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"Can you imagine what it's like going to Arts School in Armley? Armley's like the most brutal working-class place, and I like drawing and poetry. I really like the people there, I don't hate them or anything, they're my people, my kin. It's just that they didn't have time for me. They just thought I was a poof. What are you doing drawing? Why don't you get a job in the chippy? Marks and Sparks or something? Art College? It's where the poofs go. I'm like Billy Elliot. . . . I try to be as offensive as possible but there is a warmth I can't get rid of. I'm a nice guy. I try hard not to be. I have tattoos in compensation. I say to them, I've got tattoos, will you accept me now? But they still think I'm a fucking poof!"

Richard Marshall interviews Mark Manning


MM: I'm sitting in Tommy Cooper's chair. I've started doing rope magic now. I've got these amazing knots I can do. Writers have a lot of spare time. When they're waiting for the muse to arrive. It can be hours. You can either lie in bed -- which I find depressing -- or you can practice magic tricks. There's a great sense of satisfaction when you think that you've perfected a magic trick. As soon as you think you have, your girlfriend spoils it by saying 'You've just got a coin in the other hand.' YOU'RE MISSING THE POINT! YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO APPRECIATE THE GRACE AND THE MANIPULATION! That's what I do any way.

3AM: So you see yourself as a writer now?

MM: Writer. Singer. I don't know. Whatever. Whatever I do is wherever I am. I'm not like Martin Amiss or anything like that. I'm not Salman Rushdie. I don't sit there being a writer all day. I just do things. I occupy myself. Shitty magic tricks. Concerts. Records. Whatever. I've just finished Collateral Damage, a book for Creation Books. It's about when I toured America with my band [Zodiac Mindwarp and the vLove Reaction]. We went just after September 11. September 12 or something. So the whole place was crazy weird, a nazi place with flags all over, like Nuremberg with fat kids masquerading as security, soldiers at the airport, frisking you -- and I'm thinking -- I'm going to hijack a plane with a fucking 2B pencil. I'm sorry sir we have our orders. We have these crazy three weeks in a country that's basically in mourning. It happened because I just sit around doing my magic tricks and occasionally people ring me up and say do you want to do this -- come to America, stay in hotels, do gigs and they'll give you money as well. Yes, alright! But it was a weird tour and it was great because we didn't go on a major label or anything. We just went there. Me and Cobalt and Robbie Vomm we just arrived in New York. We didn't have any instruments. We didn't have any roadies. Cobalt bought a guitar over there. Robbie bought some drum sticks and we hired a car and we toured America. We just used the support band's gear. We didn't bother buying anything else. It was brilliant. It was stress free. No roadies to make us really fucking stressed. A really nice way to tour. Just hire a car. I don't know why all bands don't do that. We were there three weeks. Did the East Coast, West Coast. I took notes for the book whilst there. A journal. When you're touring with a rock and roll band you don't remember much unless you take notes. We made it good fun. The reality check was that we kept each other's spirits up. Riding around in America is not a lot of fun unless you've got some really good friends along. Dealing with retards.

3AM: You wrote an Attack! book.

MM: I basically wrote a fantasy book based on what it's like being on tour. The Leather Cowboys, they exist. Mincey Harris is a very real character. Peter Darklord is a very real person.

3AM: Was it fun to write?

MM: Sitting in a room with a computer? Well, actually, yeah. I just sit there in front of the computer laughing my bollocks off.

3AM: What I like is the way what you write ought to be offensive, but it isn't. It ought to be macho, but it isn't.

MM: I don't know how I get away with it either. It's pertinent to note that the ones who do get offended are these creepy guys. Loaded, they fucking think I'm the most fucking offensive thing -- they won't touch me. Because it's a bit near the knuckle for them -- near the bone. I write about the way men think even though they know they shouldn't do, but they do. I have great fun doing it. Women like it. Retarded men. They see us like that, so when they read this they can see an honest retard.

