Regular readers may recall a recent review for a book called Johnny Nothing, a children’s book that hasn’t excited me as much since I last picked up and reread The Witches by Roald Dahl. It figuratively blew my mind – rich, funny, dark – written as much for adults as for children. It was the easiest five stars I’ve given for a while. In short – genius.
But after my review, I have to admit I felt a bit deflated. I didn’t really feel like my little old review did it justice. So, when an opportunity arose to have the lovely Ian Probert deign me with his literary presence I chomped at the bit. So, here he is taking over my blog for a bit… with a spiffy guest post and an amazing prize.
Over to you, Mr Probert…. drums please…..
I began writing Johnny Nothing at the start of 2013. The first draft was obviously quite a bit different than the final book. I seem to remember that I was desperate to begin the opening paragraph with the same words in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I have no idea why.
Many of the characters have different names and the writing is pretty clumsy. But here is Johnny Nothing in its birth throes:
Chapter 01 – A death in the family
Uncle Marley was dead, to begin with. There was no doubt whatever about that. He lay in a grand wooden box, cold as ice with the life drained from his face. And to make matters worse it was raining like it had never rained before.
‘I bet he’s having a better time than us in that comfy coffin of his,’ moaned Aunt Lucille, holding a soggy cigarette in one hand and a soggy husband in the other.
Outside a huge house in the countryside stood six grown-ups and one ten-year-old boy whose name was Johnny. All of the adults were cowering under very large umbrellas. Some were fat and some were thin. Most looked far too worried for people who were likely to end the day rich.
They were impatiently waiting for the reading of Uncle Marley’s will. And although most of them couldn’t stand their recently departed relative they could stand the thought of inheriting some of his cash. He had lots of it.
The group had been waiting there for over twenty minutes and everyone was growing fidgety and restless. If Uncle Marley was still alive he would probably have enjoyed watching his relatives suffering in the rain. He had disliked them as much as they disliked him. Which was almost as much as they disliked one another.
Nobody seemed willing to say very much (although every now and then – as grown-ups do – somebody would fill the silence by remarking upon how bad the weather was and how the forecast that morning had said it was going to be fine and that you should never trust the weather forecast (you’ll be saying this yourself one day)). Almost everybody was busy thinking about money, and what they were going to do when they got their sweaty hands on Uncle Marley’s.
Big Uncle Joe was the oldest and the fattest in the group. He was also the only one who wasn’t thinking about money. He had eaten a very large, very hot, positively volcanic curry the night before and he was concentrating on trying not to fart. Normally Uncle Joe wouldn’t have been too concerned about farting in front of other people but he recognised that this was supposed to be a solemn occasion and that the pungent aroma of Indian spices mixed together with methane gas might not be that appropriate.
Nevertheless, when the front door to Uncle Marley’s gigantic posh house in the countryside suddenly opened with warning, excitement overcame came Big Joe and he let rip with a trouser explosion which coincidentally sounded uncannily like the creaking of a door.
Surprised and pleased that nobody had noticed his gas leak, Uncle Joe crinkled up his flabby face and sniffed the air in disgust. ‘My God it stinks in there,’ he said. Aunt Lucille eyed him suspiciously.
Standing in the doorway was the person who had just opened the door. His name was Ernest Biggins and he had been appointed to read Uncle Marley’s will. ‘Come inside,’ he said sharply. ‘I haven’t got all day.’
You’ll find that a lot of grown-ups when they get old start to resemble what they do. Mr. Biggins was one such person. He had had been working in a law firm for so long that he seemed to be made of dust. It had been such a long time that he had seen the sunshine that his face looked like an old legal document.
“I shan’t waste time,’ he said, leading the group into a large library and pointing at some chairs. ‘I have been appointed to read out the last will and testament of Charles Ebenezer Ashmount Marley. ‘I expect you’ve all got better things to do.”
