Paperback: 384pp

Published: Lightning Books (May 2024)

ISBN: 9781785634000

Dead Writers in Rehab

Paul Bassett Davies


The only thing worse than

waking up with the hangover from hell

is waking up with a hangover in hell

When literary reprobate Foster James wakes up in a strange country house, he assumes he’s been consigned to rehab (yet again). But when he gets punched in the face by Ernest Hemingway, he realises there’s something different about this place...

Is Foster dead? Has his less-than-saintly existence finally caught up with him? After a hostile group therapy session with Hunter S. Thompson, William Burroughs and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, it seems likely. But he still feels alive, especially after he gets laid by Dorothy Parker.

When he discovers that the two enigmatic doctors who run the institution are being torn apart by a thwarted love affair, he and the other writers must work together to save something bigger than their own gigantic egos.

Set in a place that’s part Priory, part Purgatory, Dead Writers in Rehab is a darkly funny tale about the strange and terrible entanglement of creativity and addiction, told by a charming, selfish bastard.


I know why the caged bird sings.

But that pigeon outside my room at four in the morning? What the fuck is his problem?


Outside what room? And how do I know it’s four in the morning?

All I really know is that it’s very dark.



I know why the caged bird sings.

But that pigeon outside my room at four in the morning? What the fuck is his problem?


Outside what room? And how do I know it’s four in the morning?

All I really know is that it’s very dark.

The darkness persisted.

Perhaps I’d gone blind, which had happened before. Sometimes I just assumed I’d gone blind, when there was another reason why I couldn’t see anything. On one occasion, several years ago, I opened my eyes to what seemed like darkness but was in fact a light so bright it was black. After a moment I realised I was lying on my back in a field looking up into the sun. Birds were singing and the meadow around me smelled sweet. I stood up carefully, checking for broken glass, and looked around. It was a lovely midsummer day somewhere in England. I was wearing a white tuxedo and a green bow tie. I appeared to be completely alone in the open, rolling countryside. Then I caught a faint bark of laughter and made out some little figures in the far distance, loading things into the back of a big truck. There must have been a road there.

I set off through wild grass that swished gently at my knees. I knew I was about to undergo a brutal transfor- mation as my senses came to their senses. Sure enough, a thundering brandy-and-cocaine hangover, one of the meanest of the tribe, erupted inside me like an enraged alien foetus. Once the pain had settled down to an ago- nising throb data began to assemble itself.

I’d been at a wedding reception in the grounds of a big manor house that was presumably not far away, tucked into the undulating landscape, probably just over a slight rise to my left. There had been marquees and a stage with lighting and a PA system, which was probably what was being loaded into the truck in the distance. It was my first publisher’s second wedding. He was a Canadian who’d hit the UK just in time to surf the 1980s alternative comedy boom, and help some of the performers understand they could make a lot of money from a cheap book and still be terrifically alternative. Now, having divested himself of his first wife (the word ‘outgrown’ was used, earnestly by him, mordantly by her), he was marrying the posh, well- connected woman he’d been living with for a while. She was a nice, sensible type, pretty in a wispy blonde English way, but not as sexy as his personal assistant, who wasn’t a sensible type. She was the one he did drugs with and fucked in hotels when they went to lit- erary festivals together. But he was an ambitious player in a fundamentally conservative industry, and when it came to getting married he made the obvious choice. The sexy assistant spent half the party in tears and the other half with me, doing coke in various places, the last of which was an elaborate temporary structure housing the women’s toilets. Like everything else at this wedding reception, it was the best that money could buy and it was cleaner and more attractive than many of the flats I’d lived in. We ended up in one of the cubicles, where she decided it was time for us to fulfil the sexual promise that had always simmered between us, despite her being in love with her boss. We were just getting into it when she changed her mind and decided that one more good, loud session of hysterical crying would do the trick for her. A guy we both knew was passing the toilets and heard her. He came in and found us half-dressed, me trying to do up my clothes, hers in disarray as she sank to the ground, howling with what the guy, who’d always fancied her himself, chose to interpret as trauma caused by my unwelcome sexual advances. I didn’t remember much after that, except for some shouting. In the morning, as I trudged through the field, I wondered what would happen when I got back to London. Nothing much, as it turned out. For a while I got a few more pitying looks than usual, but at that stage I was pretty much immune to anything more nuanced than a punch in the face.

Why was I now thinking about that incident from 20 years ago? I have a tendency to relate everything that happens to me to some specific disaster in the past. My third book was called Everything Reminds Me of Something Bad. It had been inspired by an experience I was having at the time with meat. I still have it. I always line my grill pan with tinfoil. And certain types of meat, especially lamb chops, produce a cloudy yellow fat that pools on the tin foil in a way that reminds me of how freebase cocaine – and heroin, if it’s pure enough – will liquefy when you chase it down a strip of foil with a lighter under it. For two or three years after I’d given up drugs for the final time – the final time – the trigger was so powerful that I had to call my sponsor at NA, who was a sweet, long-suffering man. After a while he got used to it, and if I called him any time after six in the evening he’d pick up the phone and ask me how the lamb chops were doing.

Triggers. There’s always something, even if you’re not conscious of it. And now I thought I knew why the memory of that wedding reception had been playing out in my mind so vividly. Even though I was still in the dark, literally and metaphorically, I was convinced that whatever room or space or place I’d woken up in was somewhere in the countryside. That pigeon outside wasn’t a pigeon. It was a dove.


‘It is dark, dirty, grim and confusing – in a very good way. It’s also warm, humane, funny and mischievous’

Jeremy Hardy

‘A hilarious book that starts with a rather weird premise about the afterlife and takes it to brilliant, eventually emotionally wrecking places. It is almost indescribably good’

Elliott Downing


‘Ambitious and entertaining in every sense. Just fabulous. One of the funniest books I have read in a long time’

The Last World Book Review

‘Like a light-hearted One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest if the patients were authors. It’s a brilliant concept with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. It’s totally unique while managing to be intelligent and funny at the same time’

Elementary V Watson

‘A tour de force: a comedy with dark undertones... Spoofs from very famous literary styles with dazzling skill’

Charles Harris

‘A splendid dark comedy: most of the chapters are in the form of patients’ recovery diaries, so you’ve got a parade of pastiche voices that is a joy to read. But, just when you think you have the novel pinned down, it reveals a serious heart – and changes shape more than once. A delight’

David’s Book World



Paul Bassett Davies

Paul Bassett Davies worked in experimental theatre before moving to television and radio, where he wrote for some of the biggest names in British comedy. He also wrote his own radio sitcom and scripted several radio plays.

He wrote the screenplay for the 2005 feature animation The Magic Roundabout and has written and produced music videos with Kate Bush and Ken Russell. He is a former creative director of the London Comedy Writers Festival.

He is the author of four novels: Utter Folly, which topped the Amazon humorous fiction chart in 2012, Dead Writers in Rehab, Please Do Not Ask for Mercy as a Refusal Often Offends and Stone Heart Deep.