The Emperor’s New Clothes in Reverse

Jack Henry, “3:AM Magazine Interview: Andrew Gallix,” Heroin Love Songs 5 Spring 2009: 87-90

JH: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.

AG: My pleasure!

JH: My primary interest is in New Media and what some refer to as New Media Literature. In addition there seems to be resurgence in writing and poetry. Perhaps this is due to so many on-line outlets. Also, movements such as the Brutalist and Offbeat Generation owe their existence to the Internet and various on-line outlets, including 3:AM. I think some of these movements and/or on-line journals have sprung from some post-punk anarchy reaction against mainstream publishing. I’ve read as much and agree with it. Some of these questions may seem obvious, but I am sure others are curious, as am I, to your unique perspective.

What is the importance of a movement or school of work? Is it an idea or concept developed from a historical perspective or can it be witnessed in the present, as it emerges?

AG: We never sat down one day and said ‘Let’s launch a new literary movement!’. We sat down one day and realised that we were part of a movement. It was already there, and all it needed was a name to gain visibility. It was the Emperor’s New Clothes in reverse. So, to answer your question, we have been observing the development of the Offbeat phenomenon since 2005 when we became conscious of it.

JH: What can a writer gain, if anything, from the inclusion within a movement?

AG: First of all, I must make it quite clear that the Offbeats are a movement and not a school of writing. Offbeat writers are individuals — they all have different styles and influences, even though they all share certain values and a certain rebellious spirit. Writing is a solitary activity, so it feels good to also have that collective experience.

JH: What are the unifying characteristics of the Brutalists or Offbeats? What is their historical heritage?

AG: The Brutalists are not a movement; they’re a trio of writers (Adelle Stripe, Ben Myers, and Tony O’Neill) who sometimes come together to write under that banner. Instead of forming a band, they write poetry. The Brutalists are very much part of the Offbeat scene. What unites all the Offbeats is a rejection of a publishing industry increasingly dominated by marketing, rather than literary, concerns. The name ‘Offbeat’ is an obvious nod to the Beats, but punk is perhaps the biggest historical reference. At least for some of us.

JH: In a few interviews I have read, the Offbeat Generation does not exist within a single style or genre, I am curious what the literary influences have been to this group? And, more specifically, any influences from areas outside of writing?

AG: That’s quite right, and since there is no house style, influences are pretty diverse. There’s the Bukowski-John Fante Real McCoy school of writing embodied by Tony O’Neill. There’s the Maurice Blanchot-Francis Ponge-William Burroughs axis led by Tom McCarthy. There’s the Barthelmesque comic postmodernism of HP Tinker. There’s the more quirky Brautigan-tinged world of Chris Killen or Tao Lin. And then there’s all the others with their personal influences.
Music is indeed very important to many Offbeats. Tony O’Neill played in bands like Kenickie or the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Ben Myers is also a music journalist and he even used to have his own indie label. Will Ashon has a hip hop label. As far as I’m concerned, Howard Devoto’s early lyrics are right up there with the works of the greatest writers.

JH: As the Beats of the 50s/60s gained popularity, pop culture turned them into a caricature of their origins. Is there a fear that current movements could be mainstreamed and, potentially, lose their power as a dissenting voice?

AG: Definitely. In a way, it’s already happened. There are lots of young writers who think they’re being Offbeat by spouting clichés about sex and drugs.

JH: What is the goal of a movement? Is it collective? Or individualistic?

AG: Total surrender of mainstream publishing!
It’s both individual and collective.

JH: It is my opinion that America’s “disposable mentality” has migrated to literature and our literary tradition. Publishers rely on a bestseller to support their efforts with other books. In my opinion, a majority of these best sellers are total shit. Writers that repeatedly appear on best-sellers’ lists utilize formula and structure that will satisfy the widest possible audience, with lim-ited concern for craft, exploration and daring. Subsequently, the wider audience is “dumbed down.” Additionally, marketing departments focus a majority of their budgets on bestsellers thereby limiting marketing funds for up and coming writers. In short, big publishers continue to promote disposable writing in order to earn the quick buck. Does literature still exist, either via New Media or traditional outlets? What is the future of literature?

AG: I totally agree with your analysis of the state of things. It’s the same in Britain — perhaps even worse because of the presence of a huge middlebrow market. In the States, it’s either total shit or pure genius.
But, yes, literature still exists and will continue to exist. I can’t predict what its future will be, but I think the western notion of The Writer may be on the way out. I think there will be fewer career writers in the future: writers who write simply because that’s what writers do. People will write a novel when they really feel the need to do so, but will also have other creative outlets.

JH: Returning to New Media, how important are New Media platforms (blogs, social networks, YouTube, etc.) to writers? Is there such a thing as New Media Literature?

AG: Well, I think you need to make a distinction between e-literature which uses the Internet as a new medium, and most online creative writing which simply uses the web as a medium. As I wrote here, I get the impression that the future of e-literature is to merge into digital art. That view seems to be highly controversial in e-lit circles. As for webzines, blogs etc. I think their role has been essential. The Offbeat movement is the first literary movement of the digital age. Without the Internet, it probably wouldn’t have existed in the first place.

