Maverick (Alternative Title: Danny Hackett and the Strangled Wang)

Almost fell to my knees in Waterstones the other day. The big one – Piccadilly Waterstones. Never been in it before. Went on my birthday. Four floors of books! Tens of thousands.

I didn’t look too closely at any books because the to-read pile beside my bed is already out of control and I must stop purchasing them faster than I can read them – but ugh, they’re so pretty. I looked at the front covers and I looked at the people in Waterstones. There were a lot of girls. I put chewing gum in my mouth and put my headphones in my ears so as not to look too bookish: I wanted anyone who looked at me to understand that I’m the sexy kind of reader, a maverick in a denim jacket reading a dog-eared paperback with one hand while twirling a pen around the fingers of the other – not a sweaty terrified bookworm poring over a hardback about trolls.

No offense to any sweaty terrified bookworms. I’ve read a lot of books about trolls in my time. I even wrote one.

Bookshops are weird. I get frustrated in them. I feel I don’t belong, and that’s annoying because I really ought to belong in there. I write, after all. I am a writer, I have devoted most of my adult life to writing. I read all sorts, I geek out over words (but in, like, a sexy way). But when I go to book shops I am angered by all the proper book people, the ones who can sit and read a whole book in a fucking day. They annoy me because they make me feel inferior because it takes me ages to read anything. My priorities are not a set, ordered list, but a wild stormy word-cloud that can change without warning. Sure I cosy up with a book every now and then, but then I read like four pages and then my brain goes ‘hmm maybe you should hoover’ and then I go get the hoover and begin to tidy my room but then while tidying I find an old photo album and I go ‘aww’ and sit on the floor and reminisce. For three hours. Then I go and make dinner.

I also find bookshops irksome because I can’t help but compare myself to all the actual published authors in there. I mean! Every single person, every book on every shelf, is someone who had my dream and fucking did it. And here I am: not doing it. I’m trying, of course, but it’s taking ages and I’ve no idea if the book I’ve spent four years working on has any literary merit or is even marketable. I keep changing my mind. As I work on it these days – currently on the fourth, and hopefully final, edit – I keep returning to the same question: would I feel I’d gotten my money’s worth if I paid for this? Is it moving enough – entertaining enough? What am I actually giving people? I’m terrified that anybody should pay for it, read it, and feel ripped off. That’s landlord behaviour: everything I stand against.

The book is hard because it’s less slapdash than World Hangover. On here I can do whatever I want – who gives a shit. Look at this:

This is my little world and I can be weird because nobody pays to be here – there’s no obligation for it to be good*. My book, however, needs to read well and have, sigh, ‘mass appeal’. In striving to make it so, when I read it back it seems far less appealing than when I’m free to just boot off and fuck about. What to do. What to do.

*(I still worry about it being good actually, but whatever)

I think I’d care less if the book was going to be put out as a simple PDF. Nobody gives a hoot about PDFs. But a proper word book, a book with paper pages – eesh. Scary. If by some miracle it gets published and I one day am able to hold it in my hands – beautifully designed cover, nice blurb, lil cheeky author pic of me vaping while lying down – I can just imagine myself opening it to a random page, reading a sentence and cringing so hard I turn into a mushroom.

Writers are meant to be honest – they’re meant to bare their soul. I did this happily when I was younger, but as the years go by and my mistakes and regrets stack up, I’m finding myself increasingly drawn to privacy. The more I learn about life, the more wise it seems to simply shut up. And there’s the privacy of others to consider, too – my book is about things that actually happened, and real people. Friends of mine. I intend to change all names, of course, but still – is there a moral issue there?

Everybody works for a living, everybody has a product to sell or a service to provide. We all know this. Yet for a writer, it seems the product is your own memories. And isn’t that just a bit sacrilegious? Must everything be turned into entertainment, a product to sell, a money-making scheme? Sometimes I think the most noble thing any artist could do is refuse any money ever. But then, like, I want a pension. I’d like a holiday, too, if it’s not too much to ask. And a massive fuck-off house and a horse to ride around on. 

The other difficult thing about the book is that, originally, it had a happy ending. And when I wrote it initially, that happy ending rang true: I was still living it. By now, however, that happy ending is four years in the past, and I’ve been sprinting blindly through the smoking battlefield of life – flak busting the air, muddy puddles, arms flailing, mouth going ‘aaaah’ – basically ever since. So it feels a bit disingenuous to end the book with ‘and we all lived happily ever after’ when I know damn well I incinerated that happy ending not two years down the line.

