Socrates Adams hits notes of absurdity and tenderness at the same time: A physical connection means that an intellectual and emotional connection will follow soon afterwards. We are so close to having rapport, Ian. You can almost taste our rapport
Socrates Adams, Everything's Fine, Transmission Print, 2012.
"Overall… this is a highly enjoyable and assured debut. It is also testament to the powers of dedication and enthusiasm of independent publishers: Transmission Print is a one-man operation publishing one book a year, yet this dust-jacketed paperback is so lovingly produced that it puts most of the offerings of the big publishers to shame. The text is clear, the paper crisp, and the novel a joy to both hold and read – the perfect tonic next time you pull a sickie from the office." - The Manchester Review
"Released at the beginning of the year, Everything’s Fine by Socrates Adams is a thrilling debut novel. Published by Transmission Print, Adams’ novel fits squarely in the ‘alt-lit’ scene. It’s a tribute to the independent publishing world as Transmission is a one-man outfit that only produces one book per year. If they continue to select books of this quality, then they’ll surely be around for a while.
At times full of self-deprecating humor and riddled with doubt and other times full of poignant beauty and wit, this is a solid contribution to the burgeoning alt-lit scene that has exploded in recent years on the internet. Images of Donald Barthelme wrung through my skull as I devoured this relatively easy, yet utterly rewarding, read. It’s also comparable with some of Tao Lin’s fiction on the most surface of levels (namely the sparse prose, short sentences, and repetitive, lyrical quality) but, upon closer inspection, I believe Adams grounds his text with more of a human touch, breathing life into his characters, thus giving them a more three-dimensional feel.
The narrator, Ian, is a hapless man, a modern take on the everyman. Partially as the result of outside forces, such as his demeaning job selling tubes, and his own insistence on leading a fulfilling life in an otherwise purposeless day-to-day existence, make for an intriguing character sketch.
His main job is take a tube home with him and look after it, something his boss, the man who demoted him to the position of “Tiny Shit Head.” He soon names it Mildred, and becomes increasingly obsessed with its care. Paranoia meets the mundane the quirky is thrown up against the unremarkable and the result is a richly textured novel that is about much more than Ian’s daily struggles.
The dream of a holiday spent in the French/Italian Alps continues to appear throughout the book, almost serving as Ian’s guiding light, his main reason for existence, a chance to escape his boring work life that is slowly consuming.
At the core, I suspect, is the fight to carve out a special nook of humanity in an ever-increasingly sterilized world. The market has seemingly already been corned in literature about the alienated urban male, yet Adams’ provides a fresh view by linking it with the irrationality of corporate ambition. Ian, for all of his idiosyncrasies, is the perfect conduit for this message as his intelligence and humor shine through and become relatable despite some of the more absurd sections of the book.
For me, the same things that make this book on the verge of greatness are the very things that keep it grounded, weighed down merely as a solid first offering ripe with potential. The repetitive style of many of the sentences, often told, in short, spare sentences, left me in a bit of a trance part way through the novel, almost lulling me to sleep. But, by the end, it’s clear that this is the author’s intention as it reflects Ian’s monotonous life.
Splitting the narration between Ian and Mildred, by reversing the lens through which this tale is told, allows Adams more freedom to delve into the comic undertones of the tale while not forsaking the more serious sections. As with most successful black comedies, there is tenderness underneath Adams’ bountiful wit and sarcasm, barely visible at first but gaining power as the story unfolds.
Maybe the best way to describe the book is to take directly from it, to heed its advice that “All human interaction is sales.”
The epilogue, more specifically, the final few lines, delivered a feeling that had been bubbling just under the surface for the entirety of the book. “Like a dream, my existence continues. Perfect, unchanging. No beginning, no end.” Simple yet insightful, its clarity in message and tone sums up the book in way that hints at a methodical plan. One that is executed almost to perfection throughout as the reader is sucked in to Ian’s world only to be spit back out again at the end, left wondering about their own existence, and the ultimate value of it.
Everything’s Fine is a sophisticated novel and highlights Adams as a talent to watch. It’s not everyday that I come across a debut novel that is so sure of itself, so comfortable in its own skin. The refreshing quality of a young author maintaining his vision throughout the text, to create an overall entertaining and thought provoking read, is a rare gem nowadays. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for his sophomore offering.—Patrick Trotti
"In his first novel, Socrates Adams doesn't seem that bothered about giving you an easy ride. Yes, there's the humour, a requirement for the 'alt lit' canon, and the thread with which he pulls you into his yarn, to have you wince for his characters and cringe through the situations they create for themselves. But it's not the laughs that make this debut an impressive one.
