In my continuing adventure to thrust suspect and dangerous people upon you, I’d like to introduce you to Marc Nash. He has a very challenging view of how to be a writer. I’d like to be more like him.
When did you start writing?
Apocrypha has it that I scrawled the word ‘help’ in amniotic fluid on the membrane encasing me. But the evidence was washed away with my birth. And while I desisted from scrawling ‘help’ in my father’s blood adorning the kitchen lino after a reasonably serious, if inept attempt at suicide (saved by his anatomical ignorance and squeamishness) undertaken with an electric carving knife – I was charged with cleaning the floor before the charlady arrived and spread our toxic family secrets around – I have been penning fiction about suicide and death ever since. One of these tales is true. My mother still keeps the carving knife, wall mounted on a couple of pegs, like a big game hunter’s favourite elephant gun.
I had started writing crappy teenage angst lyrics about CND and mutually assured destruction, but shortly after the true one of the above two events, I started writing angry plays at college where I could get them staged. This was the only thing that kept me from dropping out. When I graduated I was desperate to write something creative after the dry academia and thought that playwriting seemed like a good pursuit to follow in order to avoid the rat race. It wasn’t. Not quite down in the sewers, but I was homeless and dossing on friends’ floors for most of the four years of my lunatic pursuit of the ridiculous profession of playwright; most of them just see it as a staging post until they get a proper writing job in film or TV. I was quite taken with shaping and carving the actors’ bodies up on stage. In the end I stopped writing dialogue entirely. That went down well in the world of drama, kitchen sink and all. I turned to writing novels when my twins arrived, since it meant I couldn’t hang out at theatre bars any more.
What does writing do for you?
1) Prevents me buying an illegal automatic firearm from a street dealer. Just as well really, I’m more of a crap and than crack shot
2) Pursuing an inexorable terrorist campaign against both ‘reality’ (a consensual construct which I fiercely abstain from) and its handmaiden ‘language’ which serves to prop and bolster in a manner most tyrannical. Language is slippery and elusive, particularly nouns. I don’t mind verbs so much, the ‘doing’ words. The act of drinking, be it lemonade to slake a thirst, alcohol to get intocxicated, poison to end one’s wretched life or ejaculate, all enact the same physical reflex of swallowing. It’s only the varying quality of the liquids that colours the nature of the act itself.
3) It lets me discover the lesser viewed parts of myself.Sole writing schtick aphorism from me – ALL WRITING IS AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL. It all emerges from your imagination, no-one else’s. Even if you use an anecdote someone else gave you, it still becomes part of your experience by the mere act of you committing it to your memory and then recalling it. I like to write characters as far as possibly removed from me and my daily life. That forces me to travel out to meet them through the writing and I reckon we meet somewhere around halfway.
4) Causes me a world of obsessive pain and sucks me into a vortex of introspection so that I often burn the kids’ supper. They’ve stopped even complaining about it now. They wish I made money to buy them unlimited electronic good.
5) The grim satisfaction of a job well done. Even if no one else agrees
Who do you write for? Who is your model reader?
Someone who won’t duck a challenge.
Someone who is prepared to question the world around them
Someone who refuses to indulge in literature as escape from their lives, but would rather use it to assist them to interrogate it instead
Someone who likes ideas and words
Someone a little jaded by the extant book market
Someone who might come back at me about my work and challenge me over it
If you had to point to five books that changed you significantly, what are they and how have they changed you?
I’d struggle for 5 to be honest. I write books that I might like to read but which I don’t think are out there in the market. I didn’t read as a kid, so my entry into the novel through Camus’ “L’Etranger” was pretty important to me I guess. A cool older cousin of mine suggested I track down the Cure’s song “Killing An Arab” and then read the book, both of which I dutifully did and scored some credibility points at school. But the book blew me away, well it would do, it was about death, life and meaningless. Kafka and Beckett are huge faves of mine, probably for their absurdist takes on the human hive, though my writing style is about a million miles removed from both of these archly spare stylists. My fourth would be a book I haven’t even read. One of my favourite bands were Swans whose lead singer Michael Gira also wrote short stories. I knew his lyrics, pared, stripped down expressions of brute power of body on body. I saw a short story of his in a book called “Tape Delay” (music -lit crossover, who knew? Duh!) and became desperate to get his chapbook but never did manage to. Now it’s on Amazon for about $70 and E-Bay for about $45. I’m tempted…
Who is your favorite fictional character and why?
Saul Karoo in Steve Tesich’s “Karoo”. He’s just so funny and offhandedly bitter. Sadly the author died before he could write another book. I quite like Meursault’s ‘meh’ attitude in “L’Etranger” that ultimately is the reason the State has to execute him. But I’m more about voice than character to be honest. To me character too often can just come down to some pop-Freudianism. I’m more interested in character being revealed through their use of language rather than their observations and reactions to things.I like characters to start from the inside and work themselves outwards, the reverse of the usual dripfeed. My charcaters tend to splurge all over you at the outset and slowly the reader gains the pwoer to rein them back in.
Are you more a plot driven or character driven writer?
Neither, see above. I’m more interested in the storytelling than their story. Why is this character telling you this particular story in this particular way and expect/demand you the reader to listen to it? I nearly always try and think about these questions and make them part of the book. For example, the narrator of my debut novel takes up residence at beach bars spinning tales in return for drinks. She does this because she’s exiled from home and has no visible means of support. Who is the person she’s telling her stories to in the book (for whom the reader is a proxy)? That is revealed by the end. Are any of her tales from her time at home believable at all? These are questions arising from the book, how reliable a narrator is she?
As to plots, I am simply uninterested in them. Real life doesn’t follow plots, though plenty of people make plots out of their lives. They turn them into fictions (see any misery memoir you care to mention). I’m more interested in people who are stuck and go round in circles making similar versions of the same mistakes, rater than those demonstarting a character arc of development and achieving redemption by the end. No one I know has ever achieved redemption in their life. Hence the plethora of self-help books…
What is your latest work? Where did the seed of the idea for the book come from?
A novella that I want to take the form of a How (Not) To Guide. Something pocket sized and with illustrations (majuscules in fact, like the old hand-scribed and illuminated books). It’s a book about growing up male now and in the previous generation, how utterly alien they are to one another and that includes a language gap that cannot be breached. It’s a manual of mal-parenting really. It’s also a commentary upon youth on youth crime and gangs and the unacceptable level of youth deaths by stabbing that people seem to shrug and accept but which I simply cannot. Part of its genesis comes from reflecting upon being a father to my twin boys and what maleness means for them and meant for me when I was their age.
Do you have some plans for the next one?
Ah, the great unsellable project you mean? My book on language itself. A schizophrenic who believes he can silence the voices if he starves them of words and sets about slashing words out of the dictionary, based on their overlapping of function, partly brought about by the schizoid origins of English itself, emerging from both Norman French and Anglo-Saxon – and the implicit power relations built into our language through those origins.