by Shane Filer
Genre: YA, General Fiction, Contemporary
Publisher: Biblio Publishing
Number of pages: 222
Word Count: 58,000
Cover Artist: Ekaterina Zagustina
"Did you know I spent the whole of my fifteenth year in my room?"
Briar’s impromptu, mid-afternoon confession stirs up distant memories of the lonely time she spent trapped in her home; suffering agoraphobia — fear of open spaces.
Now it’s six years later.
She’s free, but the year's isolation has left serious personality disorders; disorders which will resurface as she relates her own story, and that of those in her orbit; Melodie, a pretty valley girl who Briar desires to be, Justine, her oldest friend, who has her own dark secret, and Dermot, a man who thinks he's the reincarnation of Robin Hood — stealing from the rich to give to the poor.
Slowly Dermot begins to draw Briar into his ever-so-exciting world, but who is leading whom on their slow descent into crime? Duel periods of Briar’s life intertwine like a rope around her neck as her lost year begins to overtake the present. It leads her to the answer to one very simple question:
“Is it what I always feared — am I losing my mind?”
G i r l T a l k
“Did you know I spent the whole of my fifteenth year in my room?”
I sit in the trashed corner booth of an empty Indianapolis diner sipping Coke through a red and white striped straw and watch the reaction from my two friends.
We’ve been here, Melodie, Justine and I, talking, eating, and drinking for hours and we’re all in advanced stages of serious twenty-something afternoon collapse. It’s reached the time where you run out of trivial, conversational-type things to talk about, so you say something deep and personal instead.
Melodie lifts her head from the table and flicks ash haphazardly from her cigarette in the direction of an overflowing ashtray. “You’re kidding?” she asks.
“No, she isn’t,” Justine says. We’ve been friends since school, and she knows me very well.
Elbows all over the table I cup my palms around my chin and explain. “I suffered from agoraphobia. That’s what my doctors said. It sounds awful, but all it means is that I had an irrational fear of being in places or situations from which escape might be difficult in the event of a panic attack. So I avoided those situations. During my Dark Ages I left my bedroom only to eat and go to the bathroom.
“Basically I was worried about death. Abandonment. My health. My mother’s safety. The house catching fire. Food poisoning. Earthquakes. The environment. That kind of stuff.”
I tell Melodie and Justine all these things, and when I open my mouth the words just flood out, like I’ve been wanting desperately to speak them for so long. They sit and listen, perhaps too tired or too hot and bothered to do anything else. I tell them about the first time it happened... the first time I had a panic attack. When I was thirteen. One Saturday in a mall. I can remember the smell of doughnuts and ice-cream, and ferns. I remember ferns. And the sound of a radio playing that dumb Spandau Ballet song — “True” — boy do I hate that song!
“I was standing around, just hanging out with a bunch of my girlfriends, and this boy from my class, who I had, like, this incredible crush on, came up to me and said “Hi!”
“Those girls pushed me forward. I could hear them giggling behind me, saying ‘Briar’s in love’ and all that junk, and my body froze like a statue. I felt hot and sweaty. My heart was racing. I felt this numbness in my hands and this tightness in my chest like I couldn’t breathe. I had this need to breathe in more air, this need to escape. I just ran out.”
“Shit!” Melodie says.
“Shit,” I agree. “My doctor said later that this overwhelming sensation of terror is similar to the fight or flight response inherent in all animals, including humans. No one seems to know what causes panic attacks, but there are a lot of tell-tale signs that I had right from an early age. I always used to cling to my mother’s leg. I was afraid of Santa Claus.”
“Oh yeah,” Melodie says. “I always hated that old, fat, red, pervert too.”
“I suffered a lot of phobias back then,” I explain further. “I would become possessed by a desire to clean the bathroom. The bathroom and I would literally be covered in Comet cleanser. But then I stopped.”
“Why?” Melodie asks. “Did your cleaning phobia go away?”
“Not exactly. I ran out of Comet.”
Sunlight is pouring in through the diner’s windows and Justine keeps glancing anxiously out there to the street. Am I boring her, I wonder? Anything’s possible — she has heard this one before.
It’s only then that I suddenly notice the sunglasses she wears at a lopsided angle on her face hide a large bruise around her left eye. It’s a horrible purple thing that’s yellowing at the edges like rotten fruit.
“Oh there’s Addison,” she says suddenly. “I’d better go. I’d better not keep him waiting.”
