You think being a published author is a dream come true? Read this collection of four, hilarious, memoir-style essays from Liam Pieper, and think again.
Published: Penguin, April 2015
Format: e-book ($3.99) or paperback ($9.99)
Who is Liam Pieper?
You probably should know him. After all, he was famous for like, at least ‘a week and a half’ (his words, not mine) when his memoir The Feel-Good Hit of the Year was released in 2014.
But don’t worry if you don’t know him. You don’t need to, to enjoy this book.
I was about half-way through Mistakes Were Made when I realised I had actually read part of Pieper’s memoir, about a year earlier, in a prestigious Sydney newspaper which had published an extract where he described selling marijuana to his mum and dad.
Of course, that was the bit that gave Pieper his 15 seconds a fame (or notoriety), a discombobulating experience that he writes about with hilarious and painful honesty in Mistakes Were Made.
‘I didn’t realise the opprobrium that writing a book about a druggy corner of life would bring down upon my family and me. More than once I waded through sniffy interviews with media personalities who questioned my moral fortitude in writing about my experiences as a drug dealer. More than twice I got that treatment from media personalities who I’d sold drugs to, in the past.’
Mistakes Were Made, according to Penguin, is a collection of four essays, part of its ‘specials’ collection – short, original, affordable writing, designed to be read on a phone or kindle.
Who says the digital age has killed publishing? Pre-internet, a book like this would never have been published, because it’s not quite a book, or even a novella. It’s not a complete memoir, and the ‘essays’ are more like autobiographical short stories. It’s a genre-bender, and I’m stoked to have stumbled across it.
It anything, Mistakes Were Made is a postscript to The Feel Good Hit of the Year that answers the question – well, what the hell happens after a dream has been fulfilled?
‘Before I published, my only dream was to be an author. Afterwards, that dream, like all dreams, ceased to be the second it became corporeal. A thing cannot be a lofty ideal and a reality at the same time. As this one thing I’d craved my whole life was given to me, so was a whole new raft of fears to float my hopes upon. Like the bard said, mo money, mo problems.’
And Liam Pieper sure knows how to find a problem – like the tick that doesn’t quite kill him but costs him a life-changing writing commission, like the new passport that nearly lands him on the next flight to Guantanamo Bay, like his adopted dog ‘Idiot George’, a razor-eating, ‘autistic angel’ who kills Pieper’s social life (and nearly, a baby), and like the Latino superstar, who he nearly tips (thinking she’s a hotel maid) and reminds him that his ‘careful egalitarianism and studied holier-than-thou-colour blindness was, of course, profoundly racist.’
Is there an overarching narrative here? Not really. But there’s a nice circularity to the work.
The opening story begins with Pieper being stalked by a bird, while on assignment on Nimbin for the Very Important Magazine; ‘Being here on Magazine business meant that I am fit to burst with hubris; this puffed-up, pugilistic turkey could be my spirit animal.’
In the last essay, we meet a more humbled Pieper, who realises his spirit animal (and that of all writers) is the cat – ‘vain, spoiled, disloyal, lazy but predatory; forever discontented, even if it looks to be purring; endlessly fascinating, to itself at least, and to those who go for that sort of thing.’
I guess some would call the humour self-deprecating. I would probably call it ‘everyone-deprecating’. No tribe is spared. Not the hippies, not the greenies, not the conservatives, and not even Pieper’s own professed tribe of left-leaning intellectuals, who he basically decries as ‘do-gooders’. Basically, Liam Pieper is really, really good at taking the p**s. And in Australia, there’s nothing wrong with that, especially when it comes with little, harmless doses of political incorrectness.
So – I’ll finish where I began. Who is Liam Pieper?
He’s a talented writer. A clever humorist, no doubt.
But beyond that, I’m not sure.
It’s like when you’re watching a comedian perform, and you just know that in their real life, they’re probably a total bookworm nerd.
What you see on-stage is a performance – and it’s a bit the same with Mistakes Were Made, where the jokes serve almost as a distancing mechanism – a defensive weapon against getting to know the real Pieper. A slight issue when you are essentially writing memoir, where the whole point is honesty and truth. Maybe that’s why Penguin calls this an essay collection, rather than ‘One third of a memoir.’
Clearly, The Feel Good Hit of the Year had serious ramifications for Pieper and his family and I can’t blame him for not wanting to go there again, but Mistakes Were Made is quite notable for its absence of friends or family, or anything (beyond writing) that really seems to matter to Pieper. Like, really matter.
But that’s OK, and it shouldn’t get in the way of anyone reading this book. I can forgive the lack of sincerity because the writing is great, and so are the jokes, even if they basically fall totally on him.
So read it. Please. I guarantee it’ll make even the worst of commutes seem a whole lot more enjoyable.
Read an extract from the Penguin website here