JH: 3:AM is a widely admired online journal and has been around a while now. I have always been impressed with the quality of writing that comes out of it. With the Internet providing a global platform and on-line outlets (websites, blogzines, etc.) is there a dilution of quality writing? Or, more specifically, is there too much content? Or, perhaps, is it just too easy to get published online?

AG: Thanks for the kind words.
Interesting questions. A band that releases an album on its own label has credibility. Writers who do that are accused of vanity publishing. It’s true that there are thousands of rubbish writers out there who publish themselves on the Internet, but there are also stacks of rubbish writers whose works are published by big concerns — just visit any bookshop to see what I’m talking about. Bad writers will give up eventually; the good ones will float to the surface.

JH: How important is marketing to a New Media outlet or, as a whole, “underground” writers and publishers? With my journal I market wholly to exposure the writers I admire and feel have talent. The only real cost is time. With the press, I have a different attitude. I want to promote the writer, but I want to have some profit, no matter how minimal, in order to publish more writers. In the age of New Media Literature and the expectation of everything on the Internet should be free or relatively inexpensive, how does a press survive?

AG: I’ve been editing 3:AM Magazine since 2000; we get thousands of unique visitors a day, and yet I’ve never made any money out of it. There’s very little money in serious fiction.

JH: Is it more important to publish than publish and profit?

AG: Definitely.

JH: Okay, enough of my bullshit, let’s focus on 3:AM. Would 3:AM exist without the Internet?

AG: An emphatic no. I’d been toying with the idea of a post-punk literary journal for years, but the logistics just made it virtually impossible.

JH: In researching this project I have read through a number of issues from 3:AM. In terms of quality and content, it is definitely one of the better online magazines available. You have had a long tenure on the Internet, longer than most. What do you attribute that to?

AG: To the fact that we’re genuinely interested in writing, and that we don’t expect to make any money out of it.

JH: What are the future goals of 3:AM?

AG: To continue to spread the word.

Interview conducted on 21 May 2009.

La faim du livre

Along with Gérard Berréby, Augustin Trapenard, and Hervé Laurent, I was interviewed by Linn Levy for a piece entitled “La faim du livre” which appeared in the December 2013 issue of Swiss magazine Edelweiss. The article features on pp. 44-47; my interview is on p. 46.

La faim du livre

Edelweiss part en quête de la littérature contemporaine, des mots qui dérangent et se demande si être écrivain veut encore dire quelque chose par les temps qui courent. Quatre intellectuels se penchent sur ces questions et nous éclairent.

«Nous sommes les visages de notre temps», clamaient les futuristes russes, le poète Maïakosvki en tête, il y a exactement un siècle, pétris de la conviction que l’art qu’ils inventaient allait renverser l’ordre des choses, qu’en récrivant le monde ils façonneraient le futur. Et aujourd’hui? A qui appartiennent les visages de l’époque contemporaine? Peut-on encore écrire? Et quels sont, parmi le demi-millier d’ouvrages publiés cette rentrée en Suisse et en France, ceux qui tordent la littérature, l’éprouvent, l’inventent? Oui, dans quels livres trouve-t-on les questions que nous ne nous sommes pas encore posées? Difficile pour le lecteur de se retrouver dans le magma de fictions qui ornent les étals des librairies comme les marchandises envahissent les hypermarchés. Le divertissement, devenu la norme au risque d’endormir insidieusement les esprits, laisse peu de place au doute, la tension semble diluée, presque rien ne dérange, pas grand-chose ne dépasse. Alors, pour celui qui a faim d’autre chose que de spectacle et qui ne déteste pas être dérangé – «Etre scandalisé, un plaisir», assurait Pasolini –, il s’agit de résister en cherchant les lignes qui dévient, la littérature, la vraie, ce souffle qui a «la faculté d’empêcher la folie du monde de s’emparer totalement de nous», comme l’écrit Alberto Manguel. Quatre experts nous éclairent sur les mots d’aujourd’hui, l’influence du web, la mort imminente du droit d’auteur, celle de la figure de l’écrivain, sur le remix aussi, et l’irrévérence anglo-saxonne ou helvétique… L’éditeur Gérard Berréby, l’écrivain et professeur Andrew Gallix, le journaliste Augustin Trapenard et le critique d’art Hervé Laurent ont accepté de surcroît de dévoiler leurs titres préférés de la rentrée.

