I’m not quite sure how to describe Jonny Gibbing’s first novel, Malice In Blunderland. First of all it’s protagonist gets his arse fingered by a prostitute, then the police eat his literal shit. In between there’s some corruption and drug lords out to get the protagonist and his acquaintance, Bulldog. Well, that doesn’t sum up the book very well at all. There’s a whole lot in between those two events, and it’s a book definitely worth checking out. You can get it now on the Kindle, or wait till March 22nd till you can buy it in paperback. Thanks to Jonny, for joining me for an interview.
Interview is as follows:
1.) You wrote Malice In Blunderland in the perspective that it could have been a journal found on a park bench, featuring errors in spelling and punctuation, which you have a disclaimer for at the start of the book. Why did you decide to take this approach?
There are a few reasons actually. Listen to Etta James sing ‘At Last’, then listen to Beyonce sing it. The string arrangement is the same, the tune is the same, as is the lyrics. Beyonce is without doubt a massive talent, but over processed and over produced. All the raw edges that can cut you are polished off. Leaving it as soulless as an alarm clock. Etta James, her pain resonates. You don’t just hear it, you feel it. Once written, the book went through processes like all books. But the subversive, gritty, dirtiness was removed. It felt more organic before, more honest. I wanted the reader to feel as if they had happened on something not for public consumption. Like if you stumbled on a young couple fucking in a car, you’d be compelled to watch. So We added some back in.
To me it was more sincere. Two latin words – sine ‘without’ and cera ‘wax’. When statues of emperors were hewn from Marble. There were flaws all over them. Gaps and rough edges, that would then be corrected and hidden with wax. To a select few, these works of art were shown, even before the emperor had seen them. In their true, naked, raw form. Before the mistakes were hidden. They were viewed ‘without wax’ or Sine-cera; Sincere.
Also, I couldn’t read or write till my late teens. So it’s a sort of tribute, as well as feeling closer to the crazy ramblings of a man coming apart seems. You stumble and think, thats wrong. Then think ‘Oh yeah’. For me it works like an error joke. Like when you say denial isn’t just a river in Spain.
2.) The novel’s setting features drug lords and corrupt policemen. I got a feeling that British gangster movies such as Snatch were an influence, did you have any other direct influences while writing the work?
It’s based around Plymouth in Southwest England. It features Salcombe, which is like England’s ‘Hamptons’ and Plymouth which would be England’s Detroit. Sadly, stupidly, I actually worked for a crime syndicate, and that’s how I ended up in prison. Oddly, that was where I learned to read. So have a little more first hand knowledge than I would like. I’m influenced from all sorts really. I worked for a guy who scared the hell out of me, but never did wrong by me. But mostly, it is just made up stuff I find funny. That and tales me and my surf buddies recount in the car park after a surf.
3.) You had a pretty hard life yourself growing up, did this influence the hard life of the protagonist in the novel?
100%. I have lived in some awful places with other squatters. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t have some amazing laughs along the way. One thing you learn is to find the funny side to situations. Like I’ve said elsewhere, I’ve gone days without food. Eaten out of bins in shopping centers. Shitty parents, shitty homes, shitty jobs. Life has been a bowl of shit, but at least it gives you a story. That said, we all love an underdog. People seemed to laugh when I told of how I lived. I guess was a major influence.
4.) Some writers find it hard to encorporate humour into their work, did this come naturally for you?
Yes, but that is where I am flawed. I don’t see myself as a writer. I see myself with a story teller, who managed to write a book. So far, partly because of the blog, some in the literary establishment see me as the Devil, and say that I am on a crusade to dumb down the craft. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have a deep respect and envy of skilled writers. But, how I lived, if you couldn’t laugh at how shit your life was, you’d crumble into dust and blow away. In prison, being the funny guy got you liked and as such provided an element of safety. In a squat, being funny got you liked and a share of any food. I have trouble fitting the writing around the funny. It’s part of my DNA, it’s how I see the world. I’ve done lots of dumb things and I’m a heavy drinker. Right now I’m paying a fine because I stole a golf buggy and a cheese cake from a hotel party and crashed it into a caravan. I make bad choices in the pursuit of giggles. Some some people see the glass as half empty, some see it as half full, I see it as half full, but it’s half full of piss. Life is one long comedy as far as I can see.
5.) Malice In Blunderland is currently available on Kindle, with the print version due to come out in March. What effect does having the e-version out first mean to you, the author?
Fore me, personally, it allows me to have a live communication between the reader and the me. With traditional print, you have the publisher, the printer, distribution, retail buyer then to the customer who reads it. There is lots of links in the chain that edit the honesty of feedback. With an ebook the chain is short. Thats the thing about digital, it’s two way, and I love that. I did my first reading and it was fantastic. One guy laughed so much he vomited. One woman walked out calling me disturbed. It all went off on a tangent, was very funny. ebooks and digital are the same, people can tell you your shit right away. Another key element was the book is very dark. It allowed the publisher faith in their investment, being able to gauge the public reaction too it. As you know the book has drug use, necrophilia, sex with a disabled woman, transvestites and explicit violence. Finding it funny, and having faith that other people will find it funny are two very different things. You can also do promotions, reducing the price, and targeting the sub-cultures that don’t traditionally buy books or visit literary sites. Lots of my readers are skater and surfers who found Malice in Blunderland via a digital word of mouth.
