"Who in their right mind wouldn't want to read a book by Mark Barry!" (Mary Quallo, St Louis)

"Who in their right mind wouldn't want to read a book by Mark Barry!"  (Mary Quallo, St Louis)
Coming next week - Carla Eatherington

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Rum and (Caustic) Soda: razor-sharp expat Indie writer, Phil Conquest is...Around The Cauldron!

Phil Conquest

This is a long interview.
Pour yourself a cuppa, unwrap a bar of chocolate and take fifteen minutes to read it. It covers a lot of angles you don't often get in Indie author interviews. Many of my regular readers may raise their eyebrows. Many will be glad to have met him. There's not much promo here - except of brilliant writing, something that has probably been neglected by Indie writers who seem obsessed with story, with sales as the only barometer of success or failure.

Phil is an English expat, whose debut novel, Rum Hijack, has been praised by readers, rejected by book bloggers, misunderstood, lauded, cast aside, raved about, shunned by Indies and embraced by an audience starved of original writing.

The dark tale of an angry, tortured, would-be writer with the unlikely name of Inkker Hauser, living in a shambolic, surreal, isolated world, imprisoned by his flat and tortured by writer's block, is eloquently written - majestic in parts - with shades of an Alan Bennett monologue mixed with the madness of Burroughs, the cynicism of Thompson and sprinkled with Kafkaesque nihilism. It's well worth the ridiculously low price he charges on Kindle.

I contacted him on the Wizphone as he shivered in his freezing basement flat somewhere in the snowy North Eastern US. This is the world of the writer, well away from the poodles, chaise longues and dictaphones of the perfumed market chasers, the smug edifices, restored cathedrals and pate de fois gras of the blockbuster merchants. Here's what he had to say.

Buy "Rum Hijack" by Inkker Hauser HERE

Whereabouts in the US do you live? And whereabouts in England did you emigrate from?
I’m currently based in south central Pennsylvania. This year has been a strange deck that’s dealt some weird hands. A jump of state is on the not-too-distant horizon, just working out which, but it will be one extreme or the other: East coast or West coast I don’t mind but preferably with basketball arena within reach. 

I was born in London and grew up just outside of it, in an area with a notorious history of witches and witch hunts.  Up the road from my mum’s house there is still a stake that a ‘witch’ was burnt at. I’ve got a nail I pulled from it, somewhere, one of the ones from the time, those old flat tack-like ones. The local council removed the historical sign from it a decade or so ago. It was so faded you could hardly see it anyway but now the stump just blends in even more. I knew people who grew up and lived in that area for over 30 years and had no clue it was there. I remember reading the small historical plate on it when I was younger and just took it for granted that everyone knew about it. That still amazes me, that something like that is there and people pass it every day and grow up by it none the wiser. A good example of being hidden in plain sight.

What are the big differences between living in the UK and in the US?
The pro’s and cons are equal generally speaking, I think. My main gripe with this country is the healthcare system which is more like organised genocide. Britain’s National Health Service may not be perfect - and I worked for it for 6 years and seen it up close - but people who complain about it don’t realise how lucky they are to have it. 


Alcohol laws are odd but then it varies between states and am used to that now. No prawn cocktail crisps, it seems. Pickled onions are rare.  But I’ll take a bar here, over a pub there, most days. 

Tell us about Inkker Hauser
As a character he’s already almost a decade old. There are several scenes in Rum Hijack which were written 9 years ago. Word for word they are now as they were then: 

the destruction of the computer:
the sawing of the bed: 
the one night stand:
the rant about the local book shop: 
imagining the police searching his flat. 

Originally, while in the grip of what one reviewer referred to as “extreme writers block”, the publishing establishment bore the brunt of his frustrated vitriol. Times have changed. I’ve just altered it so that now it’s aimed at the self-publishing barnyard instead.  

Regarding his actual character, Philip K. Dick used ‘the future’ as the canvas with which he could paint his philosophical and theological theories and ideas. He knew if he set them in a contemporary environment, they would be perhaps too far out for people to accept. 

By designing future-worlds, where things had changed and anything was potentially possible, he built a platform from which he could illustrate his thoughts with better examples and clarity using the environment he created for his thoughts to roam around in.  Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is the obvious example. 

