A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
I first met Raymond when we were both writers on a project together. In a world that seems to expect one to be full of bushy-tailed enthusiasm at all times, Raymond was a refreshingly dour and miserable breath of stale air. When I ran in – bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at some positive news about a script – it was Raymond who told me it would all go pear-shaped. And – you know – he was absolutely right. Since then, his reliably dream-crushing attitude has got me over many a false hope – ah, but that’s what friendship is for eh?
As a screenwriter he’s had two feature films made (a dream for most of us) – one starring Orlando Bloom. He also writes and runs a sketch show in Glasgow called Man Vs Woman.
His first novel “Animal Lover”, a black comedy published by Scottish publisher Luath Press, has been called “wickedly funny” by the Glasgow Herald. It’s about Danny, an animal right’s activist whose good intentions seem to kill rather more animals than he saves. Here’s the blurb:
Danny is in trouble. A wannabe animal rights activist and modern day hero, none of this was supposed to happen. After his first attempt at animal liberation ends badly, things go rapidly downhill. In the supermarket where he works his behaviour is becoming more erratic and a number of people, including his boss (a big Jim Davidson fan), a Goth grocery girl (and also teenage poet) and a security guard (enough said) are all out to get him. The woman he loves, Shona, is becoming more extreme by the minute and when they hook up with some hunt saboteurs she’s more interested in digging up human graves and stealing the remains than saving foxes. It’s treble or nothing time, and next week the Circus is coming to town.
RosyB: So, Raymond, tell me about Animal Lover?
Raymond: Animal lover is a book about an animal rights activist and a lot of road to hell paved with good intentions. He’s the leader of a hit squad saving animals from laboratories and fox hunts. He works in the grocers department of Morrisons by day and by night he is breaking the law trying to do good… There’s the woman he loves – but after a botched animal liberation attempt she goes off the rails… And he has a weird thing about clowns.
RosyB: Is that a seminal plot point?
Raymond: I can’t give too much away. Let’s just say the end involves a circus…
RosyB: The book’s written in first person, why did you go for that?
Raymond: For the nature of the book it just felt right, coming from screenwriting you can never give internal monologues without going into Voice Over which I think is a cheat so first person really appealed to me to get under Danny’s skin.
RosyB: When I wrote Sado [shameless and gratuitous plug for Rosy’s book Sadomasochism for Accountants] I found that people always asked who the characters were based on. Bizarrely, people would delight in seeing themselves in characters who were nothing like them at all. Do you find comedy is a great vehicle to vent about people who get up your nose? Or are the characters all a version of yourself (bit of a “meta” question there…)?
Raymond: I’m sure I’m influenced by some people I know when I write characters but I suppose they tend to be more interesting/extreme versions of myself. In Animal Lover I see a lot of myself in one of the characters (and it’s not Danny).
RosyB: Tell me more about Danny?
Raymond: He’s a young guy. A complete tool. A well-intentioned buffoon. It’s a book about…What it means to be a man.
RosyB :What does it mean to be a man?
Raymond: Read the book.
RosyB: Distil it into 5 words for me.
Raymond: Eat. Build. Kill. Blame Someone Else.
RosyB: A typically depressing world view from you there (that’s 6!). I thought you said Eat Roadkill.
Raymond: No. It’s about Men building Roads – roads of the mind. Animal Lover is a mix of all the books you love.
RosyB: But presumably x-rated…
Raymond: It’s for everyone!
RosyB: Come on Raymond, it’s not really for grannies, is it?
Raymond (confidently): Grannies’ll love it.
SCREENPLAYS vs NOVELS
RosyB: It’s hugely tough to get any scripts made – and unlike most screenwriters I’ve met, you’ve actually had two features made – one starring a certain Orlando Bloom. Can you tell me more about them?