Andrew Gallix
Ecrivain, éditeur, professeur à la Sorbonne

L’écriture a cinquante ans de retard sur la peinture – triste constat de l’artiste Brion Gysin dans les années 60… «Et, pour le philosophe et romancier anglais Lars Iyer, la situation n’a fait qu’empirer. Le roman, censé échapper au monde des genres, est lui-même devenu un genre. Pour lui, la littérature est morte (comme la musique classique avant elle) et les livres que l’on peut encore écrire doivent exprimer la distance qui nous sépare de la grande littérature du passé. Cette «postlittérature» s’inscrit d’ailleurs dans un contexte politique et culturel plus général: pour Mark Fisher ou Simon Reynolds, par exemple, la modernité est derrière nous. Cette nouvelle crise du roman, symbolisée par Reality Hunger, le manifeste de David Shields, se traduit souvent par un rejet de la fiction.» Les idées se bousculent dans l’esprit brillant d’Andrew Gallix. L’écrivain britannique, professeur à la Sorbonne, collaborateur du quotidien The Guardian, punk depuis l’âge de 12 ans, a lancé en 2000 le premier blog littéraire en anglais, «3:AM Magazine»1, dont le mot d’ordre est le très groucho-marxesque: «De quoi qu’il s’agisse, nous sommes contre». Un webzine si avant-gardiste qu’il a donné naissance à un véritable mouvement littéraire, The Offbeat Generation, regroupant des plumes anglophones non conformistes (Tony O’Neill, Ben Myers, Tom McCarthy notamment), rejetant la culture dominante et le monde traditionnel de l’édition. «La littérature est quelque chose qui résiste, analyse-t-il. Même s’il n’existe plus vraiment d’avant-garde – le web l’a diluée en quelque sorte –, je remarque que l’écriture conceptuelle, expérimentale prend de plus en plus d’importance. Il y a toute une génération d’auteurs qui reste très influencée par la théorie poststructuraliste de Derrida, je pense notamment à Rachel Kushner. Il y a un autre courant d’écrivains, américains pour la plupart, qui s’inscrit dans la directe lignée de l’éditeur Gordon Lish – celui qui a en quelque sorte fait Raymond Carver. Pour eux, tout se passe au niveau de la phrase. Et, pour finir, je trouve passionnante et à suivre la scène littéraire qui s’est formée autour de la revue new-yorkaise n+1 (nplusonemag.com).»
1 http://www.andrewgallix.com / http://www.3ammagazine.com

Il lit:
Au départ d’Atocha, Ben Lerner (à paraître)
C, Tom McCarthy, L’Olivier
Nue, Jean-Philippe Toussaint, Editions de Minuit

The Offbeats

Ben Ashwell, “An Interview with Tony O’Neill,” Bookslut 138 (November 2013)

… O’Neill built a strong reputation for his needles-and-all accounts of addiction by publishing his stories online, on sites like 3:AM Magazine. This led him to be grouped with a range of other writers — such as Ben Myers, Lee Rourke, Adelle Stripe, and Andrew Gallix — who were collectively branded “The Offbeat Generation” by The Guardian.

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[Me and Tony O’Neill, Paris, June 2009]

The Enigmatic Polygeneration

One of my stories — “Dr Martens’ Bouncing Souls” — features in a new anthology entitled New Cross-Fucked Musings on a Manic Reality (Dog Horn Publishing, December 2010). Here is an extract from Tom Bradley‘s introduction:

In a universe ruled by karma and rebirth, “generation” is a bad word denoting as it does the stifling of spirits in coats of crass skin, the greatest disservice that can be done. Nevertheless, Hugh Fox got to christen the Invisible Generation, Andrew Gallix the Offbeats. So I’ll invent a name to embrace these people. I’ll make it doubly apt, as they produce electricity as well as useful heat: the Enigmatic Polygeneration.

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This appears on the back cover:

This volume is ripe with prime produce sprung from minds that span five decades, but comprise a single literary generation. And who are the Enigmatic Polygeneration? They were christened by Tom Bradley in chapter four of Put It Down in a Book, as follows:

Digital connectivity has rendered physical locality irrelevant and made polyversality the new thing . . . Once space has been erased by the miracle of email, so has time, in terms of its effects on the human frame . . . In a creation where particles can spookily act upon each other at a distance of quadrillions of light years, the Seven Ages of Man are as days in the week, and a generation can span an open-ended number of decades . . . I’ll invent a name that’s doubly apt, as these writers produce electricity as well as useful heat.

In this vast anthology, among other delights, you will meet a pornographic ventriloquist and a man who has spent a lifetime getting laid only because he looks like certain famous people. You’ll be taken deep into the heads of such gentry as Charles Manson, Jack the Ripper (who, we learn, was actually Bram Stoker), and Kerry Thornley, author of a book about Lee Harvey Oswald published before the Kennedy assassination.

Andrew Gallix will give you a crash course in transgression, and underground press legend Hugh Fox will bring you to understand what it means to be the small Jewish boy who would one day become Charles Bukowski’s first biographer. Meanwhile, mighty Dave Migman teaches us how to live and die. Fabulous Adam Lowe reveals his adventures in cross-genre, multimedia literature. And lovely Deb Hoag . . . well, as usual, she’s got a surprise!

The Expatriate Literary Scene in Paris

Anthony Cuthbertson, “From the Lost to the Beat to Now,” Notes From the Underground 19 November 2010

The expatriate literary scene in Paris

What Allen Ginsberg called, ‘The bewildering beauty of Paris’ has attracted writers and artists for centuries. It has been the setting of great novels and the home of great writers, and in the last hundred years has briefly been the stage for two waves of expatriate writers that changed the face of modern literature: the Lost Generation and the Beat Generation. Fifty years have passed since the latter faded away, and though the expatriate literary scene has remained vibrant, no significant movement has since emerged. However, with the arrival of new soirées, literary journals, writers’ workshops and readings, as well as a fresh generation of writers flocking to Paris, a new wave may well be rolling in.

