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A peacock's feathers are well and truly ruffled The hero of Stuart David's new fictional novel insists he is real. Stuart McHugh investigates

AS a journalistic assignment, it seemed straightforward enough: chat to Stuart David about his new book, The Peacock Manifesto, the follow-up to his debut, Nalda Said. But that was before David apparently summoned up a demon, with the subject of his new book having come to life.

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A literary road movie, The Peacock Manifesto details one Peacock Johnson's stumble from crisis to crisis as he works his way across America, chasing the dream and cooking up one scam after another. It's a highly entertaining read, full of humour yet tinged with moments of cringe-worthy despair. There's even the odd moment that makes the eponymous hero - a foul-mouthed petty criminal turned musical visionary - seem almost human. The surprising thing is that it all stems from the pen of such a seemingly mild-mannered guy. David, you see, is a founder member of Belle and Sebastian, the Glasgow band which some might file in pop's encyclopedia under ''twee''. The author's imagination must be quite vivid, given some of Peacock's schemes and dreams. Or, indeed, his vocabulary. Scratching the surface, things start to develop. Stuart David's actually in Tenerife, having a break, with wife and band member Karn, and the approach for an interview is done via the internet. Back comes an e-mail, with the book's author listed as - gasp - ''Peacock Johnson''. In language too choice to be printed here, Johnson's missive explains in no uncertain terms that he is, in fact, very real indeed, and as well as intercepting David's e-mails - ''I usually let them slip through once I've checked them, so's he doesn't catch on to me'' - he's also hijacked David's website. He details how he wants to ''let all (David's) wet wee fans know about how he's given me the dry shaft over a book we were working on together''. So how did two such diverse people come to be working together? ''I'll be honest with you. I've been into some dodgy shit in the past, but I had this idea to try to make some money legit. An idea for a dance record. I hate that kind of music, to be honest with you, but there's money in it. So I had this killer idea. A dance version of Glen Campbell's Rhinestone Cowboy.'' And that's more or less where The Peacock Manifesto starts. Johnson hooks up with one Evil Bob, a petty criminal-cum-psychopath who had ''done some driving for this Stuart David guy when his band was in the States'', and the rest is a roller-coaster ride across America. Without wishing to spoil the book's plot, suffice to say that the record isn't Johnson's main concern at the moment, but rather what happened back home when Stuart David got involved, ostensibly to work on the record. ''The more I tell him, the more he goes on about how it would make a good book. Apparently he'd written one book before, but he'd signed a contract for two and taken the money, without having any ideas for another. So it turns out to be a godsend for him.'' Thoughts of the record put firmly behind him, Johnson spotted another golden goose in the form of his story. ''I go to David's office every day and talk. He writes - for maybe three months. Two or three hours a day. No mention of when we'll start on the dance record. Fair enough, I think. Maybe there's some money in this book lark. Then I don't hear from him for a few weeks. And the next thing he sends me a copy of the book. His name on it. His book. Full stop.'' So there endeth the case for the prosecution, an unusual position for Johnson. In the meantime, Stuart David is ensconced in Tenerife, blissfully unaware of events back home. ''We came out here to work on a film script,'' explains David, ''me and Karn. Karn's aunt gave us the use of the apartment for a few weeks, but this is the first chance we've had to use it.''

Challenged about the Peacock situation, he retorts: ''I think you might have read a bit too much into the book. It's just a fiction.'' However, confronted with news of Peacock Johnson's ''webjacking'', his tone changes. David hasn't been able to access his website. It seems, to his confusion, that there's ''adult content'' blocking him out. I assure him that Johnson's amendments are indeed of an adult nature. ''It would probably be unwise for me to say anything just now, until I find out how things stand legally.'' A few calls home and the situation is clarified.''This is a bit embarrassing, although apparently there's nothing legal involved so far,'' says David, and the interview continues, albeit guardedly. ''I didn't consider writing a follow-up to Nalda Said,'' says David when quizzed about the origins of the book. ''I wrote that six or seven years ago now, although it came out a while after I wrote it.'' So, is Peacock really the big softy hinted at in the book? ''Was that hinted at in the book? To me, underneath, I'd say it's a good bet he's probably more violent and frightening than he is on the surface. I could be wrong. But that's my impression of him.'' It's been suggested that the two might be working together on an elaborate publicity stunt. ''Maybe that would be a good idea! If you talk to him, ask him if he fancies getting into cahoots with me. It might work. I'd like to try and get on the same side as him again.'' He might get the chance sooner than he thinks, judging by plain- tiff Peacock Johnson's - as ever - carefully-chosen final words. What's his next move? ''Let's just say I'll be turning up at a few promotional events.''

l The Peacock Manifesto is published by IMP Fiction on Monday. Website: www.geometrid.co.uk.

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