Mark Wilson’s cover art for Paladin, the charity anthology that editor Aidan Thorn put together to drum up financial support and recognition for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation in honor of ‘Henri’ Furchetnicht, wife of Brit Grit crime writer Craig Furchetnicht and inspiration to a cadre of writers and friends in the UK, is astonishing as it is poetic.
My story, ‘Back in the Day,’ appears in Paladins; its inclusion is of double significance for me. I wrote the story in 2010 using first person, a rarity for me. ‘Back in the Day’ was also my second publication, shortlisted for the Fish Prize that year, a story that Ronan Bennett would praise for its unique voice. I had to decline the invitation to participate in the author presentation in Ireland because I had a prior appointment with The Big C, cancer. The details of my treatment are too harrowing (and difficult for me) to recount here. Let’s just say that I still live with the consequences today, with the scars, the losses, and the medications that, ironically, compromise my health. The entire saga was a glimpse of hell from the other side of the divide. See, I’m an experienced nurse. I simply knew too fucking much. So, in a word, this anthology is personal to me.
A few years ago, I started becoming acquainted with the British Scene, with the edgy prose worlds of Paul D. Brazill, Ryan Bracha, Craig Furchtenicht, Cal Marcius, Gareth Spark, and Graham Wynd. These stories were noir, as in bad choice, questionable character, and a cascade of consequences. I glimpsed the feral worlds that faces (British slang for gangster) like Paul Ferris and The Kray Brothers would understand. It’s called Brit Grit. I’m an American, an outsider, so I took in the smoke that I imagined inside the pubs, along with the pulled pints, and I navigated the argot I read in these stories. I would hear and see the solidarity of working-class man and woman forced to eat the sandwich called Life. Grit, to me, is also that intrinsic quality, that speck of insanity to fight the fight when any normal person would quit.
Nobody should have to fight cancer alone. Right or wrong, rich or poor, nobody asks for cancer. The fight affects us all. Every one of us will experience cancer at some point in our lives.
Let’s be honest and set aside the BS we see on television. Cancer is down-in-the-trenches ugly. Cancer is war, literally Self against Self. The clinician here will tell you one semantic Truth: there is no such thing as a ‘good cancer.’ Clinicians such as myself were trained to use the word ‘patient.’ Well-meaning people say ‘victim’, but who wants to be called a victim? We have forgotten that our diction distances common humanity. A person with cancer is a person, a human being: someone’s mother, daughter, brother, father, or lover. We are all connected. I can tell you as a ‘patient’ who has seen the best and absolute worst of life and death in hospitals in my practice, not much matters in the last few minutes of this short existence, other than having loved or been loved. Nothing.
There is Light and Shadow. There is Life and Death.
These are mirrored reflections, captured so well in the cover art, as I see it.
In his essay, Aidan had discussed the title, Paladins, and its meaning. The word is a corruption of the Latin palatinus, or knight of the palace. In modern Italian, it is a byword for ‘advocate’ or ‘supporter,’ as in a just case. I’m confident that any writer in this anthology wouldn’t dare say that he or she is a warrior, but we would agree that we support a good a cause. Warriors are forged in the crucible of adversity, both physical and mental. They fight and they help others. Writers use words as weapons against the shadows even when they choose to write about darkness. It’s an honor for me to join these writers to sharpen our words and point the spears at a formidable enemy. We sixteen writers assembled here on these pages, with support from the ranks on both sides of the ocean and around the world, muster morale and call for support for Henri and others like her who fights cancer.
They are the warriors.