Fiction. THE HOUSE OF WRITERS is a playful novel set in 2050, when the publishing industry has collapsed, literature has become a micro-niche interest, and Scotland itself has become an enormous call center. Those writers who remain reside in a dilapidated towerblock, where they churn out hack works tailored to please their small audiences. The novel weaves together individual stories of life inside (and outside) the building, where each floor houses a different genre, as the writers fight to keep the process of literature alive with varying degrees of success. THE HOUSE OF WRITERS is a feast of wit: a surreal entertainment, a bracing satire, a verbal tour de force, and a good-spirited dystopian comedy; it is also a loving homage to language, literature, and the imagination, and a plea that they remain vital well into the dubious future that awaits us.
|Publisher:||Sagging Meniscus Press|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
M.J. Nicholls is the author of A Postmodern Belch and co-editor at Verbivoracious Press. He lives in Glasgow.
Read an Excerpt
The House of Writers
By M.J. Nicholls
Sagging Meniscus PressCopyright © 2016 M.J. Nicholls
All rights reserved.
I am writing this novel about The House of Writers on the twelfth floor. I am supposed to be working on a steampunk adventure set in a Hoosier brothel in which the locomotive drivers have gone on strike. But I would rather be writing this novel. I call this a "documentary" novel as the structural mode is fragmentary, hopping up and down the floors, flitting between first- and third-person narrators as one might find in a television doc. The term applies to works where the characters are based on real people and real events are reported in fictional form, a famous example being Truman Capote's In Cold Blood and an obscure example being Alan Burns's The Angry Brigade. The reportage in this novel ranges from autobiographical narrators (Cal McIntyre is based on me, both in terms of naïve impishness and asexual allure, although as a narrator he is a mere reporter), to direct snatches of dialogue overheard, stolen memos, emails, papers, and dramatisations of stories I have been told by loose-lipped liars. All this adds up to a skewed representation of a shambolic organisation. Structuring this narrative in a linear manner would be a gross misrepresentation of what life is like in this building. In fact, I had to restrain myself from including pages of people simply screaming at the top of their lungs, despite the prospect that might have been somewhat amusing and more "experimental" than the lump you have before you already. I will be popping up now and then to address the reader (who?) and tell you various things about my personal life that you were often curious about but didn't have the gumption to quiz me on.
The Trauma Rooms
Erin lost her stapler. She interrogated Gam Aintpol, whose stapler theft had taken on mythic status in the northwestern corner of the office, shaking his skeletal frame until the truth seeped from his nose (snot implied honesty), and raided the cupboards, drawers, and hidden partitions, encroaching into the western corner of the office, where Rain Beezquix tongue-lashed Erin for her violation with the phrase "sheer brasserie and chronic gall," seeking to show her magnif off-the-cuff way with words, and failing. She ventured into the fire-exit corner, finding a door with a Munch scream motif — a convenient decoy for a massive stationery hoarding — and stepped into a sub-corridor with a long stretch of doors on either side. It seemed improbable so many cupboards could exist in such a narrow portion between the main floor and the back stairs, but she didn't have time to question the architectural quirks of The House, she was seeking a stapler with which to bind her first three chapters for her reader, Boril Soxmond from Bulgaria. She opened the first door where a manic man in a robe launched himself at her.
"Am I the BOLDEST AND BRIGHTEST VOICE OF A GENERATION?! Can I have ... can I have ... have the Pulitzer now?" His scabbed fingers dug into her shoulders and she stood stunned by the door. From the bathroom, a man in clothes appeared.
"Max! Release that woman! Max, you are the most significant British novelist on the scene since Martin Amis. Your voice is a breathtaking original. You have taken the novel to fresh and daring new places, and have a thrilling career to come," the dressed man reassured the manic one, cooing him back to his wall-mounted bed where he sucked his thumb and muttered the words the dressed man had uttered.
Erin was taken to the bathroom, where the dressed man revealed himself as a doctor treating a rare kind of trauma caused by an overexposure to hyperbolic praise from critics during his patient's early days as a writer.