Historically, Paris has been a place of refuge for artists and writers. It has attracted political and cultural exiles fleeing the injustice and intolerance of their homelands, offering them a liberal safe haven and allowing them artistic freedom. In the 1920’s and 1950’s it became a place of escape for those left disenfranchised by the World Wars. The Génération perdue, as Gertrude Stein named them, included writers like Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, T.S. Eliot, and later James Joyce and Samuel Beckett. They were a generation disillusioned by the horrors they had witnessed in the First World War, and who felt disaffected and betrayed by their governments back home. Pound wrote of his contemporaries, ‘(they) walked eye-deep in hell believing in old men’s lies, then unbelieving came home, home to a lie’. They gathered in cafés and hung about Stein’s salon to share ideas, bottles of absinthe and write, together forming a movement that still resonates strongly today.

By the time the Second World War and the occupation of Paris came about, these writers had for the most part moved on. Although some later returned after the war (Hemingway famously ‘liberated’ rue de l’Odéon, the then site of the bookshop Shakespeare and Company), a new literary movement in the form of the Beat Generation arrived. Leading figures of the Beats, including William Burroughs, Gregory Corso and Ginsberg, came to Paris for much the same reasons as their predecessors. They sought refuge from the strict conformist confines of McCarthy-era America and found it in Paris. In the years that have followed the departure of the Beats, Paris has remained a centre for culture and art. It continues to attract writers and artists with its history and beauty and the lively literary scene is a reflection of its magnetism.

The first stop for any would-be writer or literary pilgrim should be Shakespeare & Company. Its location may have moved over the years but the spirit and the name have remained. The current owner, George Whitman, has described it as ‘a den of poets and anarchists disguised as a bookshop’, having been sanctuary to writers of both the Lost and Beat Generations. The writers, whom George refers to as ‘tumbleweeds’, drift through the doors and find community and lodging in the poky upstairs rooms in exchange for helping out in the shop below. Supporting young writers continues to be one of the cornerstones of S&C. As well as providing a place to stay, they hold workshops, readings and even organize a literary festival every other year. They have also recently relaunched their literary magazine (The Paris Magazine), and announced the Paris Literary Prize (10,000€) for unpublished writers. In its current location on the banks of the Seine it is as much a tourist attraction as it is a bookshop, but between the piles of books still remain bunks for the next hopeful Hemingway to stay.

Beyond this pillar of the past not much remains of the old haunts of writers beyond landmarks and tourist traps. It is easy to get lost wallowing in the myth of Paris but for new writers it is essential to escape the seductive expatriate past, away from the romance of the Latin quarter and the ghosts that wander the left bank, and over to the other side of the river to where the literary scene is shifting.
Boulevard Saint Germain and its surrounds have developed from bohemian havens to bourgeois hangouts popular with tourists. The cafés once frequented by the likes of Hemingway and Joyce, such as Café de Flore, Les Deux Magots and Le Dôme, now sell souvenir memorabilia and a cup of coffee can set you back six euros.

Nowadays it is areas like Belleville and the 19th and 20th arrondissements in the east of Paris where the cost of living is the cheapest that have become the new centres of the literary scene. These parts of Paris continue to provide a conducive environment for young and aspiring writers.

Paris-based writers have often remarked that unlike other big city literary communities, Paris has an open-minded and accepting scene that encourages experimental forms and welcomes outsiders. David Barnes, the founder and compère of a spoken word poetry night in Belleville at Culture Rapide, describes Paris as “a beautiful backwater where life is slower than New York or London. It gives breathing space, distance from the anglo-metropoles that supports writing”.

He argues that the English speaking community in Paris is just the right size “to come together and do something, to provide a home and platform for, to nurture and be nourished by.” The spoken word nights that take place every week welcome anyone and everyone up on stage to read a poem, tell a story or perform a play — the only rule being ‘make the words come alive’. A collective has formed around this café with regulars comprising English speakers from around the world.

In an age where literary scenes and movements are becoming more international by way of the internet, less centred around a location and more around uniting notions and ideals, Paris has managed to retain its place as one of the world’s literary hubs. Since the turn of this century, a movement referred to as the Offbeat Generation has partly formed in Paris. They comprise of a loose collection of like-minded writers, including Lee Rourke and Booker prize nominee Tom McCarthy, who feel alienated by a mainstream publishing industry dominated by marketing. Paris is home to the founder of this movement, Andrew Gallix, whose Paris-based literary magazine 3:AM has provided the main platform for the Offbeats.

Other English language literary magazines that have formed in Paris in recent years include Double Change, Upstairs at Duroc and Platform. The most recent of these, Platform, formed around the spoken word night at Culture Rapide.

As fate would have it, this new scene that is emerging is forming beside where many of their predecessors have found their final resting place: the Père-Lachaise cemetery. It is behind these gates that you can find the graves of such literary icons as Gertrude Stein and Oscar Wilde.

