It is through Jeff Vandermeer's recommendation and the Bookmunch website that I have got to know Peter Wild. This is how I have got to know most of my writerly-acquaintances - all virtually - through websites and reviews and interviews.
Pete Wild is used more to conducting interviews than giving them so I thought I would turn tables on him and ask him a few questions about his life and he kindly agreed. The result is highly entertaining and interesting. But first I thought I would get to know Pete a little more through his fiction.
A short Review of Peter Wild's Work
There is a list of Pete's on-line publications here. The range of work is wide - in content, style and scope. Some pieces, like STONE ROSES are brief amusing vignettes or in the case of In HER STICK FIGURE smartly-written pieces of social commentary; while others, like PUNK ROCKER, are much longer, running into several pages. The majority of the pieces published on-line though are suitably short. Even THE PUNK ROCKER is broken up into very short chapters. This works really well on screen - these sharp little pieces deliver their message quickly and seem ideally suited to on-line reading. The PUNK ROCKER, like the majority (but not all) the pieces is about the vagaries of love. It is set in Japan and told from the point of view of a young man who loses one lover but finds another called Shiina:
Shiina was slight. She had a tendency to withdraw. Take a picture of any crowded room and you will glimpse Shiina obscured by the shoulders of others. Every photo of her I have, there are shoulders. She is one who hides. But, importantly, she has the intensity of those who wait for their moment, who think carefully before speaking and only say that which they think you should hear.This gives such a vivid picture of a character so tersely. Through concentrating on the shoulder I not only see her but feel I know her and like her. Throughout the piece the narrator is slightly distant; things seem to happen to him rather than involve him and this gives a strong sense of alienation.
In THE SPIRIT IS WILLING the voice is completely different. This narrator is angry and more direct but the descriptions are just as powerful:
She's thin. Her ribs stick the fuck out. Her skin is white. I mean white. Her legs are like pieces of string with I don't know - fucking knots in the middle where the knees should be. Her chest is flatter than mine. She doesn't have a lot going for her is what I'm saying. But then the way she says the word American makes me almost blind with wanting her.He turns things around: he doesn't like thin but in trying to persuade us of just how much he doesn't like thin he somehow succeeds in making the knots in string one of the most attractive things imaginable. As in BUTTERFLY (a piece of flash fiction) the feelings of love and lust come over clearly.
There is a similarly strongly emotional voice in RUCKUS. This is experimental - names start with lower case letters, and there are words misspelt. It evokes violence as if the words have been spattered out on the page.
In DOWN BY THE RIVER the narrator is a 14 year old girl, and like the thin girl, apparently has little to offer. She is ordinary, and all she is doing in this piece is walking down to the river - but even this is made into something sensuous and interesting:
Prising her way through the bitter tangle of vines and bare trees down by the river, feeling the cold on her bare legs the way the trees no doubt felt it, losing their leaves.The story is about the start of love, but love can also end and BRYTER LAYTER is a gritty arresting story about the hurt felt when love ends - a subject he approaches in a satisfyingly oblique way:
He tried saying the word aloud –In Peter's work love can also stagnate, as in THIS NIGHT HAS OPENED MY EYES (which is one of my favourites):
but his tongue was sluggish. So he thought the word instead, repeated it in his head, clung to it as if it was a straw and he a drowning man.
Awkward angry seconds pass like bruised dog years.This consists mainly of conversation between the two and gives an incredibly effective feeling of being trapped.
And love can change. TOM VIOLENCE (which is a much longer piece not on-line) is a story about the changing relationship between a married couple and starts audaciously by stating:
The Violences were a couple much like any other. They often went weeks without sharing a civil word, intermittently touched parts and rarely if ever gave a kind thought one as to the other.
The naming of the couple at once lends the piece a deliberately surreal distant quality and in writing that reminds me a little of Angela Carter's modern fairy tales, he proceeds to tell an unusual and rather dark cautionary tale about a tumultuous relationship. Peter ventures even more into the surreal with SOMBRERO FALLOUT which is a recent work and very topical.
