by Jason Michel
Ryan Bracha‘s writing is not for the faint hearted. I think I can say that with confidence. His stories are transgressive and smeared with a gallows humour dripping around the chops. He is the best selling author of Strangers Are Just Friends You Haven’t Killed Yet and the Dead Man Trilogy. Take a trip into the darkest corners of his mind as he talks to me about dwarves, ninjas, and his latest supernatural thriller, The Switched, his blackest work yet.
To quote : “It’s basically a look at what would happen if the most fucked up people in the country just inexplicably woke up as one another, with no grasp of the concept of consequence. It’s funny.”
What makes Ryan Bracha so bloody special that we should read your precious words?
Because I’m writing some of the most imaginative, obscene, vulgar, violent, original, and purely entertaining fiction currently on the market. No point with false modesty, my books are fucking brilliant, and they’re only going to get better.
At what point did you wake up and say to yourself – right then, I am going to write some stories about nasty bastards and their comeuppance?
I was absolutely wankered at a 24 hour card game (Three Card Brag, if you’re interested), and as I was out having a cig, I told some dude that I thought it’d be cool to tell a story from about 50 different people’s perspectives. Like, move the plot along through different eyes with each chapter. The next day I started Strangers Are Just Friends You Haven’t Killed Yet, and four years later I wrote the last word. I scaled down the number of people in it, but it gave me the bug for trying to write books that were taking tried and tested plotlines and delivering them with as much originality as I could squeeze out of my brain. When it turned out people other than me thought it was good I smashed the sequel out in six months, and rarely looked back.
All so-called “creative” people are standing on the shoulders of giants, to a certain extent. Whose inspirational shoulders are you leaving muddy footprints on?
Prior to writing Strangers it was the Coen Brothers, Tarantino, Palahniuk, David Fincher, Darren Aranofsky. A friend had read, and dropped off a copy of Irvine Welsh’s Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs, saying I’d probably enjoy it. Enjoy it I did, and I had a new hero. Welsh has a knack of using original devices to bring his stories to life, so I see a lot of my own ethos in his work. It kind of proves that you don’t need to pander to convention to be successful in literature.
Your stories have a gritty edge to them. Real life can bring colour to a writer’s work, how much of your work is inspired by people or situations, you’ve known, experienced or heard about?
The first couple of books were a lot more biographical in some of the scenes and characters, but nowadays it’s more about my observations on life, the way we as people have this unnerving obsession with social media, taken to the extreme. Thankfully I’m as obsessed as the rest of the world, so I’m provided with material every single day.
What is the fascination of the public with crime? Why do people want to read stories about criminals? Why don’t they just look outside their windows, and the bloody mess out there, lock their doors and tool up with tinned food a semi-automatic rifle until Doomsday?
They live more exciting lives, these fictional criminals, don’t they? There’s a definite romance in being a bank robber, or a cool as fuck hitman, or a grifter. It’s a strange thing, because your Peter Sutcliffes and your Myra Hindleys and your Russian spies are all treated with such contempt in real life, and rightly so. But if Peter Sutcliffe didn’t exist anywhere but in the imagination of Quentin Tarantino, and Samuel L. Jackson spits quirky observations about the state of working girls nowadays as he cut them up, he’d be on the walls of a thousand students complete with some quote typed in blood. There’s a quote in The Switched which observes this a little, coming from the serial killer in the body of the national treasure celebrity, wearing the stolen scalp of a dreadlocked hipster, which is “There’s no greater entertainment for the human race than the deaths of others.” – This is true of both real life and fiction. We’re horrified and excited by a death, as long as it’s somebody else’s.
Genre seems to be finally getting recognised by the Overlords of Good Taste. Is this a death-knell for pure genre writing, or a renaissance of sorts?
I’m not sure of the answer to that one. I prefer hybrids and unlabellable (real word) fiction. Stuff that you’d need ten different adjectives to describe. If you’re writing crime, make it a supernatural, satirical, sexy, funny, historical, sci-fi crime book. With ninjas. If you’re writing dystopian fiction, stick a dragon in it. Comedy midgets in a large overcoat would really put some gloss on your noir. If you must write romance, make it between two sentient telephones. So yeah. I don’t know the answer to your question. I wish I did. Ninjas though.
Tell us about the new book – The Switched?
I had a dream about four months ago, where I was being chased by Jim Carrey, but it wasn’t Jim Carrey. He’d had his body taken over by a serial killer, and I was in somebody else’s body too. The papers had done a big profile piece on me because I’d been body-swapped, and because of that, Jim was hell-bent on killing me and all of these other people who had been switched into other folk too. I woke up as he was bearing down on me in a corn field, and straight away wrote down this idea, and half an hour later I was writing the first chapter on my phone on the bus.
