Adam Ford takes posties, poets and a big bad dog and delivers us a story full of deft observations, real humour and exactly the right amount of everyday human frailty. I know these people so well now, I’m convinced I’ve already had a drink with them.
—Nick Earls (Zig Zag Street, The Thompson Gunner)
Man Bites Dog is my first novel, published back in 2003 by the lovely people at Allen & Unwin.
It’s a story of postal delivery, zines, poetry readings, crap television, failed romance and the problems that can be caused by a big bad dog.
It got a few awards in its time, including an Honourable Mention in the Young Adult category of the 2003 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards and inclusion in the 2004 Children’s Book Council Notable Books for Older Readers. It won Best Designed Young Adult Book in the Australian Publishing Association Awards in 2004, and finally in 2005 it was runner-up in the 2005 One Book, One Brisbane award. Which was nice.
Man Bites Dog is currently unavailable, but I hope to have ebook versions available soon – stay tuned. Meantime you can read a sample chapter right here.
Satan stands up on his hind legs and leans against the fence, drool falling from his lips. He bares his fangs and growls a deep, bear-like growl. His paws rest on the top of the fence. His head is level with mine. As I approach the gate, the beat of his growl gets faster. I reach into my pocket and pull out a fresh piece of uncooked chicken. The slimy skin feels cold through the Gladwrap. Satan licks his lips and continues his one-note song. I unwrap the chicken and lob it over the fence, and it hits the wooden veranda with a dull thump. Satan drops onto all fours and trots over to the chicken, and in the brief moment he takes to wolf it down I slip the mail into the slot beside the gate and jump back to my waiting bike. I step on the pedals and push off. I’m not even at the next house when Satan’s evil baritone fills my ears.
I don’t speak dog, I’ve never met anyone who speaks dog, but there’s no doubt in my mind what Satan is saying.
“Don’t think you can buy me off with chicken, little man. On the day I get through to the other side of this fence, I’m having mailman for breakfast.”
I never hated university. Never liked it either. Just went there. Didn’t have any better ideas about what I could be doing with my time. Actually, that’s a lie. I had a lot of ideas. Most of them involved not getting out of bed until about 8.30 the following Thursday, going down to the pub to see what bands were playing, and scamming free drinks off Gina. But given the effort that everyone (myself included) had made to get me to university, I needed a better reason for dropping out than a nagging feeling of ambivalence about the whole tertiary education system. And given that I was only ambivalent – not angry, not resentful, not disappointed, not even contemptuous – it seemed like the best thing to do was just hang in there and slog on through until the end.
So, when the final day of university came around, after three moderately dull years of exploring the inner suburbs of Melbourne and trying to stay awake during Psychology of Adolescence, I found myself standing at the edge of the campus, staring down at my shoes.
I love my shoes. The Chuck Taylor Converse All-Star is a classic. Unpretentious in form, functional in function. You put them on your feet and they stop rocks and glass jabbing into you. Plus they’re green. Green shoes are cool. But the reason I was staring down at my excellent bottle-green feet-protecting Chucks wasn’t the deep admiration I had for them. It was because the thought had just occurred to me that once I stepped off campus I would be crossing an Imaginary Line separating the Real World from the World of University. Not that I was unfamiliar with the Real World. I had travelled through it almost daily as I cycled from my house to uni. I’d walked around in the Real World on weekends, checking it all out, smelling its smells, tripping over its small animals, bumping my head on its doorways. I was as well-travelled in the Real World as anyone else. But this time there was no turning back. Once I stepped over the Imaginary Line I’d become a permanent resident of the Real World instead of a tourist who could nick off home if things got too freaky.
Once I stepped off-campus I’d be faced with the Big Question. The question I’d avoided these last few weeks as I concentrated on finishing my end-of-semester essays. The question I feared being asked. The question that there was no way to avoid.
The Question: What are you going to do with the rest of your life?
The Answer: I have no fucking idea.
I never really planned my life. I sort of had it planned for me, but not in any grandiose manipulative way. A better way to look at it is that I never spent any time actually working out what I was going to do from day to day. It was all kind of laid out for me. Primary school to secondary school, secondary school to university, university to… some kind of job related to my “field of expertise”. But after three years of wiping drool from my lecture notes, the only thing I could state with confidence was that I would rather strip my skin off with a razor blade and dive into a swimming pool filled with lemon juice than hand in another essay or sit through another three-hour exam again. I may have had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but I was deadly certain about what I didn’t want to do.
I stood with my toes resting just behind the line where the brick-paved university walkway met the bitumen footpath along Swanston Street. I stood there, caught in what I flattered myself was an existential crisis. I didn’t know the exact definition of the word, so I couldn’t be entirely sure that an existential crisis was what I was having. But I liked the sound of the word. It made me feel kind of romantic, which was better than confused, which was how – if I was honest with myself – I really felt.
I continued to stare down at my Chucks. To the outside world I would have looked like someone simply staring at his shoes, which was perfectly understandable. The outside world could not be expected to appreciate the importance of my thought processes at that moment. The outside world could even be forgiven for bumping straight into me as it made its way to a geology lecture in the building across the road, sending me sprawling onto my hands and knees, a good fifteen centimetres on the wrong side of the border of University Life and the Real World.
What was not understandable, what was pretty much unforgivable, was the subsequent lack of acknowledgement from the outside world as it sprinted across the street to catch the flashing red man.
Wincing, I picked myself up and inspected my knee for damage. It wasn’t too bad – a little bit of shredded skin and a little bit of blood. An auspicious debut, I thought to myself. Welcome to the Real World.