Its legacy may be one of the great appeals of Paris, though it is the smallness and accessibility of the anglophone writing communities, combined with their supportive and inclusive atmospheres, that is currently causing such a surge in the scene. It seems now that the stories shape the city as much as the city once shaped the stories and for any aspiring writer coming to Paris it would be easy to feel intimidated by the past. For them it is perhaps best to consider again the words of Allen Ginsberg: “You can’t escape the past in Paris, and yet what’s so wonderful about it is that the past and present intermingle so intangibly that it doesn’t seem a burden”. The scenes may be as transient as the writers, but the essence of Paris endures.

On The Beat Anthology

Dan Holloway kindly mentions me a couple of times in his interview with Sean McGahey apropos of The Beat anthology. Here are the two relevant extracts:

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Dan Holloway, “Beat Me Before I Come Up With Any More Crass Metaphors,” Eight Cuts 13 November 2010

A while ago I recommended the really rather fantastic Beat Anthology, the best of the also fantastic site The Beat UK, published by the equally fantastic Blackheath Books. It’s a remarkable collection of stories that it’s rather tricky to track down to a certain theme, oeuvre, or any other arts wank category. Well, almost. Because I did notice a preponderence of public transport. Is this a comment on our eco-aware age? Is it an anti-individualist statement? Are the authors actually, like me, just not quite up to getting a driving licence.

Do I have a favourite? No, not really. I loved Andrew Gallix’s train; and Melissa Mann’s car (hmm, car, it must have been one of those street share jobs). But I couldn’t say one story was better than another. Some have more modes of transport, and some fewer maybe, but better? That’s about more than planes, trains, and automobiles.

[…] I was intrigued reading some of these pieces — like Andrew Gallix’s and Lee Rourke’s. the short story is a great place for paying with voice and form, but I wonder if the results can ever really transfer to novels. What’s rich in shorts can be stodgy in novels; what’s piquant can become downright tedious. What IS the point of novels other than publishers don’t really know what else to do?

All the Latest

I’m quoted in an article by Katie Allen (“Indie Literary Sites Start Coming of Age”) that appeared in The Bookseller on 8 October 2010.

On 13 August 2010, Slow Travel Berlin republished a piece I wrote on “The Virtues of Slow Writing“.

On 5 August 2010, IKE published an article on the Offbeat Generation in which they quote Jim Ruland saying this about me, back in 2007: “Andrew Gallix writes as if he invented Warhol on Monday, punk rock on Tuesday and then took the rest of the week off after declaring the project a sodding mess. In this day and age when laundry detergent is bold and automobiles are innovative, Gallix’s prose is like a fresh breath of mercurochrome: sharp and acrid with truths that are hideous to behold even though it’s good for us. Never mind Gallix? Bollocks!”

On 3 August 2010, Susan Tomaselli devoted her “3:AM Cult Hero” column in 3:AM Magazine to a piece I’d written for the Guardian about fictitious non-author Félicien Marboeuf, “the greatest writer never to have written”.

Authentically Inauthentic

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This appeared in 3:AM Magazine on 30 July 2009

Authentically Inauthentic

Gavin James Bower interviewed by Andrew Gallix.

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[Pic: Carl Wilkinson]

3:AM: In a way, you became a novelist as a result of the failure of all your other career options. You started off as an intern at Dazed & Confused, but instead of encouraging you to become a journalist, they introduced you to modelling. You were a model for the best part of 2 years and then packed it in because you hadn’t gone mega as you’d hoped (the “skinny-jeans-and-winklepickers ‘look’,” as you describe it, was no longer all the rage anyway). Then you worked for a production company — a job you enjoyed — but were made redundant. And that’s when you started writing Dazed & Aroused, right?

GJB: I like the idea of finding success through failure. There’s something bittersweet about it, as if I’d worked all my life in a factory and then, on the day I retired, won the lottery.

But, in truth, it feels more like I’ve come full circle — and all a bit by accident too. I first wanted to be a writer at uni and had some success as a journalist, but then didn’t really manage to get off the ground when I graduated. I kind of just fell into modelling as a way to get to London, which, being from a small town in the North, had this tremendous pull for me. I suppose I was going to figure it out as I went along. That was ‘the plan’ anyway.

When modelling didn’t work out, though, and after working a few media jobs for a while — and getting sucked into the whole 22 grand job thing — I ended up writing the novel I’d wanted to write since first arriving in London. I’d been working for a ‘green’ production company, but they’d spunked about eight million quid against a wall and made everyone redundant — so I had plenty of time on my hands over Christmas 2007. I’d been making notes on a novel for the two years I’d been in London, and was very clear on its premise. My writing’s very ideas-driven and not so reliant on plot, which probably makes it ‘literary fiction’ I suppose.

Anyway, that was all worked out — but I hadn’t dared to commit to the narrator’s own story. It was always going to be about alienation in the way Marx explained it in his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, with the narrator being the personification of the capitalist social relation — an estranged individual who exploits others for personal gain, but refuses to connect to anyone or anything — but I’d been too cowardly to commit to creating his personality, and the world he inhabited day to day. I was stuck somewhere between a cynical office worker and a trustafarian — neither of which appealed to me as a writer.

I’d been very reluctant to write what for me was a ‘serious’ novel and set in the fashion world. With me losing my job, though, I just made a decision to sit down and write it. I had so much ammunition, and it just made sense.

