Friday, 14 July 2017

The Eloquently Effervescent Erinna Mettler

  Fame.  It's the greatest curse of the 21st century.

Lots of people want it, very few get it (despite the overwhelming explosion of realty television which seems to create a z list celebrity on a daily basis).

Would I want fame? Would I want the recognition and rewards that every desperate big brother contestant strives for?  I don't think so.

Give me infamy every time.

These were the thoughts that ran through my head as I stood at my work bench in the Carcass room, hastily deboning another victim to be added to my ever increasing patio.  The man on the slab was not anyone of note, I had, the night before, ordered a pizza from the newly oped fast food restaurant in nearby Nether Stinkhole.  When it arrived I noted that there were no olives.  I had specifically ordered olives.

I had invited the delivery boy in and bade him sit down whilst I rang the restaurant once more.  They were ever so apologetic and said that they would send another pizza straight away.  "Excellent."  I said.  "Please have your chef deliver it himself."  It would seem that my own fame had preceded me as they agreed without question.

When the chef arrived he could not be more sorry.  It would not do however and, as I sliced his throat with a pizza cutter, I congratulated the first delivery boy, who had sat most patiently waiting on the Chesterfield, on his promotion to new chef at Nether Stinkhole's finest pizzeria.

Chop, chop, chop went the cleaver, as I carried on my dark work. Infamy indeed.

 Perhaps there was another? I thought to myself as I scooped the remains into my biggest bucket and removed my leather apron.  Perhaps someone else has pondered on the trappings and evils of fame, perhaps even on the minor merits.  After washing myself down I headed to my study.

Twenty minutes later, as Manson the butler brought me a calming flask of cherry brandy, I decided to seek further enlightenment on the subject.  After visiting my most favourite publishers Unbound at their lovely website I came across the answer to my dark prayers.  I sought out the sage advice of someone 'in the know' and invited her to tea forthwith.

The following weekend a carriage arrived with my guest.  My discussion with her is recorded as follows:

  Hello, Erinna.  Do come in, please don’t trip on the bodies, I’ve had a busy week and it’s the maid’s day off.  To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit, tell me a little about yourself?

    Hello, will there be tea? Milk no sugar. I’m from Yorkshire so I like it strong. I am a writer, mainly of short fiction, though I have been known to dabble in poetry. I started writing late in life (40!) I did a course in creative writing on a whim and was rather good at it so then I did an MA, wrote a novel, co-founded a spoken word company (Rattle Tales) and a short fiction prize (The Brighton Prize) as you do. I write every day now. My life is categorised as BW and AW (before and after writing.) I have just finished a short story collection and now I’m working on a ‘novel’.

    A writer, eh?  What’s your book about?  I’m afraid I am feeling quite dazed today so can you please sum it up in no more than 26 words?

    My book is called Fifteen Minutes and it is a short story collection about fame. Ordinary people interact with celebrities, not always in a good way.

    Would you be happy with fifteen minutes, or would you grip, white knuckled to the glory for as long as you could?  Or would it be a curse?

     There is good and bad fame in the book, sometimes the famous can be a positive influence, sometimes they alter reality for the worse. People are too obsessed with people who are famous for being famous, just for having lots of money and a big arse and talking out of it! I also think people who have it should maybe stop moaning about how awful it is. You don’t have to be a movie star, you could do theatre, no-one would care much about you then! Personally, I’d cling on with both hands so long as I had a Tuscan villa to retreat to. Luckily, writers don’t get hounded much by the paparazzi, not even really famous ones. I love the idea of lots of people reading my books, Hollywood adaptations I can live with.Of course with fame comes responsibility – that’s one of the themes of the book.

    I had a friend once who told me that anyone can write a book, all you need is the time to do it in.  With the glut of self-published books on the market now, do you think he was he telling the truth, and should this sort of thing be encouraged?

    Anyone can write one but it will probably be rubbish. I’ve been writing for a decade and I’m competent I’d say. The time you need is probably about twenty years. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t write, every paragraph you finish makes you a better writer, even the crappy ones, failure is a means to success.
    Self-publishing is a different thing. A book needs to be edited. A book is a collaborative process. I wouldn’t recommend that anyone self-publish without an editor but at the same time mainstream publishing is SOOO boring these days, isn’t it? They just publish the same old same old – it’s time for a revolution. If something is good people will buy it, it doesn’t need to be approved by an agent or a big publishing house. So pay for a fantastic editor and publish away.

My mind is troubled.  Could you soothe it with a haiku that both calms my soul and sums up your outlook on life?
Of course I’m happy
for you, but when is it my 
    turn to be a star?