It's the mixture of everyday melancholy and absurdity rendered relatable, even controllable, which makes this a worthwhile journey into the mind of this 'everyman'. Not that Adams' protagonist, the suitably named Ian, is quite an 'everyman'. It's just his circumstances that make him that way; working a demeaning job, striving for superfluity to fill a purposeless existence, functioning as a mechanism in a sewage system that floods muck onto everyone involved.
Ian's job is to sell tubes but he is hopelessly failing to meet his targets, thus his condescending, alpha male boss demotes him to the position of 'Tiny Shit Head'. His boss gives him a tube that he must look after, to treat it like a daughter. He names his tube Mildred. As you can probably tell, events slowly become colourfully demented, much as Ian does, through malnutrition, obsession and confusion. Written in delirious, panicky sequences reminiscent of Hamsun's Hunger with added fridge-licking paranoia, Adams is more jaunty and aware of the humour of his situations, and opportunities to carefully and expertly place amusingly desperate exclamation marks.
Narrated by Ian, and sometimes Mildred, our Tiny Shit Head divides his time between work, looking after his tube, completing online surveys, quivering from constant surveillance by his boss, and saving for a holiday in the French Alps. He also meets a girl, Sandra.
Though, from this description, this plot may seem knowingly "quirky", it is a much darker and more satisfying read than most that carry such a cursed tag. And its success, though demonstrating some imaginative design, is more in its style than its story.
For one, Ian's obsession with "rapport building" is one of many through-lines in the novel. It's a running joke (or accurate observation) of Adams' that "all human interaction is sales"; selling yourself, selling a product, all human movement some knowing or unknowing avenue for manipulation, a sentiment which fits in well with the creepy modern resurgence in neuro-linguistic programming, 'life coaching' and other cultish money holes. It works also as an effective turning point for Ian, and the realisation that his entire life is controlled by inculcated desire for one thing after another.
But this 'realisation' isn't just lamented, or moaned about, or even stated plainly. It is, if anything, disguised by the narrative. Going with this subtle approach to an idea that many have tackled, there isn't any of the 'bleeding heart' histrionics that can be common to this territory. Adams understands: noticing these things doesn't make him unique, only human, and his writing shines because of it.
While it's never made completely obvious whether Ian is really being observed by his boss (or whether the voice of his boss is himself, or if he really works selling tubes, or if he's just waiting for repeated death, or if he's actually in a coma, or etc.) Adams' message couldn't be clearer, or more welcome.
It seems to be about becoming deliberately human, or human deliberately, rather than existing merely by accident, or for someone else's misuse. It's to go against the flow of this crappy avalanche. And the paradoxically humanising aspect of merely realising you are in a brutally dehumanising job.
Adams reads as if he has worked at his writing enough to cut out the unnecessary stuff. The removal of a yearning heart and an over-emotional façade. His is a novel that is quite direct and always going somewhere. Only occasionally toward the end can we see the writer's voice slip and push plot over character to develop the direction of his story. In these moments some lines do seem superfluous, some sequences stretched out to bulk up any sudden changes in tone.
This goes a little way in countering the originality of the opening pages, of which, at the outset particularly, small flashes appear on every page, building to create a whole that is wholly original, even if somewhat familiar in structure, and perhaps rushed in its surprisingly hopeful ending.
The epilogue rescues this.
Everything's Fine seems the work of a depressive staving off depression by writing. That seems to be the feeling left by the final page, and marked all throughout, in a familiar message refreshed; that perhaps in creation we might find a place in all of this destruction. Even if that purpose and that position is to transfer sewage from one place to another, muck flushing over the open eyes of art. A heartening message, no doubt. And a beautifully eloquent one made in a near-perfect epilogue. Creation is a conduit through which life/death passes through. Or maybe it's the other way round." - Declan Tan
"In America we would call the lead character Ian of Everything’s Fine ‘work douche.’ Ian is a person that loves his job, that believes in the company he works for, and believes as the novel says, “My company has the desires and needs of its staff at heart.” The lead character reminds me of the people I have worked with at restaurants over the years: fellow employees that got paid less than 10 dollars an hour but still worshiped the company they worked for. There was a cook at one place who seriously wore a Red Lobster coat around, and was very proud of it. Red Lobster gives out rings when you reach 20 years and I have seen people wear those rings with pride. I have seen low ranked employees or as Socrates Adams calls them “tiny shit heads” go up to the bosses and ask about other restaurants, talk deeply with the managers about the remodeling that is going to occur, about the new meal promotions, and how Red Lobster will advertise them. The Ian character is very real, they exist, we all know them.