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3:AM: I understand that writing was always your main ambition, though. Apart from Ellis (whom we’ll return to), which authors inspired you to become a writer yourself?

GJB: I’d say early Marx was a big influence, as was Jean-Paul Sartre, especially Nausea. I’d always read a lot of philosophy too, being a history graduate, and probably enjoyed that more than fiction.

When it comes to fiction, William S. Burroughs, Albert Camus, F. Scott Fitzgerald: these are all writers I admire.

One of the first people who really got me excited about being a writer myself, though, was Lee Taylor (editor of Flux magazine). My first published article was in FLUX. I emailed him to ask for some work experience with the mag, while I was still at uni. He didn’t want anyone but we ended up having a month-long email conversation, which then led to me just writing something. He published it and that was that.

3:AM: You’ve said that you like Richard Milward, Chris Killen, Joe Stretch, and Niven Govinden. Do you feel an affinity with them? I see strong parallels between your work and that of Christiana Spens and Joe Stretch in particular: do you agree?

GJB: I’m reading and loving The Wrecking Ball right now actually, and it’s incredible to see the parallels now my book’s been published. I’m not sure I’d have written it that way, though, had I read Spens beforehand — because I wouldn’t want to have felt like I was copying her. She’s a terrific writer, very talented.

Richard Milward, Joe Stretch and Chris Killen are all in their twenties, like me, and also Northern, like me. Beyond that, I don’t see that many parallels between us, as they each strike me as uniquely talented, idiosyncratic and a bit mad to be honest. It’s no bad thing, though, and is also quite flattering because I really do like their writing a lot.

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3:AM: In your book, there’s a scene in which a copy of We Are the New Romantics, Niven Govinden’s debut novel, appears. Now, a blurb by Govinden adorns the jacket of your own first novel (“Sharper than an Alexander McQueen cut”). This, I think, is a good example of the almost disquieting relationship between reality and fiction surrounding your work. I almost get the impression that you turned yourself into a character out of a Bret Easton Ellis book before writing one yourself. Take the internship at Dazed & Confused, for instance: you could have done an internship at a daily newspaper or a literary journal. You also used to write (and model for) Flux magazine, which appeals to a similar hipster constituency as Dazed, so the choice doesn’t seem totally innocent. Then there’s the fact that you can talk authentically about inauthenticity since you’ve experienced the model lifestyle from the inside. Do you reckon there’s an element of truth in all this?

GJB: I Iove the idea of being able to talk authentically about inauthenticity — I might nick that for when I next need a blurb.

If I could’ve landed an internship at a national newspaper, I’d have snapped it up. I didn’t get past a first interview for the graduate scheme at the Daily Express. True story. Looking back, I think I took the only internship going, but it’s no coincidence that I looked to magazines reflecting my interests and ended up at an arts-cum-style mag.

When I left university, I didn’t consider myself particularly ‘literary’, whatever that means. I wanted to be a journalist and was writing 500 words about installation art and hipster musicians, or bigger pieces on Surrealism. I seemed to call everyone and everything ‘bourgeois’ for a while. I think I needed to grow up as a person, as well as a writer, before being able to write a novel. Incidentally, my first and only attempt at novel writing prior to Dazed & Aroused was during uni. I was really only flirting with the idea of writing more than a page of anything, and it ended up being just a lot of sex — and not even good sex at that.

Years later, when I sat down to write what became Dazed & Aroused, I felt ready. It was as if I was purging myself of Alex — a disconnected, almost two-dimensional individual incapable of empathising with people around him, only taking from them and never giving anything in return. I wasn’t ever really caught up in the modelling world the way Alex is in the novel, and my friends were all doing very different things. Even so, his viewpoint and estrangement is an expression of mine, and so it felt very cathartic ridding myself of that aspect of my own personality, which I think all fictional creations are in a sense, as well as turning something a bit negative — the modelling — into a positive. The funny thing is, though, now the book’s out and I’m single myself — and no longer a model — I feel more and more like him every day.

As for Niven, I read and enjoyed We Are The New Romantics before writing Dazed & Aroused. I name-dropped him because of the scene in which his book appears. The characters are trying to create a sense of romance by doing drugs and listening to Depeche Mode. I think this sense of futility when it comes to romance, to idealism, is kind of my generation’s ‘thing’ — and I certainly got that from reading Niven’s book.

After I finished mine, when I was looking for an agent, I approached him for advice on getting published. I’d found him on Facebook, as it happened, and he was really nice about it. I sent the manuscript to him when it was going to be published, to see if he could come up with anything and, being Niven, he gave me a killer line.

I like the ‘almost disquieting relationship between reality and fiction’ surrounding my work, so don’t want to say more. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

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3:AM: Ok, back to Ellis. The first paragraph of Dazed, with the advertising slogan, is a nod to the opening of American Psycho. We could also mention the name-dropping, the lists of brands, Natalie’s “cool trends”, the juxtaposition of glamour and squalor (the toilets covered in diarrhoea due to the laxatives models take) and the DJ who plays Bloc Party’s “Song for Clay (Disappear Here)”. Ellis really is a major influence, isn’t he?

