Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Quentin S Crisp

Right, here's a mini-interview I've conducted with Quentin S Crisp, author of The Nightmare Exhibition, Rule Dementia! and Shrike. Quentin's going to be loitering around the blog for the next week so if anyone has any questions they want to ask him about his writing or being short-listed for the Shirley Jackson Awards or his new book Remember You're a One-Ball! please do so via the comments function. This is to make the interview fun and exciting in a hi-tech interactive kind of way and not just an attempt to cover up the fact that I couldn't be bothered to ask Quentin any decent questions.

Let's start with the important stuff. Your name is Crisp. But if you actually were a crisp what flavour would you be?

There can be no question but that I would be Worcester sauce flavour.

Your new book is called Remember You're A One-Ball! Does this have anything to do with the legend surrounding Hitler's lunchbox? Or with WWI flying ace Albert Ball who, due to his tendency to spend his free time by himself, found himself nicknamed by his fellow pilots as Solitary Testicle?

Now you’ve gone and spoilt the plot.

Hitler makes a kind of cameo appearance in the book. Kind of. Albert Ball would probably find much resonance in the novel. I suppose I’ve become more sensitive in recent years to the whole notion of spoilers. I’m not sure I cared that much about them when I was younger. I feel like I want everything about the book to be a surprise to readers, if possible, but I suppose if one is going to publicise the damned thing then something must be said other than simply, “Read this book!” So, I can at least reveal that this book does involve testicular surgical intervention of a kind. And I’m sure that, knowing that, you’ll all rush to buy it.

Go on, tell us some more about the book. Spare no detail. What type of paper is it printed on? What font was used, Times New Roman or Dutch Courier?

I think the typeface might be Palatino, but I wouldn’t swear to it. The design for the book was undertaken by Bigeyebrow, in consultation with Chômu Press. I think it looks very striking and unusual.

Someone told me recently that the book is a bildungsroman, and I decided this was a great way to describe it. Just add the epithet ‘macabre’ or perhaps ‘grotesque’, and you have a reasonable sound-bitey description: macabre bildungsroman/grotesque bildungsroman.

I really feel that this novel is a kind of definitive statement for me about certain aspects of my experience of existence, and it seems unlikely that I’ll need to cover the same area again. Having said that, they do say that most writers basically have one story that they write over and over again. I think I have at least two, but I may be wrong. “Remember You’re a One-Ball!” seems to go pretty much as far as I can go in following certain preoccupations of mine, but I suppose psychoanalysts might decide I was still writing the same story even after I’ve moved away from traumatised schoolboys with intimate injuries and passed on to depicting Utopian futures of holographic animism and the parasexuality of invertebrate aliens.

You write in a genre you call demented fiction. But doesn't that name apply to everything that Terry Pratchett has written since developing Alzheimer's? (This joke courtesy of Jonathan Ross's and Russell Brand's book How To Disguise The Fact That You're Not Actually Funny By Insulting A National Treasure.)

I realise that I’m using the word ‘demented’ in an inaccurate way from a medical point of view. People have asked me about this, taking it rather seriously, and I can see that you’re taking it a little too seriously yourself, but the term ‘demented fiction’ is really just something I made up. If dementia ‘goes viral’ at some point, that would be gratifying, but my invention of the term was really just my way of saying, “Girl Power!”

Finally, as an old school Dr Who fan what would you say if the BBC asked you to not only write the next series but also to star as The Doctor? But the entire series has to be done as a musical. Co-starring John Barrowman. And Bonnie Langford.

I’d say, “When do I start?”!

… Can you put a word in for me?


Anonymous said...

Quentin, can you share how (or if) your passion for Japan and japanese litarature has in some way influenced your sensibilites and style?


Tom A.

Quentin S. Crisp said...

Hello Tom.

I think that "Remember You're a One-Ball!" is actually one of my least Japanese-influenced works. I think it has a very pacey, thriller-like structure, building suspense through the selective piecing out of information. It's also conspicuously British in its themes, ambience and references. I think in many ways it's not 'literary' at all, in that it's a story in which I feel I am very much going straight to the source material of my own experience. So, I like it for that reason.

But you're very right that Japan and Japanese literature mean a great deal to me and have influenced me as much as, or possibly even more than, 'weird fiction'.

The first Japanese writer I really got into was Mishima, and I think that what impressed me about Mishima was that he used imagery that was shiny, golden, sun-drenched, extremely beautiful in an Apollonian way, and create something very sinister, dark and disturbing. This was a real revelation to me, and I still think that Mishima is pretty much godlike when it comes to writing stories.

But there have been many Japanese writers who have influenced me since Mishima, including Nagai Kafu, Dazai Osamu and Higuchi Ichiyo. These are diverse writers, and it's hard to say what they have in common, though, in my mind, they do have things in common.

I suppose you could say that the Japanese influence has been manifest in a twofold manner: In terms of structure and in terms of aesthetics, though these are interlinked. In terms of structure, I'm very much influenced by the contemplative, drifting, semi-essay style of Japanese fiction. I really don't like the idea that there's only one viable structure for a novel, which is to build to a climax over something broadly modelled on the three-act drama. There are all kinds of possibilites in fiction, and Japanese literature has been, for me, a gateway to such possibilities.

Aesthetically, I learnt from Japanese literature that you can have a fantastic, rarefied, otherworldly atmosphere without having to use supernatural imagery or events. That you can transform the whole world just by a way of looking and not necessarily by 'making things up' seems wonderful to me.

Of course, that hasn't stopped me from using supernatural material in what I write and 'making things up', but an increasing number of my stories have been subdued and contemplative, and I have attempted in them to transform the world through a way of looking alone, as a painter might.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Quentin.

Following up: I sometimes have the impression when reading your stories that you have an interest in both the obsessive and the sensual, which can also be found in some of Tanizaki's books (like, for example in "Naomi", or "The secret history of the lord of Mushashi"), but you didn't list him as an influence.
Any comments?

Tom A.

Anonymous said...

Hello Quentin.

I've found your writing to be very personal for the most part. And so, I can't help but wonder if the "Eva" this book is dedicated to corresponds to any characters in the novel. And does she know that this book is dedicated to her? I'm not so sure I would like such a book to be dedicated to me...

Quentin S. Crisp said...

Hello Tom.

I love Tanizaki (or 'the Tannister' as we call him in my house), and almost mentioned him in my list (which was far from exhaustive), but I've never really been conscious of him as an influence while I'm in the act of writing. I think it's fair to say that he's an indirect influence, though, even if not a direct one. The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi is an insane and brilliant story, but I also love Some Prefer Nettles, A Portrait of Shunkin, and, as they say, many others.

Hello Anonymous.

The truth is, I don't actually know anyone called 'Eva'. I wonder if that might suggest further questions to you?!

Anonymous said...

Hi Quentin.

Thank you for answering my question. So you don't know an 'Eva'? Well, that does make things interesting. Is Eva a pseudonym for somebody else? Is she real at all? I think that you will be evasive in your answer somehow.

Quentin S. Crisp said...

I think that you will be evasive in your answer somehow.

I can see you are a person of uncanny perception.

There is a message in the dedication, but it's not to any single person. I'm wondering whether to give a clue.

Anonymous said...

Yes, give a clue, please. Obviously I am not as perceptive an individual as you might think.

Anonymous said...

Never mind the clue, I get it now. I'm a little bit slow. I can't believe I didn't realize what your dedication meant sooner!

Quentin S. Crisp said...

Hello Anon.

Thank you. I would rather not give clues, so you have spared me.

Sometimes what is staring us in the face can be invisible. I'm very bad, for instance, at anagrams.