Somewhere to review books I'm reading without giving away any spoilers!
Denis Shaughnessy is the author of the ground-breaking ‘Awful Truth’ series of satirical comedies that play with the conventions of mainstream fiction. The surreal premise of the books is that they are written by their main character, Marco Ocram, who is inventing the story as he acts it out, which gives him no chance to think ahead or edit anything. Marco shares all his doubts and mistakes with his bewildered but hopefully entertained readers as he writes his way through twist after twist to a fantastic ending. Today he’s kindly answered my questions and I’m sharing his responses with you, together with more about him and his book!
Where did you get the inspiration for the book/series?
I was inspired by reading tons of advice on the internet, all of which seemed to encourage authors to write in a standard, predictable way. I decided to write books that flaunted all the advice and deliberately broke or played with the rules.
What is your writing process?
I’m on my fourth ’Awful Truth’ novel, and I’ve used the same approach for all of them. I should start by explaining that all the books begin in exactly the same way, with Marco, who is the character writing the book, getting a call out of the blue from Como, who is a policeman. Of course, Marco has invented the call (like he invents everything else) assuming it will lead to Como telling him about a new case that can be the subject of the book. The other aspect the books have in common is that Marco always writes himself into such an intractable predicament that he has to invoke some ridiculously implausible twist at the end to evade some awful fate.
So, I begin by deciding on the final twist, then I invent the plot as I go, with the final twist as my destination. I have no idea what route the plot will take along the way- I let it go wherever gives the greatest opportunity for humour, which is my main objective.
Do you write using pen and paper or on a computer?
Pen and paper? Good heavens! Do they still make pens? No, I type everything. I suspect I have forgotten how to write by hand, as I gave that up years ago. Besides, my writing is quite stylised. I like to experiment with the order of words, or to try different synonyms to see which best suits the mood and rhythm of the passage. I usually type a section of text then work on it repeatedly until I’m sufficiently happy with the result. That approach would be utterly impractical with pen and paper.
Who is your favourite character out of your stories and why?
I love all the characters and know them so well that I can write their dialogue more easily than I can write this answer. Marco and Como are inseparable- the stories couldn’t exist without them, so I can’t choose between them. Given that, I’ll say Marco’s Bronx mom- she only makes occasional appearances, but she is a great contrast with Marco.
If you were a character in your story, which would you like to be?
I wouldn’t want to be Marco, because he’s a nutcase, and I wouldn’t want to be Como, because he has to put up with Marco, and I certainly wouldn’t want to be Marco’s Bronx mom, as she’s even more of a crack-pot than Marco. Given that, I could be Barney, who is Marco’s agent, always doing deals and signing-up other celebrity clients, but I think I would rather be Professor Sushing- a billionaire polymath.
How and why did you choose the names for your main characters?
I picked Marco because I was playing around with spoofing a book in which the main character was called Marcus, so it was an obvious choice, and I saw at once that I could add the palindromic surname Ocram. It was provisional at first, but I later made a play on words about Occam’s/Ocram’s razor which was too good to miss, so I had to keep the name. Ocram also had the advantage of being ethnically neutral, which suited my intention for the character. Como Galahad, who’s Marco’s sidekick, was another naturally funny name that I invented without too much thought. There are hardly any other important names in the books. Marco’s mom is just called his mom; his agent is just called Barney; there are characters named according to their role (like the judge, the mayor) and so on.
Thank you so much for answering my questions, Denis. One thing that shines through your responses to me is you sense of humour and you’ve now got me intrigued about reading this series, too – I hope others are inspired to read it, too!
Read on to discover more about the first book in this series and more about its author:
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.
This is where I usually share with you some basic information about the author, but today I’m not sharing one but two, very different versions – both supplied by the author! I could have just used the one but thought you’d like to read them both, too – hope you enjoy them!
Denis Shaughnessy is the author of the Awful Truth series of novels that send-up bestsellers in a unique way. With a working-class background as one of eight kids raised by a widowed mum in Birkenhead, he was guaranteed to go far, as far as Stoke-on-Trent where he completed a PhD in quantum mechanics. He immediately squandered his talent for physics by working in business development for multinational companies, before escaping to run his own consultancy in 2002. With an innate talent for no sports, an unmusical ear and too little hand-eye coordination for visual art, he has always turned to writing for self-expression. Owing to a series of inexplicable failures of editorial judgement, his has yet to be snapped up as writer of humorous pieces by top magazines. Fervently apolitical, he lives on a smallholding in the New Forest with his lovely wife, Leona, where he devotes his time to an exhaustive study of literature, cats, craft beer and old tractors.
Or you might prefer this version . . . .
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.