In WOMAN SEATED IN THE UNDERGROUND, another of the longer pieces which is not on-line, there are more changing relationships. It seems to me to be Peter's most ambitious piece and it is reminiscent of Michael Cunningham's THE HOURS in miniature. A life story told in first person is interspersed with a story told in the third person set during a few months in the present day. They glance off each other very effectively and the link - the London Underground - is used as a repeating motif. The section which deals with the depression of one of the characters is convincing and moving:
Another day, she found herself in the middle of the dining room with an active vacuum cleaner snoring at her feet. It was a feeling akin to misplaced keys. Misplaced keys to the power of ten. She had no idea, really and truthfully no idea, as to how she came to be standing there, in the dining room, with the vacuum cleaner. After all, she had no desire to clean. There was a moment of nausea and dizziness during which she wondered, comically, if she was about to collapse, and then the noise of the machine and the dull muffled numbness in her head and the telling toll of days met, and she roared, actually roared, and moved to raise the vacuum cleaner above her head.Another life story is told succinctly in LEBENSRAUM, retelling a piece of history from a soldier's point of view:
You should've seen their eyes. That is something no history book will tell you.
The result is surprising and involving.
Another old tale is retold in YOU'VE GOT EVERYTHING NOW. Part of the enjoyment of reading this piece is the final realisation of the original basis of the tale - the rest comes from the slow and bewitching way the father and son's relationship evolves as they work together on the business of fishing.
GARAGE GERBIL - another one of my particular favourites deals with the relationship between two men. It also illustrates what I think I love the most about Peter Wild's writing. Apart from the tale, the life commentary and the entertainment there is a gift for finding just the right word:
...a birdlike man with a bent back and balsa bones...one day bleeds into another...silence mildewed between them...This, I think is how prose becomes poetry. The right word allows even the shortest piece to grow into something more. It provides a metaphor which immediately suggests new ideas and links.
CD: What is Mansize and what is Bookmunch? How and when were they conceived?
PW: Bookmunch is my baby. It stumbled, half-cocked, into the world a little over five years ago. I was working for this crappy magazine publisher in Stockport, sharing creative duties with three other like-minded creative types and we each of us spent an unholy amount of money on books and we thought, we should do something that gets us free books. I'd written for City Life and The Big Issue and knew that you could get ahold of review copies if you had a vehicle and - it struck us that a website was a way in which we could do that. So free books was very definitely the impetus. But then, as is sometimes the way with these things, it sort of got a wee life of its own. We went from just reviewing books to interviewing authors and (very occasionally) ranting on about whatever it was that stuck in our collective craw. As time has gone on, the core of Bookmunch shrank from four to two and then, relatively recently, from two to just me - so now it's me and maybe a dozen other contributors. And it's great. During the last five years, I've got to interview a whole bunch of people whose books I greatly admire - and it's laid the foundations for all of the books I'm busy editing for Serpent's Tail and, more recently, Social Disease... Bookmunch has very definitely saved my life. It's crowbarred me into the life I want for myself. So God Bless Bookmunch is what I say!
As for Mansized: I was invited by one of BM's contributors to assume a Book Editor type position at Mansize. It isn't 'mine' - I'm merely a resident. I think I'm just a big mouth. This is why I feel the need to go on and on at Mansize and Dogmatika and 3AM Magazine and about a half a dozen other places. There's just no shutting me up. I won't listen to reason. This is why I drive people crazy if they have to spend any serious amount of time in my company...
CD: Have you any idea of the size and type of the readership?
PW: Bookmunch gets about 20,000 unique visitors a month... As for the type of readership. It's all over the place. A lot of young men (there's a whole strata of vaguely dissatisfied young white English and American men in their late 20s and early 30s who feel like they're as yet undiscovered literary geniuses, I think we really tap into that particular market) and then a whole lot of women. Far more women than men. Which probably goes without saying. Women read more books than men do. I get emails and things from people of all ages. We gets teens who read Bookmunch for the graphic novel reviews and then I hear from people in their 50s and 60s who think that the London literary world is terrifically insular - and that insularity is bred and supported and cossetted by the broadsheets. If I check the back end, I see that we have readers all over the world. Which feels strangely disorientating. Perhaps it's one of those goose/golden egg things. I shouldn't pry too closely! (I should say, though, that latterly I think of Bookmunch as one of a community of websites - a community led by the likes of Dogmatika - which I think is just about the best thing since sliced bread - but including the now legendary 3AM Magazine and a whole host of other literary blogs and ezines...)
