by Kim Kelly

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ALWAYS IN MY SONG

Like most of the world, I’m a little shocked and bewildered that Bowie has gone. At the same time, though, a magic settles inside this grief with the knowledge that, while ever I’m alive, so will he be. And when I’m dead, we’ll be star people together again.

He was both my favourite cartoon and my infinite well of soul. A bigness of mind that showed me something new every time I went to him.

I can’t begin to calculate how much I owe him. When I was twelve and all words were a mad scramble, his rhythms told me it wasn’t just right to be different – it was a responsibility.

He led me to the writings of Nietzsche, my backstop of questing courage.

He was the essential poet and percussionist I have taken with me along every writing journey of my own, sometimes soothing, always challenging.

But I never knew Bowie had listed his top 100 books with some journalist some time ago – here it is – and reading it this morning I’ve found he’s left me one parting surprise.

One of the books on his list is John Braine’s Room at the Top, a novel that’s on my list of influences too. I read it when I was seventeen, in between school and university, when my own strangeness and uncertainty was at its most acute. I found it among Dad’s books and read it on the floor of the small but well-stuffed library in our house. I can still feel the scratch of the olive green carpet under my shoulders, the sound of a storm coming in across the sea outside, as I turned the pages.

I want to write like that one day, I dared myself in secret.

No-one I knew then, and no-one I’ve met since, had ever heard of Room at the Top, a story about a returned soldier and his tortured desires for a betterness that never exists. I’ve carried it around with me these last thirty years as some kind of a talisman, reminding me to hold onto my difference, because really, that’s all we’ve ever got that’s truly ours.

And here it is again now, but a shared thing with one I’ve shared so much.

I’m going to read it again today.