Raymond: The Calcium Kid was originally a short film that won a prize (I always say prize to make people think I won it but the truth is it came third) at the Jerwood Film Competition. I heard about the competition watching Barry Norman Film 98. An aside, I remember as a young man watching Barry Norman reviewing the film London Kills Me written and directed by Hanif Kureishi. One of the characters is called Muff Diver, and good ol’ Barry did a big spiel to camera about the name and how he didn’t know what it meant as they never explained it in the film. Either he was being incredibly funny in a Chris Morris type of way or the production team on that show must have fucking hated him. Anyway, my short was picked up by Working Title who wanted to turn it into a feature and it eventually became The Calcium Kid. It was great getting a film made but the director wanted to re-write the script. Not many people know this but The Calcium Kid was originally intended as a comedy and not the hard hitting social drama that it became. It came out at about the same time as Nil By Mouth and The Warzone and fits perfectly in that company.
Botched. Now we’re talking! Written by myself, Eamon my brother and Derek Boyle (Derek also has a writing credit on The Calcium Kid and we have written lots of things together that will never be produced). It’s a homage to the films I spent a lot of time watching when I was young – Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2/ Peter Jackson’s Braindead/Meet The Feebles.
On a Friday night instead of getting drunk or go on ‘dates’ we would watch horror comedies. Pathetic but look at the results. Botched. Originally entitled 13, it was set in Glasgow but we were told we had to make it Moscow instead which in terms of the ludicrousness of the film actually works (if you like actors doing incredibly bad accents – which I do!) As a script I really like Botched and it’s a good laugh, particularly if you’ve had a few drinks. It won Best Film and Best Actor at the New York Horror Festival and is currently being shown on the Horror Channel (ITV 4 had it for a while as well). The best reviews did actually liken it to Evil Dead 2 and Braindead while the worst ones said it was one of the most appalling films they’d ever seen. The truth is probably a happy medium in there somewhere. After the huge international success of Botched no one in the film industry would talk to me and that’s when I started to concentrate on writing more live stuff and it was around this time that Animal Lover started to form.
One last thing about Botched, there will be a Botched event in 2015 (in between the World Cup and Olympic years) which is already gathering a lot of interest from the people who wrote the film).
RosyB: So has your screenwriting impacted on your novel-writing?
Raymond: Yes, in the style. It’s written in a kind of present tense stream-of-consciousness kind of thing.
RosyB: Is that because you can’t punctuate properly?
Raymond: Put that in. I’d say it has all the immediacy of film prose style but with the dialogue set out differently…Essentially I copied Roddy Doyle – which explains the references to Dublin.
RosyB: Many have said the comic novel is dead. Yet many of the nation’s favourite books are comedy novels from Wodehouse to Hitchhikers to Pratchett. Do you think it’s tough writing a comic novel in comparison to a performed medium like a screenplay or stand-up?
Raymond: Comic novels are different to live stuff because you can’t tell if an audience will find it funny or not until it’s too late and you’ve written the bastard thing. You don’t have that immediate feedback you get from human creatures. In some ways that can make for a purer, more authentic voice as the temptation is to always go for an easy gag to appease a crowd of drunken thugs when you’re doing it live. The way I approach any of my writing is a mixture of unfounded God-like over-confidence (when I have an idea which I think is good) and abject despair (when I realise that the idea was previously done by The Two Ronnies 20 years ago, and a lot better).
IDEAS AND INSPIRATION
RosyB: Where did you get the idea from?
Raymond: The idea started with the first set piece at the research clinic. Don’t know how linked it is but when I was at Uni I did drug testing (basically being a human guinea pig) for money instead of getting a part-time job so I always had sympathy with the animals who weren’t even getting paid for their time. And extremists are always interesting dramatically as they are likely to do extreme things.
RosyB: Is Danny an extremist?
Raymond: Danny is extreme in so much that he has enough conviction to act no matter how badly it may end up. Unlike most of us, including myself, who just go stay within the laws and for all our talk wouldn’t hit a policeman even if there was no way we’d ever get caught.
RosyB: Do you think comedy is attracted to extremes?
Raymond: Yes. Yes I do. Anything ‘extreme’ or things that people are passionate about inevitably attract the biggest bastards amongst us. Politics for example, or children’s television.
