Writers Writing Writers: Slush Pile

I always find books about authors really interesting, it’s a little bit like a dream within a dream – an author created by an author. Slush Pile by Ian Shadwell (Puncher and Wattmann Fiction) is a perfect example of just this phenomena. Kathy Petkoff went on this ride through the world of writing, publishing and plagiarism. Here’s her thoughts on Slush Pile

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Michael Ardenne is a very successful intellectual writer, just ask him.  His one and only published novel (it is not a book and most definitely not a text), ‘Ephesus’, is, in his opinion, very intellectual and inspiring…

Slush PileFourteen years ago Michael Ardenne dazzled the world with Ephesus, a brilliant debut that won him the respect of his peers, plenty of easy sex and the coveted Booker Prize.  Since then, there’s been nothing but false starts and dead ends.  He can’t even finish a short story. 

With debt collectors at the door, the cellar empty and the mortgage on the line, it’s crunch time.  His wife, Tanya, issues an ultimatum: get a job or get a divorce.  Forced into assessing his literary agent’s slush pile to help make ends meet, Michael discovers a dark gem.  He rewrites it as his own.  His publisher loves it.  Fame beckons and his literary standing soars… until the real author appears. 

But sadly, ‘Ephesus’ is all Michael has ever managed to write.  It has been 14 years since it’s publication and not a scrap of decent writing has he produced since.  The internet provides him with outlets, plenty of distractions, that allow him not to write.  His dedication to ‘managing’ his own Wikipedia page, his love of researching wine and his need for ‘release’ through soft porn sites makes it hard for any reader of Slush Pile to love this character.

Michael owes money to everyone.  His friends, the bank, the local grocery store, he can’t even convince his friends to shout him a round of beer at the RSL trivia night.

Shadwell does the most beautiful job of creating a dirty character.  The way he creates Michael makes sure that you feel his laziness, his sense of self importance and how really to Michael, no one else matters.  He is the great Michael Ardenne, Booker Prize winner, Michael Ardenne.

“And the winner of the 1995 Booker Prize was…”

Something in Michael propelled him from his chair.  Arms raised in triumph, his feet hopped a little victory dance.

“Me.  The answer is me, Michael Ardenne.”

Alongside Michael is his hard-edged wife, Tanya.  She is a workaholic and has finally had enough.  For the most of the book you see Tanya through Michael’s eyes.  It would seem that she is there primarily to prop him up, to make him feel good about himself, but Michael also sees her as closed and unadoring.  But, Shadwell cleverly allows the readers glimpses into who Tanya really is.

She looked at him incredulously.  Then burst into uncontrollable sobs.

“I really, really thought you would want to write a love story about us like you wrote Ephesus for that other girl”

Out of desperation, in an attempt stop himself from losing everything, Michael gets a job working for his next-door neighbour installing roof insulation under the governments Pink Bat Scheme.  Complaining and moaning the whole time he works, he offers his great and sage-like advice on writing to a co-workers.

As well as this manual labour, Michael finds himself a gig with his literary agent helping to sift through his ‘slush pile’. Very much to his surprise, he finds one manuscript in the pile that grabs his attention. It is brilliant.  It is chilling.  It is plagiarised and rewritten for Michael’s chance to become great again.

Of course, as one might expect, things such a plagarism rarely go unnoticed, and when then the real author seeks out credit for what is rightfully his, trouble comes Michael’s way.

This is Shadwell’s first novel.  For me his character building is fantastic, he’s written a despicable protagonist who I didn’t like at all, and yet I thoroughly enjoyed his novel, it was a great book.  It opened all kinds of questions for me – how long from when you held a role can you still call yourself by that title?  How long can we really maintain the look and feel of youthful irresponsibility and not look completely idiotic?

Slush Pile is a great read.  It will get under your skin and encourage you to ask all kinds of questions.  I’d highly recommend it.

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Find out more about Slush Pile by Ian Shadwell here…