McDonalds = hyperactive milkshake-swilling children and meat, ugly uniforms and scary clowns. Not my thing. But, this has to be done and I take a deep breath and walk over to the crowded table; a litter bin of sauce-stained wrappers and drink cups and crumpled napkins. Seeing these eight men and one woman seated together is a bit like stumbling upon the last supper except with less people and more cholesterol.
‘Do any of you know this man?’ I ask and hold up the book.
Averted eyes. Looks of shock. The guy in a tired Savile Row suit glares at his mate with the poodle-tufted hair who winces in the direction of the man dressed like Jack LaLane. A sharp-looking bloke, except for the bit of ketchup-soaked bun hanging from the corner of his mouth says, ‘Mmm... to a degree… I’m his publicist.’ The piece of bun dances with each word but amazingly, stays stuck in place. He adds, ‘And these other, err, hangers-on are his, hmm, I suppose you could say, “Entourage”’.
‘Is Mr Haynes with you?’
I watch as the simple-looking man in a Stetson, wearing an inside out T-shirt, (emblazoned with the words ‘livE fo sixA’), demolishes a Big Mac in two bites while secret sauce dribbles down his chin.
Blank stares. Chewing noises.
I eventually learn that his ‘entourage’ is made up of his Publicist, Lawyer, PA, Personal Chef, Masseuse, Dog-Walker, Food-Taster and two corrupt politicians who shall remain nameless but not blameless.
‘I have questions.’
Mumbling. Burping. Raised eyebrows.
‘Who wants to go first?’
This interview with the “entourage” of Will Haynes, whose story ‘The Parish State’ won the First Place Leonard A. Koval Memorial Prize and features in ‘Gem Street: Beyond the Axis’ was conducted on an overcast day in June in a McDonalds in a town not unlike any other town anywhere in the world.
You and Mr Haynes have taken elusive to a brand new level of elusiveness. I know you were last seen in Paris staggering down Boulevard du Montparnasse looking for cheeseburgers. I know he was last seen in a Parisian bar looking for an olive. Why has his story ‘The Parish State’ caused such a furore and how are you planning to rectify the situation so he can come out of hiding (if this is in fact what he’s doing as opposed to off riding motorbikes in hot countries or stumbling upon geriatric hippie communes or getting himself quarantined).
Firstly, and for the record, I can neither confirm nor deny anything actually worth confirming or denying… the farmers are all still very angry about the Parish State is about the only thing that I can admit. Secondly, and this is firmly off the record, why would anyone want him to come out of hiding anyway? Life is so much more peaceful while he’s in exile.
When he eventually does show up again what are you going to do to clear his name? How does he find the time to write when he’s always getting himself into these pickles? Who makes up your legal team?
Well… it’s not quite as extensive a legal team as one may expect. Being paid in IOUs scribbled on bar coasters, the “publishing rights” to unfinished short stories he didn’t like very much, and the odd beer when he’s feeling generous isn’t the most attractive prospect for many self-respecting professionals… so it’s just me when I can fit it in around chasing ambulances. That reminds me, have you had an accident or injury in the workplace? Please say yes. Then I might be able to eat this evening.
Regarding clearing his name; hadn’t really thought about that. I think it was my policy to just wait until it all blows over. These things usually do in the end.
*Publicist chips in* - It’s an extensive legal team. The best litigators that money can buy. And anyone considering legal action against my client should bear this in mind.
I’m shocked that Mr Haynes has a chef. I was under the impression that he does his own cooking.
Do you know if he sees any parallels between food and writing? Is he a messy eater?
Do you think it’s better to use white or red wine when making Bolognese?
Yes. I have to admit that it’s a bit of a waste. Monday to Friday he usually just orders Dominos and at the weekends you can’t find him for love nor money… come to think of it, I haven’t ever cooked a meal for him. Not even once… oh no, now I come to think of it there was one time. He’s the most terrible back seat cook you’ll ever come across... he just hovered over my shoulder criticising everything and then literally barged me out of the way when it came to making the roast potatoes.
*Publicist chips in* - Ahem… I can neither confirm nor deny anything about his parallels between food or writing, and whether any culinary metaphors are intentionally political or not.
However, my client has exquisite table manners. And the roast potatoes were excellent. He did not in any way steal Heston’s idea for using white wine in his bolognese sauce.
Again, I have to express shock. Food-taster? Come on, really? Have you been employed to take the culinary hit for him in the event of foul-play?
Has anyone ever actually tried to poison him and if so who and why?
Can you taste the difference between cilantro and coriander?
Well, ever since the North Korea business he’s had to be a bit careful… saying that, there doesn’t seem to have been any actual attempts on his life yet. But the man’s possessed by the notion that there will be. (Essentially, he’s completely deluded: an emotional cocktail that’s one part paranoia, one part baseless delusions of grandeur, and the rest Bombay Sapphire…). He’s gone a bit Colonel Kurtz.
*Publicist chips in*- Deluded, yes, perhaps I’ll give you that one, Colonel Kurtz, almost certainly, but as I’ve already explained, he really does have the best table manners…
*Food-Taster chips back in*-To be honest I can’t taste the difference between much anyway – cilantro, coriander or cyanide… but if I keel over and my heart stops beating it’s probably the Big Mac rather than an assassination attempt. Who could care less about Will Haynes?
*Publicist* - Really quite splendid table manners…
As Mr Haynes personal assistant I’m sure you’ve seen it all… but, what was the most difficult thing he has asked you to do in relation to his work? What was his schedule like while he was writing ‘The Parish State’?
Do you iron his shirts?
