Weird shit has always fascinated me. As far back as I can remember I’ve avidly read books about unexplained phenomena, the occult, aliens, monsters, anything I could get my hands on that was about… well, weird shit. When I went to the library I always went back to the same few shelves dedicated to those subjects, hoping to find something new, but I often had to expand my search to other sections in order to root out anything bizarre that was new to me; I discovered the surrealists this way, as well as Jorge Luis Borges through a watered down, illustrated for children version of his Book of Imaginary Beings. If I knew there was going to be something on TV about UFOs or Loch Ness, nothing would stop me watching it.
(A side note; I married the love of my life on Loch Ness. Most of our wedding photographs have a photoshopped Nessie in them.)
Then I discovered a brilliant magazine that was dedicated solely to the weird shit I loved; The Fortean Times. It came out bi-monthly, wasn’t always easy to find, and apart from the cover it was entirely in black and white. It didn’t just feature all the broad topics, like hauntings and cryptozoology, but touched upon pretty much any kind of weirdness that was reported in press anywhere in the world, as well as featuring thoroughly researched essays about the bizarre; there might be an article about the Mad Gasser of Mattoon, and then a piece about why the children’s character Postman Pat was frowned upon in Japan (having only four fingers, it was assumed that he must be a yakuza, whose allegiance ceremony involved the initiate cutting off their pinky.) I loved it; I still do.
In one issue back in 1995 they had an interview with a writer. Up until this point I hadn’t really cared for fiction, because apart from the odd horror novel -I have always had a taste for DARK weird shit- it never really sparked my imagination. Then I read the interview with Robert Rankin, and it changed my life.
The interview focused on the fact that Rankin drew inspiration for his work from Fortean source material; for example, he said he got the idea for one novel after reading the story about how the Russians had accidentally drilled to Hell. His novel was about how humans were really living inside the Earth, and that all the stuff in the sky -clouds and stars and the sun and the moon- was an elaborate hoax to keep us docile whilst secret alien masters farmed us as a delicacy.
This was a revelation; here was a man who wrote books -novels!- based on the kind of weird shit I loved. The very first time I saw his name on a bookshop shelf, on a copy of The Most Amazing Man Who Ever Lived, I grabbed it. And then I read everything he ever wrote, buying every single new book as soon as it came out. Armageddon: The Musical, The Hallow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse, Nostradamus Ate My Hamster… the titles alone hooked me every time.
Rankin was the one who made me want to write. Yes, the cliché is true; that interview changed my life.
After discovering Rankin I looked for more weird shit fiction. Rankin is primarily a humorist, and the only other person writing anything like his material was Tom Holt. That’s not a great deal of work to keep an obsessive like myself satisfied. So I got into horror fiction in a big way, largely because there wasn’t enough of the truly bizarre stuff to go around… or so it seemed; this was still in the early years of the Internet when finding stuff you connected with was still constrained by geography. Sometimes I got lucky, and a bookshop employee with no clue what to do with something truly strange that had come in would shelf it under Horror because… well, Horror was weird shit, right? This was how I discovered the now-defunct Attack! Attack! Attack! imprint of Creation Press -with titles like Vatican Bloodbath, Raiders of the Low Forehead, and Tits Out Teenage Terror Totty– and thus Creation Press itself, and the merest inkling that maybe there were others out there who also had a taste for fiction about the weird shit.
And here we get to the meat of the matter, the matter of geography. Fast forward a few years to where the Internet wasn’t something you had to leave the house and visit a special cafe for. I stumbled across bizarro around 2006-07, whilst surfing for… weird shit. It had only just acquired a name, but when I saw it I recognized it for what it was. After all, I’d been looking for it for a long time.
I mentioned that Rankin made me want to write, and so I did. My first effort was hammered out on an Atari ST, a novel called The Tower of Bagel, a piece of absolute cockwomble spaff about the antichrist seeking to stop time because his birthday was on February 29th and he could only celebrate it every four years. It came with the obligatory Gary-Stu, with other characters including a rip-off of Vyvyan from The Young Ones, as well as a bartender who thought he was a camel (a proto-furry) who ended up cut in half and stitched to the sternum of an elderly alcoholic warlock. I wrote that in 1996-97 and the only remaining copy is amongst the possessions of a dead friend. I wrote a few more novels with the same characters, always trying to come up with weirder and weirder ideas; for instance, there was one called A Clockwork Aubergine about the tooth fairy building a doomsday device, and one of the central characters was a sentient pot belly stove called Mandolin.
I hadn’t a clue what to do with any of this crap though; I checked writer’s magazines and lists of publishers and no-one seemed to publish the kind of stuff I was writing.
I gave up trying to write weird shit. I figured Rankin was pretty much unique, a one-off never to be repeated. I wrote horror. Almost everything I wrote up until 2006-07 ended up in the bin, including a novel about a haunted golliwog doll called Mr Marmalade, and roughly half a million words of piss-poor Lovecraft imitations. The only survival from those years was my attempt at a kid’s book, Try Before You Die, a book which was too strange to fit into any of the usual genres, but of which I felt proud. I just accepted that its strangeness meant it would never be read, and settled myself to accept that if I wanted to write, I’d have to tow the line and write conventional stuff.
Then I found bizarro. I found out there were others, a LOT of others, who liked the weird shit like I did.
Rankin made me want to write, but it was finding bizarro that made me believe there was a point to it because after all, why write if not to be read? The Internet made the connections possible, and things snowballed from there. I met an American bloke on MySpace called Nathaniel Lambert, a genuine class act with whom I had sod all in common apart from a love of the weird shit and an itch to write it, and based on an idea he had we collaborated and wrote a book. That was Sideshow P.I. – The Devil’s Garden, our bizarro detective story that came out through Graveside Tales, a horror press that took a chance on us when it was still only quite a small core of outfits publishing bizarro. Other books have followed as markets for weird shit have grown –Damnation 101, The Whorehouse That Jack Built, right up to my latest, Exquisite Corpse Orgy– and I’m planning on upping my output; Black Rainbows Press will be putting out a new book by me every few months from now on.
This turned out to be a lot longer and more autobiographical then I expected, but this was how I got into bizarro.