Tony O’Neill, whose scorching debut, Digging the Vein, is out in the US on Contemporary Press (slogan: “Fuck Literature”!), features prominently in the latest issue of Scarecrow. In his review, Lee Rourke writes that “There is no need for Tony O’Neill to try and dazzle us with his prose styling (a weight that seems to loom large in the forefront of many writers’ mind); he knows he will be heard, that every word counts, because he experienced each painstaking syllable”. Steve Mitchelmore begs to differ: “London’s Scarecrow is keen to introduce us to new and urgent voices, yet for all its assurance that Tony O’Neill’s new novel Digging the Vein is ‘something quite special’ in its depiction of drug addiction in California, one only has to read the first paragraph to notice the hurried resort to the most worn-out phrasing. The rest is no different. Scarecrow insists that every word counts ‘because he experienced each painstaking syllable’. I doubt it. Doesn’t heroin numb all pain? Cliches do the same”. Don’t know about heroin, but in my experience cliches certainly don’t.
From the interview:
“The book — at the start — was literally something to do while I was detoxing. Something to keep me sane. And I started writing about incidents that I wasn’t proud of in my life, almost to purge them out of my system. And after a rickety start, I felt the words start to come. I felt like a retired boxer going back in the ring for one last fight. It started to come easier and easier. At the start I was sat by the computer, you know, in tears. Dope-sick. Shaking. Throwing up into trashcans. And getting it down a fucking word at a time. The depression lasted months. Months and months. And I wrote through it. There was no thought of publishing it at the start. It was just to keep myself sane. But once it started coming I couldn’t stop. I took a job at a music store in the basement of the Virgin Megastore on Oxford Street, when Vanessa was pregnant with Nico. And I’d disappear off, grab a bottle of cough medicine from the Boots around the corner, drink enough to feel normal and sit in the cafe during my lunch break writing the book onto napkins, or pieces of paper stolen out of the boss’s office. Then I’d go home and transcribe ’em.”
Tony O’Neill features in 3:AM Magazine‘s forthcoming anthology, The Edgier Waters (edited by A. Stevens). Richard Cabut‘s interview with Tony will appear in 3:AM as soon as we’ve relaunched.
First posted: Wednesday, March 1st, 2006.