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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

#32 Jonny Gibbings

Twenty Questions with Mourning Goats

Finding this author was a happy accident. Wes, a Mourning Goat reader, sent Jonny's info my way.  As soon as I started reading about him and his work, I knew that he needed to be on the site. This is without a doubt, the most offensive interview yet, and Jonny wouldn't want it any other way. Read below and go pick up his book for more!

1. What comes to mind when you hear, "Mourning Goats?"

Ah that’s easy. I surf a lot, and a lot of the surfing I do is on a thing called a wave ski, which is like a surfboard and a kayak crossed. You sit on it and are strapped in at the waist and the feet. I like to ride big waves on them (see here in the cook islands, http://www.kayaksurf.net/jonny10.jpg). If something goes wrong, being strapped in, you got big problems. As an insult,surfers call us goat boats (Gay On A Tray), when we meet up in a morning,“Morning Goats” is often what we say to each other.
2. So, you're a big surfer?
Massive. I surf every day, and have done for 30 years.Getting up at 5am to surf at sunrise before work. It is a massive part of my life and something that will not be given up, under any circumstances. I have a few say, "move to London, push the book, chase the film deals." Why? So I can work my ass off in a big city in the hope retire by the beach at 60? I'm at the beach now. I've a tatty house, a beaten up car and get to go surf before work with my11 year old son. Money might buy you nice things, but it can't buy you time.Surfing is everything to me. Sometimes you can paddle out and just glide on waves under moonlight. This sums it up: http://jonnygibbings.wordpress.com/surf-words/
3. You have a book coming out in March, what do you want to tell us about it?

Well for a start, reading this book will make you smarter than you actually are, and is guaranteed to add not only length, but width to your penis. Seriously though, ‘Malice in Blunderland’ is just a funny book. Doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that. Sure, it has the usual stuff that romance novels and young adult fiction does. Such as getting fingered and assaulted by a transvestite, sex with a wheelchair bound cripple and having a strap-on cock placed on your head, then being forced to be a uni-porn in a snuff movie. Essentially it is a first person tale of a guy who has made some bad life choices. He is a dark and cynical chap who then makes some worse life choices but with some disastrous consequences. He is wanted by the police for rapes he didn't do, hunted by a drug cartel and pursued by the Ukrainian Mafia. Even ending up the victim of a violent snuff movie.

Too many want for great things from their work,to write a seminal piece, I didn't. When riding the underground in London, a guy burst out laughing reading a book. People saw it and they laughed. For a brief moment, in that shared experience the mood lifted. Even though the laughter stopped, the smiles remained. I wanted to be able to do that, and that is all this book is. A vaccine to a shitty day. It’s dark, gross, rude, offensive, but all in the name of giggles. It's not complicated, but then it doesn't pretend to be.

4. A two book deal, right out of the gates? How did you go about selling it?

I lucked into it to be honest. I had no strategy in place or aspirations. I have done a few author meet and greets since, and there is a world of better and more talented writers than me, with better ideas. What I will say is my book is very different. There are too many sites offering advice on how to approach an agent or publisher, how to write, what agents want. It has become like a factory. In a crowd of people singing a hymn, if you started singing ‘Fuck you I won’t do as you told me’ by Rage Against the Machine – you’d get a lot of attention. Do the same with a pitch, or anything for that matter, and you will get attention. The content is different.Fortunately for me, there are very few funny books. There is an appetite for alternative, transgressive work too. My book just happens to be both. I also targeted people who might enjoy something as dark as mine, then sent the manuscript in a manila file, with fake blood on it and torn corners, my beaten up face on the cover. So it looked like an evidence file from some horrible crime scene. There is nothing wrong with a bit of theatre. It caused a stir even before it was read.

5. The reaction from readers has been great for your new book, Malice in Blunderland, have there been any negative responses?

No amazingly. There will be though, I'm sure it's just lost in the post. The only negative reaction has been from the establishment.One influential agent in the UK called me the devil. The book featuring errors in spelling and punctuation, which we have a disclaimer for at the start of the book to let people know they were deliberate. Some hated this. My reasons were the book felt too refined and didn’t match the content. 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. So it feels like you’ve found someone’s diary and are sneaking the darkest intimate scrawlings of a hapless drunk who's life is in free-fall. The reception has been fantastic from readers though because expectations are low. You have that with a comedy book, you ether laugh or you don't.

