A powerful Noir short story collection edited by the Bukowski of Noir, Paul D. Brazill. Exiles features 26 outsiders-themed stories by some of the greatest crime and noir writers, K. A. Laity, Chris Rhatigan, Steven Porter, Patti Abbott, Ryan Sayles, Gareth Spark, Pamila Payne, Paul D. Brazill, Jason Michel, Carrie Clevenger, David Malcolm, Nick Sweeney, Sonia Kilvington, Rob Brunet, James A. Newman, Tess Makovesky, Chris Leek, McDroll, Renato Bratkovič, Walter Conley, Marietta Miles, Aidan Thorn, Benjamin Sobieck, Graham Wynd, Richard Godwin, Colin Graham, and an introduction by Heath Lowrance.
I was delighted to be asked to appear in Exiles: An Outsider Anthology. I guess a lot of my writing is about outsiders, but Boxing Day in Muros seems to fit the bill perfectly. The story first appeared on the Dogmatika website, then in my own collection Blurred Girl and Other Suggestive Stories. So, like its main character Rab, it has been around a bit.
In fact, Boxing Day in Muros was initially the title of a chapter in my book, The Iberian Horseshoe – A Journey. Muros is a real town in Galicia, North West Spain, near Finisterre, which means ‘Land’s End’. Galicia claims a Celtic heritage and its rugged coastline is often said to resemble Ireland. Muros is about as far removed from a typical Spanish holiday resort as you can get.
I was attracted to the place when I first visited in the late 90’s, little knowing I would later spend a number of summer holidays around there. Initially, it reminded me of some small towns in the Western Highlands of Scotland. I became interested in the idea of a character with a desire to escape so far from home that he finishes up running out of land, staring out at the Atlantic vastness.
Rab has had a stroke of luck in winning five numbers on the national lottery. He goes to London and, and with enough money still in his pocket, he presses on to the exotic sounding Santiago de Compostela, which he has seen as a destination on the front of a bus at Victoria Station.
Rab ends up in Muros where he has time and space to reflect on recent events in his life. Although people speak a different language, the landscape is strangely familiar and the world globalised enough for him to pick up some of his favourite food and drink in a supermarket. But his journey isn’t yet done …
Bio: Steven Porter was born in Inverness, Scotland, in 1969. He is temporarily ‘exiled’ in Italy. “Boxing Day in Muros” was previously published online by Dogmatika and appeared in Steve’s collection Blurred Girl and Other Suggestive Stories. His short fiction has appeared in other anthologies such as Byker Books Radgepacket series, True Brit Grit and Off The Record 2 – At The Movies. He also wrote the script for Beyond The Haar, a Grand Jury Prize winner at the 2013 Amsterdam Film Festival. In addition, he has published two collections of poetry: Shellfish & Umbrellas and 16 Poem(a)s, as well as the travelogue The Iberian Horseshoe – A Journey and the novel Countries of the World. Details of how to get hold of these can be found at Steve Porter’s World of Books blog at http://stevenjporter.wordpress.com/.
And all proceeds go to charity.
Find out more in my latest Brit Grit Alley column which is, as usual, over at Out Of The Gutter Online.
Looking tasty, eh? Great cover by Steven Miscandlon. More info and cast list at Luca Veste’s Guilty Conscience.
Q1: How long did Countries Of The World take to write?
I think it took about 3 years but I spent a lot more time reading and researching than actually writing. The idea had been brewing for years. My original idea was to go to South America and try to track down Scottish fans who’d gone to Argentina for the ’78 World Cup and never come home. The funds never materialised so instead I wrote some fiction about someone who went there and did come back. Q2: Has living in exile-Spain- affected your writing?
I’m sure it has. I believe all our personal experiences affect our writing in some way. I had an interest in Spanish-speaking countries long before I went there (maybe inspired in part by those World Cups!). I suppose it would’ve been harder to get a genuine feeling for someone returning home and seeing things differently if I hadn’t had some sort of similar experience.Q3: Do you think the ebook revolution has liberated writers?