"Max's dad was the editor of WeWuvBookz, the most influential book website in the world at the time, and had arranged for his son to be praised up and down as the Next Best Thing. Max became dependent on the four or five pages of praise in the inside of each book and on the back and front covers, and when his dad was run over by a tractor, Max's fame dipped and reviewers labelled him a flash-in-the-bedpan and other such insults, causing a complete mental breakdown. He took to running around in the nude screaming "I am the voice of a generation!" and other slogans. No idea why he stripped off to do this, it's something the mentally ill never do except in books."
"Sorry for barging in. I had no idea this place existed. I was looking for a stapler."
"This is one of the ten trauma rooms. Each room houses a different trauma victim. I tend to each of them."
"I find that —"
Before he could utter what he found, Max burst in naked in a second panic.
"Am I good? Am I good? AM I ANY GOOD!?"
"Max! You are a ... talented, verbally inventive, outrageously funny, and heartbreaking talent on a par with ... Norman Mailer. Help me out here, please," the doctor whispered to Erin.
"Erm, all right. You're a fantastic writer."
"IS THAT IT?!"
"No, more than that. You're a —"
"She means you are a voice vibrant with warmth and humour. Your sentences pirouette like ballerinas across the page, your language is at once rich and accessible, erm ... you construct complex metaphors and dazzling similes, and your use of zeugma is second to none in the history of literature."
"— sensational wordsmith, I was going to say, absolutely, categorically, worthy of the Booker, the Nobel, and the Pulitzer all at once."
"YOU TAKING THE PISS?!?"
"No! I mean that your talent will one day earn you those awards, probably. You are brilliant but at a realistic level, people don't resent you because you have this Godlike skill for writing, they love you because you are simultaneously intelligent and down-to-earth ... the common man and highbrow critics adore you."
"You see, Max? You are loved and respected for your abilities. You are the frenetic and fizzing spokesman for a lost generation."
"Yes. Frenetic and fizzing ..."
"Let's head back to bed."
"Frenetic and fizzing ..."
"Sometimes he has nightmares as his head hits the pillow. This can happen three or four times before he settles down for the night. One of the hardest patients I have had to treat. I have pasted reviews around his room and sometimes he is content to sit rocking back and forth reading these for hours. A sad case. I can't seem to devise a solution to his trauma. Short of rediscovering his success, there is little I can do. We know he will never become a best-selling novelist again in his lifetime. Such a shame."
"What is his surname?"
"Yes. I remember his novels. Terrible."
"Oh yes, the most despicable piffle. His father ruined him. Now that you are here, perhaps you'd care to meet our other patients? One of them was loose earlier, so might have nabbed your stapler. Shall we?"
"Erm ... I suppose. I need my stapler."
"Yes, that's it. Let's head to the second room," the doctor said. Erin didn't appreciate the manner in which he placed his arm on her shoulder, to lead her and hold her back from a possible retreat, but without her stapler, she was bereft — her Bulgarian reader would not read sample chapters in loose leaf form — so she ambled down the ink-scented corridor to meet the second of the ten crazies.