GJB: I have no idea what you’re talking about…

Ok seriously, yes, he’s a major influence. He’s my favourite writer and Less Than Zero my favourite novel. The Bloc Party song is the only explicit nod to him and his work in my book, but the similarities stylistically are there, certainly. I really hadn’t considered that about the first paragraph, though, and thought I was being original. Oh well.

I would say, however, that the premise and point of Dazed & Aroused is, for me, very different to anything by Ellis. It puts the ‘social’ in anti-social. (Note to self: use that when asked to blurb for Stewart Home’s next book.) In all seriousness, though, I wrote it as an indictment of individualism, and think it’s very much a materialist work at heart. Also, it’s fundamentally anti-capitalist, which I don’t think Ellis is or ever has been. He’s far more of a satirist too — pointing out problems rather than proposing solutions — whereas I’ve always fancied myself as more than just a troublemaker.

3:AM: You were three years old when Less Than Zero came out. Has it achieved classic status for you? Is it part of literary history?

GJB: I’ve never been more affected by a book and so, for me, it’s a classic. In my opinion, Less Than Zero is the best book of its kind: a book about jaded youth, about the end of innocence, about embracing the abyss. What’s funny is, Less Than Zero defined a generation and yet, today, no book is more relevant to young people.

Apart from mine, of course…

3:AM: “Gen X was brought up with a sense of values that it saw collapsing, so we have a kind of nostalgia, I guess, for something a bit more solid, although we’re very suspicious of it”: what do you make of Ewan Morrison‘s take on Generation X? That tension between suspicion and nostalgia is present in Douglas Coupland‘s work but also, I think, in Ellis’s: can you identify with that although you belong to another generation?

GJB: I’m in Generation ZZZ…right?

On a bad day, I feel like we all just don’t give a shit about anything. And even the few who do — don’t really. We’re apolitical in the worst sense, because we don’t actively look for alternatives — say, to parliamentary democracy, to oil or, crucially, to capitalism. And what makes this all the more shoddy is, we all say the same things and then do nothing about it — including me.

I suppose we’re all on some level looking for something more solid, but what’s on offer is so beguiling — and the alternatives so unpalatable — that we’re stuck between one thing, the here and now, and what’s next. It’s probably Marx’s influence on me, but I’d say we’re all just waiting for the house of cards to collapse.

On a good day, though, I think there are loads of people who do care, and who are doing something about it in a million and one ways. When I feel like that I want to knock the house of cards over myself, and I don’t want to wait around for someone else to do it for me. On a good day…

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3:AM: I don’t know if you remember that early Toby Litt story in which the narrator says that “All of this intellect stuff is fine as a consolation” for not being a beautiful young hipster which, he argues, “is how it developed in the first place: Socrates not being Alcibiades”? Since you don’t have to compensate for “not being Alcibiades”, what motivates you to write?

GJB: I don’t agree with Toby Litt, but I will say this: I’m not pretty enough to be a top model, and am too pretty to be a serious writer. I have no consolation.

3:AM: Could you tell us about the (non-)relationship between Alex and his father?

GJB: Alex is part of a generation of men who’ve been let down by their fathers, and he refuses to let it go. Like a lot of men my age I suppose, Alex blames everyone else for his unhappiness, refusing to see that it’s his unwillingness to connect with people, to make any real decisions about his life and future, which leaves him isolated, alone and unable to feel anything by the end of the novel. His father, like Alex, is essentially selfish and, having left his family and revealed himself as fallible — as all fathers do when they leave home, I’d say — he suffers the consequences.

3:AM: Your book also seems to follow a kind of Alfie/Billy Liar, tumescent/detumescent pattern: cocky young hero comes a cropper…

GJB: I don’t think Alex is a dark character, but he’s certainly not a hero. His is a cautionary tale and, as a narrator, Alex is a vehicle for me to say that I don’t like capitalism and think we need something better — or else we’ll all end up alienated, miserable and ultimately alone.

You’re right, though. The final line could easily be: ‘What’s it all about, Alex?’

3:AM: To what extent is Dazed autobiographical?

GJB: I reckon that all writing is autobiographical because, as a writer, you’re interpreting life and then projecting your prejudices on to the page. The key is, not to pretend otherwise.

I’ve just written a second book — about growing up in the North and wanting to escape — which I think is far more autobiographical and even personal than Dazed & Aroused. London, and modelling, is such a small part of my life.

Even so, a lot of what happens peripherally in Dazed & Aroused — aside from the central relationships, which is pure fiction — is based on something I experienced first-hand and then changed beyond recognition. I never related to anything in the book the way Alex does. I was either not there or, if I was, thinking something completely different.

So, to answer your question, to no extent is Dazed & Aroused autobiographical, in the sense that I am not Alex and none of it happened anyway. Apart from a lot of it.

3:AM: Apparently, you approached some 40 publishers before your manuscript was finally accepted, by Quartet Books. Did any of them give you any explanations or advice?

