The Piratical Drive-by: Dirk Flinthart

Writer, raconteur, martial arts practitioner, cook extraordinaire, editor, librettist and frequent notorious teller of porkies, Dirk Flinthart (not his real name) is responsible for tomes such as Brotherly Love and Angel Rising. He has ably edited the Canterbury 2100 anthology and ASIM. His antics may or may not have been featured in Birmingham’s He Died with a Falafel in His Hand – it’s hard to tell. His short fiction has appeared in various places, including New Ceres Nights, Australis Imaginarium, Worlds Next Door, to name but a few. Here he waxes lyrical about random things … he may or may not be lying.

1. I first knew I was a writer when …
That’s less easy to answer than it might appear. I began reading independently a little before the age of two, according to my parents. (No. My memory doesn’t quite stretch back that far.)  I cannot recall a time when writing and telling stories hasn’t been a focal point of my life. 

I started a school newspaper when I was ten years old: three or four mimeographed sheets, sold off around the school for about twenty cents. It raised money for… one of those things schools are always raising money for. Kids bought it because they liked seeing their names in it. I remember my considerable delight when the National Archives sent along their letter, requesting copies. I still wonder what they were thinking…

By the time I was thirteen, I was winning local writing competitions in Far North Queensland. Not by choice: my mother made me enter. I won the same competition two years straight, and by quiet mutual agreement, I stopped entering. It didn’t seem fair, really. Even my mother finally agreed. 

I recall a couple of very early abortive attempts at short stories; a very nice form rejection from Ursula LeGuin when I was about fifteen. But then University intervened and I was too busy living through that bastard Birmingham’s book about murderous felafels to do a lot of writing (though I never really stopped; I was doing a lot of tabletop role-playing, which at its best is a very intense form of improv storytelling. Try it sometime, and see how it sharpens your plotting skills!) … until I simply fell back into it. Started writing parodies of the Survivalist movement under the pseudonym of Dirk “Some Refuse To Die” Flinthart for the University newspaper. After that, it was all downhill on that treacherous, slippery slope defined by Moliere: “Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for love, and then for a few friends, and then for money.”

As you can see, I can’t really answer your question as it stands. I could better address it as: “When did you finally realise that most people’s lives don’t revolve around writing and storytelling?” And that would be somewhere around age seventeen, I think. 

I’m a dad now. And I’m horrified to discover that my elder son is, in fact, a Writer. He’s ten, and he absolutely loves his writing and storytelling.  I hope to hell I can help him figure out what to do about it. 

2. The perfect story can be made up of the following three (3) ingredients:
Sex. Violence. And Cake. 

Sorry. That straight line was just too damned good to pass up. Actually – there are so many truly wonderful stories out there which share no useful common features that I’d be insulting half the canon if I were to try to nail down three things. Look at something like Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”. Sure, it’s a little over-written by modern standards. But check it out, anyway: the characterisation is fantastic. And the clever literary stuff he uses to depict the narrator’s descent into guilt-ridden madness, all wedged into about 2100 words… allowing for shifts in language use, it’s a damn near perfect story.

But then you get gorgeous little gems from Saki: the truly chilling ‘Sredni Vashtar’, and the hilarious ‘Tobermory’, for example. They just work, and they’re wonderful, and they share almost nothing except the English language and the basic story structure with Poe. And what about Cordwainer Smith, whose work dances between the edges of sentiment and the sublime? How can you talk about a ‘perfect story’ without recognising his amazing incorporations of non-English structures (the man had a ridiculous number of languages available to him) into his stories to create that astonishing sense of a hidden meaning, a concealed pattern, a vision completed somewhere just beyond the edge of sight? 

I can’t. And so I’m sticking to sex, violence, and cake.

