My second novel, Junk DNA, was published by Brighton-based Codex Books in 2000. Sadly, they seem to have disappeared, which is a shame, because they were a really good independent publisher.
Energetic, explosive and strangely fascinating. The literary equivalent of a Manga movie. (The Big Issue)
The themes of genetic engineering and the precocious nature of modern children definitely ring true. Startling stuff. (She)
Glyde’s cynical humour seeps through this bleak tale, which does nothing to spare those who fear experimentation. (The Times)
There are few writers working today that can make such an intelligent link between art, science and technology. (The List)
The energetic narrative, black humour and vast imagination of the author makes for a fascinating read. (Buzz)
I call this book my indie release. I went off on a lot of tangents and, for some reason, it ended up getting mentioned on several sci-fi sites. Not long after its publication, one writer berated me for not having written a ‘London novel.’ There’s no pleasing some people! Anyway, it is in fact set in London, albeit in the future. I think I was feeling very disturbed about the power of children, and also wondering what will happen when we all – as we may eventually – know everything there is to know about the history, and future, of our own bodies, and therefore everyone else’s.
JUNK DNA – EXTRACT
‘Ten years old and drawing with her fists! Perhaps she’s retarded,’ the visiting governor murmurs to the art teacher. The teacher frowns carefully.
‘We don’t discriminate here, and she’s fairly new. But at least she’s quiet in class.’
‘Well they all are these days, aren’t they?’ the governor replies, expressionless. The teacher does not react, saying instead,
‘She’s a right little madam, full of “I beg your pardon’s” when she first arrived.’
‘Bet they soon knocked that out of her,’ the man says. Like virginity, Lucy’s aura of New Person cannot last forever. She arrived there straight from a private school: the Towles miscalculated on a small legacy, and her removal was swift. The new school is near enough for her to walk there.
She clutches the wax crayon. They are doing maps. No colour can go next to itself. Lucy finds it difficult to read the names of the countries, especially all the tiny ones in Eastern Europe. It is easier to mouth them aloud. She is somewhere near the centre on the thoughtful ‘circle of achievement’ on the wall behind her, meaning she is virtually bottom of the class. IQ is taken into consideration somewhere in the chart, but they have never been able to test Lucy’s because she can never see the point of the tests. She always cracks the number codes in the wrong way, or sees patterns that are not there, or assumes the stick men are the same person rather than separate individuals. She is told she does not value other humans sufficiently and is made to work on her interpersonal skills.
The IQ is really a very middle class kind of benchmark, but in an age of classification, journalists, faced by the lifestyles of those they do not understand, write down their subject’s score as if it will explain everything; ‘Josie has eleven rings in her nose and cuts a notch in her leg every time she makes a new friend. She thinks of it as an offering. She keeps tarantulas in a bowl, and feeds them live voles in front of a paying audience. Josie has an IQ of 165.’
Lucy is given lots and lots of reading tests, proving again and again that she cannot pronounce ‘phythisis’, or ‘logorrhoea’, or even ‘ladder’ when she has to read them off the page. She keeps handing in pictures with her clumsy, unfinished essays, always of snow. However, despite her teachers’ bemused silence at her work, Lucy still smiles with pride. It is suggested that dyslexia is the devil’s work.
‘My parents like things to be white,’ she says, ‘they prefer it,’ she says, out of ear and eyeshot of the class. She loves the white crayons, the creamy wax varnishing the page, streaked by minute flecks of dirt, like reversed pictures of the stars’ movements. But today -
‘No, Lucy, NO, for crying out loud!’
Lucy has never understood this phrase, for the teacher is crying out loud. Two weeks ago Lucy took some milk from the fridge at home and left the carton sitting in the corner of her room. That morning, she picks the carton up and shakes it, and the blunt thud shows its progress. It is ready. She takes it to school and, after finishing her map, paints a picture with the contents, the smell freshly rank. The Cheese of Heavenly Fruit of the Cow, she calls it, pleased with the poetry in the name, better than the stuff the teacher implores them to examine and which looks to her like ranks of insects moulting on the page. Lucy finds the printed word very difficult to understand.
‘Oh Lucy, it stinks!’ the teacher hisses as the smell hits the governor.
‘She didn’t get that here, that’s for sure,’ he murmurs. ‘Our stuff never goes off.’ Lucy smiles.
It has long been a prerequisite of coolness, or at least group acceptability, to turn up late, and to have an untidy bedroom. Many tests appear to prove that the disordered mind in fact represents a greater clarity of thought. At Lucy’s school awards are given to the most insouciant child. Bags are tipped out behind screens at spontaneous intervals and their owners questioned to make sure they do not know exactly what is in them. Class times are only ostensible. In fact they are slated to start fifteen to twenty minutes before they really do. Lucy always arrives first and sits, looking straight ahead, until the others come. She always smiles.
At break, her schoolmates mock her blouses. She watches her mother run round before work every day of her life, and that is what she knows. So she asks for a blouse like her mother’s. They are really very reasonably priced compared with what the other kids are demanding and getting, and especially next to Steel Hempen.