CD: How did you get into the business of reviewing books?
PW: How did I get into the business of reviewing books? You have to blame Raymond Carver for this one. I spent the better part of my twenties writing (I have a sort of bottom drawer with unpublished novels in), and each thing I wrote edged me closer to being published. I remember, I must have been 27 or 28 and I was living in London and I finished a novel called Ixnay and then had interest from David Godwin and I thought - This is it! This is where it all starts! But, of course, it didn't. The interest fizzled out as these things are wont to do and I left London, got married and had children - and the thing about children is, they impinge on your time. It's really hard (when you have to work for a living, as I do) to maintain the drive required for a novel when you have a little girl who appears able to survive on 33 seconds of sleep a night. So for the last five years, I've started novels and then abandoned them. (I start writing in a feverish burst of intensity, hit a stumbling block, start to reread what I've done, think, That's shit and then kick it into touch... Then months later I'll return to it and think, hey this wasn't so bad... But by then the impetus or creative whatever that kickstarted the thing is gone so... one more abandoned novel to add to the pile.) Years ago, I read that Raymond Carver reviewed books 'to keep his hand in'. And that's the same for me. I review books so that I have something whereby I can say to myself, at least I do that...
CD: How would you describe your own writing?
PW: It feels really weird to be talking about 'my writing'. Not the reviewing side of things. I can talk about that. My view on that is - I'm honest. I have absolutely no agenda whatsoever beyond telling Bookmunch (and latterly Mansize) readers what I think about the books I read. There are no secret allegiances on Bookmunch - which has caused me odd bits of trouble in my time. Bookmunch was enthusiastic, for example, about Gwendoline Riley's debut Cold Water and we were more than enthusiastic about Dan Rhodes' Timoleon Vieta Come Home - I think that book is just an absolute wonder. But then I didn't like Gwen's second book and I didn't like Dan's Danuta De Rhodes' book and I said so and of course it pisses people off (because they think - he was so enthusiastic about the last book...). I've only really picked up on this since I started commissioning books and approaching various authors. But I guess it also works both ways. Bookmunch was pretty mean about Matt Thorne, I remember, and Matt Thorne got in touch when he heard about The Fall book and said I know you don't like what I do but I'd like to be in The Fall book all the same. And I respect that. I think Matt Thorne has balls of steel. Plus he's a bloody good bloke on top of all that, so.
As for the fiction. It's harder to say. I remember reading a quote from Toby Litt where he suggested as yet unpublished writers experiment and I've certainly been doing that over the last year. I don't think I've ever been more prolific. I'm busy trying on lots of different kinds of shoes. I try to write stories that will elicit some kind of reaction (but what a banal thing to say that is). So, for example, I had a story called 'Ruckus' published on Thieves Jargon recently and I've got a story called 'pthc' in the forthcoming Dreams That Money Can Buy - and both of those are pretty damn fierce. But I've also been trying my hand at perverse scraps of erotica (a story called 'The Spirit is Willing' appeared on Straight from the Fridge recently and 'Cruiser's Creek', my story in Perverted by Language, is dirty and perverse) and literary homage (the most recent story I finished, 'Sombrero Fallout' is a doffing of the cap to Richard Brautigan, albeit Richard Brautigan by way of the War on Terror) and .... I'm keeping busy! Some things appear in my head virtually fully formed and then other things involve months of struggle. I'm struggling with my story for The Smiths book at the moment (which is called 'Rush and a Push and the Land is Ours'). It revolves around a sort of Chav Final Solution and is at turns comic and disturbing but ... It's hard to write). And I'm writing a serialised novel for Dogmatika called Espionage: A Jigsaw in 500 Pieces which is pretty damn demanding. I have good days and bad days (which is I'm sure true for most writers and would-be writers). But I think I've had more than my fair share of great days recently. I've had about 20 stories accepted for publication in ezines and anthologies this last year and I've started to be offered readings and I'm involved with this thing called LitFest, so ... It feels like a certain amount of momentum is building up!
