by Judy Jones
For his collection of stories entitled Wattle & daub, Brian Coughlan drew on his varied career paths: demolition expert, greengrocer (with special responsibility for cabbages), car insurance salesman, pharmaceutical quality assurance specialist, slaughterhouse operative – the list goes on and on, to take us on a hilarious and unsettling ride into the darkness and absurdity of our lives.
Coughlan has a gift for translating the mundane into ‘scenery on the page.’ “I’m inspired by very specific geographical locations. For instance about two years ago (or maybe it three?), I went to look at a house with my wife. At that time we were considering buying something out in the country and becoming slack-jawed. So we came to view this house and there was no proper access to the site it was on. You had to trek through a field of cows and then get onto a tiny peninsula by a causeway that was almost entirely dark on account of the trees that had grown up either side and then interlaced to form this long dark corridor. The house was semi-derelict and on the edge of this beautiful lake that expanded out in every direction from where you were standing and it was absolutely stunning. Both times we went to view it there was gorgeous sunshine and nature was doing its thing and then inside the house there was this eerie feeling. My wife said that she loved the site itself but would be too scared to stay in the house on her own and I knew what she meant. Anyway we pulled out of the sale and sometime later I heard there was all manner of problems getting right-of-access to the property because the farmer who owned the field was a grouch and that the last person to live in the house had been a reclusive old woman who had passed away in the house and wasn’t discovered until many months later. The particular feeling in that house and its surroundings inspired me to write two different stories that have ended up in Wattle & daub, they both have remarkably similar opening paragraphs and then go off in completely different directions.”
How will Coughlan maintain his quirky outlook when faced with the challenges of publishing his first book-length collection? “At this point it’s too early to tell. It really has been plain sailing up to this point like I have never known before in my writing life. It’s almost been too easy or too much like fun up to now. Calm before the storm. I expect that the hard part starts soon with my heading out into the world with my arse hanging out of my trousers and a sign on my back that says ‘kick me hard.’ It probably comes back to a phrase I have heard throughout my life that makes me want to vomit which is: ‘Sell yourself!’ That’s it - come on up here and sell us Brian Coughlan. Whoever the hell he is. The sooner I can leave Wattle & daub to fend for itself the better. I’m a terrible salesman. As soon as I catch a whiff of indecision I’m out the door. I don’t want to have to convince anyone about anything. They can make up their own minds. So I expect the worst is yet to come. Ask me the same question in eighteen months’ time. Maybe by that time I’ll be an ultra-slick self-promoter with 25K followers on various social media platforms watching my every bowel movement with slavering interest. Or maybe not.”
When asked what type of person might appreciate his unique brand of humor, Coughlan says, “The kind of audience that enjoys compelling short stories centered around conspiratorial narrators. An audience that appreciates the darkly funny aspects of modern life from which we cannot run nor hide not turn the other cheek but must endure - with a pained smile. The type of audience that enjoys watching people on the brink of collapse or calamity. It’s so very hard to know if there is an audience for your work out there until you have a book in your hand to throw around at people. I have had stories accepted by literary journals, magazines and anthologies but I never know if anyone reads them. Apart from the poor god-forsaken editors and anthologists who put these things together. To be truthful I don’t read enough of them myself so I could hardly expect somebody else to pay me any attention. I can only hope that there is an audience out there. My stories are not a million miles away from numerous very well regarded Irish short story writers who are putting out collections over the last couple of years. I won’t name names because I will forget to mention someone and it will sound like I’m deliberately snubbing them. Or maybe I am snubbing them. Every last one of them. Just so long as I don’t have to pander to an audience. I’m not a good panderer. I’m a terrible panderer. The very worst kind of panderer.”
No need to pander. With humor, sympathy, and blistering language, the stories in Wattle & daub meld and stretch into truly new directions, marking Brian Coughlan as a unique fabricator of short tales.
For more of Brian’s off-the-wall humor and insights, check out the complete interview at the author page on the Etruscan Press website.
Judith Jones is pursuing her M.A. in fiction from the Maslow Family Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Wilkes University, where she serves as a graduate assistant at Etruscan Press.