Daren King Mob
Interview by Andrew Stevens.
3:AM: You’ve just published Manual. How do you think that was received and is it a departure from your previous books?
DK: There’s a wonderful review of Manual in the New Statesman. The critic, Charles Hill, said I’ve reached the “zenith” of my “craft”. I agree with that. I’ve taken blank, impressionistic language as far as it can go; at least, I’ve taken it as far as I’d like to take it. My next adult novel, New Love, takes the same kind of prose into more commercial territory – and by commercial I mean that the language takes second place to the plot and the characterisation. After that, I intend to stuff the blank prose under the bed and write something entirely different. Expect metaphors within metaphors and posh punctuation.
3:AM: Do you regard “blank, impressionistic language” as your signature style then? Is that what marks you out from other novelists?
DK: It has been, yes. I think Boxy an Star was too psychedelic to be considered blank fiction, but certainly it was impressionistic. Tom Boler was Boxy an Star with the psychedelia removed, as the novel is set mainly before Tom got into drugs. Jim Giraffe is perhaps too daft and fun to be considered blank fiction, though Jim does have a “poker stare”. When I use the term blank fiction I’m thinking primarily of early Bret Easton Ellis. It’s only really Tom Boler and Manual that I would describe as blank fiction. All of my adult novels are very different, and the two adult novels I’m writing now are different again.
3:AM: When Boxy came out it was amid the post-Trainspotting ‘chemical generation’ boom and very much tied up in the whole Britlit thing. You then did the New Puritans, which as an author you strike me as anything but, but why did you wait so long before Jim Giraffe?
DK: Much of my writing follows several of the New Puritan rules, including the one about flashbacks. But really, it was just a project. That fact that one of my stories was featured in the book doesn’t mean that all of my writing has to follow the New Puritan rules. To me, each project is different and works in a different way. Jim Giraffe follows most — if not all — of the New Puritan rules. I never write a novel until I feel ready to write it. Though, I now work on several novels at one time. At present I am working on four novels.
3:AM: What about “All products, places, artists and objects named are real”?
DK: And your point is?
3:AM: The TV show in there wasn’t real, for a start. The notion of a ghost giraffe hardly strikes me as ‘New Puritan’ either, though I’m no expert.
DK: Perhaps the TV shows are hallucinations. Jim’s a puritan. He washes his hooves twice daily in sake.
3:AM: Do you really re-read Martin Amis’ Money every year?
DK: Yes. When I get to page 381, I start again at the beginning. This year I started reading it when I flew to New York. I read the New York chapters while I was there. I’m now reading the London chapters. It reads perfectly well that way — reading only the alternate chapters.
3:AM: Before Boxy what were you reading? In a recent interview you suggested Trainspotting was influential.
DK: As a student, I read armfuls and armfuls of classics; little else. I doubt I read anything obscure. Trainspotting was influential mainly because it was popular. My aim with Boxy an Star was to write a commercial novel rather than a cult novel. I was very pleased when Irvine Welsh agreed to work on my second novel, Jim Giraffe. He translated the Scottish character’s speech into ‘authentic Scottish dialect’. From memory, I think this amounted to two or three pages in the penultimate chapter. Her name was Maggie Maggee, and she was probably the only character in that novel based on a real person.
3:AM: You studied creative writing at university, what do you make of the recent boom in such courses?
DK: I don’t know anything about them. I doubt they’re any good. Most likely the lecturer tells you to write a poem about the weather, or to choose three random characters, “put them in a room” and describe what happens, and then tells you if the end result is any good, without telling you why. I doubt they tell you how to actually write – the mechanics of writing. I’d be surprised if they even taught basic stuff like the fact that the last words in a sentence have the most emphasis. We weren’t taught anything like that. I learnt to write by studying novels very closely, and also by reading books on how to write. I shouldn’t be too mean to my old university though, as they did launch my career. They sent the first two chapters of Boxy an Star to a lecturer at another university, who showed it to an agent. I’m hugely grateful to everyone involved.
3:AM: Would you consider yourself an erotic writer? You’ve appeared in several erotica anthologies, Zadie Smith’s Piece of Flesh, the Erotic Review’s and one with Arena.
DK: I don’t think my writing is erotic at all. Whether or not you write about sex is beside the point. Erotic fiction is fiction that attempts to create sexual arousal in the reader. That’s a scientific definition, by the way. My fiction never attempts to do that. Usually when I write about sex, really I’m writing about something else, perhaps a certain concept or emotion.
3:AM: Are your children’s books a commitment to the form or more out of economic necessity?
DK: What a posh question! I could live very comfortably from my adult fiction, so it’s not out of economic necessity. But that doesn’t mean I’m not attracted by the money. Money is one of my favourite things, along with rain on kittens and several other things. I love writing children’s fiction. I’m not sure why it’s so much fun to write, aside from the obvious reason that the novels are designed to be fun to read. My third children’s novel, Peter the Penguin Pioneer, is my best children’s novel yet, and I hugely enjoyed writing it. Oh, and I get to work with Roisin Heycock, who is a fantastic editor.
3:AM: Is that why you moved to Dublin?
DK: I moved here because writers who live in Dublin don’t pay income tax. I thought the Irish people would be mean to me about this. Why should they have to pay tax and I don’t? But everyone I’ve met has been really cool about it. Not that they should mind. I don’t actually earn money in Dublin, so it’s not as though I’m taking someone else’s job. I contribute to the economy by earning money abroad and spending it over here.
3:AM: I hear you’re working on a sci-fi novel, how’s that going?
DK: It’s called The Darkening. I can’t tell you the plot in case some swine blags it. What I can tell you is that it’s a science fiction novel for young adults. It’s realistic science fiction, focusing on characterisation and atmosphere rather than laser guns and little green men. Possibly it isn’t science fiction at all: the science fiction elements are ambiguous. More broadly, it’s about environmental issues and paranoia. This will be my most shamelessly commercial project to date. It has a Hollywood plot arc, or something like that, but it’s also quite arty and poetic.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Andrew Stevens is contributing editor to 3:AM and lives in London.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, August 13th, 2008.