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Broken-Hearted, Wounded, Mad and Battling Addiction

Simon Crump interviewed by Adam Biles.

Simon Crump is the author of four books: Monkey’s Birthday, Twilight Time, Neverland and My Elvis Blackout, which has recently been republished as an ebook by Galley Beggar Press. He talks to 3:AM about Elvis, Zola, why we like our pop stars damaged, and how hard it is not to sound like a bellend.

3:AM: It’s been thirteen years since My Elvis Blackout was first published. You’ve had a few more books out since then, but what has the King been up to in that time?

Simon Crump: The King has been busy being dead and knocking them ole balls around on God’s Golf Course.

3:AM: Mark Twain said truth is stranger than fiction, because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Doesn’t My Elvis Blackout kind of put the lie to that?

SC: Well…in Elvis’ world pretty much anything was possible, and there’s a great deal of ‘unbelievable’ stuff in those stories which I didn’t have to make up. Whoever would have thought his daughter would end up married to Michael Jackson?

3:AM: By writing first about Elvis Presley and then Michael Jackson (in Neverland), you risked the fury of two of the most devoted fan-bases on the planet. Did you enjoy poking hornets’ nests with sticks when you were a kid?

SC: Some people got very pissed off indeed (I am not welcome in a particular German town) and there’s a review somewhere calling for Neverland to be banned…but fans I’ve spoken to have actually ‘got’ the melancholy and the sense of regret which runs through both of those books.

3:AM: Did you approach these personalities primarily as a fan of their work yourself, or more as a disinterested observer?

SC: I was already a fan of Elvis, particularly the early Sun Records stuff, and as I began to research Jackson, I came to respect what he’d achieved even though it’s not really my cup of tea. It probably sounds a bit daft, but My Elvis Blackout and Neverland are both intended as sympathetic portrayals of their subjects

3:AM: In as much as both Presley and Jackson were brought down by the unlimited indulgence that seems to be permitted when someone experiences astronomical success, their stories strike me as very American tragedies. Do you think such outlandish tragedies are even possible on our tiny island, or are things done differently here?

SC: In our own small way, we try. Michael Barrymore for example.
I don’t think we really need to do that here because we have a so-called Royal Family. The Princess Diana story is up there with anything America can throw at us, I reckon.

3:AM: Despite all the glamour of their lives, Elvis and Jackson were clearly pretty damaged souls. While portraying them almost as grotesques, both Blackout and Neverland still seem, somehow, to humanise their leads. Was this your intention?

SC: Oh yes. And people often miss that and just concentrate on the “comedy” if you can call it that. If I can… I like my reader to laugh out loud and then feel guilty about it afterwards.

3:AM: Do you think there is something deep within us that yearns for the destruction of our idols?

SC: Certainly. It’s the whole Star and Victim business. I for one want my pop stars to be broken-hearted, wounded, mad, and battling addiction. 

3:AM: Before Galley Beggar put out the e-book, My Elvis Blackout had taken on a kind of cult status, passed between readers how dodgy VHS copies of a Clockwork Orange were when I was a teenager. Is there a certain satisfaction in being a “cult” author? (Or is “cult” just another word for underappreciated?)

SC: Whenever I’ve been referred to as a “cult” I’ve always assumed it was just a typo and the intention was to use a very similar word which begins with C and ends with T instead.

3:AM: Last time you were interviewed by 3:AM, you mentioned that you were working on a book about Zola. How’s that coming along, and what more can you tell us about it?

SC: Still doing it in fits and starts, but I’m writing another novel at the moment which is taking precedence. The intention of the Zola book was, I suppose, to do something along the lines of what Geoff Dyer did with D.H Lawrence in Out of Sheer Rage, but in a less posh way, more about my relationship as a lifelong reader of his work.

3:AM: You also spoke about your admiration for Zola’s “naturalism”. In your own work you seem to eschew this in favour of a kind of black comedy and hyper-reality that I would associate more with someone like Céline. Would you see your writing as belonging, broadly, to any particular school?

SC: Oh dear. However I answer that is going to make me sound like a bellend isn’t it? If I say “no it doesn’t” I sound like I think it’s unique, and if I name a school I sound like I’m comparing myself with famous writers. I belong to the school of ordinary middle-class, middle-aged blokes who sit in their sheds day after day, night after night…trying to come up with a story which isn’t total and utter crap.

3:AM: Does the controlled-chaos of your work come from a controlled writing practice, or a chaotic one?

SC: When I get going I’m pretty disciplined and I do all the stuff writers are supposed to do like keeping a notebook and reading aloud to edit. My writing process is very much to do with editing the initial burst of gibberish which hits the page into something which at least makes sense in my little world.

3:AM: The story of how you submitted Neverland to your publisher hours before Jackson’s death has passed into literary legend. Do you plan to subject any other celebrities to the Crump treatment? If so — and if that person is still alive — should they think of cashing in their life insurance policy?

SC: I couldn’t possibly comment!

Adam Biles, is a writer, translator and intermittent journalist based in Paris. His novel Grey Cats was runner-up in the Paris Literary Prize and is out now in paperback and ebook from 3:AM Press. He hopes to have his second novel completed by the summer. Twitter: @adambiles

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, June 7th, 2013.