Courier duty is not really one of spy extraordinaire Carrie Ragnarok’s top ten assignments. Ferrying an object from point A to point B – that’s stressful, but not very exciting. Not even if the object in question is Shape No. 8, a hideously ugly and extremely expensive sculpture by obscure Bulgarian artist Vassily Bagdanorowsky worth 2.8 millions dollars. But an unexpected mugging can spice up even the dullest courier job…
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Some background information:
- This story is 3200 words long and was originally published in Thriller UK No. 6 under the title Shape No. 8. I changed the title for the e-book edition, because the story steadfastly refused to sell with the original title.
- I created Carrie Ragnarok, spy extraordinaire, for an experiment with first person narration. Carrie basically tells her own story in her own voice. At the time, that was a big writing breakthrough for me.
- Carrie initially starred in two never finished novels, Five Against the Apocalypse, in which she flies into space as part of an international team to save the world, and A Royal Wedding, in which she gets embroiled in a forced wedding and rebellion in an obscure and entirely fictional East European country. I might actually finish both some day, because they were a lot of fun. I also wrote a couple of other stories about Carrie. Shape No. 8 is the only one that was ever published.
- A few of those other Carrie adventures are mentioned at the beginning of Courier Duty.
- The Carrie stories are set in the very near future, which has the drawback that they tend to date very quickly. The mention of the Concorde and of a DVD art lexicon in Courier Duty are just two examples. I chose to keep them, because these references, albeit dated, are part of the world in which the story is set.
- Talking about dated references, the “dangerous and crime-infested” New York portrayed in the story is based on a visit to New York City in the early 1990s before the great clean-up.
- Carrie’s surname Ragnarok of course refers to the world-ending cataclysm of Norse mythology, which hardly anyone from my creative writing class got. Considering that she first appeared in an apocalyptic tale, the name is only appropriate.
- Of all the characters I ever created, Carrie is probably the one whose voice comes most easily to me. Even though I am not a kick-ass international spy.
- The “pop versus soda versus coke” linguistic controversy in the US makes an appearance towards the end of the story. In the original version, the mugger believes there is a “coke” in the supposed ice box, because I first learned English in Mississippi and that’s the term I grew up with. While revising the story for e-publication, I realized that the term “coke” wasn’t what a New Yorker would use and replaced it with “soda”. Carrie, alas, insists on using “coke”.
- Courier Duty started its life as a writing exercise in my university creative writing workshop where the teacher gave us an object from his office and asked us to write about it. I ended up with a badly deformed piece of pottery, which eventually became Shape No. 8.
- When I read out that early draft of what was to become Courier Duty in the university creative writing workshop, a fellow student compared the voice to Nick Hornby. That same student later went on to become an editor at a German publisher owned by one of the so-called “Big Six” publishing company. So I can confidently say that Courier Duty has been compared to Nick Hornby by a Big Six editor.
- Bulgarian artist Vassily Bagdanorowsky never existed. Neither did his art movement Minimalist Brutalist Barbarianism. It does sound legit, though.
- The description of his work with its “simplicity of form and sparse use of colour” was taken almost verbatim from the speech of an art professor (about a completely different piece of art) I filmed during my brief career as a documentary filmmaker. I must have listened to that bloody speech about a dozen times while editing the film, hence the words burned themselves into my memory.
- The explanation for dynamic forward-tilting 1950s water pitcher was found in Fifties Homestyle: Popular Ornament of the USA by Mark Burns and Louis DiBonis.
- I changed the title and cover, when the original edition of Courier Duty, then still called Shape No. 8, steadfastly refused to sell. The current cover image is a shot of an old briefcase belonging to my Dad with a pair of handcuffs. The handcuffs are genuine police handcuffs, by the way.
- The original cover from the edition that steadfastly refused to sell can be found here. The cover image shows a vase belonging to my parents and dating from the late 1970s, turned into a piece of abstract art by the magic of Photoshop. My parents were very surprised by my sudden interest in an ugly old vase.