Friday, April 22, 2011

Strop Homogenous

Previously, on SubGrubStreet:

Still imprisoned by Sharon Plum, Nathan was unable to prevent her burning The Shoutyknackers File in a zealous fit. Sharon then revealed Nathan is to write a sequel to The Death Metal Revelations so they can rule the hardback charts again together.

I am now sat in a wheelchair that Sharon has pushed next to a school exam-style desk by the window. This gives me a good view of the snowy fields and the distant mountains (*). I could get a lot done in this quiet, with this calming vista to ponder. This is like being at a writers’ retreat. It’s not, though. Not even at Arvon is there such a draconian boot-camp regime: the straps, the sedatives, the threats. There’s a more or less antique Remington Portable Typewriter on the desk. In my head I am writing a book that lists the tricks you can use to avoid writing the book.

Sharon enters, carrying a packet of paper. She slams it on the desk so forcefully that tremors quiver through the wheelchair’s frame. There’s a horrible, X-shaped frown ingrained at the point where the bridge of her nose intersects with her eyebrows.

‘Are you going to be a good boy today,’ she says, ‘and write your Number One Fan some thrilling pages?’
‘I keep telling you, I can’t do this. I can’t write like him.’
‘You did it before, sweetie pie, you can do it again.’
‘Sharon, this is what I’m confused about. Mr McMahon’s overwhelming contribution to that book was quite, how shall we say, risqué. You burned Thingyknob’s diary (***) for being risqué, lets just say risqué, or racey or gamey. If I write what you want, you’re just going to burn it in a fit of puritanical zeal. Or you’re a massive hypocrite if we get it published.’
‘Just see how you get on, Nathan,’ she says, as she skips out of the room. ‘Whistle if you need your pencil sharpening.’

Rilke said once that any writer would enjoy a spell in prison because the treasuries of his memory would surround and nourish him. This is how it works for some writers. The treasury of my memories. The enchantments. The twilit moments, the kisses in the haystack. Nah. I can only revisit things that I desperately want to forget (****). It’s not fair. Everyone else has forgotten (*****), which means they don’t want to read about it. I console myself with the tyranny of the blank sheet. It is very blank.

Four hours later and I’m still gurning at the sheet. The treasury of my memory is more like a piggybank or the structural deficit. I have put this down to two factors: 1) I am incapable of writing commercial fiction (aesthetic autism) 2) I’ve not even read The Death Metal Revelation (******). I hear Sharon’s heavy bootfalls clumping up the landing. I pretend to be typing and whack a big blissful grin on my face. She pokes her head around the door. She shows me a bullwhip, then vanishes.

Later still and I’ve just mapped in balloons and arrows half the plot of a novel that I think I’d really like to write. It’s called Tortured Loner. The tortured loner is an undervalued character in contemporary fiction. It is my mission not to write about people with noisy children and bad taste that buy books in supermarkets and think shoes or other people will make them happy. I will instead write about the Tortured Loner who picks them out with a sniper’s eye and sees into their empty souls. Of course, the fascinating contradiction is that the Tortured Loner assumes the others are not smart enough to acknowledge an emptiness that threatens to overwhelm him. The others actually live full lives, with their air-conditioned brains, many life-affirming purchases, holidays in gaping hotels with marble foyers, massive families and easy box-ticking jobs.

Who wants to know about this complex modern conundrum? Nobody, obviously. It’s not even true. Well, it’s sort of true. The eccentric, the radical independent is being purged from popular culture when in the seventies all striking and memorable things stemmed from this source. There is something about the decline of the aspirant working class and something about the rise of the writer as professional category miner. The Internet homogenises. I must become homogenous. I find myself writing: I HATE COMMERCIAL FICTION on the paper. I work on an anagram of Tony Parsons and come up with STROP ANNOYS. This is my new pseudonym, though I am quite tempted by Strop Homogenous. I can imagine a series of badly written Scandinavian crime novels by Strop Homogenous. I cross out Annoys and replace it with Homogenous.

Sharon comes into the room carrying a tray. There’s something horrible on it, bowls of bean soup, something vegetably bland anyway. She puts the tray on the bed and then gives me a nice warm smile.
‘Of you’ve started, then,’ she says. ‘How wonderful.’
‘Wonderful, yes. I really getting into it.’
She moves behind me and gently rocks the wheelchair as she reads over my shoulder.


