration. But this is not uncommon in her generation, despite an ever expanding world of networking and tweeting, people are continually isolated even with vast amounts of useless technology.
      Her ambition to be a writer has not yet burnt out. There are still the odd status updates on Facebook saying how many characters are in her novel. She tries not to be too smug about her success in actually writing a first novel, even if it was rejected by nearly every publishing house and agent in her time. It is only marginally successful now because of her curious death.
     Victoria frequently laments her life as a barmaid and general dogsbody for the family business. Her parents were always self-employed, so taking over a rundown pub seemed a logical way forward. The actual paperwork agreeing the lease and general documents have been lost for a number of years, but many of the locals remember the family and Victoria;
    ‘She were a good looking lass, if I’d been forty year younger,’ one rather tall, but frail looking man comments. ‘His features have a strange rat like appearance to them’ and he’s ‘not all there with his cough drops,’ appear in a stray email Victoria sent to a friend describing some of the people who visited the pub.
   All of Victoria’s experience at the pub was not wasted. Her second novel, Onion Country was in its final drafts before the unfortunate accident that lead to her death. Onion Country was published by her family two years after her death, and donations went a charity for those who have been injured in incidents with pool balls and cues. It was difficult procuring any support from the locals to make any sort of donation, as Victoria once noted on a Facebook message that ‘the only way to get a tip from a local would be to prise it from their cold, dead fist, and even then it would be difficult.’ She presents them as curiously simple minded and rather backward, but this could simply have been because she had a degree. One resident was reported to say to her once. ‘Who needs a degree?  I went to university of life me.’ Victoria was rather happy when he was run over by a tractor.
     The Kindle had been a revolutionary reading device in the early years of the twenty first century, and as a keen reader Victoria invested in one. Her reading downloads show a variety of classics that she intended to read, but never got around to, as well as some other types of fiction. Sadly now the Kindle has gone out of use long since replaced ‘the Douse’ by Rainforest, the branch that took over Amazon in 2030.
   Victoria was keenly remembered at the pub for her unusual interest in handicrafts. A few locals remember her knitting behind the bar. She would often become a little too involved with her knitting and the residents developed a system of banging their glasses down heavily on the bar to get her attention, and would sometimes throw in an softly uttered swear word for variation.
   ‘Lol, I’m just getting high off the fumes coming off the munch bunch! Victoria sent this text to her brother one evening. It is difficult to pin point exactly who the ‘munch bunch’ were, but it appears to be a nickname for a group of people who made a habit of smoking cannabis. Such drugs are now long extinct, but in Victoria’s time the use was common. The laws at the time stipulate no smoking inside buildings, so actual fumes would not have been present. Victoria is possibly referring to a particular smell, the use of cannabis was said to have had a very strong, sweaty sort of aroma.
Victoria’s twin brother, Robert was two minutes younger than her, but that did not allow for any superiority on Victoria’s part. Records show that he was over 6ft and a rather solid mass. It is probably the reason why Victoria had few reported bully incidents during secondary school. Victoria closely describes one incident from her diary of a fight in which her brother took part.
      Some little shits had been giving Heather some grief, and she stupidly decided to try and have a go at them. They started chucking some stuff at her, so my brother went over to sort it out. His silent tall approach didn’t work, and on the grass he tried to trip one up. Rob couldn’t, so he just grabbed the little shit by the hands and just swung him around instead.
       Victoria’s diary kept during the years of her school life show she was secure in her ambition to be a writer, even adding a few poor poems into the pages, and oddly enough a few pictures of her cats with silly captions beneath them. The family have few surviving pictures. It is curious as many people in the early twenty first century were obsessed with displaying photographs in their homes. Some pictures have been salvaged from her Facebook account, and show an increase of pictures during her time at university.
      Her university life was fraught with the social problems that many poor students faced, especially arguments over food. One message from Facebook shows tension over Victoria using a cup full of hot chocolate without asking permission from her flatmate:
       Hi, u just can’t go around like taking stuff you didn’t ask for. PS it’s snowing outside!!!
Victoria being the wimp she was, gave a bland response about being sorry and replacing the amount taken. It is presumed they did not talk after the hot chocolate incident.
      Her diary during the second year of university shows she got little sleep in the first semester. The reason for lack of sleep was wayward housemate who in Victoria’s words ‘didn’t know the bloody difference between night and bloody day!’. There were reports of the housemate taking showers in the middle of the night and singing randomly. Presumably Victoria was still a wimp and was not able to confront the housemate about the problems, or the housemate simply didn’t listen. A record from the university shows that several complaints were put in, and Victoria recalls in her diary that when the house warden was called into have a talk with the accused housemate, Victoria gleefully eavesdropped on the whole conversation. She does admit it was childish, but felt rather good. Contemporary critics agree it was very childish.
       Some of her writings were thought lost until a discovery only a few years ago. A collection of notebooks were found in the attic space of a house she presumably lived in at one stage. Historians had hoped that the discovery would hold some great writings, but they were quickly disappointed to find that they were merely half finished stories and ideas written during her teens.
       It was during 2010 when plans were being made to start moving to the pub. Her parents wished to keep it quiet until plans were definite, but Victoria knew something was amiss as she mentions in email to a friend. ’Mum and dad must think I’m stupid. Don’t they think I won’t notice when they hole themselves up in their office for hours and don’t tell me why?’
      Such messages are hardly of someone who is supposedly revolutionary material, especially since she commanded little success and hardly managed to secure an audience for her writing. The most revolutionary thing she did was vote conservative in the 2010 elections. What is revolutionary about her is the lack of revolution. Her aims in writing were basic, until she moved to the pub. It was the environment of the pub that gave her such rich material that inspired her famous novel Onion Country. It was such a revolutionary hit, it sold millions of copies, but people still can’t really figure out what is so great about the novel. Probably because it’s a fad, just like Justin Beiber. 

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