Books no longer in print
Don't You Forget About Me: The Unauthorised Simple Minds Biography; Poltroon's Advance; The Little Green Lie; Imaginative Quantities of Fractal Rings; Don't Look Back: A Brief History of Sodomy; The Everlasting Story of Norah Jones; Poltroon's Defeat; How to Talk About Apps You've Never Downloaded; Gorgeous George's Last Stand; Eat Me!: Michael Bentine's Guide to Underrated Snacks; Nick Hornby's Top Forty Albums; Whatever Happened to the Chuckle Brothers?; I Am the Beautiful Strangler; Muzak vs. Silence: A Debate; The Huge Blue Truth; Fourteen Perspectives on Dan Brown's Inferno: A Study Guide; Do Frenchmen Eat Custard? (And Other Utterly Random Questions About Our Coastal Cousins); The Bald Superstallion: An Unofficial Colin Mochrie Handbook; Horatio's Nutcracker; A Concise Overview of the Scottish Novel; Buttered Hysteria; Six Perspectives on an Abomination; Bored in Bethlehem: The Pilgrim's Guide to Livening Up That Epiphany; Gargoyle Gilbert's First Fall; Eden Prison: Various Angles on Paradise; Kristal's Visions; It Don't Mean a Thing if It Ain't Got That Swing: Guidebook for First-Time Hangmen; H from Steps: The Trial and Imprisonment of Britain's Biggest Paedophile; Nick Hornby's Top Forty Singles; The Official Guidebook to Badgers, Badgers! We Love Thee!: A Hexagrammic Musical; Just William!: The Unofficial William Hague Biography; The Ultimate Guide to Traffic Signs in Peru; Godard is Not Great: How Jean-Luc Poisons Everything; Interdenominational Darts: A Player's Manual; Cereal Murderers: The Shocking History of the Kellogg Twins; Nick Hornby's Top Forty TV Shows; Je ne suis pas un animal: Un Guide de L'homme-éléphant; Year of the Purple Artichoke; Swastikka Masala: A Guide to Nazi Curries; Whiffy the Wondersnake Strikes A Gain!; Guerillas in the Mist: The Disappearance of the South Vietnamese Army; Islamabad or Islamagood?: A Religious Forum; Alice Never Lived Here: Why the Films You Love Don't Exist; Hmm-Yup!: The Complete Hansen Story; Nick Hornby's Top Forty Nick Hornby Novels; Todd Number: A Disappearance; Sick in the Shtetl: Coping with Jewish Ennui; Only Kidding!: The Secret War Diaries of Adolf Hitler; A Beer and a Bonk: The Complete Guide to Scottish Nightlife ...
Before I became Queen Momma of The House, I lived in the poorest quarter of Stockport — a town outside Manchester known for its fantastic cocaine and heroin distribution networks and the most addicted populace per capita. I worked in a seafood restaurant, serving lobster thermidor to balding perverts prone to inserting their tongues and noses into whelks to simulate cunnilingus; in shoe retail, squeezing the plump feet of odoriferous spinsters into ill-fitting stilettos; in a swimming pool catching bloodied bandages in nets and rescuing infant rotters from drowning; in a homeless shelter, fending off inebriated attacks and tempting invitations to have vigorous tramp-sex in their rooms. When the homeless shelters closed down under a new government initiative (the homeless were to perform a town-wide sanitation service in exchange for a night sleeping in corridors and doorways) I too was among the jobless masses and to remain there for longer than I had conceived after graduating from my English Literature degree.
The Bulldog Brethren (TBB) had won the 2039 English elections and set about implementing their "policies," the first of which was to drive out the remaining immigrant population and the un-and under-white elements polluting British professions. To cope with these hopeless times, I fell in with a band of nihilists who introduced me to the pleasures of heroin and cocaine, and I became an addict within two weeks. We hung around in disused office blocks listening to Peter, Paul and Mary, inserting ourselves into the 1960s counterculture in a doomed attempt to imagine what such carefree living might have been like — contriving pleasure-visions of riding pink clouds into portals of infinite love and understanding ... ending up in viscous fogs being attacked by Alsatians and wolves while TBB leader Neil Himes blustered us to death with his threats of people with tanned complexions working in British curry houses.
To fund the habit, I took a position in their Intelligent Persecution Unit, performing acts of abuse on long-settled immigrants to "suggest" a return to their own countries (in most cases, "their own countries" meant nations in which their grandparents hadn't been born or lived). I was instructed to poke them in public (a repetitive torture technique designed to irritate them on trains or buses or in queues or lifts), to have loud conversations with strangers about how brilliant Britain is doing without its immigrant population, or onto more disgusting behaviour such as posting (British) shit through letterboxes. I had taken up heroin to escape the state of the nation — TBB had created mass unemployment due to culling various industries and opening up sweatshops on the Isle of Man to replace most of the low-skilled work available. My generation had no hope of finding work. I ended up having to perform these disgusting duties in order to receive my unemployment benefits.
I spearheaded a resistance campaign, compiling leaflets on what the immigrant population had done to drag England from the economic marshes, and what the absence of immigrants was going to mean for the future of the nation. TBB, noting the increasing drug problem, decided to replace state benefits with state-supplied heroin (6-MAM content diluted — about as effective as snorting talcum powder). I was in the position of being homeless, under the thumb of the government's useless smack that still provided enough for a minor kick but left one gasping for more, and performing their dirty work. TBB had bred a generation of obedient ratlike drones willing to persecute immigrants for their latest fix. Things turned violent (as was TBB's intention) and soon there were murders and witch-hunts from crazed junkies dying to get their veins on diluted heroin. I decided it was better to burgle homes and beat up white people to get my hands on money, with which I could attend a rehabilitation programme. These were run underground, since the TBB didn't want the youth population to recover from heroin while it kept things under control and proved profitable.