It’s early days. I’d like to think so. But you usually find with DIY ethics that it doesn’t take long for the industry to wake up, regain control, sanitise and nip any revolution in the bud. In two years, I couldn’t find a publisher to take a chance on Countries of the World. I suspect they were scared off by its diversity. It doesn’t fit comfortably into any genre and might not have a huge target audience. But these new avenues allowed me to get it published quite easily instead of tossing what I consider my best work to date in a drawer.
Q4. How did you first get involved with Byker Books?
I first became aware of Byker Books through the Radgepacket series. My story Blurred Girl Diaries is in vol. 4. I enjoyed reading the others in that collection and have purchased one or two others dirt cheap on Kindle.
Q5. What was Byker Books involvement in the publication of Countries Of The World?
I hired the editor (let’s call him Ed) to help me with book design, typesetting and sorting out some commercial issues with Amazon and so on. Byker call it their “Assisted Authors”. I believe I was the first to take the plunge. Ed was very good to work with and are very straight up, not promising the world, which suits me.http://bykerbooks.co.uk/AssistedAuthors.aspx
Q6. Your previous book was The Blurred Girls & Other Suggestive Stories. Could you tell us something about that?
Blurred Girl and Other Suggestive Stories was published by a small New Jersey publisher called Thunderclap Press. They publish mainly poetry books so I was chuffed to be the first prose writer to publish a collection with them. (I sound like some kind of trailblazer!) The book is available on Lulu in a rather tidy square format. I plan to publish a Kindle version soon with two or three bonus stories that didn’t appear in the original edition.
Q7. What’s On The Cards?
I don’t normally do Tarot, but let’s see… That looks like a script in my crystal ball. I’ve just been approached to work on the narrative of a documentary film about a Scottish city so hopefully that will happen. I’m also finishing a bilingual collection of poetry that should be out towards the end of the year with a Manchester publisher (16 Poems in English and Galician). There’s also a series of monologues telling the life story of a Spanish poet that I need to finish. Other ideas in the pipeline too but that’s enough to be going on with because technically I’m not a full-time writer!
Bryan Stanley Johnson did not write ordinary novels so it’s fitting that this is no ordinary biography. Jonathan Coe unfurls the life of BS Johnson through summaries of his work, extracts from the author’s novels, poems, articles and correspondence and selected interview statements from people close to our Bryan.
Despite publishing seven novels the term “fiction” must be used with caution where Johnson is concerned. His mantra was “telling stories is telling lies” and his attempts to present the truth in his fiction became one of his obsessions. This seems a naive concept considering that stories are not objective and present selective information.
Johnson saw the world in black and white rather than shades of grey, but being economical with the truth is inevitable, just as he was when he deleted a section from Albert Angelo. It might have revealed too much personal info about his own friendship with a man named Michael Bannard; a relationship that remains shrouded in mystery.
Johnson was all about extremes and lack of compromise. He often had a very high opinion of himself and could be abusive and condescending. He once wrote to the publisher Thomas Wallace: “You ignorant unliterary Americans make me puke. I don’t know how you came to read my novels in the opposite order to that in which they were intended to be read, but, for your information, ALBERT ANGELO was reviewed by the Sunday Times here as by ‘one of the best writer’s we’ve got’, and the Irish Times called the book a masterpiece and put me in the same class as Joyce and Beckett…”
While these claims are true, the way in which Johnson reminded people of this at every opportunity became quite comical and it’s almost as if he was trying to convince himself that he was in the premier league of literature. He even went as far as to write this to the chief obstetrician at St Bartholomew’s in the summer of 1965:
I enclose a copy of my novel TRAVELLING PEOPLE for you. On the publication of my second, ALBERT ANGELO, the Sunday Times called me ‘one of the best writer’s we’ve got’, and the Irish Times called the book a masterpiece and put me in the same class as Joyce and Beckett. If you have already read these books, you will know that they are based upon a relatively new technique of truth to all experience.