Steel Hempen is what every child desires. It is woven originally at a discreet but fashionable outlet in the East End and then copied by similar but ersatz establishments throughout the city. Children want the mystery of a deal, and Steel Hempen’s discreet flyers are dropped by the vanful, especially outside primary schools. The address of the main depot is obvious to any child with some knowledge of a certain video game. When it opened, the trendiest of Lucy’s classmates rushed, on their junior travelcards, to an artificially blackened street in the East End and, if chosen by the balaclava’d assistants, purchased fitted robes in coppery brown or ochre light poly-fibre chainmail. The younger ones in the school, the six or seven year olds, come back with begging stories so pleadingly alarming that their parents can do nothing but hurry down to see. Parents aren’t allowed to enter the building on the orders of the adults who run it, and so are forced to crane their necks from a distance at the living models that strut around in the loud and flickering darkness before silently handing over the appropriate cash through a hatch.
Lucy doesn’t want a Steel Hempen, she wants a blouse, and gets several, all white, one with a high neck and little covered buttons and a zip down the back which scratched, a batwing one with tight cuffs and several in the style of a man’s shirt, but prettier.
Spring is coming, and the weather, while still cold, tantalises the humans with moments of warm breeze that smell of summer. There are enough of these to allow the children to go outside during break, their hair picked up and tugged by the wind even before they manage to do it to each other. Lucy stands with her back to a tree.
‘Lucy new girl! All white! All right!’ the children sing, rubbing their hands over the dusty windows and then hugging her tightly.
‘I don’t think there should be fights,’ says Lucy. The boy grabs another boy and they run around her.
‘Ram ram! Ram ram!’ they chant.
‘I don’t like computers,’ says Lucy.
‘What’s your mumndad got?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Holy scrote, Lyucy. You fucking fool!’
The wheeling mosaic of TV quotes, mild menaces and impatient reasoning grinds to a soft halt. Steels are appearing. The Steels never run, nor even seem to move fast. Once the clothes are put on, a regality overcomes the wearer. A few of them wear the coveted sandals, of which deliberately few are released at any one time.
‘Leave ‘er alone, dolegeeks,’ says a girl with braided red hair, green eyes and freckled skin the colour of Golden Virginia. The silenced crowd moves away. There’s always one, Lucy knows, who will try to protect her, via the laws of redistribution of power. A truly powerful person should always be seen to be sympathetic, even if they are engaging in torture.
‘Lucy piss-queen, what’s the pretty shirt for?’
‘I like my blouse. My parents bought it for me. I like to wear it.’ There is a spurt of controlled laughter. The word ‘like’ has almost fallen out of use among those below a certain age. If something is appreciated, it is ‘wanted’. Once obtained, it is ‘mine’ but once ‘mine’ it cannot not be discussed except in terms of what will soon supercede it. Past is rammed into future like a wet fist in a bulbless socket.
The redhead pulls the blouse out of Lucy’s waistband and squeezes her chest around the nipple.
‘What do you know about cystitis?’
That wonderful old world of sticks and bits of string and blocks with words written on them is long gone. What would Arthur Mee think of those little hands now, what they are used for? Those chattering armies of little flower-faces, turned upwards at learning, had matured to fruit like rocks, plucked early from the tree and rolling downhill, not rotting safely in the sweet grass. In the school, the only safe living things are the unprotected saplings around the paved area between the building and the gate. A generation’s environmental awareness has elevated plants to the status of gang members. Every sect has a tree around which its members sit at milk break.
The redhead’s question sits baldly in the air. Lucy has attended some of the sex-education classes offered by the school, but although her health is generally good, she finds herself becoming ill on the mornings they are due to learn about babies, organs, and movements, and the sickness only lifts when the classes end. At these times her mother flutters around her particularly attentively. Lucy has not yet evolved far enough to make a connection, although she has been yanking out the hairs that newly persist in growing on her. She’s missed the diseases class, the penultimate one before they did love. Lucy is not sure why she was ill the morning they did that class, but suddenly on the Monday she was unable to open her eyes, and her whole body felt heavy. She does not know how to answer the girl’s question but tries anyway.
‘Do they have a new record out?’ The Steels hiss with laughter, on and on and on.
There is a click of snapped fingers as the chief girl expresses her boredom with the way the conversation is going.
‘Tits coming, Lucywhite.’ The Steel girls in this school have already forced a whole double lesson on that week’s sexuality. In class they sit together in pairs, hands holding each others’ thighs, utterly attentive to the teacher. They laugh at Lucy, and push her. So everyone copies them.
But somehow it is all token. No-one is truly frightening, particularly after milk-break. Then, when mellow silence comes over the school for a while, Lucy goes boredly to her coat and finds bars of chocolate in it. She is still not sure why everyone in her class apart from her loses interest in everything at ten forty-five in the morning, nor who is putting things in her pockets.
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