Single to Ego City
Some, all or none of the below may or may not be fact or fiction. Or both. Phil Latham takes no responsibility for anyone believing what he says to be true or helpful or entertaining. Ever. No pint glasses were shattered during the creation of this blog.
I have interviewed myself to make the blog different (partly) and because I am not getting paid for this (mainly). Apologies for the inelegant formatting (blame Bill Gates) and if I have used an incorrect interview format (blame the interviewer).
Interviewer: Who are you?
Me: As DeLillo might write, ‘I am a fake, a fraud, an impostor, a charlatan.’ Who I am is normally a question I reserve for special occasions, when I’ve consumed too much alcohol or when I’m marooned in a queue and trying with all my powers not to visualise a trolley, a chainsaw and an infinite tank of petrol.
Interviewer: So you’re not a writer?
Me: Yes. And no. Maybe. Perhaps. I do write, a novel mainly, but also the occasional short story when I can be occasionally energised. But I’m not a writer. People like Douglas Adams and Nick Hornby studied English at university. I didn’t.
Interviewer: What did you study?
Me: Girls through telescopes. And my navel. For my navel gazing I received a First; for studying girls I received pokes in my other eye. My ‘study’ of English expired when I was sixteen so I know very little. I have never studied Dickens or read poetry by Wordsworth. Shakespeare was a barber, right?
Interviewer: You think you’re a fake because you didn’t study English as a degree?
Me: It’s not just that. All the time writers and poets say ‘I have always written’ and I know that’s not me. I’m not and have never been someone who has always written, always wanted to write, as if writing is my oxygen. Writing is my Shreddies.
Interviewer: If you don’t write, what are we doing here? I could be in the pub.
Me: I do write, but I’m not a writer. I’m not qualified. I don’t live to write. I’m just a guy hunched over a keyboard making it up. Those at the back of the queue may be pining for an academic definition for ‘writer’, but my stock response as unoriginal and inexact as a mother-in-law joke is ‘someone who is published’. Perhaps a writer is someone who is published and who makes the majority of their income from writing. Are you a writer if you have not had your short stories or novel or poetry published? Maybe. Are you a writer if you don’t make the majority of your income from writing? No, I don’t think so. If your main job is selling used cars and you just happen to write science-fiction (because you’re into lying 24/7), then your occupation is metal pusher, not writer. I have a full-time job and write part-time. I am a fake.
Interviewer: Have you had anything published?
Me: One piece of flash fiction and one short story, both online. But nothing major. Nothing that snaps knicker elastic at magnification times ten.
Interviewer: How did it feel to see your work published online?
Me: For an entire day my face became an electrified banana.
Interviewer: If you haven’t studied English since school, how have you developed your writing ability?
Me: Some would say I haven’t. But I read a variety of fiction and have trawled a few ‘How to’ books.
Interviewer: If you write yet insist you’re not a writer, what are you writing for? Why bother?
Me: I started writing by accident.
Interviewer: You strolled under a ladder, a plant pot fell on your head and you awoke with pencil and paper in your hand?
Me: I started writing because of boredom. Can you believe that?
Interviewer: No, I can’t, and if you don’t start making some intelligent remarks I am going to the pub to make up the rest of this interview, like a proper journalist.
Me: I often work away and when summer weeks stretched into winter months, boredom became a sumo wrestler squatting over me after he’d dislocated a chicken madras. I watched TV, devoured my DVD collection. I read. Biography, fiction. I’ve never been interested in anything miserable, because if I want to witness human suffering I can stare out of the window or watch The X Factor. So I read humorous novels by people like Tom Sharpe, Douglas Adams, Nick Hornby and Ben Elton. One day I read another author and afterwards I just thought I could do better.
Me: Yes, really.
Interviewer: You didn’t think you were being arrogant? Ambitious?
Me: No, because when that thought skateboarded into my mind I didn’t plan on doing anything about it. I didn’t plan on wanting to write a novel, badly.
Interviewer: But now you have?
Me: Yes, now the novel is written badly. I was bored one afternoon at work and rather than typing yet another report about nothing in particular, the blank screen in Word goaded me into imagining a scenario to make me laugh. So I visualised a couple on a first date, in a bus shelter, in the rain. It’s midnight, the end of the date, and while he’s waiting for the bus home she decides to progress the date physically. The situation made me smile, and was a worthy distraction from work, so I developed the idea. It’s not explicit erotica or anything, although events do evolve. The rain is so dense it curtains the darkness even more and, just at the climax, just as the man thinks this is the feeling in the world and nothing can spoil it, a flashgun goes off.
Interviewer: Someone has photographed them in the bus shelter?
Me: Exactly. They’re semi-naked enjoying themselves and a journalist photographs them, which I thought was comical. It was just me being bored, my brain rebelling at the tediousness of the office.
Interviewer: What happened to the scene?
Me: It ends one chapter in my novel. Once I’d written it I thought about it more, so I read more. Writing fuelled the reading; reading fuelled the writing. Of course I’d created one scene, not a short story or novel, so around it I had to scaffold the remainder of the story. Characters, plot, setting. Usual convicts. It hasn’t been an efficient method of writing, but then what is? And because I’d never studied English I was blind, assembling endless word parcels with no idea that most of them would never be posted.
Interviewer: So why am I here?
Me: Ask your mother and father. What changed is I found thinking of situations, characters and jokes more enjoyable than decaying in an office, which is ironic given that the office is the great joke.
Interviewer: But because you write part-time, you still do the office work?
Me: Yes, I still do that head in a blender process. I wrote thirty thousand words and grappled with alien concepts and techniques such as the subjective narrator, foreshadowing and building tension. Eventually I reached a point where I needed feedback. I knew what I’d written wasn’t publishable because it didn’t match the quality of fiction I was reading. Yet I didn’t know how to make it publishable.
Interviewer: Didn’t the ‘How to’ books help?
Me: To a point, but they aren’t the same as someone reading your work and saying what they think. Later I met my old English teacher at a school reunion and when I told him I was messing around with a novel he encouraged me. Although what I’d written was first-draft-drivel, he offered me useful advice and, after re-drafting, those thirty thousand words became fifteen. That’s fifteen thousand, not fifteen. Despite the word decapitation I had a plot and characters and wanted more feedback as a method to improve. So I applied for a MA in Creative Writing. I’m halfway through and thanks to the workshops I’ve had great responses.
Interviewer: Good and bad?
Me: Good and bad. The problem with writing is that I do it in isolation. Laptop, tap, tap, tap, sleep. Usual story. The MA has been valuable for feedback but also because the tutors treat me as a writer – when clearly I’m just a fake – and encourage all students no matter whether they write short stories or poetry or anything to submit their efforts to journals and competitions. Think like a writer, act like a writer. So my aim is to finish my novel and send it to an agent. The odds are against publication, but I’ve got to try.
Interviewer: Thank you. You don’t mind sharing this information with the world?
Me: I don’t mind. It’s not as if you know any of my personal details or anything. Name, address, inside leg.
Interviewer: Indeed. For this interview it just remains me to thank Phil Latham of Melbourne Road, Chester, thirty-three inches.