‘I think it’s quite Joycean in its scope,’ I say. ‘A bit Finnegan’s Wake, or maybe a bit of a cut-up.’

Sharon shoves the wheelchair so hard into the desk that I’m catapulted forwards and bang my head on the keyboard.
‘You dirty ducky,’ she shouts, jerking the wheelchair back and forth. ‘Write write, write, you little pig. If I have to come in here again and you’ve written nothing I’ll run you through with a pitch fork.’

Bit scared now. I screw up I hate Commercial Fiction by Strop Homogenous and write: Revelation 2 on a fresh sheet of paper:

Dollops of shagging
Satanic Conspiracies

Promising, eh?

It’s dark now and I can hear her pacing up and down on the landing. The page is still blank. I am being asked to write a sequel to a book that I’ve not read, in a style I don’t respect. It’s like I’ve got to paint the Sistine Chapel of Awful with a death threat hanging over me.
Who says literary fiction is boring?
It is actually. I don’t write that either.
I realize that I am very alone.

An owl hoots out in the blackness.
‘Oh piss off, you cliché.’

That’s it. That’s it. A whole formula seems to open up for me. I can see where it can go from her. I write:

An owl hooted in the blackness and Stevie Sux, guitarist with top hairstyle metal band Poodlebonce, was porking a groupie behind a Happy Eater somewhere behind a desert near Vegas when he heard a strange noise. He put his stovepipe hat over his wedding tackle and even though he was actually starkersmalarkers took a chug on his can as he went to investigate.

Done it. Yes. Anything Shoutyknackers can do I can do better. Second groupie on the left, straight on till morning.

A horrible, throbbing pulse hits me in the temples, one I well remember from before (*******), one that Sharon would comprehend if only she hadn’t burned the Knackers File (********). I wait for the voice. Sometimes the voice doesn’t come. If it doesn’t come, then maybe my immune system is trying to eject what I’ve just committed to paper.

There’s a shimmering light in the room. There’s a voice.

‘Howdy there, Dame Parlet. I think you have something there that needs to be surrendered to my good keeping.’

To Be Continued . . .

* See SubGrubStreet 35, The Witch’s Hat
** See Touching the Starfish
*** See SubGrubStreet 37: A Mean Bit of Arson
**** See Touching the Starfish
***** See SubGrubStreet
****** See Touching the Starfish, page 498
******* See Touching the Starfish, page 9
******** See SubGrubStreet 16: Between the Cauliflowers


Word Count –

Sales – 0

Insults – 3

Next Week: Deus Ex O‘Mailer

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Netherworld of Delusion

Previously, on SubGrubStreet:

Nathan awoke from uneasy dreams to find top Internet marketing guru and vampire Nigella Seedlung had been turned into an even more horrible old crone. Nigella’s accusation that he had abducted her and robbed her of her youth failed to register as Nathan searched the house, at last realising that he’s not seen Jane for months.

So, here I am again, in the offices of New Bastion Books, Louis Lovestone’s bunker on the outskirts of Norwich (*). I have been summoned by my publisher, though I can’t say that I’ve been swept up in the glamour of this. I no longer anticipate chats with my editor about my genius and my next moves while Bloomsbury hurries by outside the bistro window. I no longer fantasize about falling in love with my editor (who in my dreams would not have Louis’s sweet potato-shaped head, military obsessions or gender) and going on to breakfast on white wine in midwinter with the snow laying all around and diamonds strewn on a smoked glass tabletop.

Here, the office still smells of fly spray and gas and there’s a pot of tea and a pile of Ginsters pasties (**) on the table. More than this, worse than this, the newly aged Nigella is here. I suspect that she’s pulled Louis’s strings to get me here. I don’t care. I’ve got more that this on my mind and over the last week I’ve come no closer to locating Jane (****). I am, to be honest, incredibly worried, more worried than I’ve ever been, even more than I when I woke up in the snow and thought I was dead (*****); even more than after I realized what I had done (******).

