Writers’ Workshop – Gary MacLennan

What’s not to like about Gary, he is quietly spoken and a very polite young man, with a hidden talent for the absurd, an appreciation for the art of tattooing, and he’s a musician.

Gary is one of John’s classmates on the UHI Creative Writing course.  He joined us on the podcast recently, explaining his journey to writing via his love of DC Thompson comics, in particular, stories of Batman and Spiderman and the fantasy, science fiction, and comedic novels of Neil Gaiman, John M Grier, and Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan and, oh, and of course, Greek Mythology.

John mentioned if Gary had thought to study the Epic novels module, which covered the Greek and Roman epics, but Gary fancied screenwriting instead, as his ambition is to write a screenplay and he has a project in the offing.  He is also a big fan of Youtube’s mystery thriller series whereby subscribers can influence a storyline by adding to the script themselves as it proceeds.

And in already being a big fan of Greek Mythology, Gary is teaching himself to play the Lyre, like his hero, Achilles.  How fabulous.  Gary saved up to buy his own lyre and did we know that there are ‘how to play the lyre’ courses via Youtube?  Who knew! 

Gary also plays guitar and the ukelele, particularly the songs of The Beatles.  He couldn’t be persuaded to play us something, but we had a laugh when he said that his favourite film is ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, as this is one of our family’s favourite films.  And so is the Beatle’s film ‘Help’, which gives our youngest daughter nightmares to this day – especially (spoiler alert) the moment that Ringo is going to get a finger cut off because of the valuable ring he is wearing.  Gary laughed.

However, ‘Help’ is tame in comparison to Gary’s wonderful short story, ‘Tattoos and Contracts’.  It is a wonderful example of the absurd where the character is in a situation that has no inherent purpose in life and is caught in meaningless actions and events that call into question existential concepts of truth producing dark humor and satire.    I would encourage everyone to read this.

Tattoos and Contracts

And everything, even the smallest detail, would be written on my heart forever. In hindsight, getting every word of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables tattooed on my heart probably wasn’t one of my best ideas, but here I am, getting ready to have ink etched onto a vital organ.

Naturally, most tattoo parlours wouldn’t allow it – it was too dangerous, they’d say, I could die. Unfortunately, a bet was a bet, and Tibet is Tibet, so no matter how many parlours and independent artists rejected me, I couldn’t turn it down.

It was just that damn contract. I was always told, never trust Spooky Dave, creator of spooky contracts, but I didn’t listen.

‘Trust me.’ He would demand. ‘You can do that. Trust me.’

I had to befriend him. I had to make the bet that bananas were yellow. I had to sign the contract. I had to endure his torments of waving an unripened banana in front of my face.

‘Look.’ His voice breaking through fits of laughter, raspy and mockingly. ‘A banana that isn’t yellow.’

The torture of these thoughts plagued every waking moment for the past two weeks as I hunted for anyone to tattoo the entire novel onto my heart.

It took nearly a month, but I eventually found someone insanely willing to do it. Her name was Insane Brady, she was a friend of Spooky Dave, which caused me to question where people got their self-descriptive first names and if there was a group for them to meet. Obviously, this was even worse than the contract. With all the surgery tools, animal hides and trophies for best taxidermist of the year, I had a small suspicion that Insane Brandy wasn’t a real licenced tattoo artist, but she showed me her certificate, which was as legit as it could be, or so she told me. So, with no other choice than to be permanently having to dance whenever I had to walk if I didn’t do it – a feat that was exhausting after three weeks, never mind the decades I still have left to live – I lay on her chair which it was clear she had stolen from a doctor’s surgery, ready to get this over with.

Insane Brandy pulled out a butcher’s knife, ready to open my heart and get started, which I stopped in a panic.

‘Wait. Aren’t you going to use anaesthetic?’

‘Don’t worry, weak one,’ she replied, ‘it won’t hurt.’

‘It’s just, I don’t want to see it.’

‘Alright, fine. But I don’t have any gas, I’ll just have to do it the old-fashioned way.’

The last thing I saw before I went under was her large, slightly sharp fist growing ever closer to my face.

I woke up, on the floor, several hours (or maybe days) later. Insane Brandy was curled up on an armchair made up of, what looked like, animal bones (I hoped they weren’t really bones, but after everything else, I wouldn’t be surprised). She was reading Les Misérables, and I hoped it wasn’t the first time she had opened the text).

‘I hope you don’t mind,’ Insane Brandy spoke without looking up from her book, ‘instead of taking a payment from you, I decided to experiment with a new idea I want to start putting into practice. Both went well, so thank you for that.’

‘What do you mean?’ I was nervous in asking.

Insane Brandy only lazily and vaguely gestures above her head.

I reached up and felt the top of my own head, where my hand was greeted with something bony. I prayed it wasn’t the same kind of bones that made up her chair – whether she took my own or gave me more, I couldn’t decide what was the worse idea. I searched for a mirror that wasn’t magic (how many magic mirrors did one woman need? Maybe she was selling them?), but when I couldn’t find one, Insane Brandy handed me a shiny polished silver tray, with a large, regular mirror duct taped to the back of it.

Growing out of my head, were two large antlers, longer than my arms. At least, I thought they were antlers at first glance. Then I noticed the leaf growing out of one of the antler points. It took me far too long to correctly process the fact that there were trees growing out of my head, but it’s not the usual kind of situation you’d think you’d get yourself into after a dodgy deal with the devil (or a devil – Spook Dave had told him that he was worse than a demon, but never responded to Satan). The bony part I felt, was a piece of bone that was slowly being encased in oak bark.

Insane Brandy appeared behind me accompanied by Spooky Dave, laughing so hard it made it difficult for him to put out the small flame that had appeared on the shoulder of his jacket.

‘Well, well.’ Spooky Dave spoke up first. ‘At least you know how to keep up your end of a deal. Now, if you can go a year with these trees growing out, as a favour to Insane Brandy for all her hard work, I’ll get rid of both the trees and your new tattoo.’ His gaze stopped at my heart as he held out a contract.

I didn’t hesitate to sign it.