By Ryan Bracha
Lanarkshire-born wordsmith Mark Wilson probably hates me when I’m a bit tipsy. He probably hates me full stop. On Saturday nights, when the wife has gone to bed just around Match of the Day, or The Football League Show comes on, I get on the long bit of the corner sofa, with a beer in one hand, and my phone in the other. From this position, I scroll through Facebook contacts, find the bald bastard, and I hurl abuse (wrapped in the safe word of banter!) at his little bald head. In between this ‘banter’, we discuss books. We talk about other writers; who we admire, who’s doing something cool with their stuff, and who’s an absolute clown. It’s about these times that I come up with my best ideas. They start as throwaway comments about what it’d be cool to do, or what character I’d like to introduce into a book, or what I want to do to try to stand out from the crowd. Some of them are forgotten as quickly as they dribbled out of my brain, but others are left to fester upstairs. Whilst up there, they grow a fine layer of fuzzy mould, and begin to take on a life of their own. Twelve Mad Men was one of those ideas.
I wanted to write a set of rules that I would write a novel by, and I would beg a bunch of authors to get involved in the making of it. The set of rules eventually became what I have termed ‘The Rule of Twelve Manifesto 2014,’ which required twelve very loose guidelines to write a book by, for example it had to feature twelve different writers, all invited to participate by the lead writer. Or each story had to be so many words long. Or that the project would cost nothing but time, the writers between them must use the skills between them to make the project work, and for free. That kind of thing. I wanted it to be a literary equivalent of the Dogme 95 cinematic movement, led by Lars Von Trier.
So I began to ask around the writers whose work I’d discovered in my first eighteen months in the literary game. Gerard Brennan, whose work I adore. Keith Nixon and Mark Wilson, my original and best pals on the indie scene, they taught me at least 63% of what I know now. Paul Brazill, whose descriptive prose makes me sick with envy. The writer of my favourite book of 2013, Craig Furchtenicht. Lord of despair and darkness Allen Miles. Darren Sant because of his gritty urban collections. And Martin Stanley, the hard-boiled master. They all said yes, without hesitation. It blew my mind. From here I asked for suggestions, and Christ, I snagged the legendary Les Edgerton, the twisted fuck that is Richard Godwin, and the king of short, sharp fiction, Gareth Spark.
Once I’d got them, I told them what I wanted. The brief was pretty much simply this: I’m going to narrate the story from the point of view of a night guard on his first shift at St David’s asylum for the criminally insane. Along this shift he’s going to meet fictional version of you. I want you to write me a story about your spiral into madness, and what acts led you to be incarcerated at St David’s. No more than six thousand words. I would improvise and react to the stories submitted, and this would shape how the book went. The stories came in and they blew me away. They were funny, dark, violent, sweary, intelligent, disgusting, witty and above all, brilliant. Everybody who’s read it so far has said something like ‘That Richard Godwin, he’s a damaged fuck, eh?’ and that’s what I wanted. I was sick of seeing the charts filled to the brim with rip-offs of the last big thing. I wanted to put a book out that had got some real balls, one that would make a reader admire the ambition that lay within, and I think I invited possibly the most perfect eleven to make it so. I wanted these guys to let loose. Take themselves out of their comfort zones, and simply go nuts, pun intended. They made me up my own game in response to the sheer brilliance of what they were sending me. They made me push harder to make the narrative of the book stand up alongside the stories included therein. They did me proud, each and every one of them.
For me, the highlight of the whole process was all of it. I’ve got to know some really cool fellas, and I’ve put out a work that I think they can all be proud of. The next project is already up in the mental attic gathering the mould it needs to come alive, and I’d be happy to have any one of them back for round two.
:: Buy Twelve Mad Men on Amazon now.