6. Who do you think are the first people that read your work?

You know I have no idea. There seems to be a growing loyal following. On one surf forum, I called myself a ‘Fucktard’, when I did a reading at a CafĂ©/surf club, there were a group called team ‘fucktard’ and I loved that. There was one guy at the reading who laughed so much he vomited. He was pretty drunk though  I'm think he might have been one of the first.

7. You just wrote a blog about the literary industry,and how it's not changing, it's already changed. Can you expand on that?

For me, I am a casual observer. I know I will never be invited to sit at the top table with real and established writers. I’m like the‘kiddy-touching’ uncle at family gatherings who nobody wants to be around and all mutter, “Who the fuck invited him?” But what that does is give you distance to observe. We are in brave times, exciting times. It feels like the Arab Spring of literature to me. The dictators of publishing for too long have contained what gets published. Stores were full of cookery books, safe chick lit, fantasy replica’s and celebrity bullshit or some dick-neck reality TV star with his memoirs. Are you kidding me? It rather shit in my hands and write on my walls, then read that. Just like the music industry with kids in there bedrooms making and producing tracks, selling through the internet and not needing established record companies, publishing feels alive right now. These are exciting times, it’s evolve or die. Writers able to react, interact and feed readers with material, outside of the autocratic large publishing houses.I have that romantic view that it is like the illegal printing presses during the Russian revolution, words leaking out for consumption. Like I said earlier,I've since met some amazing talent, who write every moment they have spare. Now they have an outlet for their outpourings. People power. Never give up on the power of words and the passion of writers.

8. Brad Pitt's PlanB production company has expressed interest in your book, how did this come about? Is there any news?

There are a few rumors abound. Most are waiting for the print version to drop for a better acid test. However I’ve been told many studio’s buy up stuff early that makes a noise simply as it’s cheap and ensures other studio’s cant get their hands on it. I’m trying to write a caveat clause that no actor can have botox it if it does drop. I’m sick of actors looking like Team America puppets. Nothing is signed yet, but we have had some healthy sniffs of intent.

9. When you sat down to write Malice in Blunderland,what did you want to see come of it?

Oddly, Malice in Blunderland only happened because of a year of bad surf. I'd get up, check the waves, if there were none, I'd write. I was pushed to do the book because of some of the tales I posted on a surf forum of what I used to get unto when younger. I fucked up a lot. One in particular, a three way sex disaster was a big hit. People thought it was funny and it became stuff of legend, it even went viral. So I guessed there was something, I do have an odd way with words.But I never expected it to get picked up or published. I'm shocked by the attention and genuinely humbled by it's praise. All I wanted to do was make some people laugh, so if it all ended today, I'd be okay with that. I wasn't aiming to be taken seriously as a writer or expecting big financial rewards. I know elements within the British armed forces call their decision makers, 'The fuckus of Cunti' right out of the book, and when it goes a bit wrong in Afghanistan it's now called a 'Cuntastrophy' so am happy. Laughter was all I wanted. If a dog-eared, worn out copy gets passed around and people laughing at my dumb shit, I’m happy. That’s all I wanted.

10. What do you think about the teaching of creative writing? Did you go to school

Yeah, I went to a special private school. It's more popularly known as prison lol! I was mainly brought up in care due to brutally violent parents. Social services would take me away, then keep sending me back. I worked from the age of 10 for money for their booze. So I ran away at 14. You couldn't get 'No Fixed Address' benefit until you were 16, so for two years I lived by petty theft and rough sleeping. I was largely illiterate until prison. so my perspective of it all is jaded. If it helps, have at it. If it works for you and you expand your thoughts brilliant. I do though have a problem with rules. I worked for a photo studio that did courses with celebrity photographers. It was all about exposure, aperture, what lens to use. As if the walls were built to constrain the freedom. Yet, they did a children’s course, and the results were amazing. Odd angles, odd exposures, some dark, some just mental. One kid rolled down a hill, photographing his face. The picture was a blur, but for a quarter of the photo that contained a smiling eye and a part of a massive joyous smile. You couldn't sum up fun better. No matter how shit your day was as a grown up, you'd look at it and laugh. It reminds you, all you need in life is a hill to roll down and some sunshine to do it in.
I'm not going to lie. Words and the rules there in confuse me still. How can the word 'Fish' be plural, singular and what you do to catch one? Even letters, you have the Letter U, the Letter V, then the next one is two V's pushed together… we call that one double U. WTF? why isn't it double V? Rules, I have problems with them. Get a piece of paper and draw a big box on it, than give it to an adult and ask them to draw you a picture. You can guarantee they will draw inside the box you have drawn, as if pre-programmed and boxed in. Do the same to a child and they will draw inside the box, outside, use the box, make it into a unicorn, who knows. But the process is natural.