I soon recovered from this and headed into ScotCall to take my chances at The House.
A Better Life
Upon completing Kurious Kat Learns About Industrial Waste Dumping and Erectile Dysfunction: A Pop-up Book, I elected to leave The House and head for the sea. I had a notion that there might be a better life for me somewhere out "there." In the past I had read the ScotCall slogan A Better Life For You is Here (Not Out "There") and fallen into their trap. Answering phone calls about the logistics of having sex in a chimney, or how to remove tarragon stains from The Koran, or if the battle of Culloden was ever restaged using weasels, or if the finest word in the English language was "drosophila," or if tea was T-shaped, or if Atlas ever dropped the sky, or if nasal copulation was unhealthy, is not a Better Life unless one happens to have cabbages for brains. I moved to The House having read the slogan "A Better Life Than at ScotCall is Here" and settled down to writing four bodice-rippers set on Neptune per week for a cash-rich slob named Jericho — a Better Life in comparison to an earful of Kirstys branding me an incompetent lackey for failing to answer questions about where Tim had hidden the marmalade, or if spark plugs qualified as real plugs, or if air had a smell. I had no intention of remaining at The House forever. I had to take my chance in the wilds and find the sea. I had heard rumours that a commune had sprung up "there" devoted to the simple life where people lived off the remaining land that hadn't been used to store malfunctioning toasters and digi-pets.
Excerpted from The House of Writers by M.J. Nicholls. Copyright © 2016 M.J. Nicholls. Excerpted by permission of Sagging Meniscus Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsThe Corridor of Opening Lines,
This Lexicographically Limber Universe,
The Vertical Victor,
Cal's Tour: High-Quality Literary Fiction,
The Trauma Rooms: 1,
Books no longer in print,
A Better Life: 1,
The Farewell, Author! Conference: 1,
Cal's Tour: Middlebrow Fiction,
Puff: The Unloved Son: 1,
The Trauma Rooms: 2,
A Commission Gone Awry,
A Better Life: 2,
The Farewell, Author! Conference: 2,
A Blast of Kirsty,
Writer Portraits: The Great(est) Opaquist,
Cal's Tour: Scottish Interest Books,
The Trauma Rooms: 3,
Puff: The Unloved Son: 2,
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The Jesus Memos,
A Better Life: 3,
The Farewell, Author! Conference: 3,
I opened the wrong door,
The Trauma Rooms: 4,
Cal's Tour: Science Fiction,
A Better Life: 4,
The Farewell, Author! Conference: 4,
Things to do before writing the next paragraph,
Puff: The Unloved Son: 3,
Writer Portraits: The New Writer,
The Trauma Rooms: 5,
The Corridor of Cheap Commodities,
A Better Life: 5,
The Farewell, Author! Conference: 5,
I said thanks Mum,
Cal's Tour: Romance,
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Your idea of literature,
The Trauma Rooms: 6,
Puff: The Unloved Son: 4,
A Better Life: 6,
The Farewell, Author! Conference: 6,
Alice: A Fictional Serviette,
Cal's Tour: Toilet Books,
The Trauma Rooms: 7,
Writer Portraits: Movements,
A Better Life: 7,
The Farewell, Author! Conference: 7,
Writing into the future,
The Trauma Rooms: 8,
C.M. Horvath's Almost Girlfriend,
A Better Life: 8,
The Farewell, Author! Conference: 8,
The Trauma Rooms: 9,
A Better Life: 9,
The Farewell, Author! Conference: 9,
The Two Poems of Archie Dennissss,
AD FROM SPONSORS,
The Trauma Rooms: 10,
Writer Portraits: The Beekeeper,
A Better Life: 10,
The Farewell, Author! Conference: 10,
The Corridor of Closing Lines,