Following her gaze, I see her boyfriend climb from his red Chrysler LeBaron convertible. Addison Healy has tanned skin and swept-back dark hair, and I’ve never liked him. He’s far too handsome — one of those people who’ve never known what it’s like to be alone — because there’s always someone new throwing themselves shamelessly at him. Someone who’s never had to appreciate the smallest signs of affection.
Justine scoops up her purse, quickly excuses herself, and rushes out to meet him. Leaving a three-quarter full Coke bottle sitting behind on the table, she’s gone almost before I can register it. She’s gone.
I watch them get into the car. She’s talking. Explaining herself. Addison seems agitated; gesturing wildly and I read his lips: “What fucking time do you call this? I told you to be home at three!”
Eventually he throws up his arms in frustration and drives away. I turn back to Melodie.
“Why does she stay with that asshole?” she asks after a long pause. “He hits her, don’t you know?”
“How do you think she got that bruise on her face?”
“She said she fell against the... Fuck!” I hadn’t noticed... well, come to think of it, I have seen signs, but I’ve never put two and two together. Sometimes I wonder if I am so wrapped up in my own problems that I fail to see the suffering of others around me?
“So what happened with you, Briar?” Melodie asks, toying playfully with the straw in her bottle.
“With me? Oh, after my first panic attack I returned to school and everyone laughed and talked about me, so I stopped going. Slowly I found it harder and harder to leave the house. After a while I gave up entirely.”
“When I did eventually emerge from my room, a week shy of my sixteenth birthday, it wasn’t like a beautiful butterfly emerging triumphantly from her chrysalis, but instead a tired gray moth treading cautiously into the light.”
“My doctor once speculated that my year’s hibernation was due to an irrational fear of growing up, but that’s not right! If I really didn’t want to grow up there are much more reliable methods: sleeping pills, guns, razorblades...”
“God, so how did you, like, get out of it?”
“My brother. My brother helped me. Helped me help myself, I guess.”
“Is this Jeff — twenty-seven and still living at home?”
“No, it’s Paul — twenty and away at college. You haven’t met... oh shit!”
And I suddenly remember: Paul’s arriving home today and I said I’d go with Mom to meet him at the airport. As the afternoon dissolved I’ve lost track of time.
“Is he cute?” Melodie asks as we slip from the diner out onto the pavement.
I can only nod yes.
“Can I come too?”
“No! I’ll see you later!” Melodie is super beautiful. When I first saw her, I wanted to see her again. I hardly ever see really beautiful females. I see pretty ones, hot ones, but hardly ever see a woman that just makes me turn my head and think ‘wow she is stunning.’ I think that people who are attractive just want the world to see something other than their looks. They want other aspects of their personality to shine through. I hate boring people. I hate boring guys. I feel like sometimes if I just be really quirky it will compensate for my lack of looks. Of course this never works.
Shane grew up in provincial New Zealand, a small place where options are small, were people wear PJs to the mall, a small place where dreams of being a writer or artist are not only actively discouraged, they are actively quashed. Nevertheless he fell in love with books, comics and writing at a young age and his early influences include Oscar Wilde, Alan Moore and Dr Seuss.
After many years of trying to get books, documentaries and films accepted in his own country, Shane gave up and settled for working in the fairly creative world of video-making and advertising.
A trip to Europe and the USA rekindled his love of writing, and he wrote the American-based novel ‘Exit,’ submitted it this time to American publishers and immediately, received several offers for the work. He chose one and ‘Exit’ will be released December 2nd 2013 in the USA as his first novel from Biblio Publishing.
It is the story of Briar Averill who spent a year trapped in her room, suffering from agophobia. Six years on, she’s free, yet ripples from the year's isolation still lap at the edges of her life, and that of her friends: Melodie, a pretty valley girl who she wishes she could be… Justine, her oldest friend, who has her own dark secret and Dermot who thinks he's the reincarnation of Robin Hood — stealing from the rich to give to the poor. Ripples echo down through the years, leading her to the answer to one very simple question: Is it what she always feared — is she losing her mind?
Shane has since had comic book scripts accepted in the UK by DC Thompson, publisher of the long-running ‘Commando’ comic, fulfilling yet another dream for his child-self.
He lives with a very old and very vocal Tonkinese cat, and they both dream of eloping together to the USA or Europe.
He likes oranges, orange juice, and orange furniture — in fact even the color orange. Why? Well, because it's the best color, of course. While he believes that being a grown up is not all it's cracked up to be, he still enjoys ruining his appetite before dinner, and staying up past his bed time.
