Rick almost let out a blood-curdling scream when he saw that an online bookshop had placed a content warning on his 1986 novel “SCYTHE MANIAC!“.
In bold letters, it had read “This novel contains frequent graphic scenes of a grisly nature and is suitable for mature audiences only“.
For a second, he thought about getting on the phone to his publisher or firing off an e-mail to the press. It would be a way to stay relevant. But he remembered that, these days, teenagers don’t read horror novels any more. Even if they did, they’d probably obey the content warning.
These days, he thought, the press wouldn’t bluster and foam at him for criticising the warning. They would just tut at him in a “concerned” fashion. There would be a vicious stream of carefully curated outrage in the comments below every editorial. Some of these wholesome pacifists would probably send him death threats too. Rick let out another sigh. Since when, he thought, did controversy become such a bad thing?
His eyes drifted over to the bookshelf beside his writing desk. Twenty dark spines stared back at him, festooned with bold words like “DEATH RATTLE!“, “SKELETON FIENDS!” and “SPIKES!“. These days, he thought, it looked less like a trophy cabinet and more like the horror section of some indoor market book stall, frequented only by nostalgic old people.
There was only one thing for it. Rick made a phone call and picked up his leather jacket.
Thirty minutes later, he sat in the beer garden of The Fox And Hounds with a rollie in his left hand and a half-finished pint in his right. Opposite him, a man with long white hair reached into his own leather jacket and pulled out his mobile phone. It was a good, solid model from 2002 that could withstand horrors worse than either man could write about. It bleeped quietly.
Rick stubbed out his rollie and sighed: ‘I suppose you’ve heard about the content warnings, Dave. They’ll be putting them on your books next.‘
Dave let out a bitter laugh: ‘Fat bloody chance! They’d actually have to sell. Seriously, I make more money flogging my old publisher copies on eBay than selling new copies. Luckily, my remaining ten fans are wealthy, successful people.‘
‘Really? I thought you’d turned to bank robbery, or sold a kidney or both.‘ Rick chuckled.
Dave raised his bushy eyebrows: ‘You know, that would be a brilliant idea for a novel.‘
Taking a hearty swig from his pint, Rick said: ‘Too bloody right! Even better, there could be some kind of demonic ghoul who decides to stage a robbery…‘
‘…Of the organ bank. I love it!‘ Dave’s eyes shone brightly. For a second, Rick could see a hint of the stunningly handsome twenty-three year old man he’d first met at an author panel back in the ’80s. The crowds had gone wild when they’d appeared on stage. There had been nothing but a sea of leather jackets and heavy metal T-shirts. They were rockstars.
As Rick slumped forward, Dave muttered: ‘… and it wouldn’t get published. And you know why?‘
Rick was about to reply with an explanation that almost sounded like the conservative editorials that had hounded him throughout his twenties. But, before he could say anything, Dave just pointed towards the pub window.
Behind the faded glass, a widescreen TV played silent news footage of bombed-out cities, bodies on stretchers and screaming faces. A minute later, it was replaced by footage of police officers in some rural field somewhere gathering solemnly around a small white tent.
‘Maybe we’re just in the wrong market?‘ Dave said ‘With all of that stuff in the news, we should be selling our books on the bloody “Mind, Body & Spirit” shelf. They’re practically… relaxing…. by comparison!‘