Merch!

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Since its recent appearance on Instagram, my Breakfast at Cannibal Joe’s t-shirt has drawn considerable unsolicited attention (and a few sarcastic comments), with a number of individuals approaching me for details of the vendor. Now, they, and possibly even you, will be happy to learn that I have negotiated a deal with the supplier, Canvas Kings, to provide t-shirts featuring not just the award-winning Jon Langford design of the aforementioned tome (as featured in The Bookseller) but also my second novel, Ivy Feckett is Looking for Love, for the knock-down price of €20, including post and packaging. This would be an ideal purchase for the Jon Langford fan in your life or for anyone who has never even heard of me, which potentially covers entire continents.

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Raymond Weil watch: €1,000, Weirs of Dublin; Skechers Flex Advantage shoes: €70, Avenida Gran Via, Barcelona; Pierre Cardin socks, €5, TK Maxx, Drogheda; Jon Langford award-winning Breakfast at Cannibal Joe’s design T-shirt: Canvas Kings, €20 inc. p&p.; Blue Harbour cotton shorts, £4.99, Cancer Research, Altrincham; 100% UVB protection sunglasses, £1, Oxfam, Enniskillen; Leg hairs, author’s own.

Joesshirt

As worn by an author.

Shirts are available in a range of colours and all sizes. Payment can be made via PayPal or credit card. Contact Canvas Kings via their email, thecanvaskings@hotmail.com, via their website, or via their Facebook page, specifying the desired t-shirt size, colour, and book cover.

Ivydistance

Avoid leaving fingerprints when burying bodies. Ensure anonymity by wearing the uniform of the moment. Do not, at any point, make eye contact.

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They’ll be so awestruck by your amazing shirt that they won’t even notice the blood on the shovel.

Anyone willing to send in a photo of themselves wearing either of the above shirts, in public or in the privacy of their own home, will automatically receive a free eBook edition of my next novel, Fowl Play: A Book of Perversions, due out later this year, with yet another fab Langford cover. Do you dare?!

And So It Begins

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Even as the penultimate draft of Fowl Play taxes the patience and benevolence of my beta-readers, the first edit of Book 4, Manuel Estímulo’s Fascist Book of Everything, begins. It is a timely work, a metaphor for Brexit, for xenophobia, for western cultural imperialism, and the merits of peace and love. Drawing from sources as diverse as Don Quixote, Flaubert’s Bouvard & Pécuchet, John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces, and William Donaldson‘s Henry Root’s World of Knowledge, the Fascist Book of Everything will cover every topic under the sun in order to provide the definitive rulebook for correct living as a Fascist in the modern world. But be not afraid: There’s a plot afoot, to boot. Some examples (from the A’s):

 

Aardvark
Four-footed marsupial indigent to Africa whose name literally means “First one on the ark.” Most people are aware that Noah collected the animals two by two. They are less likely to know that he did so alphabetically.

Killing, skinning and cooking a whole aardvark will fill you with a false sense of accomplishment. Wearing the skin and successfully passing yourself as a real live aardvark is more impressive. Eating while wearing the skin is something to write home about. Tastes of chicken.

 

Adultery
Research shows that of every ten deaths that occur during sex, nine of them take place during extra-marital relations. This proves conclusively that God is watching with intense interest. It is also worth bearing in mind Thomas Aquinas’s proof that a man commits adultery if he enjoys himself too much while having sex with his wife.

 

Allergies
According to the mass media, there has been a big increase in the number of children suffering from allergies in the past 40 years. This, they say, is because of all the cleanliness children are covered in. What rubbish. The truth is that more children suffer from allergies today because interfering scientists have kept alive lots of children who would be dead if Nature had been allowed to take her course. The mortality rate has dropped by so much in the last century that the species has been enfeebled and feminized by the survival of offspring who under normal circumstances would have happily succumbed to croupe, tuberculosis, cholera, diphtheria, chicklenpox, avian flu, dengue fever, Spanish flu, Indian hobnobs, German Byte, or French kissing disease. Because these weaklings have been immuned to such fatal race-enhancers as these, they are free to cough and sneeze and splutter and swell up all over their genetically superior officemates, ruining their day and all because of some supposed civil right to eat peanuts. No wonder the Chinese are laughing at us. Over there, such anti-social elements are thrown off a cliff the same day they are born. It is a shame that this new rabies strain we are seeing on the island does not result in death: Cross-country races in the mountains would have provided natural selection and a salutary lesson to the local kindergartners.

 

I don’t mind telling you, this book has been the most fun to write so far, a reminder of why I do it. The next 12 months of editing and re-writing should be a hoot!

 

Out, Damn’d Draft, Out!

