1) There’s an ambiguity in your writing that leaves a lot of conclusions for the reader to draw themselves. Martin Amis or JG Ballard? Satirical, dystopic, or paranoid sci-fi? Reviewers pinned those descriptions on both Clear Water (which recalls Georges Perec‘s half critical, half sympathetic Things) & The Heritage. How would you define your writing (if at all)? And, is modern life rubbish?
Ambiguity is very important to me in my books – possibly to a fault. That’s the space where – in theory – you hope something can transform or transcend itself (or certainly transcend your own self, as the writer). It does carry certain risks, obviously, the main one being that you feel constantly misinterpreted. (Which I know is contradictory and that if you’re going to leave room for people to interpret you have to allow them to do so, but… Martin Amis??!) Also, it seems a necessary condition of almost any kind of art (if not a sufficient one, unfortunately) that it should be difficult to categorise or classify.
I’m not sure how you define writing – I guess if I was good at definitions I might have become an academic, or a dictionary compiler. I try to write something which seems true to me and excites me and scares me a little. In a recent review I was accused of unhelpfully muddling up realism, para-realism and contra-realism. Actually I’m an infra-realist!
Is modern life rubbish? Modern life just is.
2) Troubled adolescents are the main characters in The Heritage. What were you like as a teenager? You went to Countesthorpe Community College, a radical experiment in education; how much did that influence you?
I was a very well-behaved, middle class, uninteresting teenager (and appallingly dressed). I think a lot of the Tilly’s fears and her terrible need to be liked come from me, but none of her bravery. My schooling, much like other people’s, was a huge influence. I had great teachers and a lot of freedom.
3) You were a music journalist before setting up Big Dada records; were you always interested in being creative? Why fiction, rather than making music?
It was always fiction. I wrote an unpublished novel when I was 25 and drifted into music journalism while I failed to sell it. Actually, that’s not true. I did try my hand at music, too, but I think I’m more talented as a writer. I’m not sure what that says about my musical abilities…
4) Big Dada celebrated its tenth birthday last year. How did you come to set the label up? What drew you to hip-hop?
I felt very distant from the creative process as a music journo. I (wrongly) thought that running a label I would be closer to it. I set it up using the rudimentary contacts I had from my music writing and my excess bumptiousness.
Three things drew me to hip hop: rhythm, words and politics. It’s still good for one of them and occasionally two.
5) I read somewhere that you had no interest in music if it didn’t have “that questing, forward-looking spirit”. You wrote The Heritage on a Palm Pilot on the tube, which is pretty modern, but though Clear Water and The Heritage are set in the near-future, they are heavily influenced by that past, particularly Thatcher’s Britain. How much does a forward-looking spirit influence your writing? And, can you tell us what you’re working on next?
Did I say that? How embarrassing. I guess I think that “Thatcher’s Britain” is our present as well as our past and quite possibly our future, too (although I’m not really interested in predicting the future). We seem to be a long way from stepping out of the paradigm that we entered in the early 80s. But I suppose that’s probably cos I was young then and everyone likes to think they’ve grown up in epochal times.
As for “forward-looking spirit” (which sounds like the tagline for a new brand of vodka) I do try to create something different when I write, to the extent that this seems possible. I try to make my books different from one another and different to what’s come before and what surrounds them. It’s an aspiration, really, another paradox in a way, as it seems to be a very old-fashioned way of thinking.
In terms of what I’m working on, I have two books more or less done that at the moment I can’t find anyone to publish. One is a very short but quite intense thing about Mike Tyson’s dead mother watching his last fight on a screen attached to her head in an invisible Brownsville, which I have to admit was always going to be a hard sell. The other, which I still hold out the hope of seeing into print, I (slightly disingenuously) describe as being like “The Condition of The Working Class…” meets “Mork & Mindy” with added ultra-violence. If anyone out there wants to print them up, let me know…
First posted: Wednesday, September 10th, 2008.