Today I have the author of The Awful Truth About The Herbert Quarry Affair here talking about the ideas behind the story…
The Awful Truth About The Herbert Quarry Affair
With a jangle of keys, a door opened. Herbert clanked in, his arms locked to his sides, his ankles shackled, his face a Hannibal Lecter mask. He was overjoyed to see me.
“Marco, I’m jailed day and night with murderous thugs who can’t tell Schiller from Shakespeare. I’m desperate for intellectual stimulus—but you’ll do for now.”
TV personality Marco Ocram is the world’s only self-penned character, writing his life in real time as you read it. Marco’s celebrity mentor, Herbert Quarry, grooms him to be the Jackson Pollock of literature, teaching him to splatter words on a page without thought or revision.
Quarry’s plan backfires when imbecilic Marco begins to type his first thought-free book: it’s a murder mystery—and Herbert’s caught red-handed near the butchered body of his lover.
Now Marco must write himself into a crusade to clear his friend’s name. Typing the first words that come into his head, Marco unleashes a phantasmagorical catalogue of twists in his pursuit of justice, writing the world’s fastest-selling book to reveal the awful truth about the Herbert Quarry affair.
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Denis Shaughnessy is the author of the Awful Truth series of surreal comedies which introduce a new way of writing fiction. The supposed author of the books, Marco Ocram, seems to be inventing the stories in real time as he appears as a self-invented character, sharing with the reader many of his immediate thoughts about his writing. Since he’s typing the story as he goes, he has no chance to edit anything or to think ahead, so he makes all sorts of mistakes, losing control of his plot and his characters. In this guest post, Denis explains the idea behind the stories…
Here’s a question —is literature too conservative? As part of my
cheating meticulous preparations for this hand-crafted, limited edition guest post, I checked with Google, who told me, to my utter astonishment, that no-one’s asked the question before. So here we are breaking entirely new ground by talking about it!
Imagine you’re in a library, its shelves laden with literary treasures from the 18th century to the 21st. Differing in subject and style, they’re essentially the same product, conforming to unquestioned rules about how books should be written. Now wave your magic wand, sprinkle the pixie dust, leave behind a trail of Oxford commas, and you’re in an art gallery. Marvel at the variety of paintings, from the beautifully realistic to the utterly bizarre and abstract. Why has painting changed so much when literature has changed so little? Why such diversity in one art form, when we still expect books to be written pretty much as they were three hundred years ago?
Maybe it’s something to do with the thousands of articles on the Internet about writing—articles that coach the would-be author to write like everyone else does. It’s as if there were an army of people writing advice for would-be popstars, telling them all to write classical music. Call me a rebel if you like, but I decided it was time someone wrote a book in a different way, and if no-one else was stupid enough to give it a go, I’d try it myself.
By conventional standards, The Awful Truth about the Herbert Quarry Affair is a wierd book. Its author, Marco, who wasn’t very bright to begin with, has been coached by his mentor to write as Jackson Pollock paints. ‘Pouring words onto paper without thought or revision,’ Marco makes up the story as he goes along, leaving a trail of spelling mistakes, pleonasms, dodgy dialogue, discontinuities, and every other kind of mistake an incompetent writer might make, all of which he acknowledges to you, his beloved reader. To make his life more complicated, Marco is his own protagonist, too distracted by his role in the chaotic action to be able to give enough thought to writing it. The conceptual space between Marco the writer and Marco the character doesn’t exist in conventional books, and it opens up a new set of opportunities for jokes and wordplay. The overall effect is surreal and absurd, and you might love it or hate it. I hope you love it as much as I do.
Little is known of Marco Ocram’s earliest years. He was adopted at age nine, having been found abandoned in a Detroit shopping mall—a note taped to his anorak said the boy was threatening the sanity of his parents. Re-abandoned in the same mall a year later, with a similar note from his foster parents, he was homed with his current Bronx mom—a woman with no sanity left to threaten.
Ocram first gained public attention through his bold theories about a new fundamental particle—the Tao Muon—which he popularized in a best-selling book—The Tao Muon. He was introduced to the controversial literary theorist, Herbert Quarry, who coached Ocram in a radical new approach to fiction, in which the author must write without thinking—a technique to which Ocram was naturally suited. His crime memoir, The Awful Truth about the Herbert Quarry Affair, became the fastest selling book of all time, and made him a household name. It was translated into every known language—and at least three unknown ones—and made into an Oscar-winning film, a Pulitzer-winning play, a Tony-winning musical, and a Golden Joystick-winning computer game.
Ocram excelled at countless sports until a middle-ear problem permanently impaired his balance. He has yet to win a Nobel Prize, but his agent, Barney, has been placing strategic back-handers—announcements from Stockholm are expected soon. Unmarried, in spite of his Bronx mom’s tireless efforts, he still lives near his foster parents in New York.