CD: How did the anthologies originate? Has there been any feedback from the Fall or the Smiths?
PW: Therein lies a tale. Me and a buddy had the idea of starting a new Manchester-based publishing house (in order to do the things that Heidi James over at Social Disease is doing, ie publish the books that were slipping through the net) - the anthologies were what I bought to the table. (I had this idea, more years ago than I care to remember, to write a book of short stories that revolved around Fall songs ... I thought: we could do that but have lots of other people I like and whose writing I admire in the book instead...) Of course, it was a hop, skip and a jump from there to the series of books. When me and my buddy were thinking of the series, we thought - we could have three related English bands and three related American bands and then, in four or five years time, release two boxsets of three books. Around about this point, me and my buddy had something of a contretemps and the whole publishing idea went up in a cloud of antagonistic smoke. So (thanks to the contacts I've built up as a result of Bookmunch) I got in touch with Serpent's Tail and they were really interested and have been really great (because obviously I'm new to all this publishing lark and need spoonfeeding much of the time). So. The Fall book, Perverted by Language, is done and progressing through the publishing process and will appear next June. The Sonic Youth book (The Empty Page) and The Smiths book (Paint a Vulgar Picture) are coming together (I've got about half of the Sonic Youth book and about a third of The Smiths book 'under my belt' as it were...). It's all really exciting. (And weird - it's weird how each band inspires a different kind of story: The Fall stories are, for the most part, pretty damn offbeat; Sonic Youth stories are dark, full of sex and violence; The Smiths stories are, perhaps unsurprisingly, tender(ish)...) I'm going to start commissioning the next three books (Pleasant Dreams: Fiction inspired by The Ramones, Incubation: Fiction inspired by Joy Division and What Goes On: Fiction inspired by The Velvet Underground) at the beginning of 2007...
As for feedback. I've had contact, of sorts, from The Fall. I'm in touch with Clayts (who runs the official Fall website) and I've had dealings with Alan Wise (The Fall's manager) and I've had a handful of text messages from Mark E Smith but that's about the extent of the feedback. Sonic Youth, on the other hand, email all the time, they make suggestions as to who they would like in there (Kim Gordon pushed for Mary Gaitskill and Rebecca Godfrey, which helped get them in the book), they are just ... everything you would want. Me and the missus are off to Paris in December to meet up with them (they're playing the Zenith, so we get free tickets and backstage passes and all of the kind of stuff guaranteed to make a fat, dumpy idiot like me froth ...). As for The Smiths... A much harder nut to crack. At least so far. I'm in touch with Warner Chappell music and permissions are progressing...
CD: What do you do when you are not reading books, writing, watching films or listening to music? Actually, thinking about it - do you have any time left?
PW: I get this a lot. People at work say, Where do you find the time?!? On paper it looks like a lot: I run a website, I'm editing six books for Serpent's Tail, another book for Social Disease; I'm writing a novel that is being serialised on Dogmatika; I'm writing articles for 3AM Magazine and Pen Pusher; I'm interviewing various authors and singers for various places; I review books and movies left, right and centre; I'm writing short stories.... I'm busy. Make no mistake. But. I'm not busy all the time. Far from it. I work full-time. So that's one thing. And work is busy. Work is hard. But then, when I get home, and after the kids are in bed, I relax by reading or watching movies or writing. It's how I turn off. I suppose I'm quite aware of time. And I keep a lot of lists. And I make sure I'm never without a book in my pocket. I always have at least one book on the go. And I can read fast (although I never ever skim - people go, 'Yeah right - but I bet you skim read' - I don't, I read fast, there's a difference).