Well, for a start, he’s exceptionally lazy… if he could get away with it he’d have me actually doing his writing for him as well as managing his diary and typing his emails. I can imagine him saying something like, “Okay… what I’d like is Ulysses, but for my generation… you can figure out the rest - hop to it and tell me when I’ve got the Pulitzer!”, but usually he’ll just leave everything to the eleventh, then start chain smoking and downing bottomless cups of tea, until finally getting on with it himself.
To be honest, the rest just sort of takes care of itself… he gets a bit stressed if there’s anything in the diary, any form of commitment whatsoever, and so I just make sure that there are absolutely no appointments these days and screen all of his calls… then he’ll grumble a bit why no one has been in touch and that no one likes him anymore, but it’s preferable to trying to get him to go anywhere or do anything while he’s in drafting mode (drafting mode usually consists of him pacing around for most of the day, chain-smoking, complaining about things).
He wrote The Parish State over a few days last August. He conceived the idea on his drive to France and spent his first day-and-a-half researching the agricultural bits and the rest drafting it instead of sleeping. Then he put it in a drawer for a few months before dusting it off and giving it a polish and submitting it to Gem Street: Beyond the Axis. Worked out pretty well, apart from all the angry pitchfork-wielding farmers.
I can’t say I’ve ever seen him in an ironed shirt. And FFS don’t put the notion into his head…
*Publicist chips in*- The Parish State was a meticulously researched and painstakingly-crafted piece of work, spanning the course of several years hard graft. During the drafting process my client awoke every morning at five, before going on a ten mile run and then eating a breakfast of fruit salad and muesli. He then began painstakingly drafting the story at nine a.m. on the dot, thinking so carefully about every word in every sentence in every paragraph that it would take him up to half-a-day to lovingly craft every single line… then he trekked up to the highest point of the highest mountain to read the first draft back to himself. He then tore it up immediately, and began the process again, getting up instead at four a.m. every day and going for a twenty mile run…
I didn’t know he had a dog. One of the first things mentioned in the story is the death sentence for dog-fouling. I know he’s big on the research side of things. He obviously did a tremendous amount of it while writing ‘The Parish State’. Can you divulge?
No, he hasn’t got a dog, but when he found out that Puff Daddy had a dog-walker he wanted one too… voila! Here I am. I mostly get paid to stand around doing nothing, which sounds quite cushy work but it’s not like anywhere will actually accept these damn bar coasters he uses as currency…
*Publicist chips in* - He hasn’t in any way had a long running feud with Puff Daddy over dog-walkers, and the bar coasters are an excellent alternative to the pound, dollar or euro in certain parts of the world.
I understand that like a lot of writers, Mr Haynes can be quite intense while working. Are you employed to help in stressful situations such as bad typing, word over-usage, draft-dodging or is there another reason for you receiving a pay cheque from him? How much does he pay you?
That’s a very polite way of saying “insane”, but yes he can… I’m still waiting to be paid. He did give me a hard copy of an earlier draft of Macho Cooking with a personal inscription… he scribbled out the name of its original intended recipient and replaced the name “Saddam” with mine. He still got my name wrong, but assured me that one day it will be worth a fortune.
*Publicist chips in*- Err… I can confirm that my client never overuses words or types badly… (for a start, and firmly off the record, he barely types at all).
As for the draft-dodging, these are baseless rumours. And there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever to suggest he was in any way involved with the Oil-for-Food programme.
Do you know Chubby-Blond Politician from ‘The Parish State’ personally?
Do you notice any resemblances to yourself or any of your friends in his earlier story ‘The People’s Republic’?
Chibby blinf pllticccaeon??? Bland Peelllican? What’s a pellitcihan? Are ya misunderestimatin me? Make love not war. Or is it make war not love? What’s ma policity again? Yo, Blair? Rummy? Anyone tell me what to do here?
*Publicist chips in* - It’s time for your medicine… (racks up a giant line of horse tranquiliser).
Any resemblances, as some have wrongly suggested there might be, between the Chubby Blond Politician in The Parish State and the current Mayor of London are entirely coincidental, as are any other resemblances to any other persons. I’ve said this before and, for the record, I shall have to say it again: All characters in any of my clients work are entirely fictitious. Any resemblance to any persons (alive or deceased) or any organisation (corporate, theocratic or other) is entirely coincidental.
Besides writing, do you know if Mr Haynes has any political aspirations? Is that suit you’re wearing really Savile Row? It looks kind of weathered.
God help us all if he does… he did get drunk one evening and scribble down the ‘manifesto of Will’… insane dribblings about legalising drugs to boost the economy and cut the deficit etc. I think there’s a small Island somewhere in Asia where he set up a trial Haynes government while on his travels… Hong Kong or something. Or was it Singapore? Either way, seems to be doing quite well.
And the suit may look cheap but you try living on bar coaster IOUs. It’s not like I can get rich by… hang on… screw you guys, I’m off to the UAE.
*Publicist chips in* - My client could never have any kind of political ambitions. There simply wouldn’t be enough dirt on him for a career in politics. The man is practically a saint. Like Mother Teresa (before she got cosy with that charming despot Jean-Claude Duvalier…
Any last words anyone?
*Publicist chips in once again*
Naturally, my client takes himself very, very seriously…
We may never know the actual whereabouts of Mr Haynes, the truth about his mysterious life nor can we ever really know how many pitchforks were used in the making of this interview. At some point, you just have to throw up your hands and walk away.
However, he does have this website www.WillHaynes.net where you can read things (whether they are true or not) about him. And, I have tried the Bolognese (a veggie version) using white wine and whether or not it was created by Blumie is irrelevant. It’s quite nice.
There are still some copies of the book available with Will's winning story. Gem Street: Beyond the Axis is avaiable here: http://www.labellopress.com/available-titles.html