Ian is that human being that grows up in a highly technocratic developed democracy that ends up working for a giant corporation with a huge bureaucratic structure, but this is the fate of most of us, we don’t end up farming, hunting, or doing any primitive activities that require any sense of adventure or human spirit. We are forced by circumstance and the need for money to beg giant corporations to let us work for them, and if we don’t fit into the mode of ‘good worker’ we are sent to the “tiny shithead department.”
The first person narrative is very cognitive, to me a very accurate view of stream of consciousness. The story isn’t told in first person but in thoughts Ian is having, for example when Ian gets beat up, Ian thinks, “He pushes me really hard and I stumble backwards, apologising again as I fall. The back of my head hits the pavement and then I am not aware of being there anymore.” Adams could have easily written, “The man pushes me, I fall to the ground. While I was falling I told him I was sorry.” But not saying, “The man,” keeps the Other on the outside, it keeps the Other at a distance. You can feel the push so much better the way he writes it. Focusing on Ian’s head hitting the pavement is remarkable to me, I feel that Socrates Adams took a lot of time and really visualized the scene in his head. The writing is not poetic or beautiful, I think what matters here, is the author’s ability to visualize what it would mean to get into a physical altercation concerning his character Ian.
There is a large statement made about what it means to live in the postmodern era, how humans have studied human psychology to the point that we know why we do everything. When Ian’s boss talks to him he says, “I think it is time for your sales training, Ian. I am confident in you. I think you will be able to build rapport very effectively, Ian. You might have noticed I have put my hand on you shoulder. That is because I am building rapport with you. A physical connection means that an intellectual and emotional connection will follow soon afterwards. We are so close to having rapport, Ian. You can almost taste our rapport.” Adams illustrates here and in many other places in the novel how postmodern humans are equipped with knowledge of psychology, and that we are very aware at all times of verbal and non-verbal behavior and what it means. If you have gone to college, if you have studied basic psychology, sociology and consumer behavior, hell, even if you have watched Dr. Phil enough, you have a basic understanding of how humans operate.
Before in human history postmodernism was restricted basically to a novel knowing that it was a novel, but now, humans know that they are living a life. That everything they do and say is just psychology and can be recorded and analyzed by psychologists and sociologists. Which leads to this awesome passage by Adams, “The problem with humans is they don’t know what they were made to do. None of them knows what their natural state is. That is why so many of them roll about and cause a nuisance and end up not doing anything throughout their entire life.” Adams hits on the problem of the modern person living in a highly developed technocratic country perfectly, humans living in countries like America, England and Japan don’t know what they are supposed to do, but at the same time given a million options of things to do. Now, I personally assume it is because there millions of people living in those countries, and to make those countries function they have to create huge corporations fitted with giant bureaucracies, capitalism and corporations are just the end result of having millions of people living in one place. I think Adams understands this, he doesn’t proclaim revolution against the system, only that it is stifling to the human spirit. At the end Ian leaves the modern world and enters into the wild untamed wilderness of the Italian Alps. Ian finally escapes the shitty world of corporate nothingness. But Adams shows that Ian does not know how to live in the wild. The modern man has lost their ability to survive in the forest, modern man has lost their ability to be natural. I think that Adams is making a Nietzschean statement here, that Europe is a continent full of The Last Man, who seek comfort and warmth instead of adventure and danger. Ian does not care any longer about comfort and pleasure, but wants to prove himself as a hardy individual that wants to show evidence he has a reason to exist. Sadly there is no reason to exist for Ian." - Noah Cicero
"Socrates Adams’ debut, Everything’s Fine, concerns a man called Ian and a tube called Mildred. That’s right. A tube called Mildred. Ian is a sort of corporate drone. He works in sales. He isn’t very good. We first meet him sat across from his boss as his boss tells him off for not being very good. It has something to do with the fact that his actuals fall short of his targets. You know how it is. His boss informs him that he has a new job title: Tiny Shit Head. And a new office in the bowels of the building. His new job appears to watch numbers change on a screen. Ian is also given a plastic tube to look after. His boss tells him that the plastic tube is both a plastic tube and his baby. Periodically, his boss sends him text messages or pager messages informing him to look after Mildred. It turns out there is a camera in Mildred. There are also several cameras in Ian’s house. His boss is keeping a close eye on him.