Mr Biggins picked up a piece of paper and held it to his face. He cleared his throat and began to speak:
“I’m sure you’re all here,” he read, “this is Charlie talking. I’ve got one or two things to say to you…”
EXCERPT from the published Johnny Nothing:
Bill had a shaven head and was wearing a blue tracksuit. He was almost seven feet tall and built like an outdoor toilet made of brick. Bill didn’t realise this but he was a distant descendent of Neanderthal Man. He had only one eyebrow – one long bushy eyebrow that reached right across his forehead. He looked like what you might get if you force fed a member of Oasis with a half-tonne black plastic sackful of steroids.
And if you were brave enough to be present when he took off his tracksuit you would discover that his back was so covered in hair that he was able part it with a comb. If Bill had had more of an interest in fashion, he might even have considered giving it a curly perm and perhaps a few extensions
On his right arm, Bill had a tattoo which simply read ‘Bill’. This was in case he woke up one morning and forgot who he was. This was actually less unlikely than you might imagine because standing next to him was his twin brother. His name was Ben and he was identical to Bill in every way except that the tattoo on his arm read ‘Bin’ (the tattooist was either South African or not a very good speller). He was wearing a red tracksuit.
Bill gave Mr. and Mrs. MacKenzie the tiniest of smiles and managed to grunt ‘hello’. Ben gave the couple exactly the same tiniest of smiles and also managed to grunt ‘hello’.
The two men were standing protectively close to Johnny. They were so large that in the confines of Johnny’s bedroom they looked like giants, which they were. They were so enormous that each of them had their own postcode. They were so gigantic that they had their passport photos taken by satellite. They were so humungous that you could spend all day thinking up rubbishy jokes about how big they were and never adequately describe just how indescribably, earth-shatteringly ENORMOUS they were. By no stretch of the imagination could you call them small (unless, of course, you were a lot bigger than them).
The pair of Goliaths were having to stoop slightly so as to avoid head-butting the ceiling, which actually even looked a little scared itself. They were a terrifying sight. Even scarier than a school trip to a Weight-Watcher’s nudist camp.
There was a long, pregnant silence in the room like this:
This eventually gave birth to an even longer post-natal silence, which, in the interest of preserving the rain forests or the battery on your Kindle, I shan’t demonstrate.
The four grown-ups eyed each other nervously. Bill and Ben looked at the Mackenzies like they were looking at insects that could be squashed into pulpy insect juice any time they so desired.
The Mackenzies looked at Bill and Ben like they were looking at two giant skinhead Neanderthal bully boys who had just appeared from nowhere in their recently and unexpectedly decorated council flat.
Johnny looked a little scared.
Finally Billy Mackenzie managed to get his mouth working a little and spluttered: ‘Who are you?’ And then: ‘What do you want?’
There was another long silence – let’s call it a pause – while Bill and Ben looked at each other as if trying to decide who was going to answer. Finally Bill spoke: ‘You the boy’s parents?’ he demanded in a voice that sounded like an angry rhino with horn-ache. Although if he was clever enough he would have realised that this was a rhetorical question.
There was yet another long silence (you’ll be relieved to hear that this is the last silence you’re going to get in this chapter) before Billy Mackenzie mumbled ‘Yes’.
‘We’re Johnny’s bodyguards,’ continued Bill. ‘We’re here to make sure that everything’s hunky dory.’
‘Hunky dory?’ Mrs. Mackenzie suddenly found her voice. ‘What do you mean ‘hunky dory”?’
Now Ben spoke: ‘What my brother means to say,’ he explained. ‘Is that we’ve been – how shall I say – contracted – to make sure that this young feller’s affairs are in order.’
‘Get out of my house!’ interrupted Mrs. Mackenzie, suddenly feeling a little braver, although she had no idea why.
Bill and Ben looked at each again for a moment. They did this almost as much as your mum looks in the mirror. Or you dad looks at websites that he shouldn’t be looking at. ‘First of all,’ said Bill, ‘This isn’t a house – it’s a flat.’
‘And second of all,’ said his brother. ‘We ain’t going nowhere. And neither are you.’