After I finally managed to oust Nigella from the house last week I scoured every room looking for Jane. Not only could I not find her, I couldn’t find any trace of her. Her clothes were gone from the wardrobe. Her make-up was absent from the bathroom. The shelves that used to house her collection of soppy books (*******) was empty and my library of miserable and unreadable early Modernist classics had taken advantage and annexed the space. For a while I thought that maybe she’d left me while I was under Nigella’s spell (********), and perhaps all I needed to do was track her down and explain that I’d been acting weird because I’d been bitten by vampire Internet marketing guru. We have, after all, lived through stranger developments (*********). The thing is, I rang around. I rang her mother, she of the hennaed hair, and not only did she say she’d never heard of me. She’d never heard of Jane. She was quite rude about it and called me a hippy and a stoner. I rang in turn each and every one of the Chorus (**********), Lou-Lou, Sandra and Buns. They all knew who I am, and Buns even asked me out to a salsa class, but none of them had a clue who I was talking about.

Jane has disappeared. I’m trying to take this in: it’s like Jane never existed.

I should explain this to Louis. I can’t be expected to talk about marketing and promotions when I’m trying to find my imaginary girlfriend. My life is becoming a plot that Mike Gayle would kill for. I cannot be expected to whore myself when all this is going on.

‘Louis,’ Nigella is saying, ‘when I took on this assignment, as you know one that I was very, very doubtful about, I did not anticipate that the client was going to kidnap, imprison and assault me.’
This wakes me up.
‘Hang on,’ I say.
‘Look at me,’ says Nigella, ‘he’s aged me by thirty years.’
‘That’s bollocks. I don’t know what happened to you (***********).’
‘I’m afwaid,’ says Louis, ‘I have to agwee with Nathan on this one. You look like you usually look, my black orchid. You appear to have taken leave of your senses.’
‘I demand you cease supporting this author this very moment. He also killed my most lucrative client (************).’
‘I didn’t,’ I say. ‘It was Bollock-On John. Anyway, I could equally say that you have persistently mucked me about, Nigella. You’ve done nothing but suggest I do stupid and humiliating things and you hypnotized me and you bit me and I suspect you’ve done something to my girlfriend, so why don’t we drop all this and start again.’
‘Start again,’ she screeches, ‘start again. How on earth can I start again when I have been cruelly stripped of my youth?’

I give Louis a Paddington Extra Hard Stare until he’s forced to do something.

‘Calm down, dear,’ he says, steepling his pudgy fingers, ‘and I can’t believe, Mr Flack, that Ms Seedlung bit you in other spiwit than to give you a little fillip, which I think even you will concede you wequire nearly all of the time.’ So, it’s Mr Flack now, is it? ‘And although I certainly have difficulty swallowing that you went so far as to abduct Ms Seedlung and know you well enough to wealize that you are pwobably in the wight here I am a business man first and foremost. As such, I’m afwaid that the gwand expewiment comes to an end.’
Nigella is nodding at me with horrible smugness.
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ I say.
‘Mr Flack, neither of us know what to do with you or your unweadable book, which so far, I checked the pwint-outs late last night seems to have sold no copies at all. We took you out and you disgwaced yourself with our biggest customer (*************), you used the unfortuate phwase in fwont of Mr Phelan (**************) and he’s been on the sick ever since. At gweat expense to you I employed the services of Ms Seedlung and you spurned all those opportunities, even making a fool of this firm on live television (***************). And I hear fwom Ms Seedling that you’ve wejected her ideas about writing something spicy (****************) or something that people would actually like to wead (******************).’

I’m feeling like I might go a bit mental, so I stand up and avoid looking at the lovely Ms Seedlung, who I did appreciate much more when she was undead and I was hypnotized, and although I really want to tell Louis that whatever he’s just said about me at least I don’t have a head shaped like a sweet potato, I know it’s best to be diplomatic.

‘Fair enough,’ I say. ‘Why don’t I buy the stock from you? I’m sure I can do better at car boot sales on my own than a slutty vampire and the giant catacomb of massive bowels that you call a sales agent.’
‘Mr Flack. I must admit that I wather ambitiously only pwinted ten copies, and those I had incinerwated this morning.’

I am now walking away from Louis’s bunker, sort of numb, sort of baffled, sort of not-really-surprised, sort of relieved, sort of back where I started, at square one, the square one that’s the square before the square I was sat on at the beginning of the Touching the Starfish story. Something hits me, though, a peculiar realization.

No one remembers the Death Metal Revelation (*******************). And now no one remembers Jane. I have been attacked by The Old Man of Hoy (********************), dragged around a seaside town that only exists when Big Dump eats a particular combination of savouries (*********************) and been under the spell of a vampire marketing guru. Something is rotten in the state of Nathan. I’ve been here before. The netherworld of delusion. And we all know who pulls the strings there.

