Writing a Rothko: An Interview With HP Tinker
Interview by Chris Killen.
3:AM: What do you do when you aren’t writing?
HPT: I don’t actually exist when I’m not writing.
3:AM: How much time do you spend writing? Do you have a routine or anything?
HPT: I like to write every waking second. Even when I’m not writing I am writing. There’s no routine as such. I work out of total chaos. Every now and again, to my continuing surprise, a story appears.
3:AM: When did you first start writing?
HPT: I’ve always written, but for some reason it didn’t occur to me that I could actually write stories and get them published until about 1996. It must have been the lithium.
3:AM: Did you always write the way you do now?
HPT: More or less. The first thing I wrote was a story called “Vic Chews It Over”, published in Ambit — God, bless them — so compare and contrast for yourself. I like to think I’ve been slowly evolving over time really, like bird flu.
3:AM: Do you have a job?
HPT: Writing is a job! If you can avoid the daytime TV it’s a full-time occupation. Ask Will Self.
3:AM: What is the favourite thing you’ve written?
HPT: Normally whatever I’ve just finished… the most recent being, “The Fall of Bohemia”, a tale of great personal and political resonance, for somebody. It’s my “Like A Rolling Stone”. I feel I have absolutely nailed my thin wild mercury prose style on this one. Now I want to go to Nashville and do a country album.
3:AM: Do you listen to music when you write?
HPT: Oh, yes. Oscar Peterson, mostly.
3:AM: What are you working on at the moment?
HPT: I’m always working on something, that much I can tell you. Usually several pieces at a time: different scenes, ideas, sketches, fragments, aphorisms, limericks, lists of abusive words. Then I painfully stitch them all together. I can never tell what it is going to be until it is almost finished.
3:AM: Would you be willing to share a current idea, sketch, fragment, limerick, or abusive word?
HPT: Well… not really! I am hoping to write a story called “The Modernist Uprising”, but it’s all up in the air. You never know where it’s going to land. A little bit like life really.
HPT: No. Why should I?
3:AM: Why not?
HPT: My style works best over short distances. So in that respect I really am doomed. Sadly, the common view of the short story is that is it somehow an intrinsically inferior feast, a light bite compared to the meat and two potatoes of the novel. It’s a retarded view, but one popular with Jeremy Vine.
3:AM: Do you think this view is ever likely to change?
HPT: It’s unlikely. When everybody else starts writing short story collections, maybe then I’ll sit down and write a novel. It’s important to be contrary. Never give them what they want, that’s what I always say.
3:AM: Do you read more short stories than novels? Do you personally find enough ‘sustenance’ in short stories?
HPT: Most modern novels make me want to bang my head against the pavement until I’m nearly dead — so I don’t actually read them anymore. I think all the best short stories implode with immediate intensity, illuminating everything in an instant… then rumble along through the rest of your life, if you’re very lucky.
3:AM: Please name a few of these short stories.
HPT: I was about 15 when I first read Forty Stories. And, yes, a giant light-bulb did appear above my head, closely followed by an exclamation mark. It was suddenly like: ah, so you don’t have to be boring!
3:AM: Which is your favourite Donald Barthelme short story?
HPT: All of them. But “Some Of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colby” always raises a peculiar titter.
3:AM: Which writers have had an effect on your writing, and what has that effect been?
HPT: I think maybe Joe Orton, Woody Allen, Nathanael West, and Don B are probably the biggest influences, in terms of sheer style. Also Morrissey, Dylan, Beckett, Bennett, Pinter. Vonnegut too. Really, I like anyone who puts together great words in an attractive sequence: Philip Larkin, TS Eliot, Denton Welch, Leonora Carrington, HP Lovecraft, David Mamet, Charlie Kaufman, Dr. Seuss. They all had some effect on me — but exactly what effect I’m not sure. The writer who always reminds me most of myself is John Sladek, for some reason. He was published a lot in Ambit too. Lately, I’ve been influenced by the likes of Bacon and Pollock and Gilbert and George. Who aren’t strictly speaking writers, I know, but I like the idea of appropriating certain artistic techniques and creating art out of words — like abstract wordscapes rather than strictly linear stories. I’d like to write a Rothko.