RosyB: Do you know any animal rights activists?
Raymond: Yeah – I did. A mix of people. At university people tended to be political activists or into animal rights – the women seemed to be genuine about it – but there were lots of guys whose motivations for being into this stuff were…questionable. They were either a) egomaniacs or b) trying to pull women.
RosyB: Which brings me neatly onto – there is some sexual content in this book which we discovered when you chose to read a quite eye-watering section out at a recent event…
Raymond: Not the sort of thing you want to read at the Edinburgh Book Festival, drunk, with a couple of mates egging you on – one of whom you haven’t seen for twenty years.
RosyB: Which you did.
Raymond (shamed): Yes. Yes I did.
RosyB: How did that work out for you?
Raymond: Unmitigated disaster. It was a triumph of the will.
RosyB: You went for the most extreme scene possible – after all extremism is your theme.
Raymond: Yes. Thank you for linking that in…
RosyB: Now we have quite a lot of animal lovers on the site. Is this a book for them – be honest now?
Raymond: One of the rules of Hollywood is never kill a dog. Which we wrote in Botched in the first ten minutes – signalling we were going to break all the screenwriting rules. but there’s no gratuitous cruelty in Animal Lover. Though lots of animals die. For their own good.
RosyB: Is it upsetting?
Raymond: I prefer the word “moving”.
RosyB: Can you do “moving”?
[sound of desolate Glasgow wind in the background.]
RosyB: I am relieved to find out you do like dogs (this is very important to me) and had two yourself?
Raymond: Yes -two Jack Russells – Stubby and Rigsby. Rigsby had a lot of insecurities which I am sure that he got from me (he was a coward and over- compensated for it by acting the big man in front of Labradors – not something either of us were proud of).
RosyB: Favourite writing snack?
LIVE COMEDY AND WRITING ADVICE
RosyB: You write a lot of live comedy and have run a successful sketch show for a number of years – have you ever been tempted to perform your own stuff?
Raymond: I tried stand up a couple of times and was spectacularly bad. Really really really bad. Rabbit in the headlights. Seriously, I almost started heckling myself. Realised that what little talent I have is solely in the sphere of writing.
RosyB: Do you have any advice for would-be screenwriters, comic novelists or general moaners in life?
Raymond: First piece of advice, buy my book. It pretty much explains exactly what it means to be alive at this moment in time and that includes everything from how to write films to riding a bike.
Second piece of advice, buy a bike. I was coerced into cycling by a local do-gooder and it’s the best thing I’ve done in years.
Third piece of advice, if you want to write films (or comedy) do something that you can make (or stage) yourself. I wasted years writing stuff which in retrospect was a complete of time and I didn’t learn anything. Working with actors (or other creative people) is how you improve.
RosyB: Oh I forgot to ask you your favourite books. Favourite Books?
Raymond: Billy Liar…Slaughterhouse Five…[long pause]…How many have I got?
RosyB: Have you read 5 books?
Raymond [suddenly]: Crime and Punishment!
RosyB ( sceptical): Crime and Punishment?
Raymond: No, no it’s really funny…
[Raymond goes into long speech trying to convince Rosy that Crime and Punishment is, in fact, a comic novel]
Raymond [eventually]: Fight Club.
RosyB: I’m picking up a definite male vibe here.
Raymond: Confederacy of Dunces
[Note – RF subsequently sends through more choices bandying around names such as David Foster Wallace. Plus The Taran Wanderer/Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander, Gates of Eden by Ethan Coen and Anything by Pam Ayres – not a book – just the entire Ayres’ oevre.]
RosyB: What’s next for Raymond Friel – are you writing another book?
Raymond: Animal Lover 2 will be out next year…nah, I’m writing another book.
RosyB: What’s it about?
RosyB: If you could ask yourself one question what would it be?
Raymond: “What do you think of Scottish Independence?”
RosyB: Raymond Friel, thanks for talking to Vulpes Libris.
Raymond: Thank you.