There’s something else. Something Shoutyknackers said now seems incredibly pertinent (**********************). The way Shoutyknackers died seems highly significant (***********************). Bollocks to Louis and his rubbish press. The answers lie in the cache of papers Nigella gave me: The Shoutyknackers File

To Be Continued …

* See SubGrubStreet 1: The Great Experiment.
** See SubGrubStreet 1: The Great Experiment.
*** See SubGrubStreet 31: Resurrection Lovesick Blues.
**** See SubGrubStreet 31: Resurrection Lovesick Blues.
***** See Touching the Starfish, page 351.
****** See Touching the Starfish, page 511.
******* See Touching the Starfish, page 248
******** See SubGrubStreet 21: Yes is the Only Word
********* See Touching the Starfish, pages 1-523
********** See Touching the Starfish, page 261
*********** See SubGrubStreet 30: The Murk and Meady Prod of Death.
************ See SubGrubStreet 17: Why I Hate Bob Dylan
************* See SubGrubStreet 8: Love and Bonnets
************** See SubGrubStreet 9: That Unfortunate Phrase
*************** See SubGrubStreet 25: I’m a Writer Get Me Out of Here
**************** See SubGrubStreet 21: Yes is the Only Word
***************** See SubGrubStreet 29: Autarky
****************** See Touching the Starfish
******************* See SubGrubStreet 3: The Duellists
******************** See SubGrubStreet 6: Ginster Rusting with Big Dump
********************** See SubGrubStreet 16: Between the Cauliflowers
*********************** See SubGrubStreet 17: Why I Hate Bob Dylan


Word Count – 1992

Sales – 0

Insults – 6

Next Week: The Shoutyknackers File

The Shoutyknackers File

Previously, on SubGrubStreet:

Rubbish publisher Louis Lovestone and top Internet marketing guru Nigella Seedlung colluded to drop Nathan’s Touching the Starfish memoir from the New Bastion list after it achieved an impressive zero sales over a six-month period. Worried sick by the disappearance of Jane, Nathan realizes that the key to all the recent weirdness may well lie in a cache of documents known as The Shoutyknackers File.

It seems strange to me now that Shoutyknacker’s journals (*) lay unread on my desk for so long. In part I can attribute my negligence to the foul spells that Nigella cast over me (**), but mainly my aversion stems from a terrible fear of what I would find in these folders (***). Now though, ever since I came back from my meeting with Louis (****) I’ve been riveted to my desk, sifting and sifting the notes, collating them into a useful format, trying to find clues in what Nigella once said were ‘especial papers that may have some bearing on matters’ (*****).

What are the ‘matters’?

1) No one remembers the events of Touching the Starfish, even though they really happened and on a world scale.

2) Top Internet marketing guru Nigella Seedlung was turned into and then mysteriously out of being a vampire.

3) Shoutyknackers couldn’t help writing about masturbation due to ‘pain between the cauliflowers’ (******).

4) Shoutyknackers was bored to death by Bollock-On John just as he was about to confess to me the nature of the pain at his temples (******).

5) Jane has disappeared. In fact, I can’t remember anything that happened between Jane and I since being in the crowd outside Dewsenburys (*******) and my first meeting with Louis (********).

6) Until I woke up from Nigella’s bite (*********) I hadn’t even realized that Jane was missing. It was as if she never existed.

I want Jane back. I want to know what’s happened to her. I want to know why this has happened.

Behind all this I sense that belletristic ponce, James O’Mailer. The pain Knackers described between his temples is the giveaway. That’s how he gets to us. And the proof is in the Shoutyknackers File.

I feel like Dan Brown going through this, decoding, interpreting signs and arcane scripts.

Most of Shoutyknacker’s journals are just scribbled-out poems about wanking, the sort that made him a fortune as a so-called performance poet (i.e., someone too ugly to be a rapper, too unfunny to be a comedian and not astute or talented enough to be an actual poet) (**********).

But there are earlier ones in the sequence in which you can sense O’Mailer’s influence pressing down on Knackers. For example;

April 10th:

Cold, crisp autumn morning, so quiet
So I stayed in warm, flat bed and had
A ferocious and dirty great naughty wank.

April 17th

Like recycling bins we put them out the back
But when I got out there the moonlight catching
On the roof of the B&Q shed reminded me of my
Sexy hole-punch so I cracked one off in the alley.
A fox stared, glistening, avid.

