Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Interview: Graham Joyce

Every Tuesday, I'll have an interview posted.

Graham Joyce is the author of several novels and short stories, as well as the recipient of awards such as the British Fantasy Award, Imaginaire Award, and World Fantasy Award. His latest book is How to Make Friends with Demons published by Night Shade Books.

Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. How did you get your start in writing? What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome?

Well I’d always been writing, but when I hit my thirties I decided to quit my job and go and live on the Greek island of Lesbos and put in some dedicated time. I lived in a scorpion infested shack on the beach and wrote every day. After a year in Greece I sold my first book. But there had been a lot of writing in the years before I made that happen.

What's your writing process like?

It’s like any other job. You lean on your spade or you put it to use. You spend hours yakking by the water cooler or you do something. So I write very day, five days a week.

When you write, what are typically your agendas or does it vary from novel to novel?

It changes. I keep trying to do something new with each novel, which makes the game harder but keeps it fresh and interesting.

What made you decide to go for a "spare prose" style?

When I was younger I used to enjoy a more exuberant and expressive style. But it’s like playing the guitar. After a while you realise it’s easier to put in all the fiddly notes and the vibrato and the bends. But simmering that down to a neat, clean, meaningful song is not so easy.

By paring down the prose what you get is much less flashy writing but the results are ultimately superior. You somehow get ballast from the process.

Where are you more comfortable: writing novels or short stories?

I like both forms but most of my time is taken up with writing novels.

How do you feel about being classified under various genres? How would you best describe your writing?

Heck. I never know how to answer this. I promised myself I would stop worrying about what kind of writing it is, but then other events or commentators shove you this way or that. I’ve attracted most labels going, at one time or another. So I’ve decided to come up with my own, even if it won’t mean much to anyone except myself. I’m a Fractured Realist. That’s it. Now I can move on with my life.

How did you first get your start writing poetry? Do you foresee writing some in the future?

You’re going back a way! I won the George Fraser Poetry Award in my mid twenties. I’d been writing poetry since I was a teen, after being influenced by the pretentious song lyrics on the back of rock albums. (Three Peters: Brown, Sinfield, Hammill of Cream, King Crimson and Van Der Graaf Generator respectively)

I’m pretty much done with poetry; or she is done with me. Oh, I’m lying. I do occasionally have the secret itch. I tend to keep it to myself though.

Who are some of your favorite authors or what are some of your favorite books?

The list would be way too long, but a few that made a deep impression would include George Orwell’s 1984, William Faulkner’s The Sound and The Fury, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5, Umberto Eco’s The Name Of The Rose.

What is it about "weirdness" that appeals to you?

You’re saying I’m weird, aren’t you?

How did Night Shade Books ended up publishing your novel?

My last book The Limits of Enchantment was badly published in the US and I got dumped by my publisher. Night Shade looked at the figures for that book and they laughed. Really, they weren’t at all afraid of the figures the mighty engines of my previous publisher had managed. Now, I’ve known Night Shade right from their beginnings and we’ve been great friends all along. So we said let’s do it.

What was the inspiration for How to Make Friends with Demons?

Many things. Rage against this stupid war we’re prosecuting in Iraq while feeling sympathy for the soldiers; a fear that publishing itself is losing its integrity in the flood of fraudulent memoir, ghost-written celeb books, and fake histories; William Blake. For me a novel is an attempt to make order from of a bundle of contingencies swimming around in my head at any one time.

What kind of research did you have to do?

Quite a lot for this novel. Book forging, obviously. Conditions for the first gulf war, since there is a section about the fighting in the gulf. Plus I had to drink a lot of red wine to get my main protagonist right.

Why did you go with the word "demon" when you could have used other names like daemon, spirits, passions, etc.?

I suppose I’m trying to redefine the idea of what we mean by a demon. If you start calling it a daemon, you’re side-stepping that aim somehow.

What made you decide to become a teacher?

In England it used to be what you were supposed to do if you were from a blue-collar background and you were smart enough to go to college. You know: leave government, and the diplomatic service and the media to those who have been to Oxford and Cambridge but we might be able to use you as a teacher. It hasn’t changed much, except that they admit less blue collar kids through to be teachers these days. We’re still paralysed by social class issues in the UK.

As a writer, are there any experience that make you a better teacher? How about the reverse?

There is an obvious relationship between the two things, but to be honest some writers couldn’t teach if their lives depended on it. That’s why you get writers who say writing can’t be taught. What they mean is they can’t teach it. I really don’t know if being a teacher of writing makes you a better writer, since the two jobs are done from radically different places in the psyche. Though as a writer you do at least know what the useless advice is, such as the banal invocation to “write about what you know” and other useless general stuff. As a writer you want to be talking about the technical, craft-based issues, not specious flim-flam about the soul.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Spade. Water cooler. I said it above.

Anything else you want to plug?

A section of the novel was published as a stand alone story, and it has won this year’s O Henry award for short stories.

1 comment:

banzai cat said...

Interesting enough, he's also supposed to pen the latest Doom videogame.


Personally, I'm a big fan of his stuff. :-D