GJB: I think I approached 40 agents before getting one (Annabel at PFD). I don’t know how many publishers read my manuscript, but it was probably a lot. My agent only showed me the first few rejections — none of which were nasty — and then decided that this wasn’t a very good idea. I do seem to recall one of them saying that Alex reminded them of Holden Caulfield, but wasn’t as much of an ‘everyman’ character. Which was nice. In a way. I suppose.

3:AM: Things seem to have gone really fast since then: according to your blog, you signed your contract in March (2009) and the book came out in July. How long did you spend writing it? Were you writing full time, or did you have a day job? I think your novel went though 3 different drafts: was the first one very different from the finished product?

GJB: The book took around eight weeks to write, broken up by Christmas in the middle. I was writing full-time during this first draft, and then temped during the re-drafting and submission stage.

The three drafts were very similar: I really just refined it with the help of close friends and my brother. And weirdly, since being accepted by my agent last summer, it’s barely been edited. I don’t know whether that’s a ‘good thing’.

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3:AM: Who is this Kim van der Pols and how did she end up being the cover girl?

GJB: My friend Carl Davis designed the cover, based on an image taken by a photographer called Rebecca Parkes. Kim Van Der Pols was the model in the original, and is a very beautiful and sweet girl. I couldn’t be happier with it. I think it looks brilliant, very seductive and alluring, and perfectly captures Alex’s infatuation with all things ephemeral.

3:AM: How did the Stewart Home blurb come about? Are you a fan?

GJB: I’m a fan, yes. I interviewed him when I was writing for Flux, back in 2003, and we kept in touch.

He didn’t read it, though, unlike the others who gave blurbs (cross my heart). He told me not to take the industry too seriously, and asked me to come up with something for him instead. All my ideas were a bit shit, to be honest, so he suggested: ‘Fashion will never be the same…’. Appropriately, given that he didn’t read it, it’s as ambiguous as you can get — but I think it’s pretty cool all the same.

3:AM: You are currently adapting Dazed into a screenplay, aren’t you?

GJB: I think Dazed & Aroused would work well as a film. I might even play Alex myself. (Um, I’m joking. I think.)

I’ll be working with a friend on it, once book two is promoted and I can forget about it, and I’ve finished book two, which is one draft away from completion. I’ve never written a screenplay but, then again, I’d never written a novel…

3:AM: Your next novel, Made in Britain, focuses on three 16-year-olds growing up in the North. From what I’ve seen, the structure seems a little reminiscent of The Informers but I get the feeling this one’s going to be more gritty and less glamorous than your debut.

GJB: Each chapter is going to comprise three viewpoints, and the book will move chronologically from there. I’d not even thought about The Informers as an influence to be honest, and I don’t think it’ll feel like that to people because that’s so loosely connected without any clear narrative, while this has a strong narrative and clear plotline, and is written in the vernacular.

The book’s about growing up in provincial Britain and what it feels like when hope turns to despair. It’s the result of my love-hate relationship with where I was born and grew up [Burnley]. I’m very ambitious as a writer so, once I’d got the modelling out of my system, I wanted to write something far more personal. I was up North last winter and thought, why haven’t I written about being working class and from the North? So that’s what I did.

The Future is Going to Be Boring

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This appeared in the summer 2009 issue of Flux magazine (issue 69, p. 77):

The Future is Going to Be Boring

Despite his bohemian hairdo and stripy tops, Lee Rourke is a creature of habit. Every single story in Everyday, his 2007 debut, was composed of a Saturday afternoon in the very same east London pub. And each one of these stories (or “fragments” as he prefers to call them) bears more than a passing resemblance to all the others. Time and again, the author retreads well-worn ground like a criminal constantly returning to the scene of his crime. Photocopying machines abound — underscoring this repetition compulsion — and the figure of Sisyphus looms large, from the hypnotic sway of a lady’s derrière in “Cruel Work” to the Groundhog Day pattern of “Footfalls”. If there is nothing new under the sun, all that remains is an eternity of repetition, recycling and re-enactment. That’s the gist of it.

“Our future is already boring, and we’ve not even reached it yet,” laments one of the scientists (echoing J. G. Ballard) in the piece you are about to read. Lee Rourke is rapidly becoming the poet laureate of tedium. One of his early “fragments” is called “Being Lee Rourke is Boring” — a title that exemplifies the author’s curious oscillation between self-aggrandisement and self-effacement. Should his dedication be in any doubt, Rourke is preparing a critical study in which he analyses how ennui has been “a central creative force” in literary history. He has also just completed a poetry collection that delves into the mind-numbing, soul-destroying monotony of office life: its eponymous emblem is Varroa destuctor, a bee-killing mite. “Most of my characters are either ergophobic or have major philosophical problems with the nature of work,” the author says.

Lee Rourke, a 37-year-old London-based Mancunian, is already one of the leading lights of the Offbeats and a respected reviewer. His first novel (published next year by American indie Melville House) is bound to further raise his profile. The Canal revolves around the Ballardian triumvirate of boredom, violence and technology. Set against the backdrop of Regent’s Canal — “one of the myriad arteries that flood a city like London with activity” — it is a book about dwelling “in the Heidegerrian sense,” about “the toing and froing of human interaction within a mechanised society” as well as the tale of “one man’s search for understanding and companionship”.

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