The pattern is obvious. Shoutyknackers is O’Mailer’s creature, another pawn to toy with and thwart (***********).

Then in the file are a lot of the notes that Nigella said were ‘genius ideas’ (************), conversations between celebrities, in rhyming couplets, all about his favourite subject. None of these are complete. They’re just jottings.

For example:

Diddy from Fen Dubz
In a pub

Florence Tawdry
In a laundry

Pattie Krice
Ten times
A night

Peter Andrex
Drops his spandex

Vajazz Ling
In a frenzied spin

The thing is, out of the loop and dismissive of all things youth and celebrity as I am, I’m pretty sure that none of these people were celebrities before I first met Louis Lovestone, before I first started to try and promote Touching the Starfish.

They are figures from a bad dream. A bad dream designed by someone else to wind me right up.

Something is going on. The question is: how do I get out of this? He isn’t in my head, like he was before. I am being urged to no action (*************). The rules of the game are even more obscure than before.

But there is something else here, something at the end, something written in block capitals and so clean and decent that it almost stands out as obscene when juxtaposed with the adolescent, smutty tone of the rest of the writings of the celebrated young poet, ‘the Thomas Chatterton of the iPhone generation’ (**************). It reads:


It means that Shoutyknackers must have had some predilection of what was going to happen to him. And outside, it has just started to snow,

To Be Continued …

*See SubGrubStreet 19: Compromised and Dirty.
** See SubGrubStreet 21: Yes is the Only Word and SGS26: The Diction of Carrots
*** See SubGrubStreet 14: The Bulletin of the International Onanological Society
**** See SubGrubStreet 32: Netherworld of Delusion
*****See SubGrubStreet 19: Compromised and Dirty.
****** See SubGrubStreet 16: Between the Cauliflowers, and Touching the Starfish.
****** See SubGrubStreet 17: Why I Hate Bob Dylan
******* See Touching the Starfish, page 511.
******** See SubGrubStreet 1: The Great Experiment.
********* See SubGrubStreet 31: Resurrection Lovesick Blues
********** See SubGrubStreet 14: The Bulletin of the International Onanological Society
*********** See Touching the Starfish
************ See SubGrubStreet 19: Compromised and Dirty.
************* See Touching the Starfish
************** See SubGrubStreet 18: The Stars are not Wanted Now


Word Count – 2900

Sales – 0

Insults – 0

Next Week: Bad Things Always Happen in the Snow

Bad Things Always Happen in the Snow

Previously, on SubGrubStreet:

To try to make sense of Jane’s disappearance and his fresh descent into the Netherworld of Delusion, Nathan examined Shoutyknacker’s journals, discovering a cryptic message: “Nathan, Beware, Bad Things happen in the Snow.” It has started to snow.

From my attic room I can look out over the city and the city is covered in a thick coating. It’s come on quick. It wasn’t even that cold when I started to read the journal today. Now, there’s a blizzard. And who do we know who can make it snow, or at least says he can make it snow? When did bad things happen in the snow? These things are connected. All roads lead to O’Mailer (*).

Well, if I wait in here for it to stop, either I’ll never know or it will never stop snowing. If Jane were here she would want me to behave like a character in a cheap 3-for-2 table product shifter (**), tempt my fate and put myself recklessly in danger just so everyone else experiences jeopardy and suspense.

So, here you go, reader. I am in the kitchen, stuffing the Knackers File into my coat pocket. I am going out in the snow. Woohoo.

To Be Continued . . .

No, it’s not. Not yet. It would be good to have a ‘To Be Continued . . .’ here, but things are still continuing and I am now out in the snow that’s whipping around between the parked cars and drifting against walls and gates. I stand and took up at the white sky and hold out my hands so I can feel the flakes land on my palms.
‘C’mon, O’Mailer, show yourself, it’s not 2007 anymore (***).

A figure approaches. Now I get my answers. Let the spirity thing banter anon and we’ll sort this out. But the man in the street coming closer is too thin for O’Mailer, and too quick and he’s picking up speed despite the conditions and suddenly I know. I know who it is.

Oh no . . . it’s the Old Man of Hoy (****).

‘I hate you, Flack,’ he bellows, ‘I’s still gonna kill ye.’

I’ve no time for his facile ranting and start to run up the street. The snow is gusting in my face. I can hardly see where I’m going. There’s a park up there, with pathways surrounded by dense bushes and trees that by now must be smothered by snow. If I can just reach them, I can surely lose this imbecile.

