Joel Stickley and Luke Wright

Word play

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Joel Stickley and Luke Wright

Joel Stickley and Luke Wright are two quarters of poetry boyband Aisle 16. They tell Emma Lennox why they are now parodying the textual world around us

‘It’s nice to get an opportunity to stick the knife in,’ says Luke Wright whose latest project aims to show that metaphorical blades are more powerful than the sword, especially when accompanied by a satirist’s pen. Targeting the questionable writing that saturates our lives from tabloid papers to oh-so-clever, ironic advertising, Who Writes This Crap?, co-written with fellow comedian-poet Joel Stickley, is a compendium of everything one person reads in a day, from a bottle of shampoo at 6.42am to a text message at 3.13am. ‘I love the idea of “found texts”,’ explains Wright on the origins of the book, ‘taking bits of writing we are all familiar with and turning them into something more interesting, whether it’s through pastiche or parody. Every time I walk down the street I see something new that needs to be ripped to shreds.’

Recreated to minute perfection in corporate graphics and correct formatting, the book is almost worryingly similar to the dross we unwittingly absorb on a daily basis. But the authors’ play on words amusingly cuts through the marketing newspeak and elevates badly translated spam into melancholic musings on life and death. Wide-ranging writing styles are displayed in the latest trendy novel (Fighting Fish in the Late-Night Laundromat) or recommended self-help book (chapter one: ‘You Are Nothing’), making the reading experience as eclectic as Stickley and Wright’s writing process.

‘I really enjoyed writing broadsheet newspapers, self-help books and corporate websites,’ says Stickley. ‘Basically, anything a bit pompous and self-important. That kind of voice is always easy to poke fun at.’ Wright prefers the advertising side, adding: ‘All the fun of corporate branding, none of the guilt.’ Yet, not all of it is wrathful pen strokes. Linking the arbitrary excerpts is a lonely figure, through whose eyes we read as he looks at Google search results for ‘bored’ or receives threatening text messages from an online weight loss programme.

‘We wanted to create a book that could be opened at any page and entertain, but there was definitely a feeling that it should also offer a bit more,’ explains Wright. ‘We wanted a sense of character, a glimpse of the sadness that comes from someone whose only real communication with the world is being on the receiving end of advertising’s bludgeoning hammer.’

Starting a war of words with the spin-meisters, however, is not without its drawbacks. Now constantly aware of every inappropriately placed news screen and badly phrased lunch menu, unable to ignore any asterisk on adverts and contracts, the adjustment back to normality has been difficult. Reminded of a scene in The Matrix, I ask if the authors now only see the world in terms of letters and words. ‘Yes, it’s exactly like that,’ confirms Stickley. ‘Except that whereas Keanu Reeves’ reaction to everything is “whoa!”, mine is a kind of sad, quiet whimper. I’m still immersed in the world of junk mail and spam. Our website has a section where people send in examples of bad writing they’ve seen and I write essays on them. It’s like a daily penance, just to remind me that there’s no escape.’

Who Writes This Crap? is published by Hamish Hamilton on Thu 1 Nov.

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