Three years of original thoughts, worlds and characters crammed into a single ebook. An egg-eating snake made to feel unwelcome, a promise “never to love anyone ever again” tested to the extreme, a Welsh village where everyone is knighted, and goose with a very fat head. To name but a few.
Outstanding for imagination and variety, a dazzling display of voices and a genre-bender: Alex Burrett, A Damaged Boy.
An egg-eating snake slithered into a greasy spoon café after a tough morning bending reinforcement bars. A fellow labourer opened the door for him, saving him the ignominy of having to shove it open with his nose then slide quickly in before his tail got trapped. Locating a workman’s café near a construction site isn’t always easy, so there’s no point holding out for one with an electric sliding door.
For the snake, finding a place where he was made welcome was more important than the access/egress method anyway. Not everyone warms to egg-eaters. Occasionally pernickety individuals kick up a fuss at his eating habits. As far as he was concerned, that was their issue. An egg-eating snake can no more adjust his unique method of devouring raw eggs than a leopard can change its spots. And after all, it wasn’t so long ago that knife and fork users were contemptuous of chopstick users and vice versa….
Jesus is a mean wrestler. Not ‘mean’ as in nasty, but in its more modern sense of being damned effective at winning physical contests. Jesus could never be nasty. He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body.
Greco-Roman is his style, unsurprising considering his upbringing. But he happily competes in all the other disciplines – some of which exist in just one corner of one district of one country in the world. Despite the variety of rules and regulations he conforms to, he generally wins gold medals in all competitions. And he’s competing all the time. There is no let-up in his wrestling schedule – it’s like the modern professional tennis season. One day he’s grappling on hard-baked mud in the centre of an African market town, the next he’s pinning someone down on the tough grasses of the Mongolian Steppe. He loves the sport. In his opinion it demonstrates the ultimate expression of admirable masculine values: strength, courage, quickness of mind and body, and guile. Wrestling, he told me, is the only sport capable of unifying all men. He believes that if every male on the planet competed in some form of unarmed sporting combat or other, there’d be no appetite left for waging wars.
I did judo for a few years. I enjoyed the experience of fighting one to one with another man without worrying that he’d to reach for a knife or gun if I won. I was no Brian Jacks though. I was more of an enthusiastic fighter than an effective one. Groundwork was my strength. Once I was struggling on the mats with an opponent, my strength and courage made up for my lack of skill. On my feet, I was far more vulnerable. I lacked the speed of body and mind that allows good practitioners of judo to outwit and outmanoeuvre the person they are fighting. Because of my lumbering attacks, I never progressed through the grades. I would sometimes do well in competitions, defeating brown belts who also lacked striking speed and relied on being physically obstinate on the floor. I’d eventually get knocked out when I came up against someone who could attack much more quickly than I could react or defend. I never imagined during those fruitless years on the dojo, that I’d end up regularly manhandling Christ. But I did…
… Every hundred years or so, someone on this planet doesn’t die when they should. They get to a certain age, then stop aging. Our immortal is one of them. He lives under the remains of the cottage in the North Field. That ruin is distinctively, noticeably, different from all the rest. It stands out. There is a lot more left of it than the cottages in the East Field, the West Field, or among the trees beyond. When we lived on the farm, his cottage still had four impressive walls, three of which were almost complete along their lengths, standing their full height of seven feet. The dwellings in the other two fields, once equal in stature, had shriveled to buried stumps—grass-covered mounds indicating where proud walls once stood. They looked liked elongated grave mounds concealing a past they were ashamed of.
The cottage in the North Field had been the Immortal’s home before he retreated to subterranean security. If he’d lived a normal lifespan, it would be in the same state of disrepair as the rest of the relics. For a while, he thought that if he kept himself to himself, he’d be able to carry on residing there. He did so, living in it well into his hundred and thirties. Up to the point he abandoned it, he’d spent those thirteen decades (except for periods during the occasional foreign war or two) sheltering between its four walls. But he was deluded thinking that the simple country folk would let him carry on forever, and local prejudice eventually drove him underground. Resist the aging process for a decade or two, and people think you’re lucky. Resist it for a generation longer, and they start to think you’re evil incarnate. As The Immortal refused to grow old, spooked, jealous mortals grew first restless, then aggressive. Under assault from all sides, like a First World War shell dodger, or a Vietcong fighter with an aversion to napalm, he dug in…
That last one being from Alex Burrett’s wildly inventive debut collection, My Goat Ate Its Own Legs.
