Living with the Truth
Jim Murdoch
Fandango Virtual (4 May 2008)
ISBN 978-0-9550636-1-9
Paperback: 192 pages
12.8 x 19.8cm

Picture, for a moment, Jonathan Payne, probably the last person in the world you would expect to be the lead character in anybody’s novel, a faded old bookseller nearing the end of a wasted life. We meet him alone in his flat in a seaside town in the north of England just waiting on Death to knock at his front door. But life has something else in store for poor Jonathan. Instead of Death he gets to spend an infuriating two days with the personification of truth who opens Jonathan’s eyes to not only what his life has become but what it might have been. He discovers what he’s missed out on, what other people are really thinking and the true nature of the universe which, as you might imagine, is nothing like he would have ever expected it to be.

Stranger than Fiction
Jim Murdoch
Fandango Virtual (4 August 2009)
ISBN 978-0-9550636-2-6
Paperback: 188 pages
12.8 x 19.8 x 1.4 cm

A sequel to Living with the Truth, the novel takes place in a landscape generated by Jonathan’s memories of his past life. Everyone and everything is as he remembers it, not necessarily the way it was.

This Is Not About What You Think
Jim Murdoch
Fandango Virtual (19 July 2010)
ISBN 978-0-9550636-3-3
Paperback: 132 pages
12.8 x 19.8cm

The titular poem opens the collection with these words:

Every name and place has been changed,
what we did and why – all changed,
the dates and times, how we really felt,
the reasons we wouldn’t stay away,
everything slightly altered, twisted,

to accuse the innocents
and excuse those guilty…

In his introduction, the author tells us:

“No poem is ever about what you think it is. You’re always required to read in between the lines and so it’s up to each reader to provide his or her context and meaning generally from dipping into their own experiences. This is true of other art forms but it is especially true of poetry. The mind demands order so we try to make sense out of the words in front of us. We decide who’s talking and about what.

“Collections bring additional problems because we feel a need to connect the poems; we look for common threads, a story when there is none. There is no story to this collection but you will find yourself looking for one. Even if the poems had not been arranged in the order they have been you would still see that they chart a life from childhood through to old age but it is not my life nor the life of anyone I know or know of.

“What is the purpose of poetry: to communicate or to record? It can be both. My poetry is actually written primarily to exorcise, to get a specific thought or feeling out of my head so I can examine it before dealing with and then discarding it. The writing process is more important to me than the finished product. Once written I understand myself a little more. I may still be carrying around the same baggage but it’s packed a little more neatly.”

Milligan and Murphy
Jim Murdoch
Fandango Virtual (11 November 2011)
ISBN 978-0-9550636-6-4
Paperback: 180 pages
12.8 x 19.8cm

There are no reasons for unreasonable things. So the protagonists of this novel are told having found themselves setting out on an adventure that they really didn’t plan. Like many people, Murdoch has always had a great affection for the two lead characters in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Have you ever wondered what Didi and Gogo were like when they were young and what led them to end up waiting for a man who would most likely never turn up? That’s basically the premise Murdoch set out to explore in Milligan and Murphy but that was not the question he finally answered.

Milligan and Murphy are not Didi and Gogo, nor are they Mercier and Camier, Beckett’s less-well-known “pseudo-couple”—they are very much themselves—but after an unexpected encounter on the road out of the town with an old man who has decided that searching for someone that will never be found is better than waiting for someone who will never turn up, they suddenly find themselves with big questions to answer and they’re not very good with questions, big or small.

On their journey they meet a variety of eccentric characters: a priest who in a former life was a Roman centurion, an artist who now walks with a limp after venturing into the ring with a boxing kangaroo, a former inmate of the local asylum and a bartender who might well be Old Nick himself. The question is, whereas Beckett’s characters walk round and round in circles and get nowhere, will Milligan and Murphy escape or be dragged back home by the mysterious man who has been cycling after them?