If you could have any superpower what would you choose?
Grant Morrison wrote a comic book in the late 80s called “Animal Man” who could take on the ability of any animal within a certain radius. So if there were birds around, he could fly, if there was a cat he could take on their agility. Once I think he got chopped up into numerous pieces, but rather than this being fatal, he absorbed the power of an earthworm in the ground and simply re-grew himself. Brilliant! Of course if you really could take on the power of animals, wouldn’t you also take on their plight and suffering at the hands of the human race? Hunt down Michelle Bachman?
Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
As the book’s only just been published, I don’t have any exciting stories of book signings or crazed fans stalking me. So there’s just one thing: holding a physical book with my name on it. It was a dream since childhood, and after a very long time, it came true, and it feels just as good as I thought it would. The lesson being: don’t give up at the first knock-back, and never give up on your dreams, whatever they are.
Please tell us in one sentence only, why we should read your book.
EXIT is not for everyone, but those who have read it and love it, love it with a passion.
Curry curry curry! I think I was an Indian woman in a past life, and it’s from there I gained my love of hot, spicy food and Bollywood movies. I am also a vegetarian, and Indian cuisine has a myriad of non-animal options. When I was under 5 - we used to live across the road from a big field, and one day a cow escaped from an abattoir several miles away and found its way to the park. I sat at my window, watching as police and others chased it around the field. Eventually someone shot the cow. I had nightmares for a long time after. I never used to like eating meat, and liked it less once I realized where it came from. Eventually it was one of the reasons I don’t eat meat today. There’s an area in India where the Buddha lived that is today predominantly vegetarian. I’d love to go there.
If you got to live the life of a fictional literary character, which would it be?
My first thought is that writers torture their characters so much, that it wouldn’t be any fun being a character at the mercy of a pitiless author. My second thought is the hero of a Mills & Boon style romance - then at least I would get the beautiful princess at the end. My third thought is Superman. That way I could fly, check out what’s for dinner in my fridge with my x-ray vision, and then with my heat-vision cook it while it’s still in the fridge.
What’s your favorite season/weather?
As a child it used to be summer, because of summer holidays, and sitting in the sun reading, but then as an adult I realized I had better winter clothes. I have never seen snow. I live in New Zealand. I have never lived somewhere with real, distinct seasons, like Europe or parts of America. I intend to change that.
What was your favorite children's book?
The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde. There is a bit of the Happy Prince that tugs at my heart when I read it:
“…the Swallow came back to the Prince. ‘You are blind now,’ he said, ‘so I will stay with you always.’”
Maybe it’s just within the context of the story that you know the swallow loves the prince so much he will die for him? It reminds me too of a girl once telling me she would stay with me always... but of course it was a promise she couldn’t keep, and it reminds me of my mother who introduced me to the story. She died a few years ago. I got to say goodbye, and tell her how much she meant to me (though she knew). The night she knew she was going to die, I felt I wouldn’t get to say something unless I did that moment (I was right she was in a comma the next day and dead the following one). She used to have this funny story she told me when I was a child. That she'd gone to see a fortune teller in Auckland while on holiday there. This was before she knew she was pregnant with me. The old woman sat her down and told mum everything about her. Like she knew her life. Then she leaned over and said, “Soon you will have a child, a son, and you will never be alone again.” A few weeks later mum found out she was indeed pregnant.
In the hospital I asked her if she remembered that story and she nodded. I told her that the old fortune teller was right - that she would never be alone - and that I would always be with her. Mum smiled and said she always wanted me with her. This child’s story rekindles many memories from childhood and beyond.
Beach or Pool?
Children pee in pools. I guess fish pee in the ocean. I will go with the ocean.
What is one book everyone should read?
The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving. He has more famous and successful books, the World According to Garp and the Cider House Rules, also great, but something in this rather warped novel connected to me. It’s a family saga of a very unconventional family. It will make you laugh and cry; sometimes at the same time. Like life.
What are your favorite TV shows?
I rarely watch TV. I don’t have a TV receiver, but watch DVDs. I did recently get drawn into the phenomenon that was Breaking Bad. Luckily I watched it over a couple of months, not 5 years. Oh incredibly nail-biting. How Vince Gilligan managed to create a series that not only was fast-paced but also deep, absorbing and intelligent is an exercise in great writing and film-making. A text-book in characterization as Walter White moves almost seamlessly from being protagonist to antagonist. I’m still in withdrawal actually. I don’t know what I’m going to do. Any recommendations for a replacement welcome.