Paperback: 304pp

Published: Lightning Books (March 2023)

ISBN: 9781785633515

Future Fish

Conor Sneyd

£9.99

‘Fast, funny and freaky’

Luke Healy

Sacked from his first job in Dublin, Mark McGuire arrives in the dismal town of Ashcross to take up a new role as customer service assistant for Ireland’s second-biggest pet food brand, WellCat. From his initial impressions, it’s a toss-up whether he’ll die of misery or boredom.

He couldn’t be more wrong. For starters, the improbably cute receptionist, Kevin, seems willing to audition as the man of Mark’s dreams. There’s also the launch of a hush-hush new product, Future Fish, on the horizon. Not to mention the ragtag band of exorcists, alien-hunters and animal rights warriors who are all convinced WellCat is up to no good. Why are these crackpots so keen on getting close to Mark? And will their schemes ruin his career prospects?

In a deliciously daft comic caper, Conor Sneyd perfectly captures the powerlessness of low-rung office life as well as the seductive zealotry of our times.

OUT MARCH 2023. AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER NOW

Extracts

The town is even worse than I expected. You hear west coast of Ireland, and you know it’s going to be the arse end of nowhere, but you figure it will at least be pretty, right? Rugged green hills, pristine blue water, and little whitewashed cottages with flowers hanging everywhere?

Not quite.

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Extracts

The town is even worse than I expected. You hear west coast of Ireland, and you know it’s going to be the arse end of nowhere, but you figure it will at least be pretty, right? Rugged green hills, pristine blue water, and little whitewashed cottages with flowers hanging everywhere?

Not quite.

I step off the sweaty cross-country bus and into a world of grey. Dirty grey shopfronts lining the seawall, their windows shuttered and signs faded. Dull grey waves rolling in from the Atlantic, washing a tide of takeaway containers up and down the beach. Dark grey clouds bearing down on the rooftops, like an omen of some impending disaster. If you saw it in a photo, you might assume it was a regular seaside resort town, going through the inevitable off-season downturn. Except it’s the middle of July right now, so the place has no excuses. It’s just a massive shithole. I watch as the bus pulls out, getting smaller and smaller before disappearing around a corner, and begin to wonder if I’ve made a terrible mistake. But there’s no turning back now.

An icy wind blows in from the ocean as I go to check the directions on my phone. But of course, there’s no signal out here. I glance up and down the road, hoping for a Good Samaritan to point me in the right direction. But the only person in sight is a grizzly old man at the bus stop. He hunches forward on the bench, sharing the seat with an impressive collection of cider cans, and appears to be caught up in an argument with some invisible enemy. I’ve been avoiding eye contact so far, but it looks like he might be my only option…

‘Excuse me,’ I say, taking a tentative step forward. ‘I’m looking for Atlantic Lane.’

He glares at me for a moment, like I’ve just insulted the memory of his mother, then launches a hefty glob of phlegm from between his teeth. It sails through the air – a shooting star of mucus – and lands with a splat at my feet.

I stumble backwards, mumbling an apology, and nearly trip over my bright purple suitcase. My heart is pounding as I hurry up the road, but I tell myself not to take it personally. He probably spits at everybody. I just need to approach someone slightly less terrifying next time.

After turning off the seafront and wandering down a random side lane, I encounter two teenaged girls perched atop a pair of wheelie bins. They sit cross-legged, dressed in maroon school uniforms, passing a cigarette back and forth between them. The one currently puffing away looks about seven months pregnant.

I take a deep breath, pausing in front of them. They probably qualify as slightly less terrifying…

‘Sorry to bother you,’ I begin. ‘I was just wondering if—’

‘Fuck off.’

I blink. ‘Sorry, what?’

‘You heard me,’ growls the pregnant girl. ‘Fuck off or I’ll throw you in the ocean.’

‘And I’ll break your legs so you can’t swim back out,’ laughs the other one. ‘Get lost, you fat paedo!’

I scramble to the end of the lane, glancing back over my shoulder to make sure they aren’t following. It’s only when I’m safely around the corner that I pause to check my reflection in a butcher shop window. I’m not that fat, am I?

Just as I’m sucking in my stomach and throwing back my shoulders, an elderly nun emerges with a blood-soaked bag of meat. I breathe a sigh of relief when I see her. Nuns wouldn’t usually be my favourite class of people, but surely they can be counted on to help a stranger in need? At the very least, calling somebody a fat paedo must go against their vows.

‘Excuse me,’ I say, waving her over. ‘I’m looking for 22 Atlantic Lane.’

She looks me slowly up and down, eyes lingering on the flamboyant fuchsia of my suitcase. And then her lips purse, like she’s sucking on a lemon.

