Monday, October 31, 2011

The Mushroom Man.

Welcome to the second story in the Luddensley chronicles - The Mushroom Man.

Based in the (mostly) fictitious Luddensley village and its neighbouring town Neerthorpe which together boast far more than the usual amount of murder, mayhem and paranormal activity, The Mushroom Man tells the tale of Gerald Pembroke, a harmless and somewhat stressed mushroom grower who is not faring particularly well in his chosen profession. His wife Marion considers him something of an idiot and is more than happy to treat him as such while she herself engages in a string of affairs with younger men.

Things start looking up when he discovers that Derek, his grow room manager, is using his facilities to grow hallucinogenic Liberty Cap mushrooms as a sideline to enhance his meagre salary. After a brief discussion it becomes apparent to Gerald that there's a quick fix way out of his debt situation staring him in the face, and after a little exploratory fumbling he eventually turns the entire farm over to Liberty Cap production.

As a general rule, if something looks too good to be true it usually is, and as the local drug dealers get a whiff of Gerald's new product they decide that they want in on the action, which attracts even further unwanted attention from the local constabulary.

After an impromptu visit from the police Gerald's courage takes a massive swan dive and in a fit of drunken panic he clears out the entire crop and dumps it down a disused well on the farmland. Unfortunately and unknown to Gerald the spring that feeds the well also feeds a local spring water bottling plant so now everyone's getting some and the whole of Luddensley begin to discover the wonderful benefits of hallucinatory paranoia and this, as they say, is where it all begins...

The Mushroom Man is a story of hilarious tragedy, misconception, violence and blood letting wherein only one man knows the truth and he's the one that caused it all and is therefore, very wisely, keeping his mouth shut.

The Making of...

People are now familiar with the extra features available on DVD that describe how a movie was made, but there's no reason why I can't apply the same principle to the written word so long as I don't give too much of the plot away, and while I'm aware that someone reading this may not have actually read the story I can live with that if it'll pique further interest, so here it is, the making of The Mushroom Man.

The process began with a simple idea, ending some six months later with a bizarre set of characters on quite literally the 'trip' of a lifetime. The initial premise is drawn from true accounts of the Salem witch trials of 1692-3 wherein about fourteen women and five men were wrongfully convicted of, and executed for, acts of witchcraft. Modern speculation is that they were the unfortunate victims of ergot poisoning, which results in manic behaviour, hallucinations and delirium but isn't fatal unless you jump off a cliff while under the impression that you're a bird.

The Mushroom Man uses a similar scenario with the exception that the offending substance is derived from particularly strong hallucinogenic Psilocybe Semilanceata mushrooms. Of course if you're going to poison an entire village you'll need an awful lot of mushrooms as well as a rapid and sneaky means of delivering the stuff, because not everyone likes mushrooms and even fewer will try the magic variety.

It stood to reason that the main character would have to be a professional mushroom grower and luckily the way to grow magic shrooms is pretty much the same way that commercial  Bispora (white buttons) are cultivated so that was a no brainer. But what were our mushroom grower's motivations? Why would he turn all of his resources over to producing the illegal fungi while being fully aware of the penalties involved? The star of the show, Gerald Pembroke, had to be a man of conscience and he had to be broke, and the best way to be broke is to turn all of your production toward servicing the supermarkets, who have been notorious of late for setting their own purchase levels, much to the detriment of the financially exclusive growers.

Being a good man, Gerald couldn't just take the first step toward villainy, he had to be led, and so there had to be characters around who could harass him toward, and lure him in, to the same destination. Marion, Gerald's wife, is the one who was never happy, thus driving Gerald to be more successful, and Derek, the grow room manager, is the one who does the luring by being seen to reap large benefits with very little work. With these key personalities influencing him all that remains is to catch him in a moment of weakness and he'll make the requisite mistakes.

Having grown all the mushrooms then how are they to be delivered? Not as mushrooms of course because nobody will eat something that they're not familiar with. The delivery method also needs to be invisible so that the victims are completely unable to see the cause of their delusions, only then would they accept them as reality. It had to be put into the water supply somehow and to be readily consumed by everyone. The bottled water plant covers the distribution part but how to get it into the water in the first place was an issue. 

I remember in my infancy living in a house with a communal well in the front yard. The well had long since been covered over with large sandstone slabs but I remember digging away with a stick all the earth that had become trapped between the stones and finally working my way completely through. I stared between the stones with one eye and saw the still perfectly round tunnel of brick work and the flickering black disk of water at the bottom of the well.

All wells are essentially connected by the water table so it makes sense that something foul falling into one well would be detectable at another eventually. I used this notion to connect the old well that was on Gerald's land with the bottling plant which is fed by the same spring, and thus the key features of the plot fell into place.

After giving Gerald the motivation to grow the mushrooms I then had to motivate him to dump them down the well when the time was right, so he needed to be a bit of a knee jerk merchant, someone who would be panicked by authority figures. This opened up several other character vulnerabilities, such as his tolerance of Marion's extra marital abuses, his feelings of personal responsibility toward his employees and his envy at Derek's initial but minor success.

Once his personality was sorted out his dialogue flowed easily and his petty frustrations shone through in comedic fashion. Of course, being the hero of the piece meant that he couldn't remain the way that he was in the beginning of the story. There had to be a grand transformation, from victim of vicissitude to man of the hour. He had to lose everything and in so doing, find himself. I made him realise where the true values of his life were and then, having nothing left to lose, I made him reach out and take them back.