In the world of that book, it was the norm to have synthetic, robot pets. Replicas of animals, due to the scarcity and cost of real animals, which in that world, then spread to experiments in replicating humans, cloning. With that as a device, Dick was then able to roll out his thoughts on what it is to be human, the complexities of human emotions and what is perceived as real and what is not – which were at the core of a lot of his writing. 

Phillip K Dick
The character of Inkker Hauser is like that, in that he gradually creates an environment  for himself – and an image of himself - within his flat, which he thinks will enable him to channel his writing and aid his spiritual evolution while he speculates on the reason for his existence.

For US readers, "flat" = apartment (Ed)

I decided to serialise it into four parts as that makes it more interesting from my own point of view regarding future promoting. It gets old banging the same drum. Four parts with four different titles opens things right up and allows for more mischief making, like the Hijack Girls, with Part One.

There is change also, a shift in mood, with each quarter, so that makes things more fun to play with as well, gives me plenty of angles.

Can you share an extract with us?

It was a humid summer when I moved in. When my moods were low, I would buy ready mixed Margarita and listen to instrumental ambient and angst laden electronic music from the 1980s, while sitting on the ledge of the bay window.  I would sit with my legs straight out, feeling the warm night breeze blowing on me, until I was sleepy enough to slump to the bed - though just as frequently I would pass out in the window, waking up several hours later, cold, legs numb and stiffened, sometimes with my trousers undone. 

I’d lived here less than two months when one morning I received a letter from the Residents Association - or Residents Militia as I’ve called them ever since. It informed me that though I may not be a tenant paying rent and therefore had no landlord to answer to (I sensed bitterness at this), the building did, in fact, have other people living in it.  

The writer of the letter (Head of the Militia) had received from other residents complaints about anti-social behaviours in (and around) flat number one.  Such behaviours included the playing of loud music, the slamming of doors late at night, hammering at three in the morning and yelling and shouting at all hours. He added that he himself had heard and been disturbed by music and shouting on several occasions, and ended by saying again that I should show them some respect, and that if the behaviour persisted there would be no alternative but to call the police.

No alternative, eh?

I’m not afraid of trouble per se; what I don’t want is interference. So I keep an eye on myself. What irritates me is that this has made them think they’ve won, put me in my place.  Thus:  “I don’t hear a sound from him anymore! Quiet as a mouse!  He’s thinking of us now he’s read that well-constructed letter, eh?”

The other residents are mostly aged around fifty and upwards.  I’m the youngest resident, no question, and I’m sure that’s another reason for them being wary of me. Most of the flats are rented, the rest mortgaged.  I’m alone in being having the roof over my head paid off in full, fuelling the animosity toward me. The flat came with a garage; mine is the first in the row, and kept within it is my faded 1974 VW Beetle. The Beetle is the only car I’ve owned and I’m so attached to it I can’t bring myself to get rid of it although the car of my dreams is a 1983 Audi Quattro.  

 Sentimentality aside, in private, though I could never admit it to Mother, I wondered whether or not the Audi would offer more power than I could handle. The aesthetics of the Quattro appeal to me considerably but whenever I think about it and imagine myself behind the wheel of such a beast, I conclude it’s probably best that I continue to trundle the streets in the Beetle

Is Inkker a figment of your imagination or a projection of your personality?

“Well, she’s very much like me but perhaps a bit more sassy! I’d bite my lip before saying some of the things she does! He-he! She’s strong and independent, something I got from my mother, we’re all strong women in my family (snort-snort!), and she’s a very positive person like me but she carries a lot of pain internally which she tries to hide from the world and  - yes - I can identify with that. Some things in life have hurt me and I need to try and be mysterious about it so that you might fall for the lie that my character has depth and that I am a tortured soul and people will find me quite fascinating and remarkable and  - ” so on. =D

Ha ha. You rascal...

Well, first off, I really don’t like rum. That’s my “I’m Walt Disney and I hate kids” ‘fun fact’. Elements of both really, I guess but I suppose Inkker is more projection than anything. I mean, it’s made up with some remote factual bases, like a sex-detail of the one night stand in Rum Hijack for example and the psalm book and lime with the barmaid, but there are some things he may rant about, which annoy me for real but he carries them up to the next rung. 

