An interview with the elephant



It’s been observed that The Elephant in the Playroom is in a category all of its own, above even COGS among my “Nasties”, and occupies a place where writing is not advertised but is found by the curious: very much like many of the films I’ve collected.

Most of my short stories are suitable for a young audience. Some might require some parental advisory and of those, only a handful have had the weight to shock. Even those have done so in context and been very affecting stories for the readers because of the way they were written. I repeat it often but as one of the teenage girls said of COGS: “…Totally, utterly, morally wrong but beautifully written [Like a true psychopath writer]…” And it’s the same with my other work: some of it might not be a comfortable read but my stories always carry something: a message, parallel, or deeper meaning. Sometimes a second read might be needed, when something like COGS initially repulses because of the surprise shock which is within an otherwise beautiful yarn. The Elephant in the Playroom has proven to require some author guidance.

It would seem the problem with The Elephant is that people are unable to read it twice. I will submit, as I had to with the editor who accepted it, that it is brutal: that was deliberate. Unfortunately, that conscious, psychopathic brutality of writing means that readers have been unable to read it again. Unlike COGS, there is no beauty in The Elephant: again, deliberate. That story was stripped down to a level where the reader would have a sensation. That feeling is of seeing or being told something which you may not and must not share. It’s a feeling of frustration. It does relate to me personally but many have found themselves in a situation where they are privy to something which they wish they could erase from their minds: THAT is what The Elephant in the Playroom is about and I’m sure it now makes more sense to those who were only able to read it once. Despite that and yet because of it, have I not achieved my aim as an effective, affecting and good writer? Others have said so. I don’t introduce myself as such but when others ask what I do, I answer that I am a writer. A mutual friend of a recently dead friend introduced me as a “Brilliant writer.”

I have to wonder if I’m smoking a bit too much when I write a story which opens like this:

As I was walking up the village high street early one Sunday morning, I saw a chicken a few yards ahead of me. I was walking faster than the chicken, so I gradually caught up. The chicken turned into School Lane ahead of me but I was close behind. At the fourth house along, the chicken walked up the footpath and pecked sharply on the door. After a moment, the door opened and the chicken went in. I wonder if my wife might turn up like that one day?

A few days ago, that story was finished in first draft form and sent to a couple of test readers. One said, “Completely bonkers, beautifully odd with an ending which is both…I don’t know actually. Strangely unsettling but with a smile on. What a peculiar, thought-provoking thing.”

The Chicken”, as its working title has inevitably become, was of suitable length to publish as a short story online as marketing pulp, or with a bit of polishing, perhaps worthy of entry into a specific competition I had in mind as I was writing it and therefore, print publication. As with all of my work though, I let it sit in the slush pile for a few days, then went back to it. As I’m finding often happens in this game, it has now become something else: not yet another novel but a longer short story of 3000-6000 words. The market for short fiction of this length is more limited than that for typical short stories of around 1500 words but I’m becoming the kind of writer who will write something and then look for a market, rather than vice versa. I’m in a privileged position where I can be that way: I’m a freelance independent and not tied to an individual agent, publisher or publication. Although I write freelance for a few of the latter now, I am free to write what I want. Delirium Tremens: Expression is freedom.

The independent, controversial, confrontational, opinionated, free-spirited writer which I’ve been able to become is merely an extension of my personality into a profession able to accommodate me. With my money pretty much sorted out now and with final recognition of my situation from a system which has eventually worked, I have true freedom. To that end, I can write about anything. I’m not reliant on the money, so can write in such a way as to introduce readers to something new. I can experiment and it’s that freedom which allowed me to write The Elephant with little fear.

Most important to me is that after everything, I can call myself a professional, published, prize-winning writer. To that end, I am concentrating on the paid side of things and have several projects on the go. One of those is turning the story which won first prize in Writing Magazine’s “Life-changing” story competition into a children’s book. Since it won the competition, I’ve wrestled with the title. Originally called, The Child Who Wished for Nothing, the story was published online in its original form. Then, like the story about the chicken, it evolved. It became A girl, Frank Burnside and Haile Selassie. People have said that I should retain the original title for the children’s book and I can see why they would: maximum sales through accessibility to the market with a simple title: The Child Who Wished for Nothing.

But I like my title: it is perfect, even if the names may not mean anything to a younger reader. The characters in that story have those names for a reason. My argument against those who are for the original title is that it could be called something like Ellie, Butch and Mog to satisfy the market but I don’t want to lose the characters I’ve put into that story and two of them are a German Shepherd called Frank Burnside and a cat called Haile Selassie; the dog and cat’s very natures are in those names, whether the reader is familiar with them or not. Cutting to the chase, I’m sticking by my guns. I’ve had tentative offers to publish under a different title but my heels are firmly in on retaining the title which was part of the reason the story won the competition. I retain copyright and in any case, the story will be printed in the March issue of Writing Magazine as A girl, Frank Burnside and Haile Selassie.

