Freddie and Jam-Jam head to Outguard

In 2013 I was asked by commissioning editor Dave Lordan to write a piece for a publication entitled New Planet Cabaret which was a cool, interesting anthology book published by New Island Press. Here’s how they described it on the book jacket:

In December 2012, New Island and RTÉ Radio One’s Arena launched the first on-air creative writing course. The course took place on the first week of each month until June 2013. Writer and creative writing teacher Dave Lordan led the course, each month offering a new writing prompt to listeners who would submit material based using that prompt as inspiration. This book contains the best of those submissions. To accompany them, Arena specially commissioned pieces by a host of emerging Irish writing talent producing a completely novel and enjoyable anthology that presents the best of up-and-coming Irish writing talent.

My piece was a cross between a surrealist story and stageplay, featuring two recurring characters (Freddie and Jam-Jam) from my writings down the years. They had begun as Friedrich Nietzsche and James Joyce as children on a quest in a mythological Icelandic world, and gradually evolved into these oddball variations of that idea.

In the end I think this piece was quite successful, and I do like the playful feel of it, and the way it jumps in and out of traditional forms, as well as how it comments on the written form itself. For the launch of the book, RTE Radio (our national broadcaster) did a live show from the Gutter Bookshop in Dublin and I performed an excerpt of the piece live on air with my friend Brian, which was really fun and very warmly received. I think this is one of those pieces that definitely pops more when read aloud, and I have very fond memories of the performance (far more than the lengthy process of writing it)


Freddie and Jam-Jam head to Outguard

A short, wooden gangway extends out onto a lake. Freddie and Jam-Jam sit at the end, feet dangling, staring into the middle distance. A rowing boat, tied to a pole beside them, thuds rhythmically against the gangway.

FREDDIE: Right, I’m about to push off.
JAM-JAM: Where?
FREDDIE: Outguard.
JAM-JAM: What’s the story with it?
FREDDIE: It’s that giant new cabaret place.
JAM-JAM: Oh deadly. We should probably get a load of cans!
FREDDIE: No. It’s not that kind of place.
JAM-JAM: Well what kind of place is it so?
FREDDIE: I believe it is being described as a new narrative arena.
JAM-JAM: Sounds like bollocks, let’s definitely get cans.
FREDDIE: We are not bringing cans.
JAM-JAM: Alright man. Whatever. Let’s push off.

The boat slices swiftly across the surface of the lake. Freddie and Jam-Jam are seated facing each other. A plastic bag full of cans sits between them. The moonlight gently illuminates their faces as they speak.

JAM-JAM: I was wondering if I could switch to another story?
JAM-JAM: This story is kinda pretentious. I was wondering if you’d mind if I went to a different one?
JAM-JAM: This story is kinda pretentious. I was wondering if you’d mind if I went to a different one?
FREDDIE: You mean leave the story we are in right now?
JAM-JAM: Yeah. It’s a bit shit.
FREDDIE: What? That’s not fair. It’s half yours.
JAM-JAM: I suppose, but I’m not mad about it.
JAM-JAM: To be honest, I’m not really sure what it’s trying to say.
FREDDIE: So what! And even if you could go, where would you go?
JAM-JAM: I’d say a Hemingway novel would be good craic. All that bravado and bulls. And balls!
FREDDIE: But those novels are already written
FREDDIE: So, you can’t go there, there is no room for you in the story.
JAM-JAM: Says who?
FREDDIE: Says Hemingway.
JAM-JAM: Fine. I’ll head off to a nice warm foreign book. Maybe something Middle Eastern.
FREDDIE: What about Outguard? I thought you wanted to come.
JAM-JAM: Yeah, I was thinking a bit more about that. Can you maybe jump ahead a few pages and see what it’s like, then let me know?
FREDDIE: Really?
JAM-JAM: Yeah. Just have a sneaky little peek and see if I should bother my hole.
FREDDIE: (sighs) Very well.
JAM-JAM: Savage. I’ll be here, just text me or whatever.
FREDDIE: Wait a minute. This is stupid. I don’t even know what you want me to find out for you.
JAM-JAM: Ah sure, the usual. See if there are any good-looking women, bit of intrigue, sparse dialogue, hint of danger. That kind of thing.
FREDDIE: (wearily) I see. Alright. See you in a moment then.
JAM-JAM: (engrossed in his phone) Ok dude

Freddie steps out of the boat onto the shore. The coarse, damp sand crunches beneath his feet. He walks into the forest. In an instant, maybe longer, he reappears. He motions at Jam-Jam to come with him.

JAM-JAM: What’s this, man?
FREDDIE: This is Outguard.
JAM-JAM: Ah here, this is bullshit; you’re after tricking me.
FREDDIE: What do you mean?
JAM-JAM: This is just the same old story.
FREDDIE: Maybe so, but can you not just enjoy it for what it is?
JAM-JAM: No chance! I’m actually pissed off. You have me doing this heavy-handed dialogue now. This party’s definitely over. I’m heading back
FREDDIE: Go. You won’t find what you want.
JAM-JAM: How would you know man? We’re not even on the same page!

A breeze blows stiffly across the lake. Freddie and Jam-Jam sit at the end of the wooden gangway in silence.

JAM-JAM: Here, I’m sorry about earlier on, you know, over there.
FREDDIE: Forget about it. No harm done.
JAM-JAM: It was out of order all the same. C’mere though, what was the story with your man at the cabaret?
FREDDIE: Some character wasn’t he?
JAM-JAM: Definitely.

The wind picks up and waves start to splash against the base of the gangway. The boat begins to thud loudly as it strikes the gangway with force. Freddie and Jam-Jam pull their coats tighter around their frames.

FREDDIE: What do you think?
JAM-JAM: About what?
FREDDIE: Stories.
JAM-JAM: I dunno man.
FREDDIE: I always feel like I am missing something.
JAM-JAM: Story of my life.

Ira Glass on Storytelling

So much of the creative process is about crafting a good story that resonates and reverberates with your audience. The art of storytelling is something we have been raised with since we were kids – almost every one of us had someone who read to us at night before we went to sleep – and when it is done well, there is nothing quite as spellbinding. And that sits deep within us.

The quote above is from Ira Glass, host of the highly regarded podcast and National Public Radio show This American Life, which chronicles stories large and small from all walks of life. Of the many radio shows and podcasts out there, This American Life is perhaps among the greatest at weaving a tale that draws you in. Ira’s quote really sticks with me, because the simplicity of what he is saying is also absolutely true.

And I think it applies not just to writing, but can equally be applied to other creative forms where the narrative is placed at the heart of it, and draws the audience in, and takes them on that train.

The quote actually comes from a longer extended interview with Ira Glass ,where he goes deeper on the art of good storytelling, and I strongly recommend listening to it below. It’s full of nuggets on storytelling and the creative process.