Each week this summer, we will be showcasing our authors to give a more in depth background and insight into their minds and their work. This week, we focus on Fernando Sdrigotti, whose Dysfunctional Males was released on Feb. 28, 2017 and marked the debut of La Casita Grande Press.
"Dysfunctional Males is a collection of five short stories set in contemporary London.
A satirical critique of the weaknesses and obsessions of the ‘stronger sex’, this ambitious work of fiction focuses on the misadventures of its characters to explore life and alienation in a contemporary megalopolis.
At times uproarious, at others pathetic and dark, the fables in the collection share a distinctive atmosphere beyond fantasy and realism, inviting readers to take part in an onward flight that could land them anywhere."
- Could you explain your style and approach to telling this story?
Like the great Roberto Arlt once wrote, “to have a style it is necessary to have comfort, to live off a rent, to have an easy life.” Without wanting to compare myself with Arlt nor claiming I have a hard life, I am not sure I have a style, particularly as I write in a second language, and the material discomfort that Arlt discusses is for me a linguistic discomfort. If I have a style I don’t know. So, I think I better tell you about how I arrived at this book.
I wrote Dysfunctional Males over a period of 6 months in 2010. My wife was pregnant and I had the feeling that this was the last thing I was going to write because I was going to be a parent and parents don’t write books. Obviously that was a load of shite, but still, I wrote with urgency, every day, quite obsessively, and I think that was a good thing, a good exercise for me, particularly as it was the first project I wrote in English. The book was originally 13 stories and 180,000 words long, which is insane for a short story collection. But I was always aware that I was writing much more that what I was going to publish — this excess was part of the plan: I was writing ‘riding a line of flight’ and I anticipated a lot of rubble, that I always planned to cut down later.
It was by riding the line of flight that this book came to be — riding the line of flight I discovered the characters, the seemingly disconnected details, and what the book was going to be about. It was all down to a way of writing, to that urgency. And there is a feeling of fluidity in this book, a flow that is there — I think — regardless of the book being well written or not, or it working or not in the way I intended it.
- What ideas drove you to write your story and what do you hope readers take away from your book?
No idea drove me to write the story, nothing beyond the exercise of writing I had proposed myself, like I mentioned earlier. In the process of writing the book I discovered what I wanted to write about, from a thematic point of view and once I clocked that I embraced it and went for it, took that road and followed it until I arrived at its end.
I mean, of course there were some small things — images, phrases, sounds — that served as a launching pad, if wanted. There are always these things when I write, little things that I steal from others, from overhead conversations, things that someone tells me, fragments of news, etc. But at the time of starting with Dysfunctional Males I didn’t think “hey, I am going to do this and I am going to do it in this way,” as if I had a whole coherent project in mind. I just thought “I saw or heard this and I want to write about this and then see how this grows.” Most of my projects are born from something very minimal, some very small event, that comes in conjunction with a certain way of writing at the time. I no longer write with urgency these days but I force myself to write under certain conditions. Always. These conditions can be something as trivial as working only with pen and paper for a certain project, or writing in the very early morning, or very late at night, or only in a pub, or writing a certain number of words a day during a certain period of time. How I write a book is for me as much a part of the book project as the book itself.
As to what I expect the reader to take from my book? I just hope that they don’t read the book ‘literally’. No book survives a literal reading. Beyond I don’t think you can expect anything. Every reader writes a different book when he or she reads it.
- What story challenged you the most and why?
All the stories ended up presenting different challenges. But the ones that I found more difficult were the stories written in the first person. I don’t even know why I wrote them in the first person. But I did. And it was hard to write about this from the first person, particularly in the story of the vanishing wanker, a disgusting character that I ended up hating.
There is a tendency to read fiction in autobiographical terms and this was on the back of my head when I was writing about guys doing or thinking things I’d rather no one associated me with, even if there is a critical edge, and I think they end up being the butt of the jokes, something that is clear from the title onwards, I think.
Perhaps I wrote them as a form of punishment? Maybe I hate myself? Is it possible to write without hating oneself? Or maybe I wrote them to become unemployable? If this was the case maybe I love myself.
- What is your literary philosophy?
As a writer, I take every book project as a problem. Not in the sense that I create myself a problem by writing a book — which is also perhaps accurate — but in the sense that in every project I end up positing myself a problem and then write towards solving this problem, within the length of a book. Maybe this is a result of my being a failed intellectual, having quit an academic career in order to write things that are read by more than fourteen people but that don’t make me any money or look good on a CV. Whatever the reason, I like to think that my books work in critical ways, not only as storytelling artefacts.
The problem always becomes apparent while I’m writing. I don’t think you can think a book without writing it. I always discuss this with writers, friends, who come and tell me “hey, I got this idea for a book about this or that!” My answer is always “let me see the first draft when you finished it and then we talk.” This generally never happens because books that take place in someone’s head — instead of on a screen or piece of paper — hardly every come to life. I discover the book, the problem, writing. Which means my first draft, or the first 10,000 or so words of a manuscript, usually end up fanning the flames of a barbecue. But the problem always turns up. And towards this problem I write. If you write long enough, forward, the problem and the book turns up. It’s quite magical, like an epiphany. I guess I believe in writing...
As a reader, if a book doesn’t have a critical element it’s highly unlikely that it’ll engage me. I look for books that can be read as problem-solving tools — books that think things through, things that I want to think myself, problems that I want to solve. Storytelling alone doesn’t do it for me. When I want just a good story I go and talk to any of the drunks in my local pub, who are all great storytellers, and every now and then they even buy you a drink, as long as you are willing to listen. Books don’t buy you drinks.
- What is your advice for young writers?
Do what works for you. There is no single way of doing this. Enjoy it and if you ever stop enjoying it do something else with your time.