11. Is your next book, Cockslickle, finished, or are you still working on it? Want to tell us anything about it?

Far from finished. My work has a long gestation period, I'm a lazy bastard and a heavy drinker. If there is surf, nothing gets done. For me, it has to be organic. I have loads of idea's, but a shitty work ethic. It’s darker and nastier than Malice though.

12. Did I hear that an agent called you the devil?

Yeah. I’ve been pissing a lot of people off. Not deliberately, but you know, I’ve been around the block a few times, I don’t feel the need to eat some of the shit some people are selling. I’ve met so many deluded people, that just because they have been published, that they are the shit. All taking themselves way too seriously. Like their opinion is the only one that matters. At a book fair debate type thing, the agent that called me the Devil, she was shitting on about chick-lit and how it undermined women. So I said ‘I think that is utter shit.’ She didn’t like that. I asked how can something largely written by women, for women undermine women? That’s like saying drug dealers undermine addicts. So she said it was the name ‘Chick-lit’ that bothered her. So I suggested clitrature. She went mental.  She complained.She also moaned because I was drunk and, said ‘Nobody came to see a drunk’. Nobody came to see me anyway, besides, what the fuck did it matter, I wasn’t flying a plane. I was talking. I can do that drunk. Another time this old guy had a go at me because of the spelling concept. He had two flaps of skin hanging down from his neck like a man-turkey. He said I was on a crusade to dumb down literature. Crusade? I’ve written one book. He asked ‘Why don’t you write a proper book?’ So I asked ‘Why does your neck have a vagina?’ I mean,who the fuck do these people think they are? You see them on forums like Goodreads, with photo’s of themselves they have paid for in studio’s. Roll neck sweaters and jackets, trying to look like a mystical professor. Not realizing they look like Ron Burgundy. Honestly, vagina neck worked as an accountant in rent control in the local council for 33 years, then gets a book published and thinks he IS publishing. Get the fuck over yourself. Then I got more shit for what I said about established writers, but I stand by what I said. Anyone who writes for a living, and complains about it, saying it is hard, is a bitch. Fact. Writers block isn’t hard. Drinking coffee and walking your dogs till you get inspiration isn’t hard. Getting up at 4am, to walk an hour to a building site, in below freezing conditions to erect scaffolding for 10 hours is hard, just feeding your kids is hard. I won’t take that bullshit. They don’t seem to like it that I don’t give a fuck what they think, I don’t need their approval.

13. You're a late adopter to Facebook, only joining last year. Do you think it's going to be helpful in marketing your books?

Yeah, I find it good for marketing and grooming children for sex. Seriously though, yeah and it is one more area the established publishers are failing.They use social media like a advert, not a forum. They see it as a megaphone not a telephone. You can get feed back live, folks can tell you what they hate and you can ask why did they hate it. I think all forms of communication is fantastic. It’s also good to meet and learn from  other authors.

14. What's it been like working with Cutting Edge Press?

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, I still don't know what hell 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 don’t think I suffer from an 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 heard 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. Cutting Edge Press as got me more a Huge publisher could. And you don't have to be J.K. Rowling to break bread with the directors, they are your friends.

