Thursday, 6 September 2012

Interview with Jonny Gibbings, author of Malice in Blunderland

So this month I’ve the pleasure of interviewing up-and-coming writer Jonny Gibbings. He’s the author of the hilarious Malice in Blunderland, and has been described variously as the new Irvine Welsh; the new Chuck Palahniuk; the new Will Self; the new Charles Bukowski; the new… well, why not judge for yourself?

You’re a surfer, a writer, well travelled, a family man… you had a difficult upbringing, you’ve been homeless, worked for a crime syndicate, spent time in prison… ever thought about writing an autobiography?

I get asked that a lot lately. To be honest, there are a lot of uncomfortable memories and a memoir would mean revisiting things that I’ve invested a hell of a lot of money in booze to try to forget. Lidia Yuknavich [author of Dora: A Headcase - CM] has done some amazing words recently and in light of that I tried an essay on my childhood, but that was enough. Way too much pain in there to dwell on. I’ll stick to making folks laugh.

It’s a fairly routine question but for those who haven’t heard of Malice in Blunderland can you give us a quick summary of what it’s about?

Well I like to think of it as a transgressive nihilistic comedy, written as a farce. I only say that because it makes me sound smart. It’s the tale of a guy down on his luck. He makes some really bad choices and things go from bad to worse: in the farce tradition, his every decision is the wrong one. So from one drunken night, he ends up wanted by the police for rapes he didn’t do, hunted by the Ukrainian Mafia and London gangsters, and violently assaulted by a transvestite. Oh and he accidentally appears in a snuff movie.

I think that in life we’re all just a couple of steps from disaster. So it’s a lot like the bible but with fewer beards.

To make your book more authentic you included a few “deliberate” mistakes. (Mixing up there, their and they’re, it’s and its, with the occasional spelling error thrown in.) Were these left in from the original manuscript or was it a case of them being purposely added to the final draft? Did you have to be careful to not include things that would confuse the reader?

This is a funny one. It all came about because of the actor Christopher Walken! When he gets a script, he has all of the punctuation removed so that when he reads it, it ensures his distinctive unbroken flow. Originally, the manuscript felt too manicured so I took out a bunch of words and it began to sound like the ramblings of a police confession rather than prose:

“Four chairs were fixed by bolts to the floor, the cold reflective plastic, etc” became, “Four chairs bolted to the floor. Shiny plastic.”

I felt it added urgency in places. Paul at my publisher is ex Harper Collins. He loved it and suggested the spelling errors after reading a quick draft update that wasn’t proofed. We even started the first page on the left hand side, which is cardinal sin in publishing, so it’s a sort of ‘fingers up’ to the literary establishment.

I wanted it to feel like you’d found the journal of a man in breakdown, like a voyeuristic peek at private mad drunken scrawls. In that respect I love the spelling. It’s a fun book, so we had fun with it and I wasn’t bothered about confusing the reader. Like with Trainspotting and A Clockwork Orange, it’s good to make the reader do some of the work.

As well as being the comedic tale of an antihero gate crashing his way through one awkward situation to another, there’s also a darker element to Malice. Mostly this is about the protagonist’s fall in self confidence related to the break up with an ex girlfriend who he refers to intermittently throughout the novel. Did this come naturally in the writing or was the back-story something you later added to give the book some extra depth?

Well, having been homeless and in prison, I was hardly a catch (being vagrant you’re about as popular as cock flavoured lollies) so I’ve never had the luxury of being a ladies man. But the protagonist needed a reason to be in a hole and heartbreak seemed as good a lever as any.

As for the darkness (such as considering jumping from a bridge, the violence and drug use), that was important. He needed to be someone who you initially hated but thought was funny enough to make you want to read him. The idea was you’d see him grow, learn he isn’t a bad person and empathise with him. Most people so far have ended up loving the guy.

It’s all as a set up for the ending of the book to be honest. I wanted to write a comedy, but I also wanted to subtly make the point about judgement and writing people off. When I was sleeping in doorways, I’m sure people thought that was by choice.

