PUBLISHERS OF LITERARY FICTION SINCE 1983
Cover design: Marie Lane
This fine comic novel is set in the Soviet Union circa 1983, and follows two shameless fraudsters – very much forerunners of the present day Russian gangsters who are all the rage these days – as they search high and low throughout the Soviet Union in search of the essential ingredients that are needed to make up the renowned Yaroslavl pickled cucumber. Yes, pickled cucumber. And they only have a very short time to convert a factory from making knitted jumpers to producing pickled cucumbers before it is inspected by the Ministry. The novel shows how, under a repressive system of government, it is very hard for the average person to remain honest. It is even harder for our heroes, who must face down the triple threat of jealous rivals, the mysterious Guild Of Master Picklers and the humble pickle worm. Throughout these escapades, they keep up their spirits by inventing new ways to insult the intelligence of each other and of anyone else who will listen. A lovely satire then and a romp to the heart of the Soviet empire.
I owe everything to my PDA and a laptop with a Brummie accent. Five years ago, I was diagnosed with the snappily-titled persistent migraineous visual phenomena. Imagine if everything you could see looked like it had been recorded on a badly worn VHS tape. Now add in a touch of vertigo. That's me.
Strange conditions lead to strange writing styles. In my case, I tap away furiously on the virtual keyboard of my PDA, which I hold about two inches from my nose. This position is ideal for signalling to any onlookers that I am involved in a highly dramatic and critically important endeavour which temporarily prevents me from participating in the outside world. For those who want to try it at home, please be warned that excessive tapping can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome.
The best time of day is early morning, when my brain is not awake enough to edit the ideas that bubble up from who-can-say -where. My eyes will not focus on the words I have just written, so I am never tempted to interrupt my flow by looking back. The PDA even tries to predict my words as if I was writing a text message. If I start to write my surname, it suggests 'weirdo'. Luckily I have a thick skin, and have only smashed one PDA to date.
I can only sustain my efforts for a 25 minute stretch. By a happy coincidence, when Miles Davis decided to switch to formless electric noodling in the early 1970s, he also decided that 25 minutes was about his limit. I have listened to his amazing musical soup so often while writing that I now hear it in my dreams, which may also last for 25 minutes.
Twenty-five minutes is such a perfect length of time that I will happily stop mid-sentence when the sand runs out. As I never have time to finish what I start, I never face the dreaded blank page when I begin my daily writing sprint. Working in such short bursts keeps my ideas fresh and also helps ward off occupational hazards such as boredom and self-loathing. I almost think that it should be mandatory.
They tell you to write about what you know. I prefer to write about what I don't know, only to discover later that I did know it after all. Made in Yaroslavl deals, as so many novels do, with a terrible crisis in the Soviet pickled cucumber industry. The management of Soviet factories appears nowhere on my CV. Once I had completed Made in Yaroslavl, I realised that I was in fact highly qualified to write the book. When I grew up in Salford in the 1970s, the high-rise estates and concrete shopping parades would have made any Russian city-dweller feel right at home. A number of my ancestors fell foul of the Russian authorities. I am also very keen on pickled cucumbers. As they say, write about what you know.
I use my laptop for the intensive editing required to stitch all my fragments together. Like many visually impaired people, I use a screen-reader to read out everything on the screen in the accent of my choice. I choose West Midlands. Hearing my words spoken aloud helps me to identify howling errors and clunky dialogue. If I ever write about a talking laptop from Walsall, get ready for the most grittily realistic dialogue you've ever read.