Where can I buy your chair?
Honest to God, it does get depressing when the biggest response you ever get from media exposure is always in regard to your chair… I have a delicate back and do type in a special chair. It is called, rather immodestly, the Perfect Chair and you can find out about it using this link>>
While not perfect, it is an excellent and supportive chair, although expensive. I do not receive any financial remuneration for mentioning it.
You know how sometimes the little tubular plastic bits on the end of your shoelaces come off, and they get frayed so you can’t push them through the eyelets anymore, so you take a cigarette lighter and melt the ends slightly and re-form them so that they cool and harden into permanent, pointed tips and … hey! you’re back in business! Why don’t they just make them that way in the first place?
Aldous Fünke, Meat Camp, NC
P.S. I am constantly defending you to my friends.
Thank you for your defense of me to your friends. They sound like terrible people. And I too have always wondered why shoelaces are so poorly-constructed and liable to collapse during use and/or after washing. I have tried improvising with tape and also have molded the ends after warming gently in a candle flame. (We can no longer afford to waste anything in the UK.) Sadly, my busy life as an international icon and literary figure does not give me access to any shoelace manufacturing facilities. I am open to approaches for lucrative lace deals – perhaps along the lines of… Indestructible Laces Inc. as worn by A.L.Kennedy – she’s tough on shoes and tough on the causes of shoes.
Why Write At All?
Great question. I started to write because I enjoyed scribbling stories as a kid – having made up stories before I could scribble. It felt good. I wrote because it was fun and felt good. Then I did it more and it felt even better – as a hobby. Then I was washed out into the world after university and it helped give my life some focus and meaning and I began to discover that writing could be a social and moral and human good. And I discovered that not writing felt terrible, so I have kept on. It’s hugely lucky that I am paid to do something that was my favourite pastime, almost as soon as my personality was even a little bit formed. To write is now a celebration of the good things about human beings
I met you at a bus stop once, will you spend hours reading my book and then giving me detailed feedback?
No. Sorry. I do not have the time to undertake this kind of work. If, however, you have attended a course I tutored or been at any time a student of mine, then I will try to continue being useