In conversation with
(Reprinted, with permission, from No Farmers Here!, the very popular blog of a typical Devonshire housewife.)
Today the most fantastic thing has happened! I still cant believe it! There was I in Exeter, having a quiet coffee on the terrace of a small café facing the Cathedral, when a rather ill-matched couple sat down at the very next table. I hardly noticed the woman at first, but the bloke was tall, craggily handsome, perfectly groomed, amazingly sexy--and yet with something of the old-fashioned gentleman about him. I stared, blinked, stared again, and nearly wet myself! It was Steve Redwood! Yes, the Steve Redwood, the writer! FISHER OF DEVILS! WHO NEEDS CLEOPATRA?! NASTASSJAS HONOUR! The man who told Richard and Judy to stuff it, and Oprah to get her hand out of his trousers! Less than three feet away from me!
Well, you can imagine, it was all I could do to stop myself leaping to my feet and begging for an autograph while ripping off my clothes! Oh my god, to be shagged right there on the grass of the Close under the disapproving marble gaze of Richard Hooker--by the man who rewrote theology and almost brought the Church (and the statue) down!
But I held myself back. And not just because Id forgotten to change my knickers after the postman. No, it was the woman. Scary! I couldnt see her too clearly, blinded as I was by the sun reflecting off every one of the three rings she wore on each finger. But I could see her eyes. Talk about menace and malevolence! By comparison, Saurons Eye was about as frightening as a soft poached egg on untoasted white bread in a Torquay guesthouse in November.
When the man spoke--voice rich and resonant, erotic charge in every plosive, fricatives sending a frisson through me--I realised my instinctive fear of the woman had not been misplaced.
So, Miss Grinvileer, Granville, tell me, before we talk about your new book
Granville! Liza Granville! Like millions of other people, I had read and been sickened and shocked by the supposed interview of Steve Redwood conducted by this very woman last year on a major international cultural website*. And like everybody else in the court, apart from a haggle of witches in the back row, I had cheered and stamped at the end of the case brought by Redwood's wily Welsh agent, Fleece Ewes, against Granville for her calumnies, when the judge ordered her to pay a considerable sum in damages. This might explain the poor quality of her clothes, and her somewhat emaciated appearance. The rings, I now realised, were fake. The hair too was suspiciously rigid in the breeze, as if each pink tinted hair were suffering priapism.
And yet, here was the great writer treating his maligner with quiet respect and attention in his whole attitude. Could a man really be so noble and forgiving? I squeezed my hand between my thighs.
A waiter came out, and was about to shoo the woman away, but Redwood suavely intervened.
The lady is with me. Such quiet authority in so few words!
The waiters attitude changed at once to a Basil Fawlty with a soupon of Blair-con-Bush.
I do apologise, sir, I didnt realise
Its all right, Redwood said kindly, his George Clooney teeth flashing in the early afternoon sun. My nipples strained to be savagely bitten by them.
The next few minutes passed in a kind of haze for me. The sinister woman produced an old suitcase, opened it, removed a lightweight folding table, erected it beside her, and spread a pile of skinny books over it. I saw they were copies of CRACK OF DOOM, her new book. She dusted them off with some old fishwifes knickers. I realised, without being able to fathom out why, that Redwood had generously agreed to interview her, and I furtively made notes whenever I could, though it wasnt long before the great author was recognised by passers-by, and the interruptions became more and more frequent as they begged for autographs, telephone numbers, sperm. Especially towards the end, there was such a bustle of people that I was unable to jot down much of what was said. What I did manage to transcribe I offer here, in italics.
Redwood: Let's talk about your latest book first. Reading Crack of Doom, one has the distinct impression, not only that Doomscombe College actually exists, but that you have insider knowledge. Would you care to comment on that while I am still able to stay awake?
Granville: Doomscombe is indeed based on a real place, fondly remembered. By some. I suppose. Its a place in love with itself. And the 1960s. Always a mistake. On both counts.
