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Rough Trade Books Brings Independent Music's Spirit to Publishing

Read an extract from 'The Faithful Look Away', Melissa Lee Houghton's fiction title for the iconic record label's new publishing arm here.
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There are few UK record labels more enduring or iconic than Rough Trade. What began in 1978 as a humble shop off Ladbroke Grove in west London is now an internationally recognised paragon of indie rock, remaining a mark of musical quality for decades. This year, the label branched out, bringing its "original spirit and radical direction to the world of book publishing", which, certainly, could always do with a shake-up.


Back in June, the label launched its new venture, Rough Trade Books (snappy!), with 12 pamphlets collectively named Rough Trade Editions, which aim to "tell the stories of why counter-culture matters, has mattered and will matter". The works in the series vary in content and form, from poems to experimental fiction and photography – with pitstops over at illustration and interviews – and are authored by a roster of globally acclaimed writers and artists, including Joe Dunthorne, Jenn Pelly, Jon Savage and Ana de Silva.

Another of the Rough Trade Editions writers is award-winning poet Melissa Lee-Houghton, who contributes a short fiction piece titled The Faithful Look Away to the project. Exploring mental health and body image within a domestic family setting, The Faithful Look Away exemplifies the originality, quality and fundamental Britishness of Rough Trade Books' ethos. You can read an extract from it, exclusive to VICE, below:

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I have terrible things to forget. My routine keeps me grounded. Of course, we all have our crosses to bear, and needless to say I have had my fair share of unnecessary catastrophes, mostly due to the unwillingness of others to leave their baggage by the door. I admit I have been up against it, and the latest problem began in the supermarket a fortnight ago when my son-in-law, Kevin called me on my mobile. I was startled by the ringtone as I usually receive few calls and I answered but there was no sound. Then I heard someone crying, very loudly, so I hung up immediately as the noise penetrated my core and I felt as though there’d been a big mistake. I went about choosing punnets of cherries and found the whiskey Malcolm likes, then filled the basket on my bike and began to ride home. Halfway up the road my phone rang again, so I stopped by a park and answered it. ‘Hello Faith,’ Kevin said. He sounded downtrodden, and I knew it was something to do with Kirsty, my youngest daughter. It always is. I asked him if everything was alright and strained for a response as it was difficult to hear, he sounded as though in some faraway place. ‘She’s been taken onto the ward again,’ he said. I said ‘oh, right.’ What else can you say? He said, ‘it’s a different one than last time. Oh, you didn’t go last time did you? It’s an intensive care unit, so she’s being cared for better this time.’ I didn’t really have much to say. He asked me, ‘do you want the number for the ward?’ I said, ‘no, it’s alright. I expect she’ll be busy.’ Kevin became a little hostile. I began shaking. He said, ‘she’s been in several times and not once have you visited. It’s very difficult to do all this on my own, with two kids as well. You could help.’ A car whizzed by and I felt as though I might pass out.


At home I had so much to do that day I simply couldn’t have visited even if I wanted to. I had to do three piles of washing and I can’t send Malcolm to the office in an unironed shirt. Kirsty doesn’t think of these things when she ends up in these states. We simply can’t all drop everything. I didn’t tell Malcolm about the phone conversation with Kevin, I decided it wouldn’t be wise. He had never really taken strongly to either Kevin or Kirsty and I didn’t like to push the subject. It was a situation made worse by their eldest son, Gregory, deciding to be gay. Malcolm says gay men are a disgrace to humanity and I don’t argue with him, as he often flies into a rage about such things—actors mincing on the cinema screen and such. It’s best not to broach the subject if it can be avoided at all. I worried the phone might ring and interrupt me again so I put it on silent for the rest of the day.

That was really the worst of it that week. I didn’t hear from Kirsty so presumed I wasn’t needed. With her eldest being eighteen it wasn’t like the kids needed minding anymore, and she had pushed me out of their lives like a splinter long ago. On the Friday Malcolm came home in a real slump of a mood and for the first time in four years we argued. He had walked in and left dirty footprints in the hallway, muddying my beautiful Persian runner, which cannot be cleaned with steam or detergent. When I told him I didn’t know how to clean it he kicked off his shoes and sat down in the lounge without speaking. He had simply never done this before so I had to adapt quickly. I asked him if he wanted a cup of tea but he just slumped into the sofa and sighed. I reminded him that this behaviour was most unusual and what had he to say for it. He looked at me, shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘Faith, I’m fucking tired.’ To say I was shocked doesn’t adequately describe my feelings at this point. To say I was disappointed also doesn’t touch it. I walked into the kitchen and trying to get the pots together for tea smashed my favourite porcelain mixing bowl on the kitchen tiles. I cut my finger picking up the pieces and although he heard it he didn’t come to see if I was ok and instead, walked up the stairs and went to bed. At six o’clock!