Everything’s Fine is then a little odd. It’s written in shortish sentences and comprised of shortish sections that more often than not come from Ian’s perspective but sometimes come from Mildred’s perspective (Mildred doesn’t like Ian – Mildred could be being voiced by Ian – he does seem to have a few self-esteem issues). Like Daren King, Socrates Adams writes in that faux-naif tone that at once disarms the reader (because you feel sort of sorry for Ian, him being the dufus he is) and suggests Adams is far cannier than you would give the narrator credit for. Having seen Socrates read excerpts from the book a couple of times, I know that its humour can slay a crowd – although I think some of that humour may come from Socrates’ delivery. I also think that there are times, particularly in the early portions of the novel – when Ian becomes a sales person for a strange product called AquaVeg, for example – when an introductory sentence or a short paragraph could help to direct the reader a little better. There is occasionally an awkward obtuseness when you’re expected to make certain leaps (presumably Ian is doing online surveys for money, presumably Ian is a bit delirious from lack of food, presumably we are expected just to go with this imaginary snail) – that an odd line or two of help would offset.
But these are minor quibbles. Everything’s Fine is an unusual and unsettling book, both comic and surreal. Adorned as it is with plaudits from the great and the good, from bright up and comers like Tom Fletcher and Jenn Ashworth to Mancunian stalwarts like Nicholas Royle, I’m sure the future is assured for Mr Adams. The book also has a great cover which recalls Richard Millward’s excellent Apples.
Any Cop?: An auspicious debut and the kind of book you can rattle through in an afternoon (although you might find it stays with you a wee while after that." -Bookmunch
"Everything’s Fine, from Rhos based indie publisher Transmission Print, is Socrates Adams’ debut novel. A new publisher, Transmission Print can be credited with putting together an immaculately presented book; immediately striking is the dust jacket cover, a perfect accompaniment to the relentlessly deadpan humour that exists throughout the book. Those already familiar with Adams’ writing will recognise the tone immediately. Readers new to his work will quickly find themselves enjoying his dry, absurdist take on corporate culture and materialism.
“Shirt tie shoe jacket. Here I am. Sitting nervously in a room on the top floor of the office. This is my boss’ floor. I am waiting for my superior to come and assess my performance over this last month. My performance has not been good. My performance has been bad. The assessment room is mad of marble and gold. There is a platinum fountain full of champagne. There are gargoyles pointing out from the top corners of the room. The table is covered with fur and has elephant tusks for legs.”
The protagonist is Ian, a tube salesman who, despite his fascination with ‘building good rapport’, is not very good at selling things. As a consequence, he is given a tube to look after. The tube is called Mildred. Ian talks to Mildred. Mildred talks back to Ian. This, I imagine, is in Ian’s head, although the reader can never quite be sure given how their relationship ultimately pans out. Quickly, Mildred begins to take over Ian’s life and, monitored through in built tube-CCTV, Ian is subject to continuous harassment from his boss.
Alongside Mildred and rapport building, Ian’s other great mania is his desire to experience the joys of the French Alps, although an infatuation with Sandra, his travel agent, threatens to leave him with the apparently far less attractive prospect of the Italian Alps. Aside from the central threads, there are some fantastically funny moments. In a segment that brought to mind Fitzgerald’s ‘Pat Hobby’ stories, Ian offers his services as a freelance copywriter:
“Rare recruitment… provides a personal personnel (these two words need to be carefully enunciated by the actor/actress so that this endearing pun is not wasted) service that is impossible to impersonate. We will find you work by exaggerating your level of experience. (graphic, 3d rotating text ‘Experience not required’)”
The payoff here is both very funny and crushingly inevitable.
The narrative is refocused and given a renewed drive when Ian is finally able to afford to visit foreign shores. As seems mandatory for Ian, events do not go exactly as planned. Adams’ has spoken of being influenced by Hamsun, and this was apparent, although not in a derivative sense, in the descriptions of Ian’s extreme hunger.