It was a few seconds before Redwood stopped jerking, like Bonny and Clyde at the end of the film, from these staccato replies, tactfully pretended he had understood this answer, and asked his next question:
Redwood: If that is the case, were any of the art installations you describe so vividly real, or did you invent them all?
Granville : Some are pretty near what really happened. Others are blatant lies. The ephemeral one with the word spelled out in leaves on a stream is, I regret to say, true, and mine--but without all the accompanying blag-up. I also did an edible installation. I saw a much more sanitary version of the trout installation in my time ater Doom, and also something similar to the installation from which Gob stole apples.
One of my own installations - using eggshells - was used in the short story Flower Power (Loffing Matters , an anthology of comic stories, Tindal Press)
At this point, a priest just about to enter the Cathedral spotted the illustrious writer, and, looking furtively over his shoulder, sidled up as priests do and shyly asked Redwood to sign a well-leafed and suspiciously-stained copy of FISHER OF DEVILS (the new luxury sixteenth edition, I noted) he had under his cassock. Redwood, clearly used to such interruptions, signed the book with a pen and a flourish that somehow seemed right for his swashbuckling character. Before he could hand it back to the salivating man of the cloth, Granville was already thrusting one of her books under his clerical nostrils. The priest backed away nervously.
Redwood came smoothly to the rescue. "Perhaps you might like to purchase one of Miss Granvilles books. It iswell, er, different.
The priest muttered something in Latin (a prayer against evil spirits?) but the spell clearly didnt work as Granville still squatted there as solid as a frog, so he half-heartedly paid for a CRACK OF DOOM, which he then inexplicably forgot to take with him as he fled. Redwood turned back to Granville, who was staring after the priest with tridents in her eyes.
Redwood: Most of the satire is good-humoured, but (usually from the mouth of Lyra) there is sometimes more serious criticism of the College. For example, is there really a 'Writing as Performance' course taught in unhygienic conditions, with no materials provided? At one point Lyra says, "It's a scam all round". Does this reflect your true opinion of this famous art college? Or would you rather not comment?
Granville: Well, with her background, Lyra is steeped in the Art World. There is no such course but there used to be one with a somewhat similar name. The huts werent as bad as Ive painted them. well, not quite as bad. We writers--as opposed to Visual performance, drama and music students - were definitely the poor relations. Dont forget though that everything is viewed through the eyes of a whinging whining male. More seriously, I think I would question the point of any degree that doesnt engage with the realities of contemporary life and the necessity of earning a crust. Who does such a degree benefit? The staff of Doomscombe College, of course. Many graduates from this institution work in the local Safeways.
I have to say though, that a couple of years later I went on to a renowned university in the East of England to research for a PhD. This was a complete rip-off. I could go on at some length here but Ill probably take my revenge on certain moderately well known literary figures in a future novel.
On hearing the word 'revenge', Redwood smiled slightly, but repressed the smile at once.
Redwood: Both CRACK OF DOOM and your first novel, CURING THE PIG, have male protagonists, both of whom are unredeemed macho types. Is this because you are attracted by such men, or is it your secret desire to be one of them? The narrative voice is similar in both books, and is what gives them a lot of their impetus and bite. Have you tried other narrative voices?
Granville: I am not attracted by such men--and never ever had a desire to be a man of any sort, though I can see it might have been a cushier life - but unredeemed macho types (PIGS) are fun to write about. I guess if you cant beat them, laugh at them.
As for other narrative voices, UNTIL THE SKIES FALL, a post-apocalyptic novel, is written from the viewpoint of an adolescent male, as is A GREEN HILL, FAR AWAY , just completed, another post-apocalyptic story exploring pagan resurrection themes. On the other hand, HOUSE OF GUARDED SECRETS is written from several viewpoints, both male and female, SOUTH OF YESTERDAY from both a male and a female viewpoint, and SECRET INGREDIENTS solely from a female viewpoint.