It only got worse. The next week, on the Friday, there was a knock at the door when I was hoovering the staircase, and I realised quickly I wasn’t dressed suitably for company; I simply never had company. I was wearing shorts and hadn’t shaved my legs and this caused me great anxiety as I tentatively opened the door. I wished I’d had a little spyhole installed in the front door when we’d built the house and when I opened the door a little and peeked out I was most surprised to find Kirsty stood there, wet through to the skin. ‘It’s been raining,’ I said. I realise I might have said something friendlier but I was so taken aback to see her. She rarely visited at the best of times, but as far as I knew she was in the hospital. She looked as though she’d been crying though it might have just been the rain. She was wearing the most hideous denim dungarees and had her quilted coat open. I invited her in and she stomped all over my Persian runner. ‘Oh,’ I thought, ‘I might as well just give it to charity if people will insist on trampling on it.’

I asked her to remove her footwear though as I looked at her feet I noticed there were no laces in her boots. I thought better than to ask why, it’s really the worst thing you can do with Kirsty. I asked her if she’d like a cup of tea but she just plonked herself down and said she wanted to talk. I told her it was fine as long as she didn’t stay all afternoon as I had a lot to get on with before Malcolm arrived home. She asked me if Kevin had told me why she had been in hospital again. I thought, not this again. I told her it wasn’t necessary to fill me in on everything, that I realised she was ill when she had the little episode at her sister’s birthday party a few weeks previous. I told her I didn’t need to know the details, but that I hoped she was now recovered from the bout. She sat there, in my house, and swore under her breath. I said, ‘I beg your pardon?’ That’s when it all kicked off.


‘So Kevin didn’t tell you I tried to kill myself?’ is what she said. I said, ‘for God’s sake, not again. I thought you’d grown out of that,’ which was how I felt but evidently not the ‘right’ thing to say. I felt the impulse to add, ‘do you not think about your poor children and how your behaviour must be disturbing them?’ She looked at me for a moment and said, ‘really, mother? Because as a matter of fact my children are emotionally secure, happy and stable. It’s your children who have all the issues.’ She added, ‘have you heard from Jasper?’ Jasper’s her brother who emigrated to Australia years ago.

‘We spoke a couple of weeks back,’ I told her. ‘Oh mother,’ she said. ‘How many times do you need to be told?’ I had no idea what she was referring to so I kept quiet. ‘I have told you, Kevin has told you, and the social worker told you when I was on the ward. She had to tell you so you wouldn’t let my children see him. Don’t you understand?’ I realised I’d not put the slow cooker on at this point and felt a pang of anxiety at what would happen if I didn’t get the tea on. I told her I really had to get on with things and didn’t wish to argue. But she wouldn’t let up. She said, ‘do you know that the doctors say I have treatment resistant psychotic manic depression and that I might never improve?’

I looked at her and saw that awful spite and malice she’s always had in her eyes. ‘You just need to try and control yourself,’ I told her, ‘when you were young you didn’t listen to me, and now you refuse to listen. You do not do yourself any good!’ I began to raise my voice though I didn’t especially want to and panic set in as she stood up and walked over to a picture I keep on the kitchen table. ‘Jasper’s enjoying a good life out there.’
‘I’m not having a good life,’ she said, coldly.
‘Jasper’s worked hard all his life for what he’s got.’
‘One day Bethany will get pregnant, he’ll have kids,’ she said.
‘Yes, I should imagine so,’ I agreed, before adding, ‘and that will top his achievements off.’
‘How many times do I need to tell you what he did? What do you think I’m talking about, mother?’ she said, and her spiteful little mouth twisted.
‘You’ve always been envious of your brother,’ I said, refusing to be defeated.
‘My brother, the golden achiever, once wanked himself off over my face and made me lick it up.’
I was sickened. ‘For God’s sake!’ I shouted.
‘You get like this every time, Kirsty, blaming people, making these stories up. If your poor brother knew you said these things he’d be very hurt! Is that what you want?’ I was shouting and my throat felt hoarse.
‘I do want that, mother,’ she shouted. ‘I want that very much,’ she continued. ‘You don’t listen to me because you don’t love me. I accept that now, though it’s taken all these years. What I can’t accept is how you delude yourself. You live in this little sterile bubble and no one can say a thing to you. You reject me and my children so you can clean your house and do your shopping.
'You’ll regret it all, one day.’ She fell silent.

You can buy The Faithful Look Away and all of the other Rough Trade Editions titles here.

@hiyalauren / @MLeeHoughton