“I am hungry. I feel like my insides are cold and thin again. I am in pain, almost constantly, from my stomach. I imagine that a creature is living inside me and is eating my organs, I imagine it crawling around in my guts and nibbling at the soft, warm intestines and kidneys and liver and bones. I imagine it sucking all of the nutrients out of me until I am a thin, grey piece of paper in the shape of a man. I am sometimes convinced I can feel its hooked feet skewering the flesh inside my body and ripping it apart. I imagine it having a bath in my hot, red blood. I imagine it using my lungs as a sauna. I feel like parts of me may stop working any time soon.”
Adams brings ‘Everything’s Fine’ to a satisfying and thoughtful end, the epilogue working especially well. Adams, having worked in recruitment, is writing from what can only be pretty painful real life experience, but his ability to seamlessly work in the bizarre and surreal is clear evidence of his skill as a writer." - Richard Owain Roberts
"Ian works in sales. Unfortunately Ian is not very good at sales. Ian is not very good at knowing how bad he is at sales. Ian does, however, think he does everything in the best way possible and so is convinced he is good at everything. His sales director has a review of Ian's performance and chooses to humiliate and shame Ian into improving.
I had read that this book is funny. I want to take time to explain how I found it. At first I found it tragic. In my years I have dealt with salesmen and seen how some disdain targets. I have seen sales directors tear their hair out trying to get salesmen to try to take targets seriously. I have heard of sales directors trying to humiliate salesmen into improving their results.
Similarly I have seen employees who think they are the best at their jobs and won't be counselled otherwise in order to improve. Worse, to my discredit, I have employed them! Ian is the office nightmare and I felt I knew him.
However Adams keeps taking him and his sales director one further step towards the precipice and away from reality and so it becomes more and more fun as the story progresses. Is there hope for Ian? Will the worm turn? Will the worm take a totally different direction?
This book is a great deal of fun and, while it is not 'laugh out loud' it is funny, tragic and most of all thought provoking and deeper than you realise. I did REALLY, REALLY enjoy this book in a happy, tragic, thoughtful way." - The Mole
"Charting the travails of a call-centre salesman suffering under a demented boss, Socrates Adams’ enviable debut takes its place in a line of bleak workplace satires that runs from ‘Bartleby’ through to Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry, something like Douglas Coupland but far more surreal and far, far funnier.
The novel begins with Ian, the hapless narrator, punished by his boss (a man who ‘would love to play rugby with the heads of human beings’) for his recent sales figures. The bizarre punishment is being forced to imagine a tube is his baby. He must carry it with him at all times and nurture it. Whenever he fails to do so, his boss, as Argus-eyed as Orwell’s Big Brother, sends him a text, even when he’s in the shower.
From this weird beginning, Ian’s life spirals downward into a nightmare existence whose humour gets blacker and blacker. His job title changes to Tiny Shit Head. He’s forced to work in a different office, manacled to the desk and given the task of counting numbers on a screen. He gets pulled into a sales scam for ‘AquaVeg’, a miracle food supplement that tastes of fish. He goes without food to try and save enough money for a trip to the French Alps, but, overcome by desire for the travel agent, lets her book him one to the Italian Alps instead.
Through all of this, he still has to nurse the tube, which he christens Mildred. But what Ian doesn’t know is that Mildred is a conscious object, with a scornfully superior attitude to human beings. Her narrative starts to intrude on Ian’s as she plans her escape to a life where she can fulfil her function of carrying things from one place to another (But she may not know as much as she thinks she does – with a diameter of only 2.5 inches, any plumber would tell her that any dreams of transporting excrement are likely to end up blocked).
The plot and the black comedy are justification enough alone to read it, but it has to be noted that Adams also manages to introduce some pithy observations about the modern world, where, ‘all human interaction is sales’. For, like all the best black comedy, this bleak book does have a certain human tenderness at its heart, as evinced by the (slightly hurried) ending. It challenges us to consider what our lives have become amidst all this technology and idolatry of business. For example, the scene when Ian discovers his boss suspended by wires in front of numerous TV screens has a nightmarish reality that should make every reader in a multi-TV, multi-computer household shudder. There is also some brilliant riffing on business speak, but this will unfortunately go over the heads of anyone who’s ever done an MBA or believes people really do get excited by blue-sky thinking, etc.