For some reason, despite the fact that I am running very slowly he’s not really gaining, but I try to pick up speed anyway. I am reaching the end of the street. I can see the trees ahead, on the other side of the junction. If I was a proper hero here maybe I could do some sort of stop-and-slide move and take the Old Man out, send him crashing into the road but I’m a hack-writer of unsaleable tales, not Percival Thrower (*****). I’m not even getting out of puff, I’m sort of flying here, running like the proverbial, I could probably win the Dad’s bit in a school sports day if I could always run like this and I had some children, if I could keep it up, if I could only . . .

. . . avoid that car that’s coming at me around the corner very, very fast indeed, that I am skidding towards not away from.

Oh my giddy bollocks.

A glimmering above me. Distant snow-sky. Can’t feel my legs. Him, the Old Man and some moundlike shape in goggles.

‘Got him this time, mistress, we got him.’

Now, this is what I call a . . .

To Be Continued . . .

*Touching the Starfish, pgs 287 - 320.
** See Touching the Starfish, page 282.
*** JAMES O”MAILER: A peeky-poo clue for you. Little does Flack know that it is that year of our lord. And I am more sinned against than sinning here.
**** See SubGrubStreet 3: The Duellists.
***** See SubGrubStreet 28: The Surrogate Mother of Nar Nar Goon.


Word Count – 4408

Sales – 0

Insults – 2

Next Week: Misery

The Witch’s Hat

Previously, on SubGrubStreet:

Convinced that the sudden weird snowstorm predicted in The Shoutyknackers File was proof of O’Mailer’s return, Nathan rushed out into the street only to be chased by the Old Man of Hoy. Hit by a car that just happened to turn up, Nathan caught sight of some strange mound-like person before he passed out.

Oh, swirling mists before my eyes.

In and out.


Recurring image from childhood. The witch’s hat in the playground, that rotating climbing frame thing that was so dangerous that Health and Safety had them all melted down by 1980. We used to pretend we were training for NASA.

Going round and round and the houses on the estate getting faster and faster around us. Off I flew. Bang. Concrete. Black. Like now. Keep thinking about that moment to hide from the pain in my legs.

The white ceiling.

The pain.

Witch’s hat.



I’m not in anything good, like Wanderer in a Sea of Fog by Caspar David Friedrich. I am stuck in a clichéd description of a coma. Excellent.

The best things happen to those who get run over in the snow.

The car seemed to come from nowhere.

I don’t know how long this has gone on. A couple of days, maybe. Perhaps more. Every now and again I sense some shape beside me. Before I can focus there’s a jab in my arm.

I’m on the witch’s hat again, perched on its shelf-like seat, the tips of my school shoes skimming the reinforced concrete beneath (and this would have been the seventies, so there was probably a pit beneath the witch’s hat with lava, anthrax, rabies and Boat People living in it). I go round and round. Mists swirl.

Down, down, deeper and down and now I’m rising up into the sky and there’s a jab.


Everything plays at the wrong speed.

I come up good and strong. Spark awake. I am lying in a big brass bed with white sheets and pillows. It is light outside. I can see snow-covered fields. Mountains in the distance, though. I can’t be in Norwich. And then I realize. I can’t move my legs. I can’t move my arms. There are restraints attached to both. I drag and strain but I can’t move.



Riding the witch’s hat. It rises and dips as it spins and you sweep into and away from its maypole-like central pillar. It’s a retrofuturist maypole, that’s what it is. No love lost in the age of machines. O’Mailer’s on the other side to me, just sitting there, his stout frame distorting the orbit of the witch’s hat, spinning it out of control. Swirling mists.


A big white face looms over me. She is holding up a hypodermic syringe.

‘Hello there, love puppy, I’m your number one fan.’

Oh no … It’s Sharon Plum (*)

To Be Continued . . .

* See Touching the Starfish, pg. 11 and pgs 503 – 523. Most of Touching the Starfish really. There’s an especially upsetting scene on page 278 and another one on page 360.


Word Count – 3571

Sales – 0

Insults – 1

Next Week: Misery

The Penury Series

Previously, on SubGrubStreet:

Nathan Flack awoke from uneasy dreams to find he’d been rescued/incarcerated by Sharon Plum!