On his journey he comes into contact with some extremely unpleasant but nonetheless very entertaining characters and being the adaptive creature that we all are, some of their dark nature inevitably rubs off on him. It is this adoption of darker traits that enables him to escape the consequences of his earlier actions. It does beg the question though; can the powerful ever be truly innocent? In the early stages Gerald was a victim of circumstance and may perhaps be forgiven for his bad judgement, but as his anger develops he takes power from the situation and begins to ignore his own concept of justice by blaming the whole thing on a dead man. In all honesty I don't like the way that he turned out, but it was either that or put him behind bars for a very long time for making a bad decision when the pressure was on. I didn't feel justified in jailing him but then I've never let that worry me before. Maybe I just thought that he deserved a break for once.

I wanted to save Marion because despite all her bravado and her constant belittling of Gerald's achievements she was probably the most vulnerable character in the book, wanting little more than a bit of attention from the man that she loved but essentially felt unworthy of. I toyed with the idea of killing her at the hands of Sir Douglas but she and Gerald need each other and so I let her live.

I love Topper Turpin's character. He's a totally hard and selfish bastard but he's also very intelligent and worldly wise and the only way to kill someone like him was with sheer bad luck. You can't sneak up on a man like that. He sleeps with his eyes open, when he's not shit faced on whiskey that is. He is immune to threats and is capable of anything. Unfortunately time has its way with everyone and so he needed a willing young apprentice. Bosch Clegg didn't even need to apply for the job. He was another man who knew what was his and was willing to kill to defend it, or in order to get some more.

One of the surprises for me was Tracy Pleasance. Who'd have thought it? A young woman with a dark secret who comes into the plot very late to save the day by being essentially the most barbaric character in the story and having no greater a motive than the fact that she liked killing people. Bless her.

Sir Douglas was another character that I wanted to somehow save but he had to move over to let Tracy in. He did end up as a local legend of sorts which is no less than he ultimately deserves.

As ever, there are inevitably several throw away characters who meet with grisly deaths, my favourite in this case being Santa who has always struck me as a bit of a weirdo.

The fun part of any dark fiction project is always sitting back with a Tequila Diablo, or three, and deciding who lives and who dies. It's important not to apply favouritism in these cases in order to create shock factor by killing off characters that are perceived by the reader to be key players. This takes all of the inevitability out of the plot and keeps people wondering what the hell's going on right up to the end.

I hope that you've enjoyed reading The Mushroom Man as much as I've enjoyed writing it and that I've given a little insight into how the story evolved.

If you haven't read it yet but would like to know what I've been rattling on about for the last eighteen paragraphs why not buy a copy? 

Virtually all of your favourite on-line ebook sellers will be able to provide The Mushroom Man in ebook, Apple, Sony, Nookbook and Kindle formats using the digital ISBN: 978-1-4658-5628-9

Alternatively it can be bought in print from any online bookstore or ordered by your local book seller using ISBN: 978-1-906755-23-2.


  1. This is a great story. I got it from Amazon last week and I couldn't put it down. Fab how all the different threads come together at the end. I'm not someone who normally sits down with a book (more of a movie person) but I have to say I enjoyed every bit of it. Funny, gory, zany, complete madness. I think I'll go for the bedtime tales anthology next. Thanks.

  2. Review by: Stephen Gawtry on March 09, 2012 :
    In The Mushroom Man, Vault, the new master of the macabre, has taken a contemporary English village and let all hell break loose through an hilarious, shocking and believably-mad chain of events. The owner of a struggling mushroom farm is being forced by the supermarkets to lower his prices till he can barely survive. As he searches desperately for a way through, he discovers his attention-seeking wife is shagging all the local young studs and one of his trusted employees is growing hallucinogenic mushrooms right under his nose. He is about to throw the employee out on his ear, along with his mushrooms, when he finds out the ludicrous profit to be made from them. As a temporary measure to help him out of the financial mess he's in, he turns the the whole farm over to the production of Liberty Cap mushrooms and for the first time in years, starts to make serious money. However, the local drug barons don't take too kindly to someone taking their trade and before long they come in pursuit, swiftly followed by the local police who are monitoring them. In a drunken panic, the owner deposits the entire crop of mushrooms down the old farm well. Unbeknown to him, this is not only linked to the local water supply, but feeds into the local holy well from which the village's famous mineral water is bottled and sold. As no-one really knows what is happening and most of the population are out of their heads, paranoia, visions of the local saint, and all manner of horror and tragedy ensue. Just when you think it can't get any worse, it does. Vault has an uncanny eye for the absurd and the dysfunctions of the human condition just bubbling away under the surface waiting for release. The result is a localised apocalypse, an all-out war that has not been seen on English soil for centuries, but is sadly believable even in modern times. I am trying desperately to not give too much away and spoil the tale, but I want to get across the sheer force and drive of the narrative and the unstoppable holocaust that Vault has unleashed. More than his previous works, The Mushroom Man screams out to be made into a film - and what a film it will make! A visual feast of British horror at its best, with an extraordinary cast of ordinary dysfunctional characters released from their fetters to give full range to their derranged thoughts on a blood-splattered village green - village life will never be the same again. I suspect the censors will have to create a new category for this, but I for one will be first in line for a ticket! Five stars! - Stephen Gawtry - UK.