Word’s getting around that Malice is to become a film. A dream come true for many authors. But I put it to you: if you had the choice of your book becoming a successful but awful Hollywood blockbuster which made you lots of money or a fairly respectable independent film that premiered at Sundance but disappeared into the abyss soon after… well, what’d it be?

Oddly, exactly that happened. My publisher was approached by two film companies. A big group from Hollywood and an independent group from the UK. The American team (I say team, as there was a shit load of them) met in a conference room in London. There was a guy called Luis ‘from legal’ who had so much paper for me to sign, like it was the fucking Magna Carta. I would’ve had to hand over all control. Quickly it turned out they wanted the film to be a 15A certificate. They wanted to take out most of the drugs, violence and shock humour. They wanted to sanitise everything.

When booking into the hotel with them, for a joke I asked if there was porn in the room. When the receptionist told me the porn could be disabled, I said, “That sounds kinky – yes, give me the disabled porn!” They were horrified. That was the first clue that things wouldn’t work out.

If I was in it for the money, I’d have probably written a memoir. It would’ve been all moody and tragic and I’d probably be a shit load more successful because of it. But then, if I wanted to make quick money, I could also throw on a blond wig and start blowing sailors! I’d rather be loved by a few than liked by the many. The London team got it. We left the hotel, went to a vegan café in Camden and got pissed. And laughed a lot. Malice is a massive challenge. Making people laugh was important to the London boys. They want to make something to be proud of first, over the money it makes, and I respect that integrity. So it’s all going ahead with them.

So your blog, as well as being hilarious is often quite political. How about putting your political hat on for a moment and telling us the best (no cheating!) and worst thing that our current Prime Minister has done for this country so far?

Cameron? I despise that shiny faced shitty little twat-weasel. Why is he always so shiny? Is his face buffed up before he appears on telly? Why is his mouth too small for his head? I can’t think of one good thing to say. It amazes me that taxpayers have bailed out the banks to the tune of billions. Yet, if you are wealthy you get free banking. If you are poor or in debt, you have to pay for banking. It is immoral. How can he let that happen? Cameron is full of shit. Full of promises and failed to meet even one. “Read my lips, I do not break my promises,” he pledged. Promised to protect the NHS, even though they have just forced through a bill to fuck it and have enforced massive cut backs. The promise of 3,000 more police officers, instead we have redundancies. The promise to keep the future jobs fund – then axed it. The promise to keep the education maintenance allowance – then axed it. Unlike the promise to scrap tuition fees – and they went up. The promise to keeping the Child Trust Fund – then axed it. It’s bullshit. The UK is the world’s 6th biggest economy; we give £170m to China, the world’s second biggest economy. China has a space program, we don’t. You don’t have to be an economist to work out that is just stupid. He might as well have knocked on my door, and when I opened, just pissed on my feet. I can’t stand these elitist, upper class Oxbridge pricks with no idea how hard it is for most people. These are the people who are supposed to have integrity, the bastions for inclusion and against class and sexist practices. Yet Cameron, Osborne, and Boris are members of The Bullingdon Club. A secret society dining club where women and poor people are not allowed. This is the 21st century for Christ sake, not Dickens. It’s shameful that a Prime Minister would associate with that kind of shit. He has let banks off paying tax to the tune of £19 billion! It’s bullshit. His own government austerity advisor Sir Philip Green, the chief executive of Arcadia, skirted an estimated £285 million in tax through his wife’s tax-free status in Monaco, yet he has a pop at Jimmy Carr? Meanwhile they penalize the poor and the elderly. It is immoral.

Ok, deep breaths. Back to your blog again: the golf cart incident, being arrested in Vegas for pretending to shoot a transvestite, going missing in London, pissing off company executives, and even a few trashed (all be it accidentally) hotel rooms… it seems that some of these are the sorts of situations your character might have found himself in. Is this life imitating art or art imitating life?

Yeah, I must admit, I’m not the best decision maker and have put myself in stupid situations. Though, I believe you should live every day like it’s your last. Because one day you’ll be right. The Golf Pimp disaster was fairy typical, and I’m 40 now. I know I should grow up, but can’t quite stop wandering down the ‘That’d be funny’ path.