What would you say are the four laws of writing a really effective short story? And is the short story writing process more limiting than writing a novel?

Only four! I could write a book about it. One – pick a subject that no-one else has thought of, or a common situation seen from a different pov. Of my stories, the one’s I think are the best have been about very odd things; a jogger finding a severed foot on a beach, the last cow on earth, a tramp in New York the day John Lennon was killed. Those 3 all came from news stories. Pick out the obscure and focus on it. 

Two – write it in clearly defined scenes (like you would a novel) bang bang bang, 3-5 episodes, nothing wrong with flashbacks either. 

Three – edit it until your eyes bleed and you never want to read it again. Print it out and read it aloud, read it to friends, an audience, a workshop. Give it a close edit at least ten times, cut everything you don’t need, which is usually the first paragraph, then edit it again. 

Four – don’t just trail off… I read a lot of short stories for Rattle Tales and The Brighton Prize and endings are the place most people mess up. The end has to be as good as the beginning and if the end can refer to the beginning in some way so much the better. Like the beginning, make sure you absolutely need your last paragraph.

    Are they more limiting than writing a novel? Hmm, my novel was made up of interlinked short stories but then I think most novels are! I think you have to be economical and there is a definite art to that which has to be learned but then you should be economical in a novel too.

    I love using a good simile.  Could you invent one for me, which I can slip into everyday life?

No – I hate similes! I really do; they are almost as bad as semi-colons. This comes from judging a short story competition. A huge majority of our entries have far too many similes.I’ve had stories with fifteen or sixteen on a page, sometimes two or three in a sentence. It’s like being hit over the head with a nail-studded club. At first it’s diverting but pretty soon you’ve lost all consciousness. I do use them, but rarely, and usually from a character’pov. I offer up as evidence this quote from The Road (one of the best books ever written and the subject of my story The Typewriter in Fifteen Minutes),

Then they set out along the blacktop in the gun-metal light, shuffling through the ash, each the other’s world entire.’ 

The light is not ‘like’ gun metal it is gun-metal light, they don’t shuffle through ash ‘like’ dirty water or some such, it’s just ash, it is not ‘as if’ each is the other’s world entire, they just are. I rest my case.

The earth is dying.  The 100 most notable people on the planet (which obviously includes you) have been chosen to start a new world on the other side of the galaxy.  Your 300 year journey in suspended hibernation has just ended, you wake up 10 years early and you are feeling particularly mischievous.  Choose 2 people whose life support you will turn off for the good of mankind and 2 people you will wake up early to spend the last 10 years of the journey with.

Obviously Trump has to go but I also put forward Rupert Murdoch who I hold personally responsible for every bad thing to have happened to this country since he pledged support to Margaret Thatcher. These two bozzos would definitely be on the bloody spaceship because they’d buy a ticket with their pocket change. I don’t understand why in 2017 old rich white men still have so much power. Anyhow, ten years is a long time. I don’t need someone who’s done a lot on earth do I? (Though I suppose the Dalai Lama would help with the anxiety of being stuck in a metal box hurtling through space). But it’s a difficult question. There are all sorts of things to consider, like if they are old are they guaranteed to live the whole ten yearsIf you wake up David Attenborough would he die almost immediately – and can you then wake up someone else? I might wake up lots of interesting old people in that case. As I get older I realise that old people have a lot of knowledge to pass on and a lot of good stories to tell. Also are there unlimited supplies, like fresh foodBecause I’d quite like the world’s greatest chef to cook for me very day - and pass their skills onto me. The other one is Keanu Reeves – obviously.

    “Good things happen to good people in the end.  Bad people get what’s coming to them.”  Discuss.

    There is a wealth of evidence to suggest this isn’t the case! I’d like to think it does happen, that evil gits get found out and that even if they don’t they know they are tainted in some way. Good things happening to good people in the end – that unfortunately is not always true but at least if you are good you can say that you’ve lived your life well and not have any worries going into suspended hibernation.

    Where can I find you on the world wide interweb? Do you blog? Tweet? Facebook? Amazon?

    I blog quite a lot at and I spend a lot more time on Twitter and Facebook than I should. I particularly love Twitter @ErinnaMettler so please chat to me on Twitter. Instagram too. Linkedin and I have an author page on Amazon so just search on there.

I waved goodbye to my new friend, as she boarded the carriage home.  Almost immediately I returned to my studied, fired up my laptop and pledged my support for her very lovely collection.

You should support her too, or look out for it when it invades bookshops soon

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