Detritus In Love by Mercedes M. Yardley & John Boden + Interview with the Authors
|Book Name:||Detritus In Love|
|Author:||Mercedes M. Yardley and John Boden|
|Release Date:||October 3, 2016|
Detritus in Love opens with a fourteen-year-old boy discovering that he can see and hear dead people. Three years later he’s not only made some dead friends, but he’s fallen in love with one of them, though her being dead is actually the least of his many reasons for not bringing her home to the trailer to meet his mum.
It is not the first time that Mercedes M Yardley’s writing has braided themes of death and love and loss to make an exquisite story. Indeed Ms Yardley’s moniker is Miss Murder – and that is not in the twee Angela Lansbury sense. She has always written about the darkest themes of human existence, of senseless cruelty, of tragic loss. Yet through it all she has still found a deftness of touch, an impossibility of angles and a trove of hidden joys to explore. It leaves my head ringing for days afterwards – thoughts and connections sparking like a mini-electrical storm. At the risk of going too fan-boy here, she is one of perhaps just two authors (the other being Mark Lawrence) where I would instantly buy their work without even checking the title, still less look at the cover, read the blurb or even look inside.
Dammit, I’d buy Ms Yardley’s shopping lists if she’d only publish them. All of which might make me a less than impartial reviewer and I will admit that her work may not be to everyone’s tastes, but I like it and I would like to tell you why.
But Detritus in Love is not a one woman effort – well technically I suppose it is a “one woman and one man” effort. On this occasion Ms Yardley had a collaborator and co-author, John Boden in so complete and entire a partnership that neither can now really tell who wrote which bit – yet another remarkable feature of a remarkable book.
A Review of Detritus In Love
My wife’s favourite film is the Romero classic Dawn of the Dead – her view is “zombies and a shopping mall, what’s not to like?” My own favourite is Truly, Madly, Deeply, starring Juliet Stevenson and Alan Rickman. That thought has added poignancy in this year that has scythed through so many of our favourite stars. In the film Rickman plays a ghost benignly haunting his inconsolable partner, totally bereft by his unexpected death and incapable of moving on.
It was released around the same time as Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore’s film Ghost and I was struck at the time by the contrast between how American and British movie-makers took the same story spine (grieving woman haunted by prematurely dead partner) in two totally different directions.
Another film that shivered me to my bones was Sixth Sense – a young boy haunted by ghosts only he can see, only he can help. Memories of those films flared in my mind as I read Detritus In Love, silhouetted by the lightning flashes of Ms Yardley and Mr Boden’s pens.
We meet the eponymous protagonist at the age of fourteen when he has what appears to be a first encounter with a ghost. Then the story jumps three years, to follow a critical and occasionally surreal period in young Detritus’s life. The writing is glorious, at times achingly beautiful. It is a short book, easily devoured in a single sitting, though I was held up by the need to note so many elegant lines and short evocative descriptions. These are just a handful of them.
Her voice was a hairline crack in a china plate, thin and unthreatening but ready to break with little provocation.
There was a snap from the other side of the wall. The mouse trap behind the toilet was not hungry anymore.
School was full of lockers with broken combinations and teachers who stared out of the windows even more than their students.
Detritus’s life is not a great one, filled with an absence of care and a succession of “uncles” monopolising both the sofa and his mother’s attention.
He heard the feller du jour grunting and heaving in the bathroom.
The authors reserve some of their most biting descriptions for Det’s mother.
She wasn’t a woman. She wasn’t beautiful. She was just mom, and she even did that badly.
He looked at his mother without meaning to, opened up his eye and saw the meth riding her blood cells like cheap prostitutes.
Somewhere was the woman he’d always wanted to call mother. For now, he was stuck with this scarecrow. Stuffed with rat hair and straw and looking like Joan Rivers after a clown audition. She scared everything away.
When you read that, you might think this is a dark book, but there is a joy in it too of a kind only darkness can properly illuminate. Those two themes of happiness and grief, light and shadow are woven inextricably together in the tightest of braids. The one cannot exist without the other – everything must have and need its opposite.
Detritus is in love (in that respect the authors are never going to be sued under the trades description act) and as you follow him through that experience the reader does all those things a reader is supposed to do if a book is working. (Well I did them anyway.) You care about the characters, you fear for them – even the ones who are already dead – and you turn each page swept along by a ghostly tide – or tide of ghosts.
Not since I watched Truly, Madly, Deeply have I felt so keenly the sense of a love between the living and the dead, a dread of loss, of letting go. Which is not to say that Detritus In Love follows the gentle Rickman and Stevenson classic in anything but the barest essentials of its theme. Merely that it had the same power to grip me right in the feels.
Talking to Mercedes Yardley and John Boden on Co-authorship
I’ve not come across many co-authored books and – as something of a control freak in my own writing – I find it odd to think how such a thing might even work. However, by the miracle of Facebook messenger, I managed to interview both Ms Yardley and Mr Boden individually and as a pair and here are some only slightly edited highlights of their responses.
What is it like co-authoring a book? I mean how does that even work? I couldn’t see the joins.
Yardley: I’ve co-authored a few pieces, but I’ve never had an experience as seamless as this.
