Ciaron Melia talks piscine literature, self-publishing and the joys of bunking off work with James Gilbraith, in celebration of his debut novel, Terminal Chancer, illustrated by Daniel Davidson.
When Art & Music thrust a copy of James Gilbraith’s book, Terminal Chancer into my hand, I was dubious. It was a book supposedly about fishing and I’m a strict vegetarian with a fear of water. My only other dip into the world of literary angling was Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America and a dog-eared copy of the magazine Total Carp, read sporadically from a folding chair at my doctor’s surgery. Of course, Brautigan’s first novel wasn’t really about fishing, more an abstract adventure without a central storyline, and this is also true of Gilbraith’s debut. Fishing does lie at the novel’s beating heart, but it is also about friendship, the work/life balance, music and, most importantly, the promise of a brand new day – passion for the rod, but also passion for life.
Like Brautigan, it brought to mind another giant of the counter culture, Hunter S. Thompson. Gilbraith has his very own Ralph Steadman in the form of Daniel Davidson, who beautifully bookmarks the pages with his illustrations. The comparisons don’t end there; it is written in the spirit of Gonzo, there is a faithful sidekick called Lamont and a chapter about acid trips and shirts that is worthy of Hunter himself; it is also the only novel other than Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas that I have read in one sitting. The following interview took place at in pub beside the River Ribble.
Ciaron Melia – Did you always mean to self publish? Was it a matter of keeping all creative control, or was it borne out of necessity.
James Galbraith – Unfortunately, I had no inside track to any publisher. I sent the first three chapters to two well-known publishers but neither wanted the book. This didn’t surprise me, it was totally expected, really – I hadn’t written mainstream. TC wasn’t written to a formula, and that is its beauty, so I didn’t waste any more time submitting it. I had a word with Danny and we both agreed that the vast majority of the publishing world is obviously full of coke-dipped dicks operating in a never-ending Game of Thrones work model… Fuck them! That’s the mentality you must have. So I was left with a manuscript, no clue and no money. Fortunately, what I did have was a watch, a 1972 Heuer Autavia (I loved that watch) that I purchased in my early twenties. My printing bill for 500 books was twelve hundred quid. Backing myself, I sold the watch for exactly that amount and pressed print. I then slowly built my own website and paid for an advert on a fishing forum.
I couldn’t be happier with the way it panned out – total control on content, displayed in the way we wanted it without the dreaded dilution. Everything I have ever loved found its way to me slowly – just take a look at the high street and try not to gag on your own bile. Generic charmless stores gripped by the fear of financial failure – sterile, heartless banality is the rub, the sand in the Vaseline. If you want something unfettered and pure you won’t find it in the majors.
CM – Your book reminded me of Hunter S. Thompson’s books, especially with Daniel Davidson in the Ralph Steadman role. Is he someone you have known a while and is he going to be a regular fixture in any future books?
JG – Danny first came to my attention as a fairly combative midfielder in Sunday League football –
then as a musician. Our worlds collided when we spent the weekend away at a stag do for Lee Walsh, our friend and furniture designer, who, incidentally, typeset the book. Danny said he was illustrating and I sent him the first few chapters – he loved them and the illustrations he sent back just fitted perfectly – he got it. I didn’t want it to look like anything else – it had to be ours. Working with Danny is a no-brainer, it’s a laugh – no idea is too stupid. We both have other fulltime jobs and these creative collaborations are our essential outlet, allowing us to break out of brain jail.
CM – What I loved about the book, before I had even started, was the page entitled ‘suggested seasoning’ which is a list of songs. Were these songs you were listening to whilst writing the book, travelling to fish, or just songs you felt you needed to share with the world?
JG – The suggested seasonings were all songs and albums I was listening to that year while writing, traveling to the cracker factory [where Galbraith works] and the riverbank. Music joins the dots between everything I do, so it had to be at the beating heart of the book. In my head it was the soundtrack pacing each scene and chapter. None of the choices were contrived in anyway: if a bi-product of the book is a few people finding some new artists, then that’s ace. I’d love to release a Terminal Chancer LP to accompany the book – again, back to the land of daydreams!
CM – What’s central in the book is the importance of time; stealing a day from the cracker factory to fish… Are your employers aware of the book, and if so has it now become harder to steal that time?
JG – Everybody’s looking for time – it’s the golden goose commodity constantly being stolen and then sold back to us at a premium rate. You attend enough funerals and the light bulb moment finally arrives – that life can be ridiculously short. Do you want to spend time being a unit in somebody else’s game plan or do you want to try and be free – even briefly? Terminal Chancer isn’t just about fishing; it’s about breaking out and escaping from the constant suffocating bullshit that’s imposed on us daily and about finding space to smile. Nothing’s changed for me in that respect; it’s a conscious decision you have to make yourself, to get the balance you feel that you deserve.
CM – As I was reading your book, I was imagining the film playing in my head – your writing is very cinematic. In the movie, who would you cast as yourself and your sidekick, Lamont?
JG – This casting question is one of my favourite current daydreams. TC has all the components to make a great film: its characters are all outsiders and fight against the daily flow. Couple this with the humour and subject matter and TC could be compared to Withnail & I – it’s certainly got that vibe. I’ve currently got two cast lists on the go. In the British version I have Michael Fassbender as the obsessed, daydreaming, work-shy Terminal Chancer, Paddy Considine as the erratic, insane Lamont and John Hurt as the philosophical river sage Ahab; all of it directed by ex-Beta Band member John Maclean.
For the US version, directed by Wes Anderson, I’d have Johnny Depp as the Terminal Chancer, John Turturro as Lamont and Bill Murray as Ahab. As I said, it’s a great daydream.
CM – Is this the case of the one book inside of you that you had to get out, or is it the first in a long line.
JG – Obviously, I hope writing is sustainable – I’ve no shortage of ideas or content. I’m slowly writing a follow- up to TC that’s even funnier than the first one. Danny and I are also planning an illustrated kid’s book called Whistler’s River.
CM – For an angling philistine like myself, what is the fundamental difference between fly-fishing (which is what you write about) and just fishing off a canal bank?
JG – Well I’m no purist snob, I fish the conditions and the methods I enjoy. With fly-fishing you are essentially mobile, enabling you to wander and revel in movement. Fishing on the canal is static. I have done plenty of both. My six-week summer holidays as a child were spent adventuring up and down the Leeds & Liverpool Canal with my mates. As with most things, the true joy is everything that happens in between the actual fishing.
CM – The book really isn’t just about fishing, but how has it gone down with the angling fraternity? Is there a following of fellow psychedelic music-loving loafers?
JG – The riverbank is chock-full of Terminal Chancers, and they all know it! Inside every fisherman there’s a loafer, dreamer, poet and director taking part in their own screenplay.