A Lover of Books

Archive for the day “March 17, 2017”

Interview with Patrick Garratt

It’s time for another interview now.  Patrick Garratt’s debut novel, ‘Deg’ was published last year and I asked him all about it.

 

Can you tell me a bit about your book, ‘Deg’ please?

Deg is screen culture paranoia, anarchic politics and drug exploration written in an automatic, surrealist style. I wrote it in a fit of desperation I doubt I could ever replicate. The diary element to its method set the form of my further books, but it now seems that opinion and inspiration based on imaginary input will alway be subservient to reportage for me. Deg was likely a once in a lifetime event.

 

Is this a book you’ve always wanted to write?

In a way, I suppose. I’d been working on another novel called The Ooning, which I eventually canned after two rewrites, and was spending a lot of time reading twentieth century postmodernism. That these authors could write as they pleased, with little thought for the traditional notion of readability, was revelatory. In that sense I’d always wanted to write Deg. I was just ignorant of the fact.

 

Where did you get your ideas for it from?

Deg is my life story, a psychedelic diary. Thematically it’s a product of my family’s environment at the time of writing. Roughly three years before I wrote Deg we’d emigrated from the UK to Corrèze, a rural department in the Limousin region of southwest France. My wife and I lived in a huge house surrounded by forests with our three small children. Corrèze is so sparsely populated that it’s possible to get back to nature in a way I didn’t realise still existed in western Europe, and I allowed myself to start using cannabis again after a long abstinence from any drugs at all, including alcohol. The result was explosive. I just let it come out.

 

How long did it take you to write?

I wrote the first draft in around three months. It was a little like vomiting.

 

Do you see yourself in any of your characters?

Absolutely, yeah. As I said, it’s a thinly-veiled diary.

 

What was the publication process like for you?

A little bizarre, but ultimately amazing. I tried to get Deg published via the traditional route of finding an agent, but, unsurprisingly, it got rejected everywhere. I’d moved onto writing the next book, and had given up reasonable hope of seeing Deg published at all. On the advice of a friend I approached video game artist Ste Pickford to draw the cover as a precursor to self-publication, and he liked it so much he decided to illustrate every chapter. I saw Matthew Smith, Urbane’s boss, requesting book pitches on Twitter, and he showed immediate interest.

From then the process was incredibly relaxed. Matthew is eminently professional and I couldn’t be happier with the result. The hardback really is a thing of beauty, from the physical materials to the reproduction of Ste’s drawings, and that’s all I could have hoped for. Being published by Urbane was a great experience.

 

Have you got any good advice for anyone wishing to write a novel?

Jeepers. So much of this depends on your goals. Many people approach writing as a career, as a job. There’s a financial element to it, as in they want to make money from novels. They attend seminars and buy places on courses and do degrees in creative writing and whatever else, eventually (hopefully) becoming trained in the creation of commercial fiction. If that’s what you want, then off you go. There’s an entire coaching industry waiting for your cash.

I always wanted to be a literary author, meaning the route to success is far muddier. The truth is that if you “want to be a writer” then you must write. Write anything, everything, in any way you want, but you must be productive. Embrace your fear and write your brain, not someone else’s. Don’t worry about making money or getting published or getting an agent. Just be as good as you can be, and that means a constant striving for personal betterment, for self-tuition and the overcoming of internal struggle. If you want to create art then learn art. Allowing yourself to be the person you want to be, to be you, could well be the hardest thing you ever do, but you’ll only reach your core by remorselessly breaching personal barriers. Stop giving a shit about the opinions of others. You won’t be recognised for replication.

To give an example. While I was working on the book following Deg, I lapsed into quite a serious period of self-doubt (yes, this is normal: few people are more pitiable than unpublished novelists), and signed myself up for a distance learning course in novel-writing. After I’d completed the first lesson, part of which was to outline my goals as a writer, the tutor told me I would never secure an agent or a deal if my work wasn’t “accessible”. Urbane signed Deg the following week. I never got round to lesson two.

 

Are you working on any other writing projects?

It never stops. I’ve written two full novels since Deg and I’m about to start another.

 

Have any authors influenced your work and if so, who?

The more experimental twentieth century postmodernists, such as Gaddis, Burroughs, Ballard, Acker and Pynchon, have heavily influenced me. Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition (it’s noteworthy as I read it just before starting writing Deg) showed me how strange fiction could be, that writing could be powerful as a result of being simultaneously formless and structured. It had a strong impact on my work.

I’m starting to read more theatre and poetry. Fiona, my wife, just passed a Masters in translation studies (with distinction, I should add: I’m very proud to be married to a genius), and she focused on Peter Weiss’s Holocaust play The Investigation for her dissertation. This type of experimental form is currently interesting me as I’ve been fixated with novel-length fiction up to now. I’ve also just finished a collection of Daniil Kharms’s poems and plays, something completely different from my usual reading. Some of his pieces are so beautiful, so insightful. It’s hard to not be influenced by him.

 

How long have you been a journalist for?

Forever. I started working as a video gaming journalist in 1998.

 

What do you like to do in your spare time?