You know how people make a joke about something to dilute it, a situation, to make it not seem so bad or to put into perspective? If I’m the bad situation then I guess he’s the light. Inkker is a tool for blowing things up. 


"If writing is the fuse, then I’m the fertiliser and he’s the bomb." 

Does your writing have a genre and if it doesn’t, does it matter?
I don’t aim at any genre and don’t understand why so many people are so eager to be pigeon-holed. Why confine yourself and imprison everything you write from the first word? 

Obviously I understand someone wanting to write a story and being aware of where it may land on the shelf but that is different to my mind than putting a target on the book case and aiming for it. 

Warm Bodies. Visionary YA tale or cynical exercise in moneymaking using
genre analysis
 #zombies #zombieapocalypse #romance #YA
#happytears #truelove
If I was a genre hound and wanted to jump a wheel-less bandwagon at the side of the yellow brick road, I’d definitely write about a load of vampires running around with hard-ons. Then hashtag words like #vampire and #romance every other tweet, and excitedly hurl myself indistinguishably into the same #supernatural rabbit warren.

I don’t think it matters to not float toward the shore of a particular genre. Ultimately, someone else will decide what you are anyway even if you aren’t playing up desperately to a particular crowd.  “This belongs there.” and then they feel better because so many people like rules and things to stay inside them. 

If people think I’m wrong saying that, fine, go and ask the exciting #writetip mongers... 

I know you love the #writetip mongers :D

Absolutely love them. Anyway, I could probably tout myself as #mystery writer and no one would even question it anyway. Things just get seen and accepted through ignorance online. Remember those HIV/AIDS pamphlets in the 1980’s, “Don’t Die of Ignorance”?  

E-writing is a similar virus that should have come with a similar warning when it first started making headlines. 

Don’t die of #writetips either.

Are you a writer or an author?
Everyone has their opinion on this, don’t they, regarding themselves? I write in long hand. I write and have written letters to friends, with biros, permanent markers, eye-liner pencils, anything at hand. When have you ever had a short email from me? 

Er, never.

All this doesn’t make me an author. To some, that doesn’t make me a writer, either. I’d consider myself less of an author and more of a writer though, not because I think one tag out-ranks the other but purely on the basis of how I operate. And, going back to the previous question, the people who tout themselves as ‘authors’, it seems, tend to be the genre chasers. I’d rather chase the front end of an on-coming bus. 

Some people about now are probably hoping I do just that and that’s great. Get on that bus as quick as you got on your chosen bandwagon and I’ll run harder into it smiling with my finger up. 

Libertine, Arthur Rimbaud

You and I share a passion for the real writers, the outsiders, the ones who broke the rules and pushed writing to places it has never gone before? Where did this passion come from? 
Yes we do. I wish the answer was quick. I always liked books, from an early age, and English was the one thing at school I was always good at. I sucked at everything else. I’m not trying to say that as some sort of brag or muscle flex, it’s just a fact. I was horrible with a lot of subjects but never English and using language. When I was 7, I had a paperback confiscated from me by my teacher. It was a book for teenagers and I’d had the book for some time at home. To have it taken off me the first time I took it into school really shocked me. She gave it back to me at the end of the day but when she handed it over, she crouched down and got right in my face, eye to eye and with a fascistic snarl, said: “I don’t ever want to see that book in this school again.”  

It was “Grange Hill Goes Wild”. 

Hardly “120 Days in Sodom” is it? That old dog would have given Mr Bronson a run for his wig and money. That incident really got the coal in my mind burning: someone reacted like that over a book? And then there were other things over time too, at school. I had some book that said ‘fuck’ in it a lot. Showed some kid in my class and come break time, he had mouthed off about it and now everyone wanted to see this book I had because of the profanity in it. So, in my young mind, adults/authority disapproved and confiscated, my peers gathered round. This is still Junior school and though I couldn’t articulate the observation regarding the book reactions, I was acutely aware of the contrast and the effect words/book content could have on people. 

Then first year at Senior school, my English teacher see’s I’ve got Stephen King’s ‘Pet Sematary’ on me and she says, “Isn’t that a bit too grown up for someone your age?” (11). 