If I have one gripe about the book, it’s the slightly repetitive style, which consists mainly of short single-clause sentences that often loop around the same idea to the point of exhaustion: ‘This neighbourhood is not very welcoming. The people around me do not look very welcoming. I do not feel welcome.’ While this style had numerous adepts, and may well be a reflection of Ian’s monotonous existence, I can’t help feeling it soon feels samey, and ignores some of the possibilities of the English sentence. You can pare down and pare down, but after a while the sentences become a deadbeat succession that sacrifices some of the richness of simultaneity. Perhaps Adams realises this too, for the book does have plenty of textual intrusions, ranging from text messages to domestic accounts, sales leaflets to computer screens, but there’s a real sense of relief towards the end of the novel when the comma is allowed in from its exile.
Overall though, this is a highly enjoyable and assured debut. It is also testament to the powers of dedication and enthusiasm of independent publishers: Transmission Print is a one-man operation publishing one book a year, yet this dust-jacketed paperback is so lovingly produced that it puts most of the offerings of the big publishers to shame. The text is clear, the paper crisp, and the novel a joy to both hold and read – the perfect tonic next time you pull a sickie from the office." - Nicholas Murgatroyd
"If, like me, you prefer to dwell in a literary pit of death, despair, angst, alienation, existentialism, crime, philosophy, pornography and narcotics you may agree that funny books are hard to come by. Genuinely funny books, I mean. Not the ones which have a “I cried with laughter” quote on the cover.
When I read Socrates Adams’ debut novel Everything’s Fine I cried with laughter. Not literally – I never cry with laughter. I rarely even laugh out loud. But if I had cried, one eye would be expelling a tear of joy, the other a tear of sadness, sympathy, pathos and pity. It would be a big tear with many layers to it, like a salty onion.
Everything’s Fine concerns the plight of low-level office drone Ian. Ian enthusiastically attempts to sell plastic tubes for a living by “building rapport” with potential customers. Failing to meet his targets, he is one day forced by his merciless boss to take home a piece of plastic tubing and care for it as if it were his firstborn child in order to better understand his product. It’s a task that Ian plunges headlong into, immediately anthropomorphising the tube and doing to all the things one would do to a baby: naming it (‘Mildred’), feeding it, proudly taking it out in a pram public.
Yet for all his dedication to the company whose ranks he hopes to one day rise through and hard effort at building rapport, all Ian really wants are the simple things in life: a trimmer figure and a girlfriend who he can take to the Italian Alps, a geographical location he elevates to almost mythical status in his imagination.
In giving a voice to Mildred the plastic tube, Adams cleverly turns the banal into the extraordinary and forces the reader to view Ian from the other end of narrative telescope. He illuminates precisely what it is that makes us human: desire primarily, but also having to live with the knowledge that death is imminent. It is what separates us from other animals and also plastic tubes, whose life expectancy spans centuries: “The main difference between tubes and humans is that tubes can withstand misery, indefinitely, without going mad,” explains the tube. “Human beings can only take so much disappointment and misery before their minds break apart. That’s because they only have a short amount of time on the planet and because they are made of pink, mushy material.”
Meanwhile, trapped in Ian’s drab life of longing and fatuous sales lingo, all the tube wants to do is return home to the Far East, where it (she) dreams of one day fulfilling its potential by becoming part of a plumbing system. In fact, the plastic tube proves itself to be a more assertive, self-aware and reliable narrator than her surrogate father - and one not devoid of humour:
“I am specifically formulated to resist stress-cracking. I am a polyethylene-lined, rubber-blend, chemical spray and transfer hose. Lightweight, chemical-resistant, high-specification tubing, perfect for any king of liquid transfer.
I will blow your mind.
If you blow air through me onto your mind.
A typical joke a tube might make.”
In this concise novel Adams’ themes include the loneliness of the alienated urban male, the absurdity of corporate aspiration, the aggressive nature of sales-speak and delusions of the individual. His is a style that breathes the poetically skewed surrealist language of Richard Brautigan or Donald Barthelme into the socially awkward workplace dramas in the likes of Peep Show and The Office. It’s a very funny book. Socrates Adams is a funny man.
The name Ian seems perfect for your protagonist. It’s very English, very civil servant – and also rarely used in literature. Did you deliberate over the choice of name?
- No, the name came straight away. In fact, I think before I knew anything about Ian, I knew that his name was Ian. At that time, I didn’t know anyone called Ian. I am very pleased with his name. It makes me think of a very trembly, thin, grey man. That’s why I like it. Someone with a nasal voice. Sorry, Ians.