But really, things don't take that long. I can write six reviews (of varying lengths) on a Sunday morning and have Bookmunch updated by lunchtime (after which I'll take the kids to Whale Around or Alphabet Zoo or whatever they feel like, and they'll run around like loons while I read the papers). It takes me about two hours to get to and from work each day so - that's my reading time. And then I might do an hour or two during the week after the kids are in bed. But not always. Many's the night me and the missus curl up on the couch with a movie. When I'm not reading or writing or listening to music or watching movies... I'm probably talking. I talk A LOT. Or cooking. I like cooking. Well, I like eating (because I'm a big, fat pig) which had led me into cooking and now cooking is a small perfect thing in its own right. (I just asked my wife what I do when I'm not reading/watching/listening etc and she said, Irritate me... So there you go. Further proof if proof were needed that I'm irritating!)
CD: Do you think being based in Manchester gives you a different perspective on the literary, musical and film world from if you lived and worked in London?
PW: I wrote a thing about Zembla magazine on Bookmunch about half a year ago. Zembla was an arty London book magazine. I was in Hay on Wye when the mag launched and went to the launch party and it was full of Guardian types and someone told me that this Zembla editor used to work for Cosmo and that Zembla editor used to work for - whoever... And it struck me that Zembla was just another London establishment caravan. Of course, The Observer loved Zembla because mentioning Zembla made them feel hip. But Zembla were part of the London scene. Anyway. I wrote this rant and someone on another site wrote about my rant and said, ah well, that's the thing about Bookmunch - they're real outsiders. And I loved that. It all comes back to the Groucho Marx thing about any club that would have me as a member. But it's quite a bad chip I have on my shoulder. For example, a lot of the websites I frequent are frothing about Tom McCarthy (he's written a novel called Remainder and a book about TinTin called TinTin and the Secret of Literature) and the little chip on my shoulder flares up and urges me not to read his books just because everyone is liking them so much. I'll read them next year some time and love them, probably but - right now, I positively don't want to join any club. I don't think the fact that I'm based in Manchester has much bearing (beyond the adoption of a blunt vernacular, which is my heritage). Manchester just allows me to be away from everyone and everything of any import whatsoever. (My wife wants me to say that London is shit. She wants me to say that London is shit and Manchester is not much better. She is also keen to emphasise that we don't live in Manchester we live in Stockport in order to rob me of any cache of cool I think might come my way if I say I live in Manchester.)
And here are the questions that I ask everyone...
CD: Do you have any connection with snails?
PW: I have sat and wracked my brains to think of a connection with snails but all I can think of is this: my computer (where I sit at this precise moment blathering on to you) is directly next to the porch doors. There is a wall that runs the length of my garden from the porch doors. Snails like to climb the wall. So, many is the morning I get up to see seven or eight snails busy making their way up the wall. I don't know what they do when they get to the top. I sometimes wonder if they spend their days - Incey-Wincey-Spider-like - climbing up, falling off and climbing up again. Or perhaps the old man who lives next door is having to deal with some terrible snail infestation (all of the snails in my garden driven crazy by my children stamping and screaming about all over the place). I should also say, my wife - who works part time in a betting shop - tells me that there is a snail Grand National that runs on the same day as the actual Grand National. She says it's just about the best thing in the world. Like the Guinness advert only much, much slower.
CD: What is your proudest moment?
PW: Proudest moment... When I took the Fall book (and, by implication, the other books in the series) to Serpent's Tail, Pete Ayrton - who is the head honcho at Serpent's Tail - invited me to London and took me out for lunch. We went to a seedy little Turkish place and ate - I suppose you would call it Turkish tapas, there were things wrapped in vine leaves and lots of aubergine-y type things - not that I ate. I was far too nervous. But Pete was great. We talked about The Fall book and ... Lots of things. And we cut a deal. I suppose you would say. I remember, I left Serpent's tail on Cloud 9. I talked to the wife all the way up to the tube, got on the tube to head toward my hotel, arrived at my hotel - and realised that I'd left my bag and everything I had with me at Serpent's Tail. So the proudest moment - getting a book accepted for publication - is right up there alongside my many many many other dumbest moments. Which is nice.