John would write a few paragraphs. I’d go in and add some sparkle to his words, and then write a few more paragraphs. He’s come in, shine up my words, and write more. We didn’t talk about what was to come in the story. We just wrote. I can’t tell what he wrote and what I wrote, and I really like that.
It’s very organic – and neither of you architects?
Yardley: No, we’re both explorers. It was pretty magical to explore the same places with somebody else. There was absolutely no ego involved. We weren’t married to an idea that had to happen. It was like water running down a mountain, swerving this way and that. This story was a treat and a respite from responsibilities.
Boden: Thanks for reading the thing.
I enjoyed it – though it made me a bit sad.
Boden: It is quite sad. I think everything I write tends to be. My recent novella Jedi Summer is sad, most of my shorts tend to be sad, and the solo novella I have coming out next year is really sad. Working with Merc we both just really meshed in voice…and sad.
Detritus actually started around the chapter where [deleted due to spoilers]. That was the flash piece that started it all. I sent it to Merc and she liked it and I said I wasn’t sure what to do with it but if I figured it out she should write it with me. I then came up with the characters and opening and sent it to her and we back and forth for almost 3 years.
We meshed so well, that when we finished we could neither one really recall who wrote what. Sometimes I’d write a chunk and send it to her and it’d be weeks before she got to it and she add her bit and send it back and it went that way so when we finally finished it. It was like, “I can no longer recall what was mine or yours.”
The flash was just that. I hadn’t given him a name or anything. I think I was writing a vampire short.
How did the experience compare to writing on your own, or to writing with other partners?
Boden: I’m a very undisciplined writer. I might write a few hundred or thousand words one day and then not write a thing for another week or more. So I guess, with the periods of waiting for Mercedes to send back her portions, it was no different.
Did it surprise you though – how the story came back – or had you agreed enough of a general direction in advance?
Boden: We literally flew by the seats of our pants for the most part. I know we sort of discussed the ending…mainly just what we wanted in tone and all. But we just let it crawl and if it threatened to bolt into the bushes we herded it back on path.
Yardley: Writing with John was such an easy, fun thing. I adored the characters he had come up with. And it was all very loose. “Send it when you send it.” I had a million deadlines and felt like everyone was breathing down my neck, but this was something fun I was able to do with one of my dearest friends. It was exceptionally exciting. It took us about three years to write this little novelette because there was absolutely no pressure to work on it. Much more fun than writing alone, because you had somebody to play off of.
I guess you’re both more gardeners than architects in your writing. Do you think that helped with the collaboration?
Yardley: I think both of us being gardeners instead of architects worked very well in this instance. We mesh well as people and we mesh well as writers. That can’t be said for everybody.
Boden: Merc and I hit it off from day one. I’m not saying we have similar personalities or anything like that, we just kind of get the way each other thinks and it happened to translate into writing as well, you can see it, or not see it as the case may be, in the way we just picked up the string and kept stitching when our turns came and in the end there was this creepy quilt we made while sleepwalking, almost.
Yardley: Yes! This story was stitched together while sleepwalking. I love how you put that.
There is quite a lot of death – or at least of dead people – in the book and a number of them might feel they did not “die well.” What is it that draws you both to such dark themes?
Boden: I’m not sure. I mean, death is a thing that happens and a recurring thing with a lot of my work is the inability to let go. I toy with varying facets of that but it’s a common thing I write about. My novella, Jedi Summer has a lot of sadness and some death in it but at its crux, it’s about letting go or trying not to. I feel this is a little of the same although painted in an entirely differing way. The young feel they’re invincible and even when slapped in the face with the fact it isn’t true, sometimes refuse to see anything else.
Yardley: As for dealing with death in our work, I’m with John on that. Death is something that happens and we’re all familiar with it. I use writing as a way to process my emotions. We’re constantly losing those we love. One day we’ll be lost ourselves, and is there really any way to have a “good” death? It’s inevitable and we’ll all face it eventually.
I’m fascinated by the way you made us fear for characters who were already dead, to whom the “worst” had already happened.
Boden: I’d imagine were we to still have the ability to amble around past our expiration date, fear would probably find a way to worm itself into our un-lives or whatever it’d be, yeah?
Yardley: Ha, yes. Anxiety will never leave us, even if we’re dead.
That’s the thing about people, though. Even when the worst happens, we manage to continue on. There’s always something more, for good or for ill. It’s a bit empowering and heartening and horrifying all at the same time.
Ok, the story was born in John’s flash fiction. But how far did the ending surprise you. Did you agree in advance on how the dice would fall?
Yardley: We didn’t talk about most things in advance, really. It was exceptionally organic and laissez faire. But for the ending, John said, “I kinda have this scene in my head,” and explained it to me. I won’t mention it in order to reduce spoilers, but I thought, “Wow, what a great visual! Let’s do it!” There wasn’t really talk about how to get there, either. We just wrote and trusted each other and I think it ended up beautifully. I’m really quite pleased.
We would like to thank both authors for taking the time to speak with us. Detritus In Love is due out tomorrow (October 3rd). You can learn more about the book on the authors’ websites (Ms Yardley/Mr Boden) or follow Ms Yardley on Twitter.