Not sure how old he is, as he reveals little about himself, except that he was born near Tintern Abbey, so famous thanks to the Wordsworth poem which features in one of the stories. He does say this:
The works that have most inspired my writing are:
- The complete works of Franz Kafka
- The Outsider, Albert Camus
- Animal Farm, George Orwell
- Lord of the Flies, William Golding
- Candide, Voltaire
- Lucifer, Mike Carey (graphic novel series)
- Preacher, Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon (graphic novel series)
- Sandman, Neil Gaiman (graphic novel series)
- Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift
- The Wasp Factory, Iain Banks
- The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson
- Poetry, multiple authors…
Sam wrote: I would be very interested to know how you honed your writing style as it is very different from anything I have read before. ‘Goat’ was a book I couldn’t stop reading and desparately didn’t want to end.
I replied with this, realising afterwards that I’d had a bit of a rant:
Your question about my style is astute. It’s a question not many ask – preferring to presume something is lacking rather than imagining intent. I could write an essay in reply, but that would take me months and several rewrites before I was happy – and, to be honest, I’m better at using fiction to display my thinking rather than describing it. So I’ll give it a go in email shorthand…
In any age, there are established ways of doing anything – from styles of writing, through ways of making war to philosophical processes. The vast majority of our well-received human output in any era will fall into these trends. There are countless examples. I’m sure there were celebrated Ancient Egyptian artists whose aesthetics are lost to us now, whose once heralded genius blends into the rest of the writing on the wall. To modern men and women.
I’m not interested in keeping up with the Literati Joneses. And, to be honest, lots about modern storytelling bores me witless. Much modern writing is about escapism – about creating characters who never were and who never will be. It’s a time of impotent literature. Many narrative forms have blended into one – the film plot narrative where a hero overcomes all to save the day. It’s how we can create film franchises from rollercoaster rides or shoot-em-up computer games. That is the tide. Swim with it and a writer increases their chances of making a living from what they do. But I’m in the writing game to engage, to challenge, to provoke. Not to make a living at all costs. Perhaps that’s why you like my writing. Perhaps not? Let me know what it is about my writing you like. All that matters to me is that you find something in it that works for you. I enjoy writing – and find it immensely satisfying to know that there are people out there (you and others) who enjoy reading it.
I was hooked after the first story and will no doubt reread before long!
One down side, not only in this ebook: the need for a really good publisher’s editor/proofreader, as really distracting homophone woes are left untouched, or created, by some spellcheck program or other – “reign”/”rein”/”rain” is just one confusion that occurs more than once. Annoying, especially as the author’s style is so spot on so often!
See Rob Around Books.
I first discovered Alex Burrett way back in 2009 when one of his stories featured on Harper Perennial’s Fifty-Two Stories website (you can read my 4.5/5 review of that story HERE). Then, in 2010, Alex’s first collection featured in my ‘Flash Clash’ challenge, when I pitted him against the works of four other short fiction authors (Nik Perring, David Gaffney, Etgar Keret and Dan Rhodes). Although I’m yet to publish the final results from that challenge (talk about long overdue, I know ), I fondly remember just how satisfyingly original Alex’s stories were (just like the one I read on Fifty-Two Stories). I’d say that those who have read and enjoyed the stories of Etgar Keret (or Nik Perring for that matter), will ADORE Alex Burrett.
Thanks for reading and reviewing ‘A Damaged Boy’. I thought you might like to know that my first published novel ‘Outstared by a Bullfrog’, is now available as an ebook from Amazon. From 1 April 2013, it will be available from all ebook retailers.