Under Stones: Bob Franklin

First up, a bit of ‘full disclosure’: I have been a massive Bob Franklin fan for fifteen years, and have been lucky enough to work with the man on several projects (only two of which have been described as ‘ill-fated’). As a writer and performer of comedy, he is, in my opinion, one of the best we have. His ‘Hardware Bob’ sketch, a horribly truncated version of which appeared on Channel Seven’s Eric, is my favourite Australian comedy sketch ever.

But those who, like myself, have laughed at Bob’s work on shows like Thank God You’re Here and The Librarians, may not be prepared for the ‘tales of unease’ that comprise his first book, Under Stones. I had read, and been impressed by, a couple of his stories in The Big Issue and WA’s Borderlands, but to see two dozen of them collected in one volume is quite an eye-opener. This is the work not of a comedian writing ‘serious stuff’ on the side, but of a fully-fledged stylist with a voice all his own.

Some of these pieces have appeared in anthologies of horror, but that tag sells them short. In many instances, Bob’s approach reads like Richard Ford having a crack at Roald Dahl. Strange revenges are visited upon the careless and the venal. The supernatural makes the odd appearance – or maybe it doesn’t; Bob, like all good short story writers, knows just how much to leave out. While these frequently unsettling tales are admirably pared to the bone, many could well have run longer. My current favourite, the possibly autobiographical ‘Soldier On’, is so rich and confident it could perhaps have provided the basis for an entire novel.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised by the tone of this collection. The dark and disturbing has always been peeking out from behind Bob’s jokes. In one of his sketches on The Mick Molloy Show, a man enters a store called ‘Crazy Dave’s’ to find the proprietor behind the counter, curled foetally on the floor, rocking slowly back and forth, sobbing. That man would not be out of place in the beautifully crafted Under Stones.

Tony Martin will be in conversation will Bob Franklin about Bob’s book*