John Walker's Electronic House

by on Nov.07, 2004, under The Rest

A couple of paragraphs from my new project, giving it away, somewhat:

Reading the book was like seeing Swingers for the first time. During my first attempt at university, first year, Film, Radio and TV Studies (it’s ok to laugh), script writing module. Given the task of writing the opening, middle and closing scenes of a film. It’s a clever project, because you can’t help but plan out an entire plot if you’re to render this convincingly. I recall the lecturer now – an older guy, too old for the course he was teaching, fed up and clearly dragging a sleeping pair of legs through the last couple of years before retirement would allow him to live a perpetual life of being about to do those things he’s always wanted to be able to do that he’d do once he’d finally retired. My film idea was not original. It was about a ‘cool’ guy trying to get his ‘average’ guy friend a girlfriend. It was about the lack of communication between the two of them, that despite their friendship Cool Guy would fail to identify how different an approach to relationships Average Guy took. We would identify with Average Guy, because we all recognise ourselves as Average Guy/Girl. /We/ do. Other people, people other than you or me, recognise themselves as Cool Guy/Girl. They get all the attention, and they get all the film and television. This was to be Average Guy/Girl’s film, their moment in the spotlight, a chance to bathe in the melancholy that only you or I understand, and with which Cool Guy/Girl will never connect. The opening scene was a car crash, the two of them exchanging student-written comedy banter as they went through a terrifying moment. It would tell us all about them both, see them both vulnerable, make sure we knew we liked Average Guy, and resigned to accepting Cool Guy. Then the middle scene was Cool Guy taking Average Guy to a bar he thinks ideal for meeting a girl. This fails, and there’s a really good special effect metaphor that no one else has done yet, so I’m keeping it to myself. No, I’ll never write the script. Yes, the world will be starved of my good idea. I am bad. And finally, Average Guy meets a girl he likes, a girl that Cool Guy likes too, but Cool Guy is surprised to like her. And the ending was the ending. And then I watched Swingers.

While Swingers doesn’t exactly mirror the above, it does do pretty much everything I had planned, including using special effect metaphors, and clever-clever movie references. I watched it, and realised that not only was it my idea, but it was much better than my idea, and written much more competently than I would ever manage. I didn’t want to copy it having seen it – I conceded defeat. Well, no longer! Now, I do not care. This book exists to defy such worries. I think we are too worried about being like something that is rare or unique, while quite prepared to allow people to generate genre fiction en mass, without question. People don’t squeal, “This murder mystery novel features a detective and a mysterious death – it’s just like Agatha Christie”, before throwing the novel on a fire. But when something is more specific, less explored, to be similar to it is a crime. Such nonsense must be ignored. This continues to exist. Case dismissed.

This is a book that isn’t worth writing. It reveals nothing other than that which is revealed by being alive. Nothing happens in here that couldn’t happen to anyone. Of course, there are things in here that I would never wish upon anyone, moments of utter terrible tragedy, hideous, murderous pain that should never be suffered by another. But they are. And so they remain ordinary.

20 Comments for this entry

  • sian

    fantastic. I feel the same way. My current motto is just that ‘everybody’s human’. At the end of the day, we all go through the same crap, we all cry, we all bleed and we all suffer. But at the same time we all love, live and learn in different ways. Personally, I think that’s awesome, and I think it actually needs to be recognised more. We don’t need books about Cool Guy or Pretty Girl – we need to realise that at the end of the day that doesn’t even matter.

    Also, I hereby lay my claim to being mentioned in the dedication at the front.

  • Tim R

    And so you continue in the great tradition that Northrop Frye notes – a general trend in fiction from myths about gods and heroes to stories about normal people, in a style that goes from romance to realism to irony and satire – a movement that has been progressed by such luminaries as Chaucer, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Sterne, Dostoevsky, Flaubert, John Walker, and, funnily enough more than any other, the Bible. Well done!

  • John

    Justify your use of the word “irony”, boy.

  • Kieron Gillen

    I haven’t read it, but want you to know that you are a complete Sayer.


  • John

    Yeah, well at least I’m not as Say as you.

  • Kieron Gillen

    You are the Saylord.


  • Tim R

    Not sure I can justify irony. I was looking for a word that I couldn’t remember, and still can’t, more’s the pity. I was thinking of the types of fiction as seasons of the year (Frye’s idea), where spring is comedy, summer romance, autumn tragedy, and winter characterized by cynicism, bitterness, irony etc. but i can’t put the last season more succinctly. the nice thing about this circle is that these categories do blur into each other – tragedy can be high and romantic or be bitter and ironic etc.

  • John

    I’ve decided to become frustratingly pedantic about the word irony, and I refuse to accept this woolley lefty liberal pinko attitude to expanding the definition of the word. I quote Eggers:

    SAMPLE: Benji was run over by a bus. Isn’t that ironic?
    NO: That is not ironic. That is unfortunate, but it is not ironic.

    SAMPLE: It was a bright and sunny day when Benji was run over by a bus. Ironic, no?
    AGAIN, NO: That is not irony. It is an instance of dissonance between weather and tragedy.