Making Sense
Jim Murdoch
Fandango Virtual (4 May 2013)
ISBN 978-1-908815-01-9
Paperback: 156 pages
12.8 x 19.8cm

How do you make sense out of life? Some say that you can’t and you shouldn’t bother to try. Still, most of us try to impose a sense of sense onto it. We dream up reasons, justifications or excuses to give our lives meaning. In this collection of short stories from Scottish writer Jim Murdoch we meet twenty people who have nothing in common apart from this need to make sense out of their lives: a murderer, a gambler, an adoptee, a stand-up comic, a teacher; men, women, parents and children, all doing their best to answer the self-same questions, and where their five senses fall short they have to rely on their other senses: those of humour, of justice, of right and wrong, of decency…

Reader Please Supply Meaning
Jim Murdoch
Fandango Virtual (24 January 2015)
ISBN 978-1-908815-01-9
Paperback: 122 pages
12.8 x 19.8cm

A poem is, at least according to Paul Valéry, “never finished, only abandoned.” It’s up to its readers to complete the text. This, of course, echoes what Samuel Johnson wrote: “A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it.” A written text, any written text, the text you’re reading right now, only comes to life when someone reads it. When I lay out words on a page and call that arrangement a poem, all I’ve done, if you’ll forgive the crude and rather obvious analogy, is kludge together body parts and left it up to you to animate them. You are my bright sparks.

~Jim Murdoch (on his second collection of poetry, Reader Please Supply Meaning)

In 1996 Jim Murdoch was looking for a connection with other people who wrote poetry. He found his way into Fandango Virtual’s online poetry workshop (Metamorphosis) where he posted the poem which eventually lent its name to this volume:

Reader Please Supply Meaning
Writers are all liars. We all are.
But at least they are honest liars.
They write down those necessary lies,
the kind that move men to leaps of faith
or excuse us when we fail to jump.
In the end it doesn’t matter that
they let us down in the cruellest ways.
18 August 1996

I was impressed enough with that poem to want to read more and get to know the author better. We soon became close friends and eventually married about a year later. For that reason, I am particularly fond of this poem; an excellent example of the tone of this thought-provoking collection.

~ Carrie Berry, FV Books

The More Things Change
Jim Murdoch
Fandango Virtual (7 March 2017)
ISBN 978-1-908815-08-8
Paperback: 340 pages
12.8 x 19.8cm

Jim Valentine is a middling English teacher, a loner and wannabe writer. Turning forty he encounters a strange man in his local park who seems to know more about him than Jim’s comfortable with including his dearest wish. On returning home Jim discovers he now has a wife he can’t remember meeting but to whom he’s apparently been married for over twenty years and he has grownup children, too. Hard as it might be to accept it becomes obvious that the man in the park is more than he appears and he has more in store for Jim than giving him his ideal wife.

Over the next five years Jim struggles to reconstruct a past from the evidence available and ends up writing a book about his experiences—Memoirs of a Made-up Man—which is a runaway success but his marriage is not and five years later his wife leaves him “for a cat called Hodge, two goldfish and a view of the Atlantic that never seemed anything but cold and uninviting.”

Jim fails to repeat the success of that first book. The much anticipated follow-up, a short-story collection entitled The Man Who Wrestled Angels, doesn’t sell and he stops writing, at least on paper, preferring to spend his days sitting on a bench in his park waiting; for what he has no idea. Finally, after some thirty years, he meets the man again who points out that “Man is nothing other than what he makes of himself. With himself. Such is the guiding principle of existentialism.” Only then is the truth about what’s happened to him revealed including a final, satisfying twist involving a rake.

~Jim Murdoch (on his fourth novel, The More Things Change)

Though speculative fiction is not my go-to genre, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. Longer than Jim’s other novels, it’s rich with literary imagery but it doesn’t get in the way of the story. More character than plot driven, there’s still a tale to be told that can be enjoyed by anyone who loves to read about how people cope with life in an alternative setting.

~ Carrie Berry, FV Books

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