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Cross in snowy wood
Faber asked me to make this diary: here I am in the woods of Alderley Edge near my house when it snowed.

Maybe it was snowing in Dante’s Inferno too? ‘In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost. Ah, how hard a thing it is to tell what a wild, and rough, and stubborn wood this was, which in my thought renews the fear!’ Or we could pretend it’s the forests around Chernobyl in The Reactor (close your eyes if it helps you imagine), and that’s OK too. That crossroads, I mean it could be rather symbolic, don’t you think?

Red trainers on snow
Looking down at my feet and I am laughing because I write about ‘The Red Shoes’ a bit in the book (magic and madness and the dance of associations, the Totentanz, the dance of death).

And here I am, like Karen in the Hans Christian Andersen story wearing, as I write in the book, these really not very suitable red shoes.

Hand floating above snow
I like hands very much, and I often find myself writing about hands (Hans Christian Andersen! Hahaha), so here is a picture of my hand, reaching out towards something.

This reminds me, also, of a moment in the book about the photographer Joel-Peter Witkin as a small boy, reaching out towards the head of a little girl who died in a car accident:

I bent down to touch the face, to speak to it, but before I could touch it someone carried me away.

Hand against snow tree
My hand again, or we could go with John Keats, who also makes his way into The Reactor, and write ‘this living hand’.

Also I’m pretending to be Bowie a bit here, giving myself frostbite doing David doing Erich Heckel doing catatonic hands in his painting Roquairol (1917), a way of doing living hands doing dead hands which found its way into the album covers of “Heroes” and The Idiot.

Tyre tracks in snow
I’m on my way back to the car and there are all these lines and marks and divergings in the snow.

Or we could stay with Bowie, I guess, going round and round in the carpark of the hotel in Los Angeles (altogether now) — Always Crashing in the Same Car.

Birds and trees on dark sky
Maybe we’re in Kate Bush country now, in all the twilight and these birds.

I’ve gone over to Macclesfield Crematorium here, a short walk from the hospital where my father died and where Ian Curtis the lead singer of Joy Division, has a memorial stone. It is getting pretty dark.

Grave in the snow
Here’s Ian, I know it’s hard to tell the scale here, it’s only a small stone.

In different sort of world the memorial to Ian Curtis would be miles high, this stone would be like the alien monolith at the start of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The plastic flowers lift things I think maybe (there is a lot of plastic in the book for some reason), what are they, do you reckon? A poppy and a rose?

Footsteps in the snow

I think I took this opposite the hospital in Macclesfield, about to get into the car to go home, and it reminds me of a bit in the book about Belarus, when a guide is telling me about the circumstances which led to the burning of the village of Khatyn by the Nazis in 1943, and the way different accounts can get confused: it snows, he says, on 22 March, and so the army would have been able to follow the partisans’ footprints.

They’re distinct for the most part, these particular footprints, aren’t they? But things do get confused.
Carpet and door

I’m back at the house outside the room that used to be my father’s room thinking about another bit in the book which goes: You look at the square of light around the closed door, in the dark hallway. // That night you dream of Chernobyl again, getting off the train at the border of the zone. It has been snowing.

The carpet looks a bit like snow here too, don’t you think? A thin dusting of snow falling on the landing, inside the house.
Single bed in room
We are the inside the room now, hashtag no filter, but I think we are about to see a ghost here, for certain.

The Reactor again: You are remembering photographs in a couple of library books, fascinating to you as a child, which showed the aftermath of people who had spontaneously combusted. You are remembering sepia images of charred carpet, the bitter, chemical smell of the pages.

Messy bed in room
This is where I wrote the book mostly, lying in bed in the room opposite the room that was my father’s room.

‘You might at least have made the bed,’ one wants to say to the photographer, except it also reminds me of the terrible sheet-ghost in M. R. James’s ‘A Warning to the Curious’. Of something rising up on its own, with no eyes and reaching out. Of something wanting something.

Dirty laptop screen
A still from Serhiy Zabolotnyy’s documentary Chernobyl.3828 (2011), taken from the position I lay in when my father was lying in hospital, and I found myself wanting to watch videos about nuclear accidents.

This part of the documentary is about cleanup workers sent out onto the roof of the reactor building as what they called bio-robots, moving highly radioactive material with practically their bare hands. The smears on the screen are from my hands I suppose, my greasy, dirty fingers.

Nick blackburn’s memoir The Reactor is published on 20 January 2022.

See all of Nick’s images again in this slide show:

Cross in snowy wood
Red trainers on snow
Hand floating above snow
Hand against snow tree
Tyre tracks in snow
Birds and trees on dark sky
Carpet and door
Grave in the snow
Footsteps in the snow
Single bed in room
Messy bed in room
Dirty laptop screen
About the Disposable Camera Diaries

Nick Blackburn’s is the first in a new edition of this long-running series on the Faber blog. We send a Faber author a disposable camera, and their task is to create a Disposable Diary of their writing life.

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Nick Blackburn
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A crystalline, inventive account of loss from a thrilling young literary talent – and a journey through grief’s destructive and creative possibilities.