She looked disgusted and shook her head.  It was just a lot of little things really, how people reacted to books I read, coupled with being competent academically in English well beyond my actual years which was the one positive noted by a lot of my teachers. I was awful at everything else but good with words, as I said, and as one particular teacher found out. I used to get in trouble toward the end of my school years because my English teacher began marking me down as she didn’t believe I was doing my own work, thought I had adult help and so on, so I stopped going to classes altogether. What was the point going if I was being marked down for apparently being too good at the only thing I liked and only thing I happened to be any good at? So I would have detentions at the end of the day for being late or skipping a class. 

 It just built something up in me and once out of school at 16 I was soon done with King and that type of reading and discovered Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller, South of No North by Charles Bukowski and Notes from Underground by Dostoyevsky all around the same time. The internet wasn’t around then obviously, so it was a case of trawling stores and trying to find something that appealed – and it was those guys and guys like them, the outsiders and boundary pushers, like you said that kept my interest. The more real the subject matter, the more real the writing and the better it was for it. Real life, recorded as it was or fictionalised, written well…that stuff has life, real, vibrant energy and a rawness to it and sincerity that is missing from the more orthodox lines of fiction writing. 

Why hasn’t writing like this gained any foothold in Indie?
 There’s a huge lack of knowledge regarding literature amidst a massive number of ‘writers’ yapping on about books and writing, online. They know a few books that were #1 or so in WH Smiths in the 90’s or advertised in the Daily Mail but will post a Hemingway photo and a quote about writing – to add an illustration to the delusion  –  without having a clue what book the quote came from (or if it even is a quote of his at all) or know anything of his life or his catalogue of work. 


Hemingway is an example but you know there are others.  But it’s usually Hemingway, isn’t it? Or Mark Twain. It’s always the big hitters that even deaf and blind people have heard of and seen. You never see them quoting the equally revered Russians or Mishima. 


Even Orwell seems a rarity - and he wrote some brilliantly scathing comments in essays about writing and books. It’s ironic really that Hemingway is the go-to writing-quote guy for so many when his writing is so simplistic and easily readable. Difference is of course that he knew the simple words to use and what not to say.

In theory, this whole scene is, using older books written by heavyweights as example, where something like Orwell’s Down and Out in London and Paris or John Fante’s The Road to Los Angeles or Bukowski’s Post Office, should emerge.

Bukowski or Miller?
They’re both raconteurs in their own way. The heart of a lot of Miller’s writing is his vanity. The way he writes about his sexual prowess is quite laughable. The heart of Bukowski’s writing is pain. The way he writes about his non-existent, or alternatively, deranged sex life is hilarious. Bukowski had a great sense of humour that is missing from Miller. He was also punchy, to the point. 


Miller is as great but a different animal. More extravagant in his descriptions and laborious with them. As good as he is, you read him knowing he was most likely thinking about how he reads. Bukowski always comes across as if once the sentence was written there was no going back to it and he couldn’t care less (even if he did).  Also, Bukowski had to write, it was all he had for a lot of his life. Not so, with Miller. And that shows in the honesty of Bukowski’s work. So he wins out for me.


What are your three favourite books, two favourite CDs and favourite DVD?
‘Notes From Underground’ by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. FD is the man, the psychological penetrator. With ‘Notes…’ especially. You read it but it feels more like it is reading you.  

‘The Road to Los Angeles’ by John Fante. 


A book of his he couldn’t get published in his lifetime despite being a published writer putting books out, and it would have difficulty even now: contains two of the funniest black-humoured set-pieces I’ve ever read anywhere. 

(As an aside, ‘1933 Was a Bad Year’ by him is really short but really good – what he gets across in the first 17 or so pages of that some people couldn’t get across in 500 – or their lifetime). 

‘A Season in Hell’ by Arthur Rimbaud. This answer is a slight cheat I know. I have it as a singular edition but also in three ‘Complete Works’ as generally, all his stuff comes in one edition, doesn’t it? If I had said “Complete Works” it’s a bit like saying a Greatest Hits compilation is your favourite album. 

How cool is THIS, Phil? (Ed)

CDs: This isn’t easy at all… I’m having a Tom Waits vs Prince argument in my head…but okay…1. ’Purple Rain’ by Prince wins. 

DVD: Apocalypse Now is close but it would have to be Blade Runner. 

