I’ve got Robert Cowan jellied from his mouth down and strapped to a dentist’s chair. The effect won’t last forever so I’ve got a needle at hand for the next dose. One eye flutters open, and his second follows suit. They shift from ovals to perfect Os at the sight of the scalpel and pliers in one of my hands and Trev the hand puppet on the other.
“G… s… fkkkk,” he says.
I smile as I would to a child who’d annoyed me, but didn’t want to raise my voice to. “You didn’t answer my questions, Cowan.” I lift his numb upper lip with the pliers and tap his teeth with the scalpel. “I’m going to remove a tooth for every question you didn’t answer. Isn’t that right, Trev?”
Cowan grunts and gurns but those f-bombs come out duds, and anyway – Trev nods in agreement and thus it’s so.
I tap a Do on his front tooth, a Re on the other and work through the Mi, Fa, Sol, La, and Ti until the final Do cracks that tooth.
“Ooops. Bit early.”
Cowan’s eyes roll and he writhes and he flexes and he just can’t control his movements. Much. The shit in his system wears away a little, enough for him to feel the necessary pain.
I bide my time. Pick up a home improvement magazine. Read to him about how granite countertops are just so overrated. I’m not sure what pains him more – this or the broken tooth.
Trev asks Cowan if all is okay, but the ingrate splashes him with spittle and bad thoughts.
“That’s not nice, Robert. You take it out on me, not poor little Trev.”
I show him the needle and flick the tip. Cowan shudders, but his limbs are blancmange and chocolate sauce. I let the needle sit, tip upwards so he can keep an eye on what’s to come.
“It’s time for tooth number two, Cowan. Trev needs to add to his little collection.” Trev nods his approval. What can I do? I can’t let the little fella down.
I move in for the second tooth. Cowan cringes into the chair. This’ll teach him.
“Pam Wolder,” gurgles out his mouth. Who’s Pam Wolder? As I manoeuvre the scalpel he kicks out and I stumble back, bemused I’d got the timing wrong for his second injection. I reach round the back of my leg and pull the needle from my vein.
“Oh,” I say. “That’s not good.”
I awake and blink the eye glue from my lids and squeeze them shut again at the fluorescent light above. Tears clear the blur and I see Robert Cowan has gone. My hands splay when I run my tongue behind my teeth and feel only swollen gums. The copper tang almost sends me back to the nightmare I had. I’m tied to a dentist’s chair, my limbs numb. On the side table is Trev, my teeth glued to his felt gums. A note stands against him. It reads:
“I sent you my answers ages ago. Did you check your Spam Folder, you scumbag? Here’s the printout. Enjoy.”
I groan as the numbness fades and the pain envelops me, but I fold into the unconsciousness happy I got my answers. And Trev got some nice new teeth. He’ll like that.
Robert Cowan has written some cracking books. One review called his Daydreams and Devils a cross between Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and The Commitments, so what can you do but read the beast? His others, including Firm -his last book – have earned great ratings. You should seek 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?
Robert Cowan (RC): I’d perhaps say that the best fiction reflects reality and in some way would allow him to experience situations he never ordinarily would in a more nuanced and intimate way than cinema or TV. But I’d probably just call him a fanny.
What must a protagonist have to make you read on?
RC: Generally I like to feel some sort of empathy with them and their situation. Preferably the author would reveal them gradually and there would be a process of change across the book.
Do you need a likeable protagonist?
RC: Not at all, just as long as they are interesting. Bukowski’s alter ego, Chinaski, can be a bit of a cunt but he’s never boring.
Name a great antagonist, in a novel or movie, and what they do for you.
RC: Cal, from East of Eden. I remember seeing the film when I was young and finding the mix of explosive rebellion on the one hand and the silent, tacit need for approval on the other pretty potent at that age. I came to the book much later. It is a phenomenal piece of writing.
What makes you throw a book out the window?
RC: Excessive and clunky description, one dimensional or unbelievable characters, and worst of all, cheesy dialogue. Aka bad writing.
Do you grit your teeth all the way to the end of a dodgy novel?
RC: I used to, but not anymore. Now I give it fifty pages or so. So many books, so little time.
What gets you writing? A great novel? Something you saw on the street or on TV? Something else?
RC: It’s normally an idea that gets me going and they normally come out of nowhere. Just the bare bones is all I need as I’m not a planner.
What did you learn about writing from the last book you wrote?
RC: Mainly it’s that if you park your arse at the keyboard it will come, especially if you don’t let unnecessary thinking get in the way. Fixed writing times helps too.
I also learned Americans can understand written Scottish dialect, which is something I’d avoided, and researching places is as boring as I expected and therefore to be avoided at all costs.
What’s your next book, in 30 words or less?
RC: A young girl disappears. A burnt out social worker moves into her house, finds her name on a wall and decides to find her and something he’s lost within himself.
Where can readers connect with you?
You can buy Robert Cowan’s books HERE.