Warped And Amplified: An Interview With Joe Dunthorne
By Lander Hawes.
JD: Not really. We share a similar middle-class upbringing and my Dad, like Oliver’s, teaches at the university. But Oliver’s personality is an invention. There are bits of me in him, but those bits are amplified and warped.
3:AM: What were the origins of the writing of this novel? I read it started life as a short story.
JD: Yeah, the opening chapter – in a very different form – was a short story I wrote called “Submarine”. Because I liked the voice, I carried on writing stories from the same point of view. Pretty soon I realised that I wasn’t just writing short stories – I had forty thousand words – and it was going to be a novel.
3:AM: About halfway the plot turns in an unexpected way when the narrator makes a journey to save his mother. Did you intend this at the start or did the novel suddenly go in this direction?
JD: That section of the book was one of the parts I wrote fairly early on. I didn’t write the book from the beginning through to the end. I jumped about, doing whatever scene interested me. The section where he goes to save his mother was a bit I was really looking forward to, so it was one of the first things I wrote.
3:AM: Did you have specific influences? Several reviewers have mentioned Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole.
JD: I read Adrian Mole when I was really young. I enjoyed it but it wasn’t one of my influences for Submarine. In my book, the main character, Oliver, gets teased and called Adrian, because he writes a diary. I don’t think Adrian and Oliver are similar characters though. I think my influences were probably people like Kurt Vonnegut, Dave Eggers and Don De Lillo. They are the writers I was reading, anyway.
3:AM: Do you think the novel would have been finished without the MA at UEA?
JD: I hope I would’ve finished it eventually, but I bet it would have taken a lot longer. By the end of the MA, I had a big chunk written and I really knew where it was going by then. It still took three years though.
3:AM: How many drafts did the novel go through? Were there big changes along the way?
JD: Some chapters have been drafted more than others. I think I probably have about thirty or so versions of the first chapter. But some of the other chapters seemed to be in better shape and only got three or four drafts.
3:AM: Are you working on another novel now? If so is it similar to Submarine?
JD: I’m trying out lots of different things at the moment – some quite like Submarine, some very very different. I’m also working on a lot of poetry, and am hoping to get a collection out before too long.
3:AM: Do you feel yourself to be a Welsh or more a British writer? Does the distinction influence your writing in any way?
JD: My Mum is Scottish, my Dad is English, I was born and brought up in Wales and I now live in London. So – to cop out – I feel both Welsh and British.
3:AM: Is there a dialogue between your poetry and your fiction? Do they complement each other?
JD: My poetry and prose have a good relationship, generally. Whenever I really ought to be writing prose, I end up doing poetry. When I’m supposed to be working on a poem, I end up with prose. So that’s helpful.
They feed in to each other, too. I steal lines from abandoned poems to help my prose. There are certain sections of Submarine that I tried to write as if it was a prose poem, with particular attention to rhythm, repetition and sound. My poems can often be quite prose influenced, too. I use narrative, character monologues, dialogue and stuff like that.
3:AM: What fiction are you reading at the moment? What are you enjoying about it?
JD: I’m just finishing Raymond Chandler’s The Lady in the Lake, which is probably the first crime fiction that I’ve read. I’ve been absolutely loving it. Philip Marlowe, the private detective, is the most charismatic, complicated man. He’s a real, fully-formed character. Not a type. I love the dialogue. The short, stylised sentences. Chandler’s turn of phrase and eye for detail: “There was a desk and a night clerk with one of those moustaches that get stuck under your fingernail.” I like the way that nobody is who you expect them to be. The characters begin as types and quickly become complex. It’s amazing.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWEE
Joe Dunthorne is a graduate of the Creative Writing Masters at UEA, where he was awarded the Curtis Brown Prize. His debut novel, Submarine, is available in the UK from Hamish Hamilton/Penguin. His poetry is published in Reactions 5, Generation Txt and Magma.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Lander Hawes has written two unpublished novels and currently has a third dismantled around his flat. There is a wad of short stories that he is also responsible for. In his twenties he lived in London, Brighton, Spain and currently rests his head in Norwich. He has recently abandoned a PGCE, and a period of time working in libraries/bookshops seems imminent.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, March 9th, 2008.