I have transcribed Granville's words here as if spoken in one continuous flow, but in fact there were frequent interruptions: word was getting round that Redwood was here, and people were pushing forward wanting to have their copies of FISHER OF DEVILS and WHO NEEDS CLEOPATRA? signed.
Redwood: And what about your female characters? Mam, for instance, in CURING THE PIG, is as wild a creature as one is ever likely not to meet, and here in DOOM , we have Gob, a unique character. Ive discussed her, as you know, in my review on the Laura Hird site**. Is she based on anyone (such as yourself)?
Granville stared at him for a moment with a basilisk eye. But she controlled herself very well, and her glare, reminiscent of haemorrhoids being cleaned with barbed wire, only chased away the sun for a few seconds. I realised that the presence of so many people crowding round the table, many of them taking photographs, was deterring her from immediate violence.
Granville: Youve met me. Do I carry on like Gob? Be very careful with your answer.
No she is not based on anyone. She is simply a good foil for Lewis.
Redwood: Both your novels have drug trips--do you have personal experience?
Granville: Actually, no. Dont even do alcohol. Or fags. Nor coffee, now.
Redwood raised an eyebrow at this, but forbore to comment.
Redwood: Just one more question before we go on to more general matters. I don't want to give away the ending of the novel, but did you have it planned from the beginning?
Granville: Yes. I go through a really long and painful process of working everything out in advance. Ier usually write biographies of my characters. This means I know them well enough to know what theyd say and do in given situations. They still sometimes surprise me though.
Redwood: In one way, this ending is open: do you have any sequel planned?
Granville: Yes. I have two sequels plotted. The first is called REVOLTING FARMERS. The second No, Im not telling you any more.
The reason became clear at once. The crowd had grown into a veritable obstinacy of Redwood readers fluttering around him like a murmuration of starlings. A few cried out, Look, is mum, er be thur wiz e!, and despairing of reaching the Man himself, thrust their cleofish at Granville for a compensatory surrogate signing. Granville hissed, her hair flailed out like an over-endowed cat o nine tails, or Medusa dreaming of Athena, and swotting the cleofish away with vicious talons, she waved copies of her own book in the air, offering two for the price of one, and screaming "Come on yer mean gits!"
A few yokels innocently took the books, but on seeing they were not new Redwoods, gazed at them blankly, scratching their heads in the way they had learned made it easier to con tourists, and incidentally reminded the bugs living there that some time there would be a day of reckoning.
Redwood throughout retained his remarkable aplomb. A gentleman through and through. He acted as if Granville were the centre of attention and said:
Redwood: Metanoia, proctalgia, vibrissae, encopresis--these are just a few of the many words you use not often employed in your local boozer. I take it you are fascinated by words.
Granville: Yes. I like words. I collect them. Todays word is Opisthoporeia.
She smiled, waiting for the best-selling author to ask her the meaning. The sound of ambient head-scratching became deafening.
Redwood: Yes, I know the feeling. Two steps forward, and three back! That's a coincidence! I used that word in a letter to Verbatim only this morning. I hope you dont mind if I adjust my sunglasses to a more comfortable opisthotic position, and scratch my opisthenar.
He caught her expression, blanched, and said hurriedly:
Redwood: And what have you got in the pipeline?
Granville with an obvious effort put down the knife she had snatched up.
Granville: Im working on a few pieces of speculative fiction that Ive been trying to finish for a long time: two novels, a novella, and some short stories.
The conversation was interrupted yet again at this point by an old lady bursting to the front of the crowd, and shaking her knurly West Country fist in Miss Granville's face, claiming she had been nearly run over by her earlier. Miss Granville brained her with the sugar bowl.
Redwood: The de rigueur question: your ten favourite authors/those who have most influenced you?
Granville: I think this question is just a chance for authors to show off, the equivalent of choosing obscure classical music for Desert Island Discs when theyd really much rather listen to hard rock.