15. You told me that there should be more"literary terrorism," what did you mean by that?

Risky, bold dumb shit. Nobody says to Tracy Em in, ‘Well that’s a good paining, but the sky isn’t orange and you can’t paint explicit sexual images mocking religion.’ It’s art. Same as words. There seems to be too much safe, cookery, celebrity bullshit. Some people say my book is shocking. One said it has no place to be published, sighting its gross sexual content, like my generation invented anal sex.  I like writing that cuts,scars, burns. Challenges and confronts. Makes you laugh at what you shouldn’t.Some have moaned about the rape jokes, saying it’s sick. Well don’t read it then. Words can be fun. Or am I the only person that texts random phone numbers with the message ‘I’m pregnant’

16. Your "about" page on your blog,  www.jonnygibbings.wordpress.com is pretty bleak, is all of that true? How did you turn things around?

Yeah, it’s all true. It may be bleak, but it’s the only life I knew. How things got turned around is easy. Sophie, my lady. She’s known me all my life and knows the dark places I’ve been. Ignores the shame I have for the nightmare things I’ve done for money, and who I worked for. She forgives it all my past transgressions. All you need is a reason to change, nobody wants to be a mess. Problem is, when you are a mess like me and start living with a saint, they make you look like a disaster. I’ve often thought if I dated a crack head who was blowing sailors for rent money, I’d be seen as the good one in the relationship. She rescues horses, dogs and all other animals, so we dedicate a lot of our money and time to that. We have fields with horses, beaches and surf, things sort of sorted themselves out. I am lucky though, because Sophie thinks all the chaos I cause is funny. We work well together.

17. Did you get to pick the cover art? It's you, after being beaten to a pulp, apparently!

The cover is me, but it’s digital. The cover of the print version is lenticular so as you move it, the injuries appear. The artwork is mine actually. I did it as a visual to the publisher, and they wanted to use it. I resisted at first,because I didn’t want my face on the cover. But during the discussions it got adopted.

18. According to your Facebook page, you work in"every shitty job and call center ever," do you think these menial jobs make you a better writer?

With out a doubt. There is nothing worse than working for a boss with walks around all day with his thumb up his ass. It isn’t long before you start looking for ways to cause havoc. Whoever invented ‘work’ was an idiot. In malice, the main protagonist sleeps in the toilet all day, That used to be me for a window firm. I pretended to be deaf for a year in one factory, so I could ignore what the foreman told me to do. I would sneak off some place and sleep in that job too. In a call centre I used pretend to be Indian when I answered the phone, and have a terrible English. The caller would get so angry, I would say that I would put them through to a manager. After putting the on hold for a painfully long time, I'd answer the call again with a different comedy Indian accent. This time I would speak when ever they would speak and pause when they did. I think anything can make you a better writer if you find it funny. It certainly is food for ideas and characterization. Some just except that is just the way things are, and that frustrates me. How can people be happy with doing the same old shit day in day out without wanting to kill people? Some see the world as glass is half empty, some see it as half full. I see it as half full, but it's half full of piss.
19. You have a fantastic quote on your page, "It isn't death I fear... it's a life un-lived," what does that mean to you?

Hearses don’t have luggage racks. You can’t take the shit you accumulated with you. Do shit,take risks. I tried to get to know my Father again, two days later he died. A friend of his said to me ‘He had a good run’ I didn’t know what he meant so I asked him to explain. He said ’70 years is a long time.’ But that got me thinking, 70 years sounds a long time, but 70 summers doesn’t. At 40, do I only have thirty Christmases left? Life is short. Too many chase that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow only to find it isn’t there. Money can buy you shit, but it can’t buy you time. I surf every day. I’ve tracked big waves and surfed them from North Africa to the Cook Islands. Been arrested in Thailand, Tunisia, and Vegas. My theory is, if you had to write an essay on your life before you die,what would you say? ‘I worked really, really hard in an office for fifty years.’ Or will you say ‘I did shit, had adventures, took risks, laughed and made mistakes.’ Jump first and look for a soft place to land on the way down I say.

20. What's next for Jonny Gibbings?

More surfing, paying for the caravan I drove a golf buggy into, finish‘Cocksickle’, then more surfing. My publisher has said I can piss off who ever I like, so that’s good.
Thank you!


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  3. "Hearses don’t have luggage racks" That is a fantastic point of view. Unexpected layers to this chap.

  4. "clitrature" - completely spit my tea...thank you! Definitely going to have to find this book!

  5. Wow. Just wow. I loved every single word of that. What a cool perspective from such a shitty start. I'd love to know this guy. Ordered the book. Litratures MNM