My book is an exaggeration of myself in many respects, especially the choices he makes. But I think, if when you died, you had to write an essay on your life, what would you say? “I worked really hard in an office for 60 years and gave up on my dreams.” Or would you say, “I did things, got in trouble, had adventures and laughed?” Cos I prefer the latter.

I have a tattoo: ‘LIT’ (Life is Temporary). We are not white goods like fridges that are here to perform repetitive tasks, then consigned to landfill. Do shit, take risks. You don’t stop laughing because you get old; you get old because you stop laughing.

You’ve said in the past that the gift of being able to tell good jokes has often won you friends and got you out of trouble. Do you have a particularly favourite joke you’d like to share?

This is a great question. You know, I’m not so much a joke teller, just that I have funny stories and see things a bit differently to most people. Things tend to happen. I was in Subway getting a roll, there was a queue and I was with some people from a signing. One guy cut the bread… then everything ground to a halt. I asked what the delay was, and the second guy had walked out. He was the guy who does the fillings. I told the first guy to just put the shit in the roll, but he said, “I don’t know what to do?”

How can you not know how to make a sandwich? Why in Subway does it take three people to make a sandwich? I’ve never been hungry, buttered bread and gone, “What next… I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO!!”

Till and sauce guy couldn’t help because he was till and sauce. So I went around the counter and dicked about serving people.

I think I just see the funny side of things, and I’m not embarrassed to look an idiot for finding it funny. Most think what I think, they just don’t say it.

My jokes are never mean though. I’ve been compared to Frankie Boyle and Tucker Max recently due to my flavour of humour and that bothers me a bit. Boyle is very funny, but mean about people, making jokes outwardly about them. Tucker Max is the memoir of an arrogant frat guy who got girls drunk, abused them and wrote about it. In Malice in Blunderland, the jokes are all on him, though the subject matter is dark, he is the only victim.

Lastly, being a bit of a whiz at self publicity (don’t be modest!) can you offer any words of advice to authors who are looking to create more awareness for their books?

I wouldn’t call myself a whiz at anything. If I was going to give advice it would be to be humble and be honest. There are too many authors now who feel it’s more important to be taken seriously and respected as an author than for what they’ve written. Sort of an X-factor narcissism. It does nobody any favours. If you post everywhere ‘read my book’ and use social media as an advertising platform you will be seen as spam. You’ll get blocked and hated.

Engage. That’s all I have done. When people do the ‘My book is free on Amazon – help me become a best seller,’ it’s just desperate. To be a best seller it has to be sold, not given away. It’s just a needy want to be a best seller for egotistical reasons. It’s bullshit. And downloads do not mean read!

Also, have an opinion and stick to it. I’m vegan, into animal rights, am political and talk about these things. This will gain you friends by association. I say friends because I hate this ‘fans’ crap. If ever I say I have fans – KILL ME.

Friends. It’s two way. My blog, goodreads, twitter… I’m talking and having fun all the time. It’s never one way, I’m asking what people have read; why they liked it, etc. Making jokes. I’m not pretending to be an author. I’m your average nobody who happens to have a book out.

Since the film thing, I’ve been asked by students in media: ‘What happens at script meetings?’ I was honest and told them I know naff all about film. So I let a bunch of them come along, getting involved in the process. Why not allow folk to piggy-back on your successes for free? It costs me nothing. Share the opportunity I say.

You can’t make anyone buy your book. You can be open, let people hear what you have to say, see if they like you. And if they like what you’re about, allow them to find a route to your book if they want one. My book has all five star reviews on Amazon because the people who buy it are pre-conditioned to the content. There are no shocks. They know it is black humour and very explicit. My efforts of simply being myself, acted as a filter. Like panning for gold. The people, who make it through, like what they read and so word of mouth kicks in. It’s organic. There’s no magic to it.

Some great advice there from the one and only Jonny Gibbings. Malice in Blunderland is available in kindle and paperback from all good bookshops. You can also follow Jonny on twitter, goodreads, check out his blog, and keep up to date with news via his website.

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