That’s my favourite film at the end of the day and has been since I was 15, even when it was the slightly nonsensical one due to the interference forced upon Ridley Scott by the suits. It’s gradually come out over the years to the eventual point of being restored to what Scott wanted in the first place.  The look, sound and mood of that whole film is just perfect. I’d live in that world in the blink of an eye if it were possible. And as a film, it is better, for once, than the source material, the aforementioned Philp K. Dick book. 

Are you ever coming home?
Permanently, I’m not planning on it but I hope to come back and visit at some point, see family and so on and maybe burn a witch. I prefer living over here. 

Aesthetically it appeals to me more than the UK but it feels as much like home to me as England though saying that I have that feeling of being lost wherever I am, but that’s probably why the transition was easy.  I’ve moved around a lot. Where ever I lay my hat and all that but it’s most likely going to remain on US soil. I do love London though.

And finally, what next for Phil Conquest and Inkker Hauser?

“Part 2: Literastein” was due to be out by now but death and other incidents side-tracked my life.  However, “Literastein” is impatiently tugging at the restraints and wanting to be a friend of the community… so, not long and I’ll cut the ties and let him out to have his way with the world.

He’s going to look in the mirror one night after a bottle of rum and see that his reflection has gone, then soon after, discover he has fangs and wants blood. 

And so begins a power struggle between clans. The establishment, the self-publishing scene and himself in the middle. A real #dark #urban #fantasy. Of course there will be a love interest and everyone is after her and her own literary power, wanting to combine forces and bone her. And then appears the evil establishment leader who is as old as time itself and with his own secret agenda involving the girl. 

But he hadn’t bargained on Inkker Hauser entering the fray.

For me…well, have had to re-adjust my IH plan somewhat, my living arrangements entirely and am about to take an extended stay in a motel which I’m quite looking forward to, for writing reasons and conjugal visits. 

As far as writing goes, I’ve still been planning “Christ Spokane” and am considering something about a small-time writer travelling around from one place to the next with the ashes of a dead and much missed pet in his holdall. 

Phil, it's been a pleasure to meet you around the Cauldron and I wish you every success in the future.

Thanks, Mark. You too.

Phil Conquest in NJ

"Buy Rum Hijack" by Inkker Hauser

Follow Phil on Twitter:  https://twitter.com/Literastein

Superb blog - real writing in the style of the writers above. 



  1. I fucking love it. Top stuff, chaps :)

    1. Thank you, Terry. I LOVE Mark's inserts!

  2. Great interview; LOVE Blade Runner :-) Best of luck with sales, Phil.

    1. Thanks Mary - always good to meet someone else who appreciates that film. I have seen that film so many times. I remember first watching it at 15, 8 times during a 1 week school holiday. Was obsessed with it - partly because it didn't make sense due to the studio interference...So glad Ridley Scott, after various evolutions, finally got it to how he had wanted it from the word go. I always forget how violent it is no matter how many times I watch it but, emotionally, the resonance, and the overall feel is incredible. I never get tired of just looking at it - or hearing it.
      Thanks a lot, and all the best.

  3. Brilliantly entertaining guys - just as I would expect from you two!! Loved Rum Hijack Phil - solid writing of the sort I'll reread so get on with getting Literastein out will you? And I have another load of books from you here I feel I should be reading :-)

    1. Glad you liked it! Mark is an agent provocateur and knew what buttons to push... And thanks re Rum Hijack. I know, I know...I am hoping he'll be terrorizing the local boozer before the end of next month.
      Hopefully next year will be a better one ;) x

  4. Mark: thumbs up for the movie trailers, the Witchfinder General one is classic (and Ogilvy!)...great voiceover...all that 'England has never looked so beautiful yet been more violent...' stuff. The Purple Rain one is a classic for so many reasons - and that bit where little Prince bursts into a room and you just see those shoulder pads tottering from side to side like a string-severed marionette-on-heels is always funny.

    1. So weird, we watched Witchfinder General only the other week, for a laugh! Ian Ogilvy wasn't even convincing as The Saint, so....!!!

    2. It does look a good laugh. I like the fact that trailer shows that girl and then the lecherous VO goes on about the vivid detail of the tecnicolour and so on. Ogilvy didn't need to be and knew it, he had the white Jaguar and the Matchbox toys of it...even with a little plastic Ogilvy for the bigger one..

  5. Really enjoyed this interview. This book blogger embraced Inkker wholeheartedly ;-)


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