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Persistence: Getting ‘Billy & The Devil’ Published by Dean Lilleyman

Writing.ie | Magazine | General Fiction
billy and the devil

By Dean Lilleyman

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Thirteen years ago, I went walkabout on a three-day bender.

My memories are a little blurry, but, I remember coming to at home, in my bed, a man stood saying things to me that I didn’t quite understand (a man who, it turns out, was a doctor) and my wife and two kids stood at the bottom of the bed in tears. I had, of course, up to that point, at least a couple of dozen false epiphanies, of recognising that I had to stop this thing, a thing that had – if I stopped to look – got deeper, heavier, more controlling, and as time went on, the real me had fallen further and further behind, as this thing began to do all the talking: this way, this way, this way.

In vino veritas, my arse. But, that day, thirteen years ago, I stopped for real.

And after a month of watching things crawl the walls, of trying to pull my tongue out because the itch wouldn’t stop, I came out of that room and went into the garden.

Summer 2002.

And I began to dig.

To plant flowers.

And something began to happen.

I was making things now, not breaking them. And then, after a few months dry, I signed on at the local college. I started to write. And once I started, I couldn’t stop. And after college, university. Stories, poems, scripts, whatever… and much like that summer in the garden, these things I was making did something that to this day I can’t fully explain. But perhaps this: by taking these things out of me, by putting them onto the page, reshaped, allowing them to wander off a bit, I was beginning to understand. And, just as importantly, I was moving forward, bit by bit, and I was doing the talking now, not ‘it’.

And from all of this, came a novel called Billy and the Devil, a story made of episodes from the life of an alcoholic, a jigsaw of perspectives and happenings, that for me, showed the very real nature of addiction, with nothing prettified.

dean_lilley 280I had, very early on in the writing of it, decided that I wasn’t going to turn the camera eye away. This impulse came early after quitting the drink, reading novels and stories, watching films, anything that had a focus on alcoholism, but, for the most part, these things seemed to miss out so much of the real it began to irritate. Oh dear, he’s lost his wife. Oh dear, he’s lost his job. No. Let’s get this straight: addiction is not pretty, it is an obscenely ugly descent where self-respect is lost, where self is lost, and the psychological aspect is as Dantean vile as the physical. And, of course, this is where as a writer, you will discover the cost of such a making if your drive is to show these things as they really are. Some will most definitely turn away from you, appalled that you would make such a ‘disgusting’ thing. And, as a writer, when seeking to get your finished work ‘out there’ and approach the gate-keepers with such material, you will find most (if not all) doors will close no matter how good the making of it is.

This is what happened to me.

I was writing this novel at a university, an MA scholarship, awarded to me because of the quality of the material I’d produced for the novel on my degree there. Very early on in the scholarship I was approached by a literary agent via the buzz my manuscript was creating. I went to London to meet him. I was told if I finished the manuscript with the same quality that these first few episodes had, then he would very much want to sign me. Flash-forward to the novel being finished, to it receiving the highest mark on the entire MA course, to it being vaunted by many of the tutors associated with it as something that will most definitely get published, most definitely make a noise, most definitely… but, the agent said no. The reason? High quality writing, yes, but he found the novel was too real, too grim… And yes this left me angry, frustrated, because surely I’d done my job if a) the novel was ‘too real’ and b) a story about an alcoholic that loses everything (including himself) is a tad fucking ‘grim’ at times?

Cut to six months later. This agent’s response has been echoed by two-dozen other agents. So, I self-publish. It shifts near a thousand copies. And then I get contacted by a man called Matthew Smith at Urbane Publications. He says he bumped into my website. Found my book. Loves the truth of it, the dark humour, the writing. Asks me to meet up with him in London, so I do. He buys me dinner, and, as the trains rattle beneath us, waves a copy of my self-published book about in a crowded restaurant, speaks loud about why the story shook him. I can tell he means what he says by the look in his eyes. I sign with him. The end.

But it’s not. Because some things keep burning after the fact. And these are the things. Billy and the Devil is the truth of what is was to lose myself, but by writing it out I got myself back. I’m very proud of my first book. To soften the telling of it would have made it a lie. When I first started writing it I’d sit under a blanket as I typed, an armour against the imagined voices telling me no, you can’t write that, no. Well, I did write it. And it did get published.

Persistence, as my publisher is prone to say.

(c) Dean Lilleyman

 About Billy And The Devil

Billy and the Devil is a shocking, compelling and intimate portrayal of isolation, sexual misadventure, and addiction. Told in a series of brilliantly rendered observations and episodes from Billy’s life, this controversial story charts an all-too real descent into alcoholism. It is an unflinchingly vivid journey to a place of no return, where love is lost in the darkest of woods – a boy, who becomes a man, who becomes his own worst devil. But ultimately, what choice does Billy have?

Raw, poetic, with moments of pure imaginative visceral genius, Billy and the Devil is by turns funny and sad, brutal and tender, horrific and uplifting. You will be both challenged and moved by this astonishing debut novel from author Dean Lilleyman.

“This is wild stuff, very dark and very brilliant.” – Conor O’Callaghan, author of The Sun King

Pick up your copy online here!

Find out more about Dean at http://deanlilleyman.com/

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