Of course, it might not be Sharon Plum, or least even though she’s probably the same underneath she might not be using that moniker now. She changes her name very frequently (*), with the trade winds, with each upsurge and low-pressure spell in the book trade and whatever schlock is rising up the hardback fiction charts. Last time we met she was presenting herself as Sharon McMahon (**). She seems to have dyed her hair a dowdy brown and it’s lightly curled at the ends. She’s wearing slacks and a housecoat and is grinning and grinning, one knuckle poked up against her bottom lip. The syringe hangs loose at her sides like a cigarette she’s forgotten she’d lit.

‘Don’t you try to sit up,’ she says. ‘You need to recuperate. You’ve had a terrible shock. You’re lucky to be alive.’
‘Don’t give me that, Sharon. Let me out of here.’ I raise my arms and try to force my way out of the restraints but they’re too strong.
‘Shh, shh, honeybun, wait-and-see-pie. If you’re lucky, you might walk again.’
‘You put me here, you stupid bint.’
‘Shh, shh.’ She places her pudgy finger to my lips. The jab comes in from the right.


When I come round again my legs ache and she’s sitting beside me on a chair.

‘You were in a terrible accident, Nathan, your car came off the road in that snowstorm, you were lucky I was driving right behind you. I know you go up to that lodge to write your books, the Penury series, and I just happened to be passing and then I see you careering all over the road. You really shouldn’t drink and then drive when there’s this weather a-coming in.’
‘Bollocks, Sharon. Where’s the Old Man? (***)’
‘It must all be very hazy, Nathan, you must still be hallucinating.’
‘Well, that’s a surprise. Just let me out of here, please. You can’t think you’re going to get away with this.’
‘Shh, honey, I’m your number one fan. Always have been. Always will be. You stay there and get well. We’ll talk later.’

She gets up and sidles towards the door. For the first time I notice that all sorts of homey samplers and appliquéd tat hangs on the walls. It’s as if the latest incarnation of the Writer-Formerly-Known-as-Sharon Plum is some sort of mental Sunday school madam. She’ll probably want to give me a vigorous pruning soon. She turns before she reaches the landing. She plucks a sheaf of paper from a stool.
‘Nathan, I found this in the wreckage. Is this what I think it is?’
‘Sharon, put that back, it’s not worth reading. Even you can’t rip that off (****).’
‘How could I ever think of ripping you off, Nathan, you’re the greatest writer in the world.’
‘No, I’m just better than you.’
‘The greatest writer in the world. Your Penury novels. I’ve read them all; get them all as soon as they’re published. Penury MacDonnergally, the bravest, most plucky and pretty and chaste and noble girl in the all the Highlands and Islands. Tell me, does she marry McGoat or Hamishick?’
‘You’re mad.’
‘Can I read it, Nathan? Can I be the first one to read it?’
‘It’s a load of old wank.’
‘Don’t be modest now.’
‘No, seriously. Put it back, Sharon. It’s not what you think.’
‘I’m no literary critic . . .’
‘You can say that again.’
‘. . . but I’ll read this tonight and tomorrow I’ll let you know what I think.’

Lenin’s Ghost. She’s so joyous and excited, like the parody of a child on an advert for Disneyland. She runs out the room, clutching The Shoutyknackers File to her chest. And then I realize what this could mean, given all the answers could still be in those pages.

To Be Continued . . .

* See Touching the Starfish, pg. 11-12.
** See Touching the Starfish, pg. 496.
*** See SubGrubStreet 34, Bad Things Always Happen in the Snow
**** See SubGrubStreet 33: The Shoutyknackers File


Word Count – 3655

Sales – 0

Insults – 1

Next Week: Revelation 2

A Mean Bit of Arson

Previously, on SubGrubStreet:

Nathan found himself the prisoner of Sharon Plum, who seems to have confused him with the author of a bestselling series of bodice-rippers called Penury. Mistaking the Shoutyknackers File for the latest instalment she’s disappeared into the strange house to read it.

The squeak of wheels and a metallic rattling wakes me up. Heaving myself up onto by pillows I catch sight of Sharon manoeuvring a rusty barbecue into the room. She looks grim, stern, her face smouldering with repressed fury. A bottle of lighter fluid is tucked into her wide belt.

I have seen this film. I know what she’s going to do.

