I drove my VW camper van into the side of the man’s car and listened to the call for help. I jumped out and helped him from his vehicle, but the man winced and grunted like he needed a stick between his teeth to counter the pain.
I let him go, all excited. “I know you.”
“I think you broke my leg.”
The lonely road in the hills way north of Strathearn had only grass, the wind, and a set of indifferent dumb animals as company.
“I said I think you broke my leg.”
“I’m so sorry.” I helped him stand on his good leg and encouraged him to the camper van. “You’re Brendan Gisby.”
“I am. The broken-legged version. I need to get to the hospital.”
“Yes, of course. Let me drive you there. I’m a big fan. I mean a big fan. I’ve got all your books. I read them aloud.”
Mr Gisby latched onto my eyes for the first time. Yes, he had met his one true fan. The one who will look after him in his direst need. I’ll be there for him for whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted it. He examined me, dug deep. Wanted to get to know his one true fan. Sure, he has other fans, but none of them are like me.
“You read Ferry Tales?”
“Ping Time and Other Tales of Revenge?”
“Four times. In a row. Without another book’s interruption.”
“Okayyyy.” He craned his neck to check out his car behind me.
I shut the camper van’s door and jumped in the driver’s seat. I smiled, all excited. “I’ll drive you home, just hold on.” I turned the music on loud. A bit of Daniel O’Donnell would soothe his pain. While he listened to the music, I pushed his car over the hill and watched it crumple on the rocks below.
I jumped back in the van and smiled for him as we drove away. He had his leg tight in both hands.
“I don’t see my car? Where is my car?”
“It’s there, Mr Gisby, you’re just at a funny angle to see it properly.”
I drove over a few bumps, down a hill, over a flooded dip before the bridge, and sang along to the wonderful, soulful O’Donnell. I encouraged Mr Gisby to join in, to ease his trauma, but the poor man couldn’t get the words out through his tight lips. Poor sod stared at me with the roundest eyes.
“Is this your house, Mr Gisby?”
We’d made it to Strathearn. Mr Gisby’s eyes hardened and I barely heard his “yes.”
“I thought so. It’s just I sent you a bunch of questions, and I never got a response. I thought maybe I’d got the wrong address.”
I don’t know why his face set to stone. One crack could crumble that face to dust, and that wouldn’t do.
“I’m in the middle of a new book. I’m a little stuck on the ending. As soon as I finish it, I’ll send you your questions.”
“How long until you finish, do you reckon? This afternoon?”
I’m not sure I liked that snort. Seemed rude of him. “Tomorrow?”
“No, for God’s sake. My leg … please.”
I’d forgotten about that. He did look a little sweat-soaked. “Yes. Of course.”
I badgered him about the answers, but I got nothing from him. As we passed the hospital he laid a hand on my shoulder and I pulled over to an abandoned industrial estate where I administered him a needle to put him at ease. He slept all the way to the Cairngorms. I hope he dreamt of that damned ending. I wanted the new book, and I wanted my damned answers.
He woke up while I rested the van on a windy hill. It overlooked nil distractions except for the sole deer on the plain below. That could be our breakfast. I helped the groggy master to the little table and sat to face him, a grin on my face. I nodded to the pad and pencil I’d bought for him at the Tesco Metro and nodded.
“A pad. A pencil.”
“We writing a shopping list?”
“No, Mr Gisby, you’re finishing your book.”
He studied his leg which I’d wrapped with cardboard and twine while he dreamed of an ending. He twirled the pencil, thumbed the eraser at the top, fingered the sharpened point. Lifted his attention to me. I felt his muse rise, inspired by the mountains and the fresh air. I’d done him good.
I’m sure I’d done him good, but he thrust that sharpened pencil into my shoulder to rock my certainty. I yelped and gawped at the writer’s tool I’d so lovingly bought for him deep in my flesh. Mr Gisby limped for the door and tumbled out. He circled for a better view of … escape? But why?
I jumped out after him and we tussled for supremacy. He’d clearly lost his senses because of the pain he suffered. We rolled to the edge of a steep drop that would expose both our brains.
“Stop, we’re close to the edge.” His breath billowed out in a great steam cloud.
“Closer than you are to finishing your book?”
“Much, much closer.”
“I can finish your book for you. Let me do it, then I can have my answers.”
He didn’t take that too well and kneed me in the hoo-haws. I lost my grip on him and tumbled over the cliff’s edge. Mr Gisby – that good, good man – grabbed my wrist and held tight, though his red face told me how much strain it put on him.
“I’m slipping,” I said.
“Just hold strong and don’t make me regret this.”
I looked down and almost lost consciousness at the sight. “I’m a goner. Just tell me your answers, now.”
Gisby told me everything, and then I fell, happy I’d got my answers at last.
“You can use this as your ending,” I called out.
I couldn’t tell as the distance between us increased, but I’m sure he had, “Not a chance” on his lips.
Brendan Gisby is a prolific writer of four novels, a few biographies, and collections of short stories. He has an intimate style which pulls you deep into his world (just read the first few pages of The Burrymen’s War) and you should check him out.
A friend of mine doesn’t read fiction, paraphrasing Frank Skinner about it all being made-up and he has no time for any of that. What words do you have for such a philistine?
Brendan Gisby (BG): Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, Jason, so I won’t call him a Philistine. I will say, however, that his or her life is missing something valuable – imagination!
What must a protagonist have to make you read on?
BG: Their thoughts and actions must be believable; otherwise, I’ll toss the book.
Do you need a likeable protagonist?
BG: Certainly not. The less likeable they are, the more interesting they become.
Name a great antagonist, in a novel or movie, and what they do for you.
BG: The antagonists or anti-heroes I like most feature in quality American TV series. They include Tony Soprano of The Sopranos, Nucky Thompson of Boardwalk Empire, and Walter White of Breaking Bad. They are all bad guys, but each of them also has a vulnerable side. And you end up rooting for them.
What makes you throw a book out the window?
BG: If it’s badly written – pure and simple.
Do you grit your teeth all the way to the end of a dodgy novel?
What gets you writing? A great novel? Something you saw on the street or on TV? Something else?
BG: Much of what I’ve written is based on real people and actual incidents in my life. Someone once called my work “bio-fiction”.
What did you learn about writing from the last book you wrote?
BG: The most recent example of my “bio-fiction” is a book called “The Rebel’s Daughter”. It’s a mostly fictionalized account of the life of my Irish mother, whose father was a member of the Irish Republican Army in the 1920’s fighting for Ireland’s independence from the United Kingdom. I wrote the book with the help of my five siblings. Because there was so much love involved, it was the most pleasurable experience. So I learned that writing can actually be enjoyable!
What’s your next book, in 30 words or less?
BG: It’s a sequel to “The Island of Whispers”, which has been described as “Watership Down” with rats instead of rabbits. It is definitely not in the “bio-fiction” category!
Where can readers connect with you?
BG: I have a personal page on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/brendan.gisby.1) and an author’s page (https://www.facebook.com/BrendanGisby). I have my own website (https://the4bs.weebly.com). And I can be found easily on Amazon.
You can buy City of Forts for a special offer price HERE.