Ian is trapped at the bottom of a company hierarchy that you suspect he will never ascend. His every move is monitored and he is demoted to a position so lowly his job title is Tiny Shit Head. Kafka-esque and Orwellian are the often-used terms that spring to mind. Yet Ian speaks with an almost glassy-eyed, unerring tone of loyalty to a company that reminds me of those living under the strictest Communist regimes. This is a convoluted way of asking: have you had much direct experience working such shitty jobs?
- Yes. My main horrible job was working as a recruitment consultant. Not only was the job, in my opinion, immoral, but it was target-driven to an almost absurd degree, highly pressurised, and with basically illegally long hours. Part of our training was literally in ‘manipulating people’, and we were told that although we were legally allowed to take two fifteen minute breaks and an hour for lunch, anyone taking more than just ten minutes to stuff food in their mouth would be swiftly disposed of.
The job was so insane that the staff turnover rate was just unbelievable. People would last about two weeks in general, before either being told they were a ‘bad fit’ or they would quit. I would say that in the year and a half I was there, I must have seen around twenty-five new consultants start and finish. This was in an office of around twenty people. Also, the monthly assessments were nothing short of psychologically scarring. I don’t want to go into too much detail, but we had around fifteen to twenty separate targets to hit each month. Missing even one would lead to a bout of really nasty bullying.
Is Everything’s Fine the first novel you have written?
- It’s the first novel I have finished. I started one when I was 16 and got maybe 20,000 words in. Obviously it was awful.
Are there any particular writers who you repeatedly return to for creative inspiration?
- I guess it’s a little boring, but Kafka, and more recently, Knut Hamsun and Daniil Kharms. I find it amazing how modern their work feels. It’s more to do with human nature not really ever changing; people sensitive to the ‘essence’ of humanity will express themselves in a similar way regardless of what time they were/are writing in. Does that make sense? I mean that a ‘contemporary feeling’ is maybe just another way of saying that something is just an honest representation of the way someone feels about being alive - something that will never change in art. Is that even more garbled? Have I gone off-topic?
Yes, but that’s OK. Manchester, where you work and reside, seems to have recently produced a strong batch of new, young writers. I’m thinking of yourself, Chris Killen, Joe Stretch, Jenn Ashworth, Crispin Best. You all seem to have your own distinct voices. Is there a discernible literary scene in Manchester - or have I just imagined it?
- I ended up in Manchester through weird chance - I was travelling around the north of England on a narrowboat with my girlfriend at the time and Manchester was the place we liked most, so we decided to stay here. I think there is a kind of literary scene here - there is a community of friendly people, all trying to produce good work who encourage each other.
I guess the words ‘literary scene’ sort of make you think about gangs of acerbic intellectuals, prowling around coffee shops and smoking each other to death. It’s not like that. It’s just nice, sympathetic people giving advice and support. I also think that the MA programme at Manchester University helped a lot with the creation of this group of people. I also think that the ’scene’ has changed a lot in the last few years, in a nice way. It’s more open, mainly due to websites like Twitter - there is a lot of transparency and it’s easy for new, interested writers to get involved.
You have also starred in an as-yet-unreleased film, Wizard’s Way, that you have made with some of the aforementioned writers. From the excerpts that I have seen I thought you delivered a hilarious performance - especially for a non-actor. Can you tell me a little about the film, and your character Barry?
- It’s a film I’ve made with Chris Killen, Joe Stretch and another friend of mine, Kristian Scott - it’s about what happens to extremely hardcore online gamers when the game they play is shut down. My character is an interesting guy. I don’t want to give too much away because hopefully we should have some sort of announcement to make about this film relatively shortly. Sorry to be coy!
Do you have any future novels planned?
- I’ve finished a second book, tentatively titled A Modern Family, which is about Top Gear, World of Warcraft, the Royal family, painkiller addiction and teenage homosexual lust. I’m trying to find a publisher for it. It’s very very odd and quite different to Everything’s Fine, but I feel really happy about it. I’m trying to write a third novel sort of about a sentient olive tree at the moment.
I find that being interviewed as ‘a published writer’ is not quite as exciting as you imagined it would be when you were an unpublished writer.
- I actually kind of like it, but mainly because I feel like I am just talking to you, maybe, but I feel also, ‘Why would anyone be interested in reading about me - they should just interview their family/friends/lover/whatever, not just some uninteresting weirdo.’" - Interview by Ben Myers
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