In 2007 I left university. Before founding Beatdom and fleeing Scotland I was suffering a bit of an identity crisis: I defined myself as a student, and yet for the first time in my memory I was about to leave education. I was about to head off into the big bad world and so I went mad. My brain worked too much and made little sense. I wrote thousands of words every day, painted pictures and played guitar on stage – despite having no real talent for any of these things. I was just desperate, I suppose, to find my place in the world.

*

That first paragraph assumes that the answer to the question posed in the title is me. I am Rodney Munch.

That’s not necessarily true, as you will see. I have called myself Rodney Munch for various reasons at various times, but so have other people. Presumably, there is someone out there who was given this unfortunate title at birth.

 

The first “novel” I ever finished writing wasn’t really a novel at all. It was a true story told in the third person, with all the names changed but the same events and surroundings. It was called Poundland and it was about a year I spent working at a single-price retailer.

It began in the summer of 2007, when I finished working at a hotel in St. Andrews and returned to Dundee for my final year of university. Over the summer I had for the first time in my life become accustomed to having money, and I had made the decision to work weekends during my final year so that it would be the first I didn’t spend in poverty.

The only job I could find, though, was at Poundland, and I only got that because my flatmate worked there. Jobs were hard to come by in Dundee and Poundland was the lowest of the low. It was one of the few places that actually paid the minimum wage. Poundland was a place people joked about and avoided at all costs… both as a place to work and to shop. The customers and staff were the most desperate and hopeless people I ever knew.

On Wednesday Borders surprised almost no one by filing for bankruptcy. Authors are pissed because the company has not yet paid for the books it sold over the Christmas period. Readers are pissed because another of their local bookstores has bitten the dust.

As a reader it may seem strange that I’ve always had a strong distaste for bookstores. I hate that bookstores have “literature” sections that are a few shelves long, because most of what they sell is not literature. It’s celebrity biographies, books to accompany fad TV shows, and imitations of imitations. For me, they were a necessary evil – a place to visit to sift through the crap and find what you need.

In Dundee, during my university years, we had a handful of bookstores in the town centre, and several littered throughout the West End – the university district. Even by my third year, well before the world economy shat the bed, Dundee’s bookstores were in trouble. They began closing and reopening at smaller premises, with selections more focused on commercial books. The independent stores closed altogether.

I

Around the age of twelve I moved into a big house with my family. It was on the edge of our little village, with a large garden. The house had two storeys – more than twice as many rooms as either of our previous homes, and was more than a hundred years old.

Everything about the house was ancient. It was built solidly, but it creaked. The stairs creaked, the doors creaked, the windows creaked. Sitting in the house alone, one could always hear noises.

During the next few years I frequently found myself in the house alone. I could always hear the movement of people who weren’t there. There were always noises that were impossible to identify. None of these, I believe, were ghosts, but they led my imagination astray more than a few times.

Like so many stories, it began with a drunken promise. My friend Nathan told me he’d found something. “It’s the most amazing thing in the world,” he said.

Naturally I didn’t put too much faith in those words, but I nonetheless looked forward to the day I’d become a part of the secret; the main frustration being that three people in the whole world knew about this “amazing thing” and I wasn’t one of them…

***

One warm summer night we were drinking in a blues bar. There were many familiar faces, but I found myself alone with Nathan, talking about the “amazing thing.”

“It’s a house,” he said. “An abandoned house.”

My excitement died a little. How exciting could a house possibly be? In Dundee, damn near half the buildings were derelict. “You’ve got to see it… It’s beautiful. Not just any house; a big house. Ancient. On the _____ Road, too.”