3AM: Is it also to do with the North, you coming from Leeds?

MM: Definitely. It's like -- a bit of name dropping here -- Damien, he's a friend and when we talk it descends into garbage talk, no one around us knows what we're talking about. Nonce talk. I'm doing this thing for sex offenders. I can't wait. Very shortly. I'm not sure when exactly, but the drummer's wife works with sex offenders so she's somehow coerced us into doing this gig for these real major sex offenders. In the prison. All the worst sex offenders in Britain are in there and we're doing the gig. How can you say no? But Leeds -- it has its own patois you know. I drop into Leeds slang. It's very poetic actually. You describe things in a very roundabout way. You drop all the ordinary syntax of ordinary conversation -- like I do in the book -- it's fantasy weird connotations where things connect in a strange way. I'm not very good at describing it. You can get it because you're from northern parts too aren't you?

3AM: South Yorkshire, me.

MM: Same thing. I like to write accordingly. I like to please my publishers. If I write anything vaguely sensitive or creative he just scribbles it out.

3AM: So do you feel you're disconnected from your Leeds roots? You've become a massive name, a legend.

MM: No. A legend? Which websites are you visiting? The book after Collateral Damage, the book I'm writing at the moment is about Leeds. I haven't got a title for it yet. A working title is 'I Have The Greatest Respect For You George'. It's a Billy Elliot story really. Can you imagine what it's like going to Arts School in Armley? Armley's like the most brutal working-class place and I like drawing and poetry. I really like the people there, I don't hate them or anything, they're my people, my kin. It's just that they didn't have time for me. They just thought I was a poof. What are you doing drawing? Why don't you get a job in the chippy? Marks and sparks or something? Art College? It's where the puffs go. I'm like Billy Elliot. I tried really hard to keep in touch with all my friends from school but they thought I was a freak. Eventually, I left. I still go back to see my parents and I visit these pubs and they're all there. They just swap wives. They just get married to each other's wives. Its just like there's this little tribe in Armley they're all there and I've done all these things, been a rock star and that, and they're still there having done nothing. They just think I'm a little poof from art school. I think that is quite an interesting thing. There's no malice in what I'm doing, There's a genuine affection. I try to be as offensive as possible but there is a warmth I can't get rid of. I'm a nice guy. I try hard not to be. I have tattoos in compensation. I say to them, I've got tattoos, will you accept me now? But they still think I'm a fucking poof! So bugger off. I'm off. Bugger to you lot, I'm off. I'm going to be a rock star.

Things have changed now. Why on earth would you spend fifteen quid on a CD when your mates can burn you off one for two quid? The music industry is dead. It's dead. It's just kicking a bit. Wriggling on its back. With Creation here, James has done it for nothing. You can record albums for next to nothing. It used to be thousands. We recorded the last one for two hundred quid. You release it. It's much more fun. Money's a big fucking seducer. People get used to being incredibly rich and incredibly stupid, incredibly pampered -- flying first-class and all that. It's not for me. I like to keep at least a toe on the ground.

3AM: So what things did you like when you were younger that have influenced you in some way?

MM: Anything that's got bollocks and contains sexual threat! It's got to sound like three minutes of gloriously sexy noise.

3AM: You like punk?

MM: The punks were a bit grumpy actually. Pissed off. They all sounded angry and pissed off, and I wondered why? Don't do it if you don't like it. I like boy bands, I like music that sounds joyful and I can hear it. I can hear joy.

3AM: What, like Robbie Williams?

MM: No, have you seen him lately? All he does is moan. He's a money machine. A million producers in there. And he's suffering and making loads of money.

3AM: Slade?

MM: I didn't like his voice actually. I like Marc Bolan.

3AM: Bill Drummond?

