In the latest instalment of an occasional series, Dirty Books curator Tom Leins talks you through some of the tracks that influenced his book, Repetition Kills You (All Due Respect, 2018).
REPETITION KILLS YOU
Repetition Kills You is an experimental noir. A novel-in-stories. A literary jigsaw puzzle. The book comprises 26 short stories, presented in alphabetical order, from ‘Actress on a Mattress’ to ‘Zero Sum’. Combined in different ways, they tell a larger, more complex story. The narrative timeline is warped, like a blood-soaked Möbius Strip.
Repetition Kills You is also a pop-noir jukebox – a collection heavily inspired by the random tracks spat out by my iPod when I was working on the book. Music is often a starting point when looking for inspiration for a new project, and this book is a prime example.
The title came from the 2007 single of the same name by cult UK electronica duo The Black Ghosts, and fitted the concept perfectly. When assembling the overlapping short stories that make up the book, that phrase stuck in my mind. Motifs are repeated, storylines are reimagined, supporting characters are killed off, only to re-emerge elsewhere in the timeline…
In the title story, protagonist Joe Rey admits stomping the same guy twice in the same day – purely by accident. As the man says: “They say repetition kills you. Well, it’s sure-as-shit going to kill somebody.”
Nick Cave’s lyrics are phenomenal, and his rich, dark imagery is a great jumping-off point when looking for inspiration. A number of people have told me that ‘The Carny’ is their favourite story in the book, and it is definitely one of mine too. Imagine the deranged carnival depicted in Cave’s song – but relocated to Paignton. Add in complicated family relationships and a long simmering desire for revenge and you are in the right ballpark.
Happily, I can confirm that the title character, Eugene, will return in the one of the sequels to Repetition Kills You – provisionally titled Screw Joint – which I’m currently in the midst of writing. Given how ‘The Carny’ turned out, you would assume that Rey would be inclined to steer clear of the Eugene, but that isn’t going to happen, and this new story sees him dragged out of his comfort zone and into a hellish new environment where nothing is as it seems.
(Note: surreally enough, ‘The Carny’ was initially performed live at a Liar’s League literary reading in Hong Kong, where the performer, a guy named Aaron Kahn, gave this defiantly Devonshire story a welcome Americana twist!)
THIS IS HARDCORE
My story ‘This Is Hardcore’ originally appeared in 2016 in Pulp Fiction, a quirky little anthology themed around the songs of Britpop band Pulp. It concerns a typically violent investigation for Joe Rey, which sees him plunge headfirst into the seedy world of suburban pornography. The story even includes a retired porn star whose back catalogue is made up of films named after obscure Pulp album-tracks, including ‘Inside Susan’ and ‘Acrylic Afternoons’!
I have owned the Pulp album in question for two decades, but never recall watching the noir-themed music video – until seeking it out for this feature. A fitting soundtrack to my dirty British noir.
YOU WILL MISS ME WHEN I BURN
‘You Will Miss Me When I Burn’ is easily the oldest story in the collection, written in 2013 – some five years before the publication of Repetition Kills You. It first appeared in Sein und Werden’s ‘Auto de Fe’ issue. Suffice to say, Sein und Werden always made me think outside the box with its themes!
The track that inspired the story featured on the Soulsavers 2009 album, Broken, and sees Mark Lanegan of the Screaming Trees singing a Will Oldham (Bonnie Prince Billy) track first recorded as Palace Brothers back in 1994. Such a bleak song – it makes my story seem like a comedy by comparison!
(Bonus track: ‘Idle Hands’ by The Gutter Twins inspired my ‘I’ story of the same name. This one is another Lanegan collaboration, this time with Greg Dulli of Afghan Whigs. As such, I think he is the only artist to appear twice!)
For me, putting together a short story collection is a lot like assembling a mix-tape, and this downbeat Nine Inch Nails track – and the story it inspired – felt like the perfect closer. After a string of explosive stories and queasy revelations I was keen to end the book on a more contemplative note, with a more subdued story – something that tied the collection’s disparate themes and sub-plots together – and also something that had readers scrambling back to the first chapter – armed with the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle. My future books will end with buildings in flames and blood dripping off walls, but not this one!
Tom Leins is a disgraced ex-film critic from Paignton, UK. He is the author of the short story collections Meat Bubbles & Other Stories (Near To The Knuckle) and Repetition Kills You (All Due Respect) and the novelettes Skull Meat, Snuff Racket, Spine Farm and Slug Bait. For more information, please visit: Things To Do In Devon When You’re Dead.
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