3. You get to be your favourite fictional character for one day, with no consequences. Who do you choose, where do you go, what do you do and who is your companion?
My favourite novel of all time is Bulgakov’s ‘Master And Margharita’. It’s genuinely brilliant. And of the pantheon of marvellous characters inhabiting those pages, my favourite is the big, fat, black-cat demon Behemoth, whose pranks, bizarre humour, and twisted sense of justice set Stalin-era Moscow ablaze. Let me be Behemoth, in the company of his equally chaotic companion Azazello for but a day, and I’ll show you a smoking ruin in the space currently occupied by Canberra; a ruin occupied by drunk, stoned, naked, uproariously partying individuals who have had their sense of self-importance completely obliterated by a day of sheerest devilment. That, right there: my idea of real fun.

4. What should always be removed from a story?
Where do you come up with these things?  You’re evil. 

I really don’t know. I mean, there’s the obvious stuff: piss-poor grammar, run-on sentences, crap punctuation and so forth. But if you were to pick particular story elements, I guarantee you that a look through the archives would reveal a whole bunch of totally rocking stories containing precisely that element. 

I suppose there’s the ‘overload factor’ to consider. Currently, I’m extremely tired of zombies. And vampires — most especially sexy vampires. And realistically, I would have said ‘it was all a dream!’ endings were no longer viable, except that they made ‘Inception’, and it was really bloody clever and effective. (I know. It’s a movie. But what’s a movie if not a story wrapped up in pictures?)

That really does prove my point though, doesn’t it? The ‘it was all a dream’ trope is perhaps the most tired of them all. And then along comes something like ‘Inception’. 

Time travel. That’s another sad, soggy, overused bit of gear. And yet ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’ is a marvellous book. And likewise, since I railed against feculent grammar, spelling and punctuation earlier, let me sing the praises of Russell Hoban’s post-apocalyptic masterpiece ‘Riddley Walker’, which revels in all those things. 

One thing that should always be removed from stories? Reader’s preconceptions. If a story has made it to print, even in the daggiest and direst of outlets, even if it’s in a genre you think you loathe, there’s always the chance that it might rock your world if you let it. 

5. Donuts (or doughnuts) or danishes?
Danishes are good. Very good. But — when we speak of donuts (I’m leaving out the ‘ugh’ purely because I’m lazy) are we limited to those fast-food nasties purveyed in shopping malls everywhere? Or do we get to include churros, and (controversially) bagels? 

More to the point, when wast the last time you had a true dough-nut? I’m damned if I can find one in Australia. It’s all about batter here. Batter batter batter batter batter. Doesn’t that word look weird when you see it written that way? Wait. Sorry. That’s not part of my answer.

I recently went to Borneo. Ramadan commenced while I was there. Being an unstoppable xenophile and foodie, I dove into the Night Bazaar scene, and joined the locals in the post-sundown feasting. It was indescribably fantastic: the steaming heat, the crowds, the wild melange of spices, sweat, charcoal, hot fat, fish, meat, fruit (including the dreaded durian!), the hum and crackle of voices jabbering away in Malay faster than I could really follow… 

In between skewers of grilled cuttlefish, plates of Javanese soup, bowls of Penang laksa, platters of curry and rice, banana leaves with moon-cakes wrapped in them (only a little charred on the bottom), and cups of shaved ice with lethal doses of palm sugar syrup and bizarre jelly-lumps in them, my kids spotted — of all things — a doughnut vendor. And they wanted doughnuts.

So we bought some. Why not?

You know  what? They were real. They were proper, yeast-leavened doughnuts. They were crisp and sweet on the outside, light and fluffy and just chewy enough on the inside, with that gorgeous, mouth-filling flavour you only get from a true yeast ferment. No goddam batter. No self-raising flour and sugar and so forth. Just bubbly, yeasty goodness deep-fried to amazingly delicious perfection.

Those crappy batter-grommets you can buy in the mall? You can keep ’em. If I could get real yeast doughnuts, fresh and hot with cinnamon and sugar, I’d never look another danish in the eye. 

Batter is for pancakes. And muffins. Not for doughnuts.

He doth blog here.

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