    SAMPLE: It is ironic that Benji was on his way to the vet when he was run over by a bus.
    STILL: That is not irony. That is a coincidence that might be called eerie.

    SAMPLE: It is ironic that Benji was run over on the same day he misused the word ironic.
    BUT SEE: This is, again, a coincidence. It is wonderfully appropriate that he was run over on this day, deserving as he was of punishment, but it is not ironic.

    SAMPLE: Is it not ironic that on the the side of the bus that ran over Benji was an advertisment for “The Late Show with David Letterman,” a show which many consider often ironic?
    OH, OH: No. No.

  • Tim R

    But I didn’t justify my use of the word ironic, nor define it – I expected you to understand my use of it within that particular context, because you know I know what it means (without going all structuralist about it). So – ironic fiction will look like it is another type of fiction, typically comedy or romance, but highlight the flaws of this style, this desire, by exposing the limitations of truth inherent. I’m struggling to find a good example, the best I can suggest is that Forest Gump *should* have been irony (and I was once told that the story was originally intended as such) but was taken seriously by those making the film. Another form of irony is to give the protagonist exactly what he wants, exactly as he faces the consequences of that desire, and understands the chimerical nature of that motivating desire. Eg – I want to get to the top, as I trample on people to get there I am convinced I am making a better class of friend, but these friends are as isolated and rivalrous as I am. I achieve my ambition, but at the expense of human contact, which I now want back, but am exiled from through the walls I have built to defend myself from the (supposed?) attacks of my rivals(?). This is not coincidental, it is contrary to the intuition of (at least) the protagonist – it is ironic. Isn’t it?

  • Tim R

    Just as a footnote: so it’s not like rain on your wedding day? A free ride when you’ve already paid? The good advice you just didn’t take?

  • John

    Her interpretation and use of the word “ironic” in that song, to mean the opposite of the meaning of the word “ironic”, thus causes the song to be one of the most irony-heavy songs recorded.

    And I’m rejecting your use of the word irony above too. “Ironic fiction” is a loathsome phrase that should never be uttered.

    As for your example, it is not irony at all. It is an unfortunate consequence based on a misunderstanding. This is not ironic. Dontcha think?

  • Tim R

    Well, so far you have told me a long list of what is not ironic, but not what really is, apart from your assertion that Ironic is, ironically, ironic. Go on, give us a clue. As for ironic fiction – what I am currently, slowly, working on is what I, and I hope others, would consider ironic, so it is quite awkward for me, now that it can’t be any more. Can it be black comedy, or is that something else, too?

  • John

    Your book can be described by whatever words are most appropriate, and unless the implied meaning is very unlike or opposite to the actual meaning, then your book is not ironic.

    This is why Alanis Morrisette’s song /is/ ironic. And no, /that/ fact /isn’t/ ironic. It’s contradictory.

  • Tim R

    ah, so you agree about my first example of ironic fiction – the bad forest gump example, right? If I was right about the original intended irony, was it ironic that Robert Zemeckis misunderstood the story, and read it as a genuine story of hope?

    Also, is it irony if the champions of tolerance prove intolerant of the intolerant, or is that merely provoked hipocrisy?

    See, a quick scan of includes definitions that appear inclusive of my ‘ironic fiction’- things working out opposite to the expectation.

  • chrissy

    a chambers dictionary definition of irony is: “a condition in which one seems to be mocked by fate or the facts”, so, re:

    SAMPLE: It is ironic that Benji was on his way to the vet when he was run over by a bus.

    That is actually ironic (assuming he’s healthy and just on his way in for a checkup); fate was mocking him (or, you know, kinda killing him in doing so…).

    of course, the dictionary does also say “irony 2: see iron”, which is much more fun…

  • Tom

    Although A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius is my favourite book ever, I can’t work up much rancour about the misuse of the word ironic, and Egger’s third sample seems acceptable to me. However! I dislike the misuse of the word ‘contradictory’ – a single statement can’t be contradictory unless it refers to another statement, you need a pair. In fact, I would go so far in the being-annoying stakes as to reject your claim that the fact that a song about irony written by someone with a feeble sense of irony has become deeply ironic is not, itself, ironic. But the reason I don’t care is that irony, by the definition Chrissy helpfully provides, is subjective. Tim and I finding the aforementioned fact ironic is not a misuse of the word because to us it appears fate is mocking you irony-police types. The fact that you find this unamusing is neither surprising nor contradictory to it being ironic.

  • sian

    My brain melted. Can I have some icecream?

    Also: Tom. Stop being pretentious. To read makes our speaking English good. I suggest you try it.

    (incidentally, I am aware that informing someone else of their pretentiousness in a truly pretentious manner is, in fact, ironic. But I don’t care.)

  • John

    People don’t seem to understand.

    I’m not saying your dictionary agrees with me. I’m saying I’m rejecting all other definitions as they are unhelpful and obfuscatory. That your dictionary has yet to catch up is not a matter of much interest.