Review of Writing and Rising From Addiction by Brian Bowyer

Every once in a while, one encounters a truly special book. Usually, this book connects with us on an individual level. It feels as though the work was written for us, and that the writer plucked the emotional turmoil out of our minds and fashioned an antidote in the form of alchemical narrative. Not only this, but these special books are usually difficult to place in terms of their genre. They don’t fall into easy categories. In fact, they transcend them.

Writing and Rising From Addiction by Brian Bowyer is one such special book. I have never read a book like it and I highly doubt I am ever likely to read a book like it again. It bears the qualities of a story that simply had to be told, lest the author combust from the internal pressure of the story trying to escape. What is even more astonishing about this book is that it is autobiographical, and whilst the events related seem fantastical—impossible by today’s standards of officious “realism”—the level of detail and the earnestness with which they are conveyed leave me in no doubt that it is all true.

Writing and Rising From Addiction covers the first forty-three years of Brian Bowyer’s (highly eventful) life, from his earliest memories right up until a climactic moment of transformation in his forty-third year. Clocking in at 535 pages, it’s epic in chronological and geographical scope as well as emotional depth.

I must preface everything I’m about to say with this: this is not a book for the faint of heart. If you are looking for a cosy autobiography about a middle-class journey to Hollywood success, then this is not for you. Right from the first page, Bowyer lets us know we’re in for a rough ride, and the darkness of addiction takes hold of his life at an obscenely young age. This book deals with childhood abuse and trauma, violent crime, drug addiction, alcoholism, and suicide. Every trigger warning applies. But if you’re brave enough to peer into the abyss, you’ll discover the diamonds within.

Clive Barker was an early influence on Bowyer, and one can see similarity in Bowyer's life and work with Barker's paranormal realities, where the fantastical and ordinary abut one another!

Bowyer’s literary style is one of minimalism, of great empty spaces that the reader can populate with their own responses. Only rarely does Bowyer interrupt the narrative flow to tell us how he felt at a given time. He presents us with events in the cold and methodical way of a pathologist establishing the cause of death. I am not sure this book have been written in any other style. There are no frills or self-indulgences to distract us from the journey. And there is likewise no cushioning to soften the heartbreak. And this book will break your heart. Some of the things Bowyer has endured go beyond torture—they are nearly unspeakable. Yet speak about them he does. 

I am not going to go into great detail analysing specific events in the story, as to do so would be to destroy the wonderful surprise of discovery. I guarantee you will not be able to predict even half of what happens in this story, and even when you do have an inkling of what is about to occur, it is normally by Bowyer’s design, a careful foreshadowing that lets us know storms are gathering on the horizon. But, despite not detailing specific events, there are some devices and themes I want to highlight that contribute to making this book so special.

Firstly, Bowyer understands that in order to tell your own story, you have to establish yourself as the epic hero of yourlife. I’m not saying here that Bowyer is egotistically bigging himself up. On the contrary, he lays his faults bare and then some. He confesses to crimes that are genuinely shocking. Indeed, he walks right up to the line of possible redemption. But, he grasps that even though this is an autobiography, it’s also a story like any other, and he is the protagonist, just as we are all the protagonist of our own lives. And what a remarkable protagonist he is: equal turns absurdly resilient, ingeniously creative, seductive, magnetic, cruel, kind, blind, and despite everything utterly, utterly likeable. You desperately want things to turn out well for Bowyer, and every time they don’t, and life throws him another catastrophic curveball, you feel your heart riven in two. To speak bluntly: the shit this man has endured is worthy of a hundred Hollywood movies, though no one would ever believe it had all happened to one person.

Pulp Fiction was a huge influence on Bowyer, and at one point he seemed poised to take over Hollywood himself.

Secondly, Bowyer is to be praised for unashamedly discussing the numerous supernatural occurrences in his life. Some of these are so startling that they will raise the hair on your arms. If you’re a horror reader and have enjoyed Bowyer’s other books, never fear, this autobiography has plenty of supernatural horror to keep you awake at night. Although, it must be said, the occurrences are so numerous, one has to wonder whether Bowyer himself is the magnet for all these strange apparitions and hauntings. His energy and vitality—despite drug and alcohol abuse on a scale that is difficult to comprehend without reading the book—suggest a supernatural power working through him. And indeed, that power works upon us via his book as he keeps us hypnotically glued to the page, hanging on every word.

One of the aspects I found most fascinating is how Bowyer weaves in both his love of books, and the writing and publication of his own novels, throughout the narrative. As a big fan of Bowyer’s novels, particularly Autumn Gothic and Flesh Rehearsal, I was fascinated by Bowyer’s journey as a writer. He discovers a love of reading in the most unlikely of circumstances, and from there always has a book in hand, at one point amassing a library of nearly five thousand paperbacks. As you might expect, the books he is reading and writing—and the music he selects, as he is also a talented songwriter and guitar-player—always seem to have a strange relationship with the events in his real life. Fiction is imitating life, to a degree, but it is also occurring the other way around, with his life taking on dimensions of the fiction he devours and creates. Bowyer is deftly able to explore the notion that stories, just like drugs and alcohol, can become another method of escapism, and there is a peril in that of a different kind. But unlike drugs and alcohol, there is also a hope and a healing to be found.

Ultimately, Writing and Rising From Addiction is a unique work, an autobiography that reads like a modern gothic novel, an epic that remains intensely personal, a true story that stretches credulity to its utter breaking point, a moment in history that yet feels like an eternal archetype. I devoured hundreds of pages in single sittings. It is utterly compelling just as it is disturbing. At times, the journey feels so bitterly dark you wonder whether you will ever find the light—only to emerge like Dante at the foot of the mountain of Purgatory, startled and awed, the black of hell falling away from your eyes. Writing and Rising From Addiction is a must-read for anyone remotely interested in horror, writing, addiction, magic, and love. It is a testament to the human spirit and the courage necessary to follow the ineffable paths set before our feet by powers mightier than ourselves.

You can get the book at one of the links below:

Amazon US

Amazon UK