However, it seems I am to be denied the opportunity of a most profound and important experience: of being present with my wife Virginia when our first child is born at your hospital on or about July 24th.
May I respectfully ask you for allow me (sic) to be present at all stages of the birth? I have recently seen films of labour and delivery at the National Childbirth Trust (where my wife has attended classes) and have read appropriately: I am therefore prepared for what should normally happen.
Hoping you will grant this reasonable request,
I think it unlikely that your average obstetrician would have the time or notion to read such experimental work. This shows that Johnson’s sense of reality overlapped with fiction even at serious moments in his life. He was also prone to providing notes and manifestos and so on to back up his writing. On the one hand he felt the need to defend himself prior to criticism and on the other he thought others were too thick to grasp the depth of his vision. These swings between self-doubt and sheer arrogance were an important part of his character and would play a part in his downfall.
Johnson’s brashness meant he was pretty skilled in the art of receiving funding, something that outraged the Daily Mail (what’s new?). They ran a piece entitled They’re Giving Away YOUR Money to Spoonfeed Hippy “Art”. Johnson was singled out for criticism along with Glaswegian beat writer Alexander Trocchi. The latter was described as a ‘former pornographer and self-confessed heroin addict’ while Johnson was accused of bleeding the English Arts Council dry by scooping grants of over 3,000 quid in three years before moving on to its Welsh equivalent.
“What sort of books does he write? One contained blank pages covered in grey or black to signify unconsciousness and death; another had holes cut in pages so readers could glimpse through to see what was going to happen.” – The Daily Mail.
I like to imagine an indignant Daily Mail journalist returning his copy of Albert Angelo to the bookshop, complaining he has been sold faulty goods and then feeling such a fool that he decides to take revenge on the author. Wishful thinking perhaps as it’s not very likely that anyone at the Daily Mail went as far as actually reading any books by the writers they were criticising. Johnson was enraged – particularly about being described as a hippy since he hated the 60’s counter-culture – and threatened to sue. The rag printed a public apology and paid him damages of 250 quid; not bad money in 1970 and more power to the author’s bank account.
The Unfortunates made a huge impression on me when I read it some years ago. I don’t deny that it was at the back of my mind when I wrote Countries of the World, a novel/fictional memoir, which combines football writing with a narrative that is not very plot driven. The Unfortunates was also something of a novelty in the sense that it came in a box with loose sections that were to be read in random order bar the first and the last. Johnson got this idea from a Frenchman called Marc Saporta whose novel Composition No.1 had been published some years earlier. It may sound like another promotional gimmick but there is a lot more to The Unfortunates. This fine novel centres on the death of a close friend of Johnson’s from cancer, but it does not come across as morbid or depressing.
Funnily enough, one of the few parts of Coe’s biography that I did not enjoy was Johnson’s report of the 1966 World Cup Final. Perhaps I’m leaving myself open to accusations of Scottish bias, but I don’t see what the most long-winded match report in history (5 pages of the biography) adds to the story. It doesn’t tell us anything about Johnson since we already know that he reported on football (life experience that he used to good effect in The Unfortunates).
But Coe’s biography leaves me thirsting for more. Trawl is likely to be next on my list. The decision to set his third novel on a fishing boat led Johnson to spend some weeks at sea aboard a working trawler since he could not commit the sacrilege of writing about something that he had not directly experienced.
BS Johnson died in 1973. For those who know little about his fate (most of us I guess but his suicide at the age of 40 is no secret), Like a Fiery Elephant gathers momentum as the intrigue and suspense builds. What did he do in his final hours and who he did he spend them with? I won’t spoil it any further by explaining where the strange title comes from. But a word of caution; as with Johnson’s novels don’t expect the loose ends to be tidied up. Life isn’t like that just as the man himself would have told you.