My decent into Interzone

by Ceri Hughes

January 2001

I got some crappy books for Christmas. I feel bad calling them 'crappy' as someone chose them for me and someone else worked hard writing them, but I just didn't want to read them. We're going back a few years here.

So without any receipts I arrived at Waterstones book shop in Swansea, South Wales with the thought that if I was going to be taking drugs I may as well read up on them. Much indecision later and I'd picked out Irvine Welch's' 'Ecstasy' and William Burroughs' 'Junky'.

I began reading Junky a couple days before a spontaneous decision to go to Ireland. It was a total new style of writing to me, I'd stumbled on a great writer and a great book. I slept on the floor of the Swansea-Cork ferry with the door open during the crossing. The salty air attacked my throat. I awoke in a rough un-fit state and began to lug my bag around Cork looking for a hostel with a spare bed. At every possible opportunity I read and re-read pages from the book. I was ill and getting iller. 'Lee' the 'hero' of the book was junk-sick and getting sicker. I was living his withdrawal along with the spaces and comas. I was running out of money and Lee was 'lush-working', I took careful notes on how to 'roll' a drunk. The book was exaggerating my illness. I could barely move, Lee could barely move. I needed a cure, Lee needed the cure. Burroughs writing wasn't a positive influence on me but I was hooked.

My mother offered to buy me a couple books for a London-Australia flight. I chose 'The portable Henry Rollins' and Burroughs' 'Interzone'. I'd left my guitar at home and was inspired to write. The flight was documented down to my boxers wrapping around my nuts. Interzone confused and excited me. I was a slow reader, still am. A month later and I'm on a road trip down Australia's East coast with a German guy and a British Lesbian couple. I exchanged the books my mother brought me in a second hand store for Burroughs best known work, 'Naked lunch'. I'd finished it by the time we reached Sydney where I moved into the red light district and gave the book away to some poor unsuspecting backpacker.

I got a job doing thirteen hour stocktaking shifts at 'Grace Bros' (the largest department store in the southern hemisphere). They had a fine collection of Burroughs' books. We worked past closing hours and were let out through a side security door where a guard checked our bags for stolen items. I browsed through the books deciding which to steal. I chose 'Cities of the red night'. I thumbed the pages, bent the spine and dog eared the corners at the beginning of the shift, slipped the book in my bag halfway through the shift and the security guard checked my bag at the end of the shift. I walked out a happy little thief. Burroughs had surpassed himself, I was completely enthralled and lost. I'd re-read the book if I hadn't sold it to buy food.
Edinburgh library is wary of me. No fixed address with a stoned Welsh/Aussie accent, but I pay my late book fees and they reduce my borrowing limit regularly. I'd borrowed Barry Miles' Burroughs biography for the uncomfortable coach trip from Edinburgh to Swansea to visit my mother for Christmas. I lost the damn book three quarters through, just as Miles was going into Burroughs' theories on control systems. The library was right to be wary of me, I lost their book and haven't been back since.

I'd been given another Burroughs' book for Christmas which I read during the journey back to Edinburgh, a gay love story while searching for a telepathy inducing drug (yage) in the jungle, his second book 'Queer'. I was glued to the book for the whole 12 hour journey.

At the point of writing this I'm barely even halfway through this nineteen-fifty's homosexual heroin addicts back catalogue and he's made a firm impact on my life.

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