The man’s a silver fox, clean shaven, wears a smooth dark grey suit, and an oily, slick smile forged from centuries of having his own way. He blocks my way to Shervin Jamali, who I can see through the portal.
“I have an appointment, let me through,” I say.
The man’s eyes blacken and he exposes his liquorice gums. “I don’t think so. He stays where he is, until he learns his lesson.”
I peer through the swirling portal. Jamali rocks to and fro on a chair, fist in his mouth, nonsense words spilling out his mouth. I hear “Ring-a-dong.” I hear “Derry-dol” and “merry-o.”
“Goddamn, man, you’ve got him jibber-jabbering Tom Bombadil rhymes.”
The man blasts a hot breath on his fingernails and buffs them on his silk shirt. “I know. Even Peter Jackson cut that shit from his films, and his movies are as long-winded as they come.”
“You’ve got him repeating this guff for all eternity?”
“Yes, unless …”
I grasp hard at the chance, though the reed might not help me out of the quicksand. “Unless what?”
I check on Jamali. He’s sentient and listening, though he can’t stop saying “ring-a-goddamned-dong.” Poor bastard.
“He wrote two books which had me in the starring role -”
“I’m not sure you were the star -”
“You’ll shut your mouth if you want to rescue him.”
“He exposes me in both stories. It’s better people see me as a character – a red-skinned horror who carries a fork around to stab into their worst nightmares. I’m under the radar, then. People can live with such a ridiculous image. But he portrayed me like this …” He sweeps a hand across himself. “If people know I look and act like a congressman, well, then they’ll realise true hell is right on their doorstep and my mission will become a whole lot harder.”
“Is he alive or …”
“He’s in limbo. You go in there and tell him he must never write another book which stars my good self.”
I nod, grim as a night out in Rotherham. He stands aside and let’s me enter. I’m nervous I’ll never get back out, but too late – here I am.
Shervin reaches out to me, his eyes desperate.
“Get me out of this Ring-a-dong place, please merry-o.” He calls me a river woman’s daughter, but I’m sure that’s a tic.
I sit by him, take out pen and paper.
“What you Derry-dol doing?”
“I’m going to help you get out of here. I just want you to answer my questions first.”
Shervin spreads his arms, angry at my nonchalance, but …
Shervin Jamali’s most famous work features the Devil and how he manipulates one man to do his dirty work so he can redeem his tortured family in hell. The Devil’s Lieutenant and Escape from Hell are action-packed and gritty. He also wrote a mad bit of fiction for the anthology The Thirteen Lives of Frank Peppercorn.
You should read him.
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?
Shervin Jamali (SJ): With everything going on in the world, now is when people need stories most. Great works of fiction offer escapism. I can’t bring myself to tune into the news anymore and when I do, I instantly regret it. I’d rather be reading a book.
What must a protagonist have to make you read on?
SJ: I’m a sucker for the Anti-Hero, a flawed character with something holding him/her back, often an addiction of sorts or inner demons, but he/she is inherently good and seeks redemption.
Do you need a likeable protagonist?
SJ: If not likable then relatable, although likable certainly helps. Or maybe a love-to-hate reaction even.
Name a great antagonist, in a novel or movie, and what they do for you.
SJ: Like I’ve already mentioned, I’m a sucker for a great Anti-Hero. I love the movie Man on Fire. Never mind that I have a Denzel man-crush, his character in that film embodies the perfect Anti-Hero. My favorite line in the film is when he turns to Christopher Walken and asks, “Do you think God will forgive us for what we’ve done?” When the response is a no, he follows it up with, “Yeah, me neither.”
What makes you throw a book out the window?
SJ: Throwing a book out the window means damaging my Kindle which I will never do. But seriously, these days, when everyone is writing about vampires, witches and werewolves, or the latest YA version of “The Hunger Games,” I crave originality. I also cringe at repetition. I’m an intelligent reader; authors should assume that of most of their readers. I don’t need my hand held and you don’t need to keep reminding me of something you feel is terribly important.
Do you grit your teeth all the way to the end of a dodgy novel?
SJ: I suffer from insomnia which means I do most of my reading in the dead of night while my family sleeps. I don’t grit teeth; I squint my eyes.
What gets you writing? A great novel? Something you saw on the street or on TV? Something else?
SJ: I’ve been in a writing slump of late so I don’t have an answer to this, but I read a lot and I find that reading leads to inspiration sooner or later. I’ve also been re-watching The West Wing. I think Aaron Sorkin is one of the greatest writers of our generation. I also believe that dialogue is the most important part of story-telling; he’s a master at it.
What did you learn about writing from the last book you wrote?
SJ: Now that The Devil’s Lieutenant has a substantial readership and Escape From Hell is starting to pick up steam, if your last book was the second in a series that people are digging, which the latter was, you better have an idea what the third fucking book is going to be about. This from a Top 500 Amazon reviewer: “There is a book 3 in this series, and it actually has been years since I cared enough to wish a book was out right NOW!!! It isn’t, but you’d better believe I’ll be waiting. And NOT patiently!” So I’m screwed there! I’m hoping by the time the third book does come out, and I have no idea when that will be, that people haven’t forgotten about the series.
What’s your next book, in 30 words or less?
SJ: A truly unique and unorthodox love story titled, Remember. Daniel and Grace met late in their lives and fell madly in love. Ten years later, Grace is losing her battle with cancer. Just before she passes, Daniel expresses how he wished they had more time, how he wished he met her when they were young. To which she replies, “But you did, my love. Don’t you remember?” And then she’s gone.
Where can readers connect with you?
Lucifer, Beelzebub, the Lord Of Darkness, or whatever the devil you call him, lost his rag and bellowed in a voice so deep it cracked the building’s foundations. He pulled a lever and a hole opened up in the floor. We lost our footing and fell. A long fall. In the distance AC/DC filled the void. I pulled a bottle of bourbon. Shervin shrugged his shoulders and produced a pair of tumblers. I poured, we clinked our glasses, and played air guitar to our fiery Bombadil-free eternity.