It could be the ideal Christmas gift for a friend or lover with literary pretensions who wants their name to live forever. An Irish author is offering readers a small piece of literary immortality – if the price is right.
Jason Johnson, described by critics as ‘the Irish Irving Welsh’, will open up an unusual auction in cyberspace next month: a chance to become a character in his third novel. The highest bidder on his website, www.woundlicker.com
can pay for the bizarre privilege of joining a former flasher and his psychiatric patient/girlfriend in his next book.
Johnson, whose second novel, Alina, was released last month, is as brutally frank about his motives as he is with his violent plots and muscular prose. The 37-year-old freelance journalist, whose first two books have received critical acclaim in Ireland, admits he is starting the auction to secure financial freedom.
‘My motives are purely financial, because I need to pay the bills while I write and I’ll do pretty much whatever I can for that,’ he said. ‘Sitting around all day and making things up is just about all I want to do with my days. I don’t care what people’s motives for bidding are, that’s up to them. But a selling point is that it is the offer of a kind of ticket to immortality and that it will give them something to say at parties, or maybe just into the mirror.
‘People can email me offers via the link on the website. I’ll meet the winner and get it all agreed. It might be that they want a character to have their name, their characteristics or be some crazed fantasy figure they have in their head. Someone might even buy it as a surprise gift for a mate. The floor’s wide open, although they are not writing the book. The character might be major or minor, and it might not even be a character at all. It could be a cat or a car or a place or a pair of frilly knickers.
‘Writing is all about weaving characters together and making them fit so it might be a bit of a challenge, but probably not much more of a challenge than putting a book together. I’ll still get to tell the story. Who knows, the new character might make it stronger. Hopefully, I’ll make enough to write worry-free for a few weeks or so, though I know there is the odd risk for me. I realise I might end up with a seven quid and still have to put Osama bin Laden in there.’
The Enniskillen-born writer says he got the idea for a website competition from a documentary about a member of the public buying their way into a Hollywood movie.
As in his previous novels, Johnson’s third book avoids obvious Northern Ireland themes. ‘I hated the Troubles during the Troubles and I hate them now. My first book, Woundlicker, was about one guy driven mad by our heavy-footed peace process circa 2004, precisely because he’d been through hell during the Troubles themselves.
‘The character was of mixed religion background and his dysfunctional, alcoholic family had been made brutally unwelcome wherever they went, so he was unsuccessfully seeking a kind of closure. This boils over into his murder spree, and because his killings don’t fit that sickening Northern Ireland template, every armed party to the conflict starts to get morally outraged by his deeds.’
The Arts Council in Northern Ireland has also noticed a shift in interest among other young writers away from the Troubles. Damien Smyth, the council’s development officer for literature, said: ‘The writers we encounter aren’t generally worried about writing the great Belfast novel and stories of split communities. They are writing about things like vampires, fantasy fiction and looking to go to sci-fi conventions.’
He added that many of these authors are emerging from the new Northern Irish literary underground through DIY comics and magazines and Johnson admitted that his offer is part of that self-financing, independent, DIY new wave: ‘I suppose every aspiring novelist starving in a garret will wonder why they never thought of it first.’