‘I am disappointed, Nathan,’ she says. ‘How can you misuse your talent like this?’ She slaps the file across my thighs in a way designed to cause me pain. It doesn’t hurt. I’m past caring.
‘Leave it out, Sharon, you’re not offended by that. The things I’ve seen you do (*).’
‘The profanity, Nathan, the bad language, the utterances of Onan, you dirty ducky.’
‘Dirty ducky? You used to shag the world’s most sex-crazed writer. You were his muse, for God’s sake.’
She gives me an odd look, like I’ve pricked some part of her conscience, and then swipes the file from the bed.
‘You will feel so much better, Nathan, the world must not see this. No one must know that the creator of Penury MacDonnergally has such disgusting thoughts. I’m your number one fan, Nathan.’
‘Just give me the file. It’s not even mine. You can’t burn it.’
She lifts the lid of the barbecue, slides the manuscript onto the grill and squirts it with lighter fluid.
‘Filthy filthy, wicked wicked,’ she mutters, ‘all those word for the sin of Onan.’
‘Give it here, Sharon. It’s not yours. Give it. I’m asking you nicely. Please.’

Of course, I don’t really want the Shoutyknackers File for its visionary content. It’s hardly the undiscovered journals of William Blake. If I weren’t trapped here with her I’d probably burn it myself. But, I haven’t finished it yet and for all I know it may hold the only clues to what has happened to me and what has happened to Jane (**).

‘Sharon, c’mon,’ I say. She’s lighting a match. ‘I’ll do anything you want … sorry, I’ll rephrase that. I’ll do some minor things if you ask me but only if you give it back to me.

Too late. Flames whoosh across the file. There’s an acrid stench and black fumes billow all over me, covering my white bedding in smuts and soot. Grey specks are fluttered around the room, lodging in the folds of the curtains and stippling the windowpanes. Sharon starts to stagger around the room, flailing her arms to put out the embers.
‘Bats, bats,’ she shouts. ‘Look out for the baby bats, Nathan.’
‘You’re not a bumpkin,’ I say as I watch all of Knackers’s miraculous pages crinkle and disintegrate. Sharon is hardly Saint Cyril, the destroyer of the Great Library at Alexandria but it’s still a mean bit of arson. Sharon wheels the barbecue out of the room, leaving me alone with the fumes. I’m used to this. I’ve been on the road with Big Dump, remember (***)?

When she returns she pulls up the occasional chair and sits there stroking the weird hams of her thighs. She looks all out of puff and depleted.

‘Where’s the Old Man, Sharon?’ I ask. I haven’t seen him since the day before I arrived (****). While I’ve been lying here I’ve been entertaining mad schemes of playing one off against the other but now I’m beginning to think he may not be here at all, in which case I’ve only got to come up with a risky and implausible strategy for outsmarting the writer-formerly-known as Sharon Plum. ‘C’mon, cheekychops, he must be around somewhere?’
‘You drove him away.’
‘No, I didn’t. He chased me down the road, twice.’
‘Not the helpful helpling. I paid the helpling and the helpling went back to the bog, the dirty ducky.’
‘Oh. That’s nice.’
‘You drove him away, Nathan, you drove my man away.’

Now I realize who she’s talking about. She’s talking about MacMahon. She’s talking about the Revelation, about what happened after the Death Metal Revelation, she’s talking about what happened after the end of Touching the Starfish (*****). Now she’s got my interest. Now I’ll have to be subtle and cunning.
‘So where is the fat Brummie philistine then?’
‘Ran off. When there was no money left. When he realized it wasn’t his.’
‘What wasn’t his?
‘You know. The thing.’
‘The Thing. What? The Thing from Another World. That Thing You Do.’
‘That’s why you’re here, Nathan. That’s why I had to find you. We’re going to start again, Nathan. Me, your number one fan and you the best writer in the world.’
‘Piss off, Sharon. Can I have a drink?’

Then I realize what she means. She suddenly produces a battered old typewriter from under the bed and a big packet of typing paper.
‘You’re going to write me another one, Nathan. You’re going to write me another Revelation. Then we will rule the world together just like he and I once ruled.’

Oh shit.

To Be Continued . . .

* See Touching the Starfish, pg. 278-279.
** See SubGrubStreet 33, The Shoutyknackers File.
*** See SubGrubStreet 6: Ginster Rustling with Big Dump
**** See SubGrubStreet 34: Bad Things Happen in the Snow.
***** See Touching the Starfish, esp the bit just before the end. .


Word Count – 2805

Sales – 0

Insults – 1

Next Week: Revelation 2