I kind of want to start a new book. I have a few ideas. I thought the Berlin Diaries could make a good little novel: it has a nice classical trajectory to it. Young naïve person arrives in new amazing world, discovers a fantastical new family, gets in too deep, it all falls apart, he goes a bit insane, obligatory ‘Luke Skywalker dangling from the bottom of Cloud City’ segment, and finally he finds a new equilibrium and leaves the wonderland behind with bittersweet memories and some new wisdoms. I dunno. It could be interesting – and most of it’s already written. But at the same time I don’t really feel comfortable writing about myself anymore – at least, not outside of World Hangover, which is a safe little garden because so few people even know it exists. Scary to write about yourself. Makes me feel naked.

I also began writing out potential chapters for a book which I’ve decided to call ‘Gallivanting’ (which is a very good word). This would be a series of humorous essays (some lifted directly from here) about various outrageous, surreal, foul or poignant things that have happened to me across my ten years of travel. I’m talking: the white horse in Fiji, the meeting with Thor in Kathmandu, all the nudity and blood of Annie’s 23rd birthday – that sort of thing. I reckon I could bust this one out pretty fast. Six months – new novel? And yeah it’s only essays, not narrative, but David Sedaris does it and everyone likes him well enough, so.

I thought about all this as I walked around Waterstones. I picked up a couple of books at random and scanned their prose to see if they were shit (which would have made me feel better about my own writing). Irritatingly, the snippets I read were very good. I put them back on the shelf with a little nose-sigh.


Anyway, it’s been a bit of a weird, free-form article, this one, so let’s finish with some old-school Dan-getting-fucking-humiliated action.

After an hour of browsing Waterstones, I went to the bathroom to take a dump, because – look, there aren’t many public loos around London alright? You’ve got to go when you have the chance. When that was all done, I stood up, left the cubicle, washed my hands and went back out into the shop. So far, so fine.

I put my headphones in my ears. They’re wired, not Bluetooth – I prefer wired because I know I’d just forget to charge the other ones. I pulled my phone out of my pocket and plugged in my headphones. My intention was to call my younger brother, so that he might help soothe my angsty book-thoughts. Then I felt a very strange sensation.

I raised my phone to unlock it, and a sharp pain jolted my penis.

I was halfway down the staircase at this moment – aloft, above all the quiet readers and the pretty book women. I paused, lowered my phone. The sensation stopped.

I took another step and raised my phone once more and– YOW.

“The fuck?” I mouthed, discreetly looking down at my groin. Well, as discreetly as you can when you’re standing head and shoulders above a crowded room.

With a surge of fear, I saw the problem: having kept my headphones in while I went to the bathroom, the cord of them had come to rest in my boxer shorts. When I’d pulled them up again, I’d unknowingly trapped a length of the wire in my underpants. And not just in my underpants: in a tight noose around my hampton.

I immediately pulled my denim jacket closed and hurried down the stairs to the shop floor. I gave the wire a tug as I walked and – OW, SHIT – it did nothing. I pretended to look at a shelf of books, hoping against hope that nobody would notice the strange, upset-looking man with both his earphones and mobile plugged directly into his pants. Another tug – BASTARD. Nothing. I needed to be careful. If I tugged too hard the wire would be freed, but it might well take my knob with it – yanked straight up, over the band of my jeans and out into the open air of Waterstones. I couldn’t risk exposing my johnson to the bookworms.

Widening my stance and crouching a little, I realised I needed to work counter-intuitively. I fed more cord into my underpants, my hands working feverishly down below while up top my face remained placid, squinting intellectually at a splendid hardback copy of Pride and Prejudice. This added length gave just enough slack for blood flow to resume, and with the noose loosened I made my way quickly to the exit, timing my panicked yanks so that they’d be hidden behind passing book displays and cardboard cutouts of Percy Pig.

Finally, with a triumphant ‘GAH’, the cord of my headphones sprang loose above my waistband. I quickly ran my hands over my groin to make sure nothing else had come loose, and made a beeline for the exit. You win this round, sweaty bookworms. Maverick indeed.

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