3:AM: Is it just writing for you? Would you ever consider working in another medium?
HPT: Just lately I’ve been considering telesales.
3:AM: What is your opinion of ‘British Publishing’ in its current state?
HPT: I find it hard to muster the enthusiasm required to summon even a small yawn… but there might yet be some hope out there, somewhere beyond the horizon: I‘ve heard Stewart Home has chartered a small prawn boat and is bound for the shores of Dunkirk. Really, he is.
3:AM: How do you feel about the internet?
HPT: The pornography’s great, but the phone bills are astronomical. Or is that just me?
3:AM: Have you had much contact with the ‘traditional’ publishing world (i.e. agents, publishers, etc.)?
HPT: You mean, the Simons, the Ruperts, the Prossers, the Blings? A little. They actually all told me I was unmarketable! It seemed a bit harsh — and a curiously Thatcherite way of looking at the beautiful world of literature. I felt like bookshop poison at the time, but I’m not bitter. I like to think it means I’m doing something right.
3:AM: How has your book been received so far?
3:AM: I get the impression that to achieve any sort of ‘success’ or ‘recognition’ these days as a writer, one must be willing to self-promote.
HPT: It seems so, yes. I honestly gain no joy whatsoever from seeing a writer being zany in the local paper. More often than not it’s simply the triumph of ego over talent. I don’t think JD Salinger ever resorted to such tactics either.
3:AM: Are you planning any readings or publicity stunts to promote The Swank Bisexual Wine Bar of Modernity?
HPT: I don’t do readings, but I am planning to abseil down Nelson’s Column quite soon. I’m hoping the local paper will cover it.
3:AM: People are reading your book. When you think about this, do you get a mental image of a person reading it?
HPT: Are they? You can never be sure. They never tell you anything, people. I try not to think about it too much. However, since you’ve brought it up, I imagine small hairy people are reading it on the tube.
3:AM: When you think about ‘people’, do you like them or dislike them?
HPT: Being a sociopath, people are the last thing on my mind. But I do like people. And I love life!
3:AM: Are there any particular myths you’d like to dispel about HP Tinker?
HPT: Yes. I’m not young. I’m very very old.
3:AM: Which young contemporary writers do you particularly admire?
HPT: I don’t read much. I prefer writing. But I could point you in the direction of Donari Braxton. He’s just over there. The one with the curly hair. It does seem to me that suddenly all sorts of interesting writers are sprouting up. Which I think is largely due to the work of people like Andrew Gallix at 3:AM who have been championing underground writing for centuries now. Really, when I first started being published I felt like I was producing these stories in a literary vacuum. With hindsight perhaps there were a few other lone voices out there in the wilderness. Stewart Home. Steven Aylett. Martin Millar. You know those of whom I speak. But there was no contact or integration of any kind. At least not from me. I stayed in a lot with the curtains drawn. This was back before the Internet of course when you had to communicate via public telephones, or else write words down on pieces of paper. Steven Hall hadn’t been invented. Paul Ewen was wearing short trousers in New Zealand. Tony O’Neill was in borstal. Heidi James was a brothel keeper’s daughter. Everybody was alone and fairly frightened. Dark days indeed. Well, the context is very different now. There’s a swelling and it’s highly contagious. A movement is brewing, like a new Modernist uprising in fact, and I think the mainstream is almost ready to embrace it. I can just smell it in the air.
3:AM: Is there anything else you want to say about the book?
HPT: Oh, I would just like to say: “These stories are the stories of a slightly younger man. Stories from before the fall. I see hopeful joviality in their eyes. They bounce. They zip along nicely too. They are stories about other worlds. Trying to break into other worlds. Politely being asked to leave other worlds. These are brave stories.”
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWEE
HP Tinker breathes and hides in Manchester, England. He divides his time between consciousness and unconsciousness.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, June 16th, 2007.