‘Johnny who are these men?’ Mrs. MacKenzie asked her son, ignoring the two giants.
‘I’m sorry mum but…’ Johnny started to speak but Bill cut in like a pair of scissors that chops sentences into bits.
‘…What the young feller means to say is that the fun’s over.’
‘The fun’s over?’ repeated Felicity MacKenzie numbly.
‘That’s right,’ continued Ben. ‘You’ve had a right old time. You’ve been spending his money like it’s your own. You’ve been ripping the poor young feller off. And we’re here to put a stop to it. From now on things are gonna be different.’
‘I’ve had enough of this,’ said Mrs. MacKenzie. ‘Nobody speaks to me like this in my house…’
‘Flat,’ corrected Ben.
‘Nobody speaks to me like this in my flat. Billy, call the police!’
As usual Billy MacKenzie did as he was told. He reached into his pocket for his mobile phone. Before he had the chance to even turn it on the gigantic frame of Bill was towering over him.
‘That an iPhone?’ asked Ben.
‘Erm… Yes,’ said Billy, who could only watch as the huge man took it from him and with one hand crushed it into a chunk of buckled metal and shattered touch screen.
‘I think it’s broken,’ said Ben. ‘You ought to take it back to the Apple store. Tell ‘em that you’re not getting a decent signal.’
‘Right!’ cried Mrs. MacKenzie. ‘We’re leaving! You’ll be very sorry you did that. I’ll fetch the police myself!’
Now the giant frame of Bill was standing in front of her. He was holding something in his hand that looked a little like a child’s toy space gun.
‘Know what this is?’ he asked. Although once again he wasn’t clever enough to recognise that this was a rhetorical question.
Mrs. Mackenzie regarded the object for a moment. Then she shook her head. Whatever it was she guessed that it was not intended to provide pleasure, happiness or fulfilment. Anything that has a trigger and a barrel and goes ‘bang!’ seldom does.
‘Come on Billy!’ she said. ‘We’re leaving!’
Bill stood in front of her blocking the doorway. ‘Not so fast,’ he said, not so slowly. ‘It’s called a Taser. See this little trigger at the front? If I press this it’ll give you a small electric shock. It won’t hurt you…Well not too much anyway.’
Bill raised the object and gently touched Mrs. MacKenzie on the arm. There was a loudish bang and a flash of blue neon light and Mrs. MacKenzie collapsed groaning to the floor. She was conscious but wasn’t able to move her arms and legs
‘Oh my gawd!’ said Billy Mackenzie bravely charging out of the room in terror. He got as far as the stairs before there was a second flash. He, too, crumpled to the floor. Bill dragged him back into the bedroom by the scruff of his neck.
Johnny Nothing got to his feet and stood over his two parents. He looked anxious. ‘Are they… Are they… OK?’ he gasped.
‘Don’t you worry yourself,’ smiled Ben. ‘Give em a few minutes and they’ll be right as rain.’
‘But they’ll think twice before they try to run off again,’ said his brother.
Thanks for having me…. Ian
Want to know more about Ian Probert?
Ian Probert has been scribbling down words ever since he learned to spell the phrase: ‘Once upon a time…’. He is the author of Internet Spy, Rope Burns and a bunch of other titles. Internet Spy was a bestseller in the US and made into a TV film. Rope Burns is a book about why books shouldn’t be written about boxing. Ian has also written things for a shed load of newspapers and magazines. When Ian was a student he used to write lots of letters to the bank manager.
If you’d like to hunt him down in a non confrontational, and non non-appropriate way, you’ll find him here.
Buy JOHNNY NOTHING here (yes, that’s an order/ strong suggestion)
COME BACK TOMORROW TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT IAN AND FOR DETAILS OF AN AMAZING COMPETITION – YOU COULD BE IN WITH A CHANCE TO WIN SOME OF THIS AWESOME ARTWORK FROM JOHNNY NOTHING, AS WELL AS COPIES OF THE BOOK!