MM: He's a shit. He discovered me. It's all his fucking fault. This guy thought I was just a nut. He hired a rehearsal room with a bunch of musicians and he brought his friend Bill Down who said yes, I should sing. It was Bill's fault. He said yes. So it's all fucking Bill Drummond's fault. Then we just… you know, Bill's crazy. He doesn't know what he's doing. He never has a clue what he's doing. He's lucky. He never knows if they're going to work. Some they do and some they don't. The number of projects Bill Drummond has been involved with that people have never heard of, people wouldn't believe. He's got about 5 albums. Shit!

3AM: What about your reading? You like reading.

MM: In my flat there are about eight million books. I read everything. Not much fiction. I read weird information about the world. History and interesting things like that. Wild flowers. Birds. I like to walk through the countryside and identify wild flowers. I trawl second-hand bookshops and find it really interesting. I like knots. I've lots of books about knots. I spend hours trying to get a Turk's Head. It's a fantastic knot that I can't do. I like boats. Pirates. Boy's Own stuff really. Sailing ships and pirates. Serial killers.

3AM: You used to do comics.

MM: Yeah, Yeah. Years ago, I did a comic strip based on the Leeds punk rock scene. Then I got a job with Tim Lott. A serious writer. He's won Somerset Maughan awards. I slept on his sofa for over a year. And then he got married and I totally disgraced myself at his wedding. I offered an olive branch and he accepted it, but I didn't follow it up. I called him a pompous asshole at his wedding which wasn't a very good thing to do, was it? Anyway, he got me to design his magazine. I knew fuck jack shit about design, so I went to the library and read all about graphic design. Then I got the hang of it. Lived on his sofa. When all his rich and middle-class arty friends came round, he'd give me a bag of magic mushrooms and tell me that his friends were coming round to play bridge or something, and so I'd go off and get loaded on these evenings on mushrooms, and come home and sit on the wall and watch through the windows these people playing bridge until they went home. Then I could go in. saying that, I owe a lot to him. Without him I'd be happy in Leeds now. He's a lovely person, but I always felt I was a specimen. I don't see him now. Too middle class. I think he found me interesting. An interesting experiment. Lots of people are like that with me. Making notes.

3AM: How did you get involved in The Idler?

MM: I've no idea. It seemed like a good idea. My house is full of unpublished ideas. Tom [Hodgkinson] came round with a torch and said do you mind if we use this? Yeah, whatever. I just give them stuff that can't go anywhere else. When I'm not writing books I write other stuff, just idle thoughts. They seem to like it. Tom likes it. We're very good friends. He wanted me to be his child's godfather, but his wife didn't think it was a good idea. So why not be the devil father? It's a good idea. So I am his devil father.

3AM: You know Stewart Home.

MM: Oh yes. I know Stewart. He's a very studious chap. Archaeology of weirdness, yes. Always support a fellow weirdo.

3AM: What of the future?

MM: I have no desire to be an actor. I'm a really bad magician. I'm quite happy writing actually. Gigs come along. I'll never work with anyone else but Cobalt actually. He's got a job! I love him. I'm too old to be doing rock and roll. It's not dignified. There's this Italian countess who really likes my work. So she's driving this 1400 cc motorcycle covered in tattoos, 28 or something, the blackest sheep in her family, the blackest sheep in Europe basically, no one knows who she is here. We're in the back of the bitch van and she takes out this huge hunting knife from the back of the van and is feeling the sharpness of the blade and I'm doing magic tricks. All the things I put in my books, all the episodes, it's like me sitting in a room looking really strange interpreting what's going on. It's how I see things. It's a cartoonist way of seeing things. I am a cartoonist. I just write them, I can't be arsed to draw pictures. I'd prefer it to be called satire. Taking the situation to the ultimate conclusion. I like Steve Bell, [Martin] Rowson, that lot. I know how they got to where they got to. This is what's really going on. Take a madman's magnifying glass. I think the truth is there. You have to wind up the volume. It's like social observations. Bizarre, the way men and women interact. In denial of what's happening. But if you crank up the volume then you can see it. And women always get it. Men don't. It's too close to the bone.

Buy Mark Manning's Collateral Damage now!

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