We now live in the Vosges, a mountain region in the northeast of France, so I’m able to ski when there’s snow and go mountain biking when there isn’t. I work out a lot. Travelling is becoming a lot more important to me, and, obviously, I love to read.

 

If you were only allowed to own two books what would they be?

Probably Infinite Jest and Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson. Ibbotson’s my children’s’ favourite author, so it’d always remind me of when they were young. I’d take Infinite Jest because I still haven’t read the endnotes. I’m such a fraud.

 

Links

‘Deg’ is available to buy from:-

Urbane Publications – http://urbanepublications.com/books/deg/

Amazon UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Deg-Patrick-Garratt/dp/1911129481/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1489694327&sr=1-1

Patrick Garratt’s Personal Website – https://patrickgarratt.com/

Twitter – https://twitter.com/patlike

Deg Illustrator Ste Pickford’s Instagram account – https://www.instagram.com/stepickford/

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Guest Post by Adam Steiner

I would like to introduce you all to Adam Steiner.  His debut novel, ‘Politics of The Asylum’ is out this autumn.   Adam has written a guest post for this event.

 

Notes From the Abyss

Politics of The Asylum (PoTA), forthcoming from Urbane (Autumn 2017), is a nightmare vision of the modern NHS. Based on the author’s own experiences, the novel tells the story of a hospital in decline through the eyes of a downtrodden cleaner, Nathan Finewax. As things fall apart accidents, mistakes and cover-ups are on the rise and Nathan becomes institutionalised by hospital routines, finding it harder to escape his circumstances and the inevitable fate of one day becoming a patient himself.

I wrote Politics of The Asylum with a clear goal in mind: I wanted to provide a critique of the NHS pushed to breaking point, based upon some of my own experiences working as a hospital cleaner. I started writing the book back in 2013, and it has become ever more prescient in the intervening years.

My pervading memory is a Proustian hangover of bleach. Endless bleach, washing and re-washing surfaces, day in and day out, life reduced to the mode of repetition – which ultimately made me question what the staff and patients were living for. This sounds very OTT, but at the time, I was trapped in a very debauched and damaging cycle of early-morning work and mad, wild evenings driving around country lanes of the Warwickshire hinterland, trying to find something to do and somewhere meaningful to go, with not enough sleep and steadily going out of my mind. Needless to say, there were many scrapes and much unpleasantness, but I’m glad to say I came through it, more or less undamaged, but I remember everything – and what I experienced went straight into the book. Names are changed, identities erased and the real fictionalised; in an ironic meta-sense, I’ve been as paranoiac and controlling as the NHS itself. And I’ve tried to be as respectful and secretive as I can to the dead and the damaged – but without pulling the teeth from the book.

From a political, that is to say, personal, standpoint – I believe that if we are to call ourselves a democratic society, one of our most important is to critique and question the political and civil state in which we live. So it should be with the NHS – it is an institution more meaningful to our daily lives than any monarchy could ever hope to perform – although I expect they go private – which makes them the enemy, or at least part of the problem.

The people who work as part of the NHS, dedicating their lives in order to help others, are, in my view, a form of civil servant – they have chosen this role, and with it comes certain expectations – the most crucial being the duty of care. This applies to frontline, hands-on staff, but also to all administrative bodies, up to the highest managers and directors – they would do well to remember this.

In any large organisation there is always corruption, maladjustment and the power of ego corrupted by power. And while I have to emphasise that the majority of NHS staff are excellent people with the right intentions; the purposeful dismantling of the NHS by the current occupying government is the major source of the rot which has created a climate of fear and decline in NHS behaviour and standards. I have experienced staff pushed to breaking point, attacked by the media and deliberately undermined by the state. Ultimately, this leads me to a wider philosophical concept, that undermines the unity of the NHS, the Death of Affect.

One of the major themes of my book is the nature of power relationships between individual beings; from the level of atomic exchanges of heat and energy, people pushing and shoving, and psychological manipulation of patients, staff and civilians – all of which reside in power – a preoccupation of the French philosopher, Michel Foucault. He argued that through completing an archaeological account of social and civic institutions, hospitals, asylums etc. we can draw an arrow of time through to the present, and re-evaluate how we live now. So far, so straight edge.

The minutiae of these day-to-day power relationships is embodied in the simplest of tasks; from handing a thirsty person a glass of water, listening to the lubb-dupp of their heartbeat or helping them to the toilet. These are acts of kindness, driven by duty and obligation of a role – but ultimately, these individuals are motivated by their ability to be affected by the plight and need of others. The NHS staff member is placed in an intimate position of power and responsibility, they are faced with options in their daily lives, hard choices to be made; and must make decisions of how and when to act – or not.

Death of affect is comparable to the lack of empathy present in sociopathic mindsets and psychopathological traits; where people see no need to act, let alone care, in order to help others. The pressure and pejorative scrutiny placed upon NHS staff creates this same deadening of affect – creates a failure to care or to act to the utmost of their abilities – engendering a return to the state of nature and sheer individualism – it is in this environment in which cruelty breeds and failure is accepted as a day-to-day occurrence. It is this schism in human nature, these internal tensions that are throttling the NHS that my novel explores, challenges and struggles to find the answers to.

Adam Steiner, 2017.

 

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