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I’m a huge fan of the Big Bang Theory but even after watching every episode I’m fairly sure there’s no loop quantum gravity, supersymmetry, or string theory explanation for why it is that the editing of the penultimate draft of a novel should take longer than the initial writing of it. Time simultaneously contracts and expands, dilates and condenses, the arduousness of the original creation being replaced by a dulling of the senses caused by repetition and familiarity, the spontaneous eruption of a forgotten joke encountered afresh distended into an asymptotic moan of diminishing returns each time it is reread and effort is made to improve on or sharpen it. The self-confidence that overtook any initial hesitation and thereby resulted in the completion of a work to be edited gives way in the review to an orgy of “What the hell was I thinking?” doubt, a form of self-abuse manifested by crossings-out, screeds in the margins, and long, languid waves of ink across full pages where not a word can be salvaged, waves that in brief moments condemn days of agonized wankery.

I get enough of editing in my day job, so this torture I inflict on myself is purely for your benefit, you understand. If you think this next book is shite, you should see what it was like before I edited it. But even now, I’m still laughing at the craziness of it. I’ve mentioned elsewhere that an anonymous reader at Hodder & Stoughton gave my agent feedback on it, saying “This is quite the funniest dystopian comedy I’ve read in a long time.” Well, let’s hope (s)he reads a lot of dystopian comedies, otherwise we’re fucked. Sometime soon, Fowl Play will be edging its way into your eyeline like one of those mythical beasts portending death and destruction but which, when you turn your head, looks like nothing more than a miniature schnauzer. But a miniature schnauzer with one eyebrow raised. He knows what you’ve been up to, and the day when he judges you is nigh.

Indie Revolution Interview

The very wonderful Lorie over at the Indie Revolution Blog has posted a recent interview we conducted in which I slag off Christopher Hitchens, quote Bruce Lee quoting Mae West, and recall singing “Danny Boy” with Wayne Sleep in an out-take from Twin Peaks.

 

You can read the entire thing here. And check out Lorie’s other interviews with some top, top indie writers.

A Fragile Pedestal

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As students in London in the early 80s, my friends and I did whatever we could to entertain ourselves on the cheap: labyrinthine, clueless but committed all-night arguments on political theory, parties gatecrashed in the hope of stealing a bottle or a kiss, hours of masturbation (intellectual, physical, mutual if we were lucky, solo if not), and even, occasionally, attendance at lectures or seminars just for the craic. One form of entertainment I was unable to persuade my friends to partake of was a Sunday morning trip to Hyde Park’s Speakers’ Corner—hangover or inclement weather were the usual excuses—where one could huddle for warmth in crowds of pre-internet trolls as they heckled, harried, harassed, and humiliated the unfortunate few who had had the temerity to appoint themselves the focus of attention and source of enlightenment. I’ve always thought this ridiculing of the hubristic to be a valuable evolutionary tool in humanity’s development, a way to ensure not that anyone gets ideas above their station but that no station above or outside that of the community ever appears. And, to be fair, most of those who took the stage at Speakers’ Corner deserved the hard time they received: Proselytisers, Holy Joes, Holier-than-thou Joes, Prolier-than-thou Joes, Self-taught Vulgar Marxists, Untutored Vulgar Racists, Seventh-Day Adventists, Eleventh-Day Dreamers, Men in Straw Boaters, Strawmen by the Boatload. There’s a wonderful website where you can read about the varieties of crypto-religious experience to be had at this cathedral to free speech here.

My favourite speaker of all was a German anarchist known to me only as Willy, whose fractured English made his meaning no more or less opaque than that of the other turns, and no more or less funny, but it lent a certain charm to his Gestetnered magazine, News from Nowhere, never likely to be confused with William Morris’s utopian socialist text of the same name. Whenever I visited Hyde Park, I always hoped that Willy would be there, even though I rarely agreed with him—he was simultaneously too hippyish and too Stirnerite for my tastes—for he was a gentle and amusing speaker. He was also the only speaker I ever saw escorted off the premises by the cops at Speakers’ Corner, following some scuffles in which he played no part, for the content of his oration. Annoyingly, I don’t recall the subject of his speech, only that when he was helped down from his milkcrate by the constabulary, he was immediately replaced by a Marxist of a most boring and didactic aspect, who lost no time in losing the crowd’s sympathy, telling Willy’s erstwhile listeners that their attitude to work—they were against it—qualified them only for membership of the lumpenproletariat.

Willie died some years ago, I believe, but I still have a photo of him, courtesy of Invisible Threads, a large-format book of photographs taken by the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, who died this weekend. A bereted Willy stands on a milkcrate wearing a homemade cardboard placard round his neck like a victim of Mao’s Red Guard. The text in felt marker relates to the Persons Unknown trial and reads “If it’s a crime to be an anarchist, then I’m a criminal.” Yevtushenko titled this photo “A Fragile Pedestal,” an apt comment on the willingness of hecklers to knock speakers off theirs, but less appropriate in light of the trial’s outcome: four defendants—Ronan Bennett, Iris Mills, Trevor Dawton, and Vince Stevenson—were acquitted. I subsequently met Vince on a number of occasions at the Autonomy Club, an anarchist community centre in Wapping that was financed by money from the support fund, and Ronan Bennett has had a successful career as a novelist, playwright, and, more recently, focus of media celebrity speculation.

