A Q&A about Will’s home town, from the Evening Standard, 8.11.01
SpikeMagazine.com, May 1997: Chris Mitchell talks to WS about Great Apes and the aftermath of the Prime Minister heroin airplane incident:
“”People understood intuitively at that point that to have an animal that was close to human but not human threw into turmoil a whole set of categories about cosmology and the Chain of Being,” he explains. “Swift was the first of a long line of satirists in the eighteenth century to have ape fantasies and construct ape worlds; there’s a Dutch version of it, a German version – it became a very enduring theme. So I’m not so much writing in the tradition of Swift as standing this long tradition of ape fantasies on its head.”
Self’s self-awareness of his own intellectual history and the writers to who have shaped his own work has been intensified by his dual role as both novelist and journalist, putting him in the strange position of regularly coming face to face with his own literary heroes. But he’s ambivalent about the value of such encounters: “Without being blasé it’s not something that appeals to me particularly. I went to interview Ballard for a 1000 word piece for the Standard and wound up talking to him for 4 hours. I really admire his work and had the fantastic, incredible bonus of finding out that he really liked my work too. But that was that. I don’t think we felt the need to meet each other ever again for the rest of our lives, although Ballard said, ‘If people like you had been around in the 60s, I would have got out more, but now it’s too late!’ which I thought was sweet. ”
SpikeMagazine.com, April 1997: Robert Clarke talks to WS about Tough Tough Toys For Tough Tough Boys:
“If critics have pointed to his apparent irreverence and lack of emotional engagement towards the act of writing, he is keen to suggest that ‘I am fairly mystical about the relationship with the text . . . a posture of humility in relation to your own muse is quite important, and my personal feelings I try to keep away from that.’ Unlike what he agrees has become the lifeblood of contemporary literary discourse: ‘Self-confession as I see it is a really decadent syndrome . . . a crisis of imagination and very depressing.’ While his work is ‘nakedly personal’, he opposes any literalist interpretation of his work, and is intent in distancing himself from the idea that fiction should be pandering to the essentially regressive or escapist tendencies of the book-reading public: ‘To think that would be insane. I might as well write Mills and Boon. Every text contains within itself the idea of an objective reading . . . those who think there is a subjective reader are full of shit. Just as I am trying to break down my resistance to writing books, so I suppose at the same time, I am trying to break down people’s resistance to reading them. Books aren’t life, they are just books.'”
SpikeMagazine.com, October 2000: Chris Hall talks to Will Self about How The Dead Live:
“So does he have semi-mystical beliefs about death himself? “I have completely mystical beliefs in that area. I’m off with the fucking fairies,” he says, laughing. “I always have been. I’ve never been a materialist particularly, I’ve always been a transcendental idealist.” So why the obsession with The Tibetan Book Of The Dead? “I’ve had this preoccupation with it from when we were sitting around rolling joints on it in the late 70s, and it’s perrenial in my work. The point is that when you push materialism as far as it can go then it really shows itself up. People who say they are materialists, they’re hoisted by their own petard. I don’t want to sound like a character in “Ab Fab” who wants to give it all up and bang tambourines with a bandeau, but that’s pretty much how I feel at the moment. People aren’t really materialists, they don’t really want the car, the house, the Phillipe Starck juicer, they actually want the cachet, the status and the culture that go with those things.””
SpikeMagazine.com, January 2002: Chris Hall talks to WS on the publication of Feeding Frenzy:
“CH: Why did you only interview women?
WS: I like women! Dammit, I like women!
CH: You gave Margaret Beckett the full treatment didn’t you?
WS: I was very mean to her. And of course you always regret it because I think in interviewing there’s a real sense of ‘did I have a successful bowel movement that morning’ kind of feeling about it isn’t there? You go in to interview someone and you’re constipated and you think they’re the worst person you’ve met and you go in to see them another day when your stomach is full of gaily coloured butterflies and you think they’re the best thing since sliced bread so you grow weary of that as an interviewer if you’ve got any wisdom – but at the same time if dyspepsia collides with something you perceive in the other person you just let rip.