‘ATLANTIC. LANE.’ I repeat, as clearly as possible. ‘Here, look…’

I pull my phone out to show her. But the stupid thing still has no signal. I smack it against my hand, as if that will teach it a lesson, and accidentally open up a video. A scene begins playing on screen – three naked rugby players getting nasty in a bathtub.

The nun shrieks something unintelligible – possibly in Polish – and begins dousing me with a tiny bottle of holy water.

‘Stop,’ I splutter, covering my eyes. ‘Jesus Christ!’

But taking the Lord’s name in vain only makes her angrier. She doubles down on her assault, leaving me no other option but to turn around and run.

I scurry up the road, suitcase bouncing over the cracks in the pavement, and don’t slow down until I’m totally out of breath. It’s only when I lean back against a filthy green post box, gulping down lungfuls of briny ocean air, that I finally spot the sign on the opposite side of the road. Atlantic Lane. A wave of relief washes over me. Maybe the nun really did help me after all – working, like the Lord, in mysterious ways. Or maybe there are only five measly roads in this entire town, and I was bound to find the right one eventually.

Twenty-two Atlantic Lane is a long, concrete office block, wedged between a closed-down pound shop and a chipper with zero hygiene stars. The walls are lined with tiny opaque windows, giving the place an unfortunate resemblance to a small prison, or a large public toilet. Next to the door is a shiny brass plaque reading: WellCat – whole food for the whole family. I’ve seen that slogan a million times now, but it still makes me cringe. There’s just something so absurd about an entire company devoted to luxury cat food. Cats need to eat, of course, and I support their right to be well fed. But do they really care if their tuna contains a bouquet of sensuous botanicals?

Still though, I know I shouldn’t complain. A job’s a job, and beggars can’t be choosers. Especially not when we’re in the middle of a never-ending recession.

I pause outside the building to pull myself together. All the articles say a good first impression is key, so I have to make sure not to fuck mine up. I straighten my tie, smooth down my hair, and run through the lines of my introduction one last time. Finally, with my best attempt at a professional smile, I push open the door and step inside.

All of my preparation is instantly forgotten. I’m not sure what I was expecting to find inside, but it sure as hell wasn’t this. And I’m not talking about the décor here. The place looks just like any other office I’ve ever been to – stain-proof blue carpet, featureless off-white walls, and one lonely houseplant drooping in the corner. No, the thing that’s sent me reeling – that’s made me forget where I am and what I’m supposed to be doing – is the receptionist at the front desk.

He’s beautiful. Unearthly. Like an angel descended from heaven to rescue me from the parade of weirdos on the street. His blonde hair shines like a halo under the fluorescent lighting, his thick-framed glasses only accentuating the sharpness of his cheekbones. He must be somewhere in his mid-twenties – just a year or two older than me.

‘Hi there,’ he says. ‘Can I help you?’

‘Sorry, yeah…’ I clear my throat, feeling my face light up like a blowtorch. ‘My name’s Mark. Mark McGuire. I have a meeting with Maeve O’Halloran at ten.’

‘Ah, you must be the new starter! Welcome to WellCat. I’m Kevin.’ He smiles the world’s most beautiful smile and reaches out for the phone. I try not to stare at his arm moving around under the sleeve of his shirt, his bicep contracting as he holds the receiver to his ear. He tells the person on the other end that I’ve arrived, then sets the phone back down and hits me with another smile. ‘Maeve will be with you in a minute. Please take a seat.’

A long, L-shaped couch sits next to the potted plant in the corner. It’s made of some hairy green material that makes my thighs itch as soon as I sit down.

‘So, is this your first time in Ashcross?’ he asks, as I cross and uncross my legs.

‘It is, yeah. I had my interview over the phone, so I didn’t have to come down then. And to be honest, I’d never even heard of the place until I applied for the job.’

‘Most people haven’t,’ he laughs. ‘Which is fair enough. It’s not exactly on the list of top ten places to see before you die. How are you finding it so far anyway?’

quotes

‘What I thought was going to be a heartwarming small-town gay love story took off in a completely unexpected direction and carried me joyfully in its wake. Without doubt the petfood conspiracy anarcho-thriller romcom of the year. With nuns!’

Adam Macqueen

‘Fast, funny and freaky. A book for everyone who ever hated their job. Soylent Green for the QAnon generation’

Luke Healy

‘A joyously unlikely yet completely relatable comedy. I was in fits from start to finish’

Tim Ewins

reviews

extras

ABOUT

Conor Sneyd

Conor Sneyd was born and raised in Dublin, where he studied English Literature at Trinity College.

After a brief stint teaching English in Japan, he spent several years working as an environmental and animal rights activist. The larger-than-life characters he encountered in this field served as inspiration for his debut novel, Future Fish.

He currently lives in London with his boyfriend Gordon.

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