CD: Have you ever had a life-changing event - if so what was it?
PW: My kids have very definitely changed my life. My daughter Harriet is like a machine gun and my son Samuel is like a spliff and the both of them have changed my life irrevocably. The first three years of my daughter's life, she hated me. She loved her mother and hated me to distraction. We waged a war, she and I - and she won. When my wife was pregnant a second time I remember saying that I thought we wouldn't survive if a second child was as full-on as Harriet was. Thankfully - Heavens be praised! - my son is gentle and sweet and doesn't need people, is happy to toil away by himself with his cars and his zoohouse. Before kids, I got to go to the cinema three times a week, often found myself sitting in the Waterstones cafe drinking coffee and reading books, satisfying myself to the nth degree. I thought I was a nice guy. I thought I was an interesting guy. Children helped me see that I was in fact a selfish bore. And it's only got worse. I am now more selfish and more boring than I ever was. So: Part of me wants to say: You lose lots of things when you have kids (my mum and my wife's mum took a vicious pleasure in watching me lose things) but you don't care: you don't care because what you get is impossible to explain to anyone who doesn't have kids. But then a part of me wants to say: Help! Help! Children are too demanding! I can't deal with them! What do you mean I should've read the small print?!?
CD: What is the saddest thing you’ve ever heard of or seen?
PW: Mick Jagger duetting with David Bowie on Dancing in the Street. Or Paul McCartney duetting with Stevie Wonder on Ebony & Ivory. Or Elton John duetting with Pete Doherty at Live Aid II. Duets basically. Duets are sad. They bring a right lump to my throat.
CD: If there was one thing you’d change about yourself what would it be?
PW: Well, I'd say that I need to lose some weight because I'm a dirty fat pig but my wife - very kindly - informs me that I should change the fact I say 'mmmhhhh, that's nice' when I've had my first sip of a particularly nice cup of coffee or glass of wine AND I should stop balling my socks and throwing them into the kitchen when I come home from work after she has just finished getting everything nice (I should also say, my wife is finding the interview process tremendously therapeutic. She says it's like seeing a counsellor.) There are people who would tell you that I am a vain, selfish egomaniac. I should probably work on that too. I know other people who say I'm too self-effacing. What do they know?
CD: What is happiness?
PW: Happiness is very definitely peace and quiet. Peace and quiet. Happiness is me on one couch, the missus on the other, American Music Club's Everclear on the iTunes, a glass of wine (or, tonight, a very fine malt whiskey with a splash of lemonade), reading our books (the missus is on the new Maeve Binchy, I'm on Tim Winton's The Turning, which makes me sick it's so good, makes me never want to write another thing again... At least a half a dozen people in the world are reading this and saying: for Christ's sake read more Tim Winton!). That's all I need to be happy. Saying all of that, every once in a while my little boy climbs up on to me and falls asleep and there is nothing in this world quite like your kid sleeping on you, dribbling through your tshirt or whatever. That's a beautiful thing. However, lest I err too far into Hallmark territory, there's also nothing like pills and booze and sex.
CD: What is the first thing you do when you get up?
PW: I want to say that I make coffee. But. I have a routine. My little boy (Samuel, almost two years old) wakes up at about five o'clock every day. I stumble out of bed, scoop him out of the cot, shamble to the bathroom, brush teeth, wee, carry out half-hearted ablutions, stumble downstairs, pop young Samuel on the floor, switch on the TV, walk across the room to the computer, switch that on, walk into the kitchen to the kettle which I fill and set to boiling, return to the living room where I pop on whatever DVD Samuel is thrilling to at the moment (for a long time it was Pocoyo, right now it's Monsters Inc), then I return to the computer, fill in my password (which, interestingly or not, is the word BOURGEOIS) and then I head back to the kitchen to make coffee. The boy is happy watching his DVD. The computer is warming up. I have coffee. The day is ready to start.