Until it’s printed then, no-one can read the story. I’ve had my prize cheque and there’ll be no royalties from sales but it’s exposure to the writing community and the possibility of the kids’ book. COGS and A Message, are still available but only from Lulu in print: they’re not vanity self-published but available on-demand in bi-monthly print anthologies, with ISBNs, meaning that at the very least, I will always be immortalised at The British Library.

Then there’s the one which starts like this:

Bono imploded without warning and for no apparent reason…

Well, why not? As a person, I can imagine anything I like. As a writer, I can tell a story. If I’m good enough, people will not only read but take something away.

That one’s also written but in limbo in the slush pile, while I decide whether to let it go as is, or work on it some more. One test reader summed it up as I’d hoped: “Such an improbable but nevertheless intriguing opening, led me to read on. In three paragraphs, I became familiar with quantum mechanics and chaos theory. That briefly-acquired knowledge allowed me to grasp the concept of the second event, even though it came at me from left field. Without spoilers, I can’t say how but I got the story. There’s a message of hope written throughout this. Really rather clever…”

As I concentrate on work for mainstream publishing, I may make The Paradoxicon available as print on-demand but for now it’s still available on Amazon for Kindle. It already has an ISDN, so is also with The British Library.

With 32 short stories published and another ten to write to hit the page length required for my own collection of short stories, Travels to The Paradoxicon is scheduled for publication in some form around May next year. I have to juggle that with Forgive me no-one, due around the same time. Hopefully, those will be done in co-operation with an agent or publisher but if I have to, I will self-publish A girl, Frank Burnside and Haile Selassie, simply because I can. It’s a story about a girl, her talking dog and Rastafarian cat: why should I change the title? Especially when a judge commented, “Brilliant. Whimsical, lovely stuff. A story which moved me to tears but gave me hope. The thing that really makes it stand out though, is the absolute genius inclusion of that cat…”. If I can affect someone like that, then repulse readers with something like The Elephant in the Playroom; if I can have a story like COGS described as “…Totally, utterly, morally wrong but beautifully written [Like a true psychopath writer]…”. When I can stretch between genres and have poetic license; when I can write a nativity and have a horror editor comment, “…Thanks. That’ll have them rolling in the aisles.”, why not write things like the Chicken and Bono stories? I could, so I did. I’m currently working on four short stories for competitions, which need to be suitable for all ages but that’s not a restriction for creativity. I don’t rely on shock value alone in my nasties; they each have literary merit. Besides those and the books, COGS itself is being nominated for inclusion in a “Best of” anthology and I’m obviously writing more schlock and horror stories, one of which is told in the Dogme style.

It’s the same creative freedom which allowed directors to independently make some of the rare and controversial films in my collection: titles like August Underground, Mordum, Nekromantik and Begotten, acquired at great expense and sometimes illicitly. Others are more widely available: films like Irreversible, A Serbian Film, Baise Moi... All among the hundreds in my collection and acquired at great length as I sought out the longest cinematic releases and original cover artwork: I’m a purist in that sense. I like to see it all, as it was intended, be affected, deal with it and be influenced.

As the Savage Cinema collection continues to grow in one half of this wonky writer’s studio, so too does the output from the Cradle of Filth which is the writing desk. As Sunday becomes Monday and I don’t notice or give a fuck, I carry on; a bit like Terry and the guy no-one noticed in Camden Town to Tottenham Court Road in the current edition of Schlock webzine. In a way, I wish I was that bloke next Friday in Soho Square. One week after that, Another nativity takes place. As one of my editors said, “Well, that will have them rolling in the aisles…” No wonder I don’t want to be around anyone with a false religious hold on Christmas. Then again, if anyone were to really read Another nativity, they might see a message which all of the commercialism and consumerism which they worship blindly, blinkers them from.

On a personal note and as I’ve written already, Christmas means very little this year. That’s Christmas which means nothing to me, partly because it is such a divisive thing when one is in my situation and maintaining fragile relations: more reason to hate it.

It’ll be an anarchic, Antichrist day where I live: I’m a professional, published, prize-winning horror, sci-fi and fantasy writer: why stop doing what I love on a day which differs only in date from any other? 

Hands up who still doesn’t get The Elephant in the Playroom.

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life.
The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives
Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t…”

Baz Lurhmann, Sunscreen.

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