However, my favourite authors are Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mary Webb, and Louis de Bernieres. I also like Sylvia Townsend Warner, Bruce Chatwin and Alison Uttley (childrens stories, yes).
Id hate to think another author had directly influenced me--isnt their work just another handful added to the pile of many-coloured rags out of which each author stitches his/her unique patchwork quilt?
I had a quick vision of a quillful of authors hurling their Turkish carpets onto a mountain of cloth.
Redwood: You had a heap of excellent reviews for CURING THE PIG***: did these reviews help sales in any way?
Granville: Not as far as Im aware. Quite difficult to even get sales figures out of Flame, the publisher.
Redwood: Do you think small press books without heavy and expensive marketing are doomed almost always to 'fail'?
Granville: Yes. Absolutely.
I wondered why Redwood at this point didnt ask why she hadnt submitted the book to a large successful publisher like Macmillan or Pendragon Press; perhaps he felt it diplomatic not to.
Redwood: A related question: Jeff Ford of THE PORTRAIT OF MRS CHARBUQUE fame said in an interview with Neil Ayers****: "My stuff has pretty much been cast upon the waters and left to sink or swim on its own merits."
Granville: Yes, that sums it up nicely if you move the full stop to follow swim.
Redwood: So you dont think 'merit' usually plays much part in whether a small press book is successful or not?
Granville: Sadly, no.
Redwood: Do you buy many small press books yourself?
Granville: Not many. This is the problem. Unless you know about them already where would you look for them?
I was probably the only person to hear this answer, since although Miss Granville had been raising her voice ever higher, and had even leapt on to the table in order to kick out at Redwoods fans, the noisy tumult of people eager to get near their idol now drowned all attempts at conversation.
Redwood made one last attempt, and shouted:
Redwood: Bearing in mind the dreadful fate of hedgehogs in your novel, what advice would you give to Devon hedgehogs?
And Granville screamed back:
Granville: Grow longer legs. Drop the accent.
Those were the last words I caught. It was now totally impossible to continue with the interview. There were simply too many people crowding round. Redwood gallantly tried to direct their attention towards his snarling companion, inviting them to purchase a copy of CRACK OF DOOM. Two old ladies actually did so, willing to walk on nails in water if their hero ordered it, while others, again mistaking Miss Granville's role, asked her for Devon cream teas. In the end, in order to make a dent in the piles of CRACKS, Redwood with extreme generosity offered to sign Miss Granvilles books instead of the real author. The pile disappeared faster than Bushs options in Iraq.
Instead of showing the gratitude one might have expected, this fine generous gesture pushed Miss Granville over the edge. She seized the knife she had been eyeing, and began to stab Redwoods fans indiscriminately, slashing with the ferocity of Jack Nicholson arriving late for an audition for THE SHINING.
In moments, the Cathedral Close was awash with blood, for as soon as Miss Granville cut down two of her interlocutors fans, four more would take their place, willing to die to get near their idol. Redwood gallantly tried to stop her, but slipped in all the blood.
It seemed like hours, but it was probably less than a minute or two before the police arrived. Granville showed she could flash as well as gash, eluded them, and leapt into her car, which she had parked illegally. This explained the presence of the police so quickly, I presumed.
The last I saw of her was her car speeding through a pedestrian crossing, leaving a wake of ice cream cones sailing through the air as their tiny owners splashed off the bonnet into eternity.
(We do not give the rest of the blog entry here, as Devonshire housewife goes into a long torrid fantasy about being trapped in an Ariane rocket alone with Redwood, and we are aware that we have respectable family members among our readers. Ed.)
Crack of Doom available from Immanion Press:
http://www.immanion-press.com/ip0068.htm and www.Amazon.co.uk
*** Many of these, including Redwoods notorious Outraged Trotters review (on this website), are collected here (scroll down):
**** http://pootle-and-rat.livejournal.com/?skip=30 (You have to scroll past a messy Pootlebirth first)
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