It’s basically five people, who are all ‘switched‘ into one another one day. It’s not explained how or why the phenomenon happens, as it’s more about how these people cope with what happens to them, rather than a Vice Versa/Freaky Friday type story where they have to learn what the other one is going through before some magical power switches them back as a treat for learning their lesson. Each one of the five is damaged in one way or another, whether it’s Jake, a millionaire, hard man with a thirteen inch cock, who has been damaged by his own success, and thinks the world owes him anything he wants, or Francesca, who’s been damaged by her celebrity status, or Leonard, the serial killer, damaged by his disdain for the selfishness of other humans, or Charlie, damaged by his relationship break up and subsequent heartache, or Helen, damaged by her own tendency to take the world less than seriously. You start to put them in each others’ bodies, with Twitter watching it all, and all manner of hell breaks loose.
Where did idea of people switching their roles come from? Do you not think that the idea of people’s lives being a “solid” thing is changing as society’s values, and even people’s own identities are becoming fluid?
The dream I had. Once that dream was written down, I saw the potential for creating a proper fucked up world. Do you know the potential for expansion on this universe? Massive. The five year old boy who gets switched with the murderer on Death Row? Your model wife or girlfriend gets switched with an obese bed bound pensioner, could you still love her? A man who gets switched with his dad and wakes up getting a blow job off his mum? I really want to write a sequel, but I promised myself I wouldn’t.
Anyway, I’m digressing. We all have several identities nowadays. Me, for example. I have the me who goes to work. I have the me who’s a husband and dad. I have the social media me. The 5-a-side football on a Wednesday night me. Our identities shift and change with the environment. The main one anybody ever sees anymore is our Facebook identity. Our filtered selfie with our tits half out in front of the bedroom mirror. Our filtered culinary prowess with three eggs and some mushrooms in image form. Our filtered in a lovely vintage finish with blurry edges offspring. Our new book that we think is really good and people should buy because it will entertain the shit out of them buy it, buy it now. The Switched. Available now. What? I never even said anything. Yes, our identities are more fluid nowadays, because we have so many of them. Some of them stolen.
You mention that you have a third novel coming out this year. Can you give us any clues about it?
Twelve Nights at Table Six. A collaborative novel of stories. It’s the follow up to my Twelve Mad Men project last year. It’s basically just an exercise in writing quality dialogue for the eleven writers I invite to play out, and an exercise in reactive improvisation for me. The stories will be set around table six, during a single meal sitting. The diners never tip. That’s it. The rest is open season on how mental or cool or bizarre they want to take it. I have to write a solid narrative through the book, reacting to whatever happens in the individual stories. They’ll shape how the novel looks at the end, and what decisions the main character makes. Twelve Mad Men was unashamedly messed up, probably predictable, but it was a largely successful experiment. The profits still go to charity now, and the profits from Twelve Nights will also go to charity. I do have a fourth book up my sleeve, but it’ll be a low key release, and is secret just now.
THE SWITCHED BY RYAN BRACHA
AN EXTRACT FROM THE SWITCHED:
The front door to the buildin opens an shuts, an Polish Peter stomps into the hallway, talking to himself in his own language. He pauses outside my door, mumbles something and then moves on. Polish Peter is a hopeless pisshead. Sometimes in his sober moments he can actually be quite sweet, but those moments are few and far between. His feet clomp one, two, three times and then he pauses. Then again. Then again. My stomach rolls suddenly, and my guts ache, an I get this overwhelmin urge to do a poo. I rise from me bed an swing open the door to me bedsit, darting up the stairs towards the bathroom. This is what I hate about this place, sharin a bathroom with foreign strangers. The weird Sri Lankan on the top floor. Polish Peter. The two Russians above me. A girl needs her own bathroom. I round the sharp corner at the top of the stairs only to see the Bathroom door close as Peter beats me to it. The feelin in me guts is like nothing I’ve felt before. Like me insides want to drag theirselves from me. I stand at the top of the stairs, quietly waiting but at the same time becoming overwhelmed by the rolling in me guts. Me face feels hot. My breathin drops shallow and I. What the fuck’s happenin to me? From the bathroom I hear the loud, mechanical snorin of Peter, now in a booze coma, and I’m panickin’. Me belly keeps rollin, an it’s only a matter of time before I shit myself. I lower myself down the stairs one at a time an me head is spinnin an I’m scared. Suddenly I’m in me room and I don’t remember gettin here an me dressing gown is on the floor an I’m draggin a bucket across to next to the kitchen sink an climbing onto it. I spin round, an that doesn’t help, an the sweat is pouring out of me. I don’t know. I can’t do. I lean forward. I cry. What. There’s. Please. It hurts. Loud splashin as my shit pours out of me into the sink. I feel it dribblin down my legs and I feel sick and I-
Oh, Jesus. What the fuck? What the fuck is this? What the holy fuck is going on? What the fuck is that smell? Oh, Jesus. Who the fuck shits in a sink? My hand reaches down to my legs and I feel sick. Did I shit myself? Where the fuck am I? And one big question, my main question, the only question I truly want a fucking answer to, is why the fuck have I got tits?