FragilePedestal

I saw Yevtushenko give a poetry reading in Birmingham in 1979, an experience I drew upon for the date scene in Ivy Feckett is Looking for Love; actually, not so much “drew upon” as reproduced verbatim, though with Ivy as the protagonist. Yevtushenko was 45 years old at the time, this episode of The Book Programme tells me, ten years younger than I am today, yet he seemed to me already to be pensionable, perhaps because he wore a flat cap throughout the reading, and flat caps were indelibly associated for me with my own grandfather, already in his seventies back then. (In retrospect, the flat cap may have been a fashion trend among intellectuals of the late 70s; that same year, I attended a sociology conference at Lancaster University where I saw Tom Bottomore deliver an entire lecture without removing his cap once.) Yevtushenko’s dynamism belied his apparent years, however. He declaimed heroically, growling, prowling, staring, emoting, the archetypal poets’ poet. There were only two male students in my Russian language class at college—Brian Grogan and me—so we were used to being marginal, minority participants in lessons (the low profile, I feel, explains why we were never targeted by MI6, either for surveillance or recruitment). Brian was absent from the reading, meaning that Yevgeny replaced him as the only other male in the room (male, not man; I was 16 at the time). It was a virtuoso performance, albeit helped, I am sure by the unworldiness of his audience, bookish bespectacled ladies of a certain age, awestruck by his very presence. I remember very little of the night other than Yevtushenko basking in the worship of his audience and wondering what that flat cap was all about. Maybe he just had a bald patch he was concealing.

Had I any sense of the dramatic, my anecdote would end with “And that was the night I decided to become a poet,” but to be faithful to my recollections, I must instead report that I chanced my arm with one of my fellow classmates on the way home, asking her for a date in the naïve hope that exposure to Yevgeny’s lyricism had rendered her susceptible to the less graceful charms of a teenage Brummie. My hope was as baseless as it was base.

Perhaps I should buy a cap.

No Rest for the Wickless

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It’s never been entirely clear to me why those with wicks should be tormented by eternal flames. Just seems so vindictive. But it isn’t like those of us without wicks get a chance to take a breather either. The holiday period just gone saw visits to the family that were far too short, and since then I’ve been back on the mountain alongside Sisyphus, pushing my particular bolus of dung around like a good ‘un. The first week and a half of January have seen leaden hours of writing, editing, researching, with nary a chance to look away from whatever screen demands my attention, so I’m late in bringing my new year’s resolutions to the internet table. The irony is that one of the mini-promises I’d made to myself for the year was to get out more, get some exercise, meet and greet people face to face, escape the depression that living online brings. However, one shitty maitre d’ in a local restaurant put paid to any illusions I had about offline politeness, resulting in a vengeful pile-on on Trip Advisor that  saw me not only vent my spleen about my mistreatment at his hands but also, as a corollary, visit the pages of all the restaurant’s rivals to give them glowing reviews in the hope that they would overtake the aforementioned miscreant in the rankings. In retrospect, I probably went a bit Trump on his ass (i.e., petty and vindictive), and my good wife’s calm and placating nature was sufficient to make me feel ashamed of myself (all she needed to have said, of course, was “Leave him, Jay! He’s not worth it!” but we don’t watch Eastenders, so she didn’t know). The irony of my situation was thus compounded; one malefactor met in the flesh hurled me back to the virtual world in retribution.

All of which is by way of an excuse and an apology for my failure to give shout-outs to the classy literary folk who’ve sustained me in the past year and who form the foundation of my main resolution for 2017. I’ve encountered some remarkable talents – and some lovely people – in the indie writing world over the past couple of years, especially via Goodreads, but I’ve been unable, for one reason or another, to immerse myself in their writing. So the plan for the coming 12 months is to read as much as I can by the amazing Leo X. Robertson, Rebecca Gransden, Rupert Dreyfus, M.T. Bass, Mike Robbins, Jack Binding, Mary Papastavrou, Harry Whitewolf, and Arthur Graham, to name but a few.  I also have debts to pay to the wonderful Elyse, Alison, and Jason, stalwarts of the Goodreads community and readers of immense taste and patience, and to Booktubers Dan Martin and Acacia Ives, whose videos I never miss. I recommend that you never miss them too. It looks like I’ve a busy year ahead.

And so it goes.

Shortlisted!

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Ivy Feckett is Looking for Love has made it onto the shortlist for the top 50 indie books of 2016 over at Read Freely. Here’s the link.

http://www.readfree.ly/vote-50-best-indie-books-2016-comedy/

If you’d be so kind, please give Ivy your votes. You can vote twice in each category, even for the same book, and there’s a $50 prize for one lucky voter.

Breakfast at Cannibal Joe’s came in at No. 6 last year, so it would be great if Ivy beat that.

Please also vote for Harry Whitewolf’s book Rhyme and Rebellion in the Poetry section. Harry’s a powerful protest poet and deserves the publicity this award will provide.

Fill your boots!