The problem with interviewing, which is an aspect of our culture, is that there seems to be a licence to be psychically ruthless. It’s almost encumbent upon an interviewer to allow themselves the full traverse of the psychic rifle.”
Tom Templeton, January, 2004
“Back in the Eighties, I drew a cartoon strip in the New Statesman about a middle-class Andy Capp whose response to the recession was never to get out of bed. I’d always been a frustrated writer and the captions got longer and longer and the drawings more rudimentary until I dispensed with the drawings altogether.
Having children is the point at which you have to be who you are. Up until then you can assume another name, change your group of friends or move to another part of town, but once you have children you can’t unwish yourself because that’s to unwish them. ”
Robert McCrum talks to Will Self
“Observer: What’s the relationship of Dorian to The Picture of Dorian Gray?
Will Self: It’s an imitation – and a homage. As a complete and professed rewrite of a classic, I think it’s unique. The Picture of Dorian Gray is the prophecy and Dorian is the fulfilment.
Obs: What gave you the idea?
WS: The idea came through the suggestion that I adapt Wilde’s Dorian Gray as a film. The minute I started looking at Wilde’s original, this idea came unbidden. I’d never have approached the idea of doing it as a novel, I approached it as the idea of doing a screen adaptation, and when the screen adaptation ran into the sand, through my own inability to complete it, I decided the only way to get the thing out was to turn it back into prose.”
Andre Mayer turns in a good piece on Self for Canadian magazine Eye Weekly:
“It has always been interesting to me to create a completely alternative set of worlds for my fiction to take place in,” Self admits in a phone interview from his home in London. “It’s so much more interesting to write about something that is both real and seemingly unreal. It places the reader in a state of questioning about reality itself.”
Too true. Self’s version of the great beyond — like his myriad spins on life — is by turns ridiculous and banal. The afterlife is governed by the shadowy Deathocracy, which, as you’d expect, is an agency of do-nothing buffoons. Meanwhile, Dulston’s deceased inhabitants still hold jobs. They go about their normal daily functions — eating, smoking, shagging — despite the fact that all their senses are impaired, which seems to be Self’s way of saying that modern life has gotten cruelly perfunctory. It’s inspired satire from a writer who is notoriously acidic, but Self insists the message behind How the Dead Live has been largely misread.
“I’ve read review after review about how this is a book that proposes that when you die in London, you move to a strange, crepuscular suburb called Dulston,” Self says, quick to dispel the novel’s alleged universality: “This isn’t what the book says at all. This book is about what happens to Lily Bloom when she dies. This is her death, and the levels of reality that are contained within the book are connected to her psyche.”
“Considering his past antics, Self had to do something pretty special to whip up interest in “Great Apes” — and coyly confessing to shooting skag on the Major’s plane definitely qualified. If there were any doubts about Self’s motives, they were answered by his publicists, who thoughtfully included an array of clippings on the campaign heroin incident and his junkie past in the “Great Apes” press kit.
This wasn’t the first of Self’s media manipulations. When he first appeared on the literary scene over five years ago, the word got out that he was a hoax, possibly a front for some extracurricular writing by his friend Martin Amis. It didn’t hurt the mini-controversy that Self, in interviews, seemed much more interested in discussing his Nintendo scores than his writing. Self’s career has further benefited from high-class logrolling on his book jackets, where Amis, Nick Hornby, Doris Lessing, J.G. Ballard and the Sunday Times regularly sing his praises. (Some of these blurbs are somewhat underwhelming: of “The Quantity Theory of Insanity,” Hornby negligibly trumpeted “There isn’t anything like this in British fiction.”)
Self has often stated his admiration for playwright Dennis Potter and filmmaker Derek Jarman, who both used terminal illnesses to focus the British media on their final testaments. Self wants the same kind of glory, and has done his best to make sure he doesn’t have to die to get it.”