6.) You have said you are working on your follow up book, what can you tell us about that?
It’s called ‘Cocksickle’ Much of the same. This time I want to add space so there is more tension. With Malice it is delivered at a fast pace, so it feels like you are sliding into disaster at break-neck speed, like a car out of control. Cocksicle is about a guy who embarks on a voyage of sexual discovery, and finds himself in a sex cult. It is darker than ‘Malice in Blunderland’ and less pulp like. It features a re-write of a internet forum post that started the whole write a book business. I had a threesome experience that was so awful it could curdle milk. It was just horrible. That is what I want to explore, how fantasy and reality are polar opposites. But it is the honesty that made people laugh when I explained. There is loads of whispering, and that just creeped me out. At one point there was a nasty clash of heads. In sport, if your heads clash it stops play. Not so during team sex it would appear. Most guys would bullshit and say it was amazing. I lay in the fetal position for days after, just crying. The main protagonist is more likable, but it’s on very similar lines.
7.) The protagonist of the novel had unlikeable tendencies, how did you make him likable so that the reader felt engaged enough to read on in the book?
Is he likable? I’m glad you think so. I guess the ethos of the guy was more intimate to me than I thought. I know first hand, nobody wants to be a nothing. Nobody wants to be down on their luck. Nobody wants to be an addict. At my lowest point, it was as if I was invisible. People ignored your every existence, and it hurts. As if they think you had chosen that life. You never know the main protagonist’s name as a homage to this. But he hates his life for the same reasons you do. He’s slipped into a rut. The book reveals he isn’t a bad person, and that inside, he is a good guy that has made some bad choices. I hope people empathize with him, hence the ending. Without spoilers, I wanted the reader to be cheering him on in the end. To grow with him, but also to have that voice in the back of your subconscious that tells you it could have been you. Madness is only funny when it’s observed.
8.) How has the initial release and feedback been for the book so far?
You know what, I’m blown away. Truly, deeply humbled. I am a shit-head. I am. I’ve done a few author events and bet some amazingly gifted writers searching for a deal and it makes me feel bad. These guys get it. They have been writing for years and are just super talented. It makes me feel bad y’know because they are so much more deserving than me. I didn’t believe it would get picked up, let alone have an agent battle for it. As you might tell, I’m not my own biggest supporter and full of self doubt. I’m used to things not working out or turning to shit. My publisher Cutting Edge Press produced it as an ebook 6 months before the print version, mainly to prove to me that folks would read it. I didn’t read any of the reviews, I didn’t want to learn how people hated it.
Josh, I guess you’d call him my sort of manager at the Publishers emailed me a letter from some marines, as he knew I was hiding from it all. I was moved. These guys were in the shit, and to take their mind off the fear and anxiety, they read my book. They loved it. It was a massive relief. So I read some of the others and they are all pretty amazing. People saying how they laughed so much. That’s all I wanted to do, make people laugh. It’s now been picked up for promotion and sales at England’s biggest retail book stores, with front window promotion. rumbles from film companies. The only thing that feels awkward is the peers I’m getting compared to, such as Irvine Welsh and Will Self. I am a massive fan of these guys and know I have a long way to go before I could sit at there table. I thought it would have a tepid reaction, but it has been amazing and overwhelming. I wasn’t expecting it.
9.) You’ve been working with Cutting Edge Press, how would you describe the experience?
Fantastic. I definitely made the right choice. Before I signed, there were two agents with deep connections, one American one from England who wanted to run with them. One talked of sanitizing the book to make it mainstream, one came out with shit, Is till don’t know what he is on about. I didn’t want an agent though. I didn’t want a buffer or a person telling me what he thought I wanted to hear. I wanted it straight, cuts and bruises. It is the only way I know how to function. Also, I fuck up so much that I’d have no money left after the agent mopped up all my mistakes. What I admire most about Cutting edge press is the integrity. They have been transparent from the start, and have backed my stupid and often angry approach from the start. I had some odd emails when people found out I signed with Cutting edge rather than the big publisher that wanted Malice. I have no ego, so don’t feel like the ‘talent’. We are a team, and the advice, support and ideas from Cutting Edge have been fantastic. They have gone way beyond the call of duty. It was a meeting with these guys that developed the spelling errors concept, and without doubt, Paul and Josh helped improve the ending. The book feels like ours rather than mine and I love that. I’ve since been told some horror stories from other authors and I am blessed they picked me up. What I will say is that theory that bigger publishers can get you more is bullshit.
10.) If you were in the situation of the protagonist, would you have proceeded differently
Well I got arrested in Vegas for a similar situation to the transvestite assault, in the book. I used to sleep in the toilets at a company I worked at. But no, I have way to much apathy for that much effort. I am big on lazy, and am very good at it. I’m lucky that I have the love of an amazing and supportive partner. Sophie describes me as a cross between Charlie Sheen and Forrest Gump. Unlike the situation of the Mia induced heart break, Sophie would never leave me because I can’t feed myself. It’s like having your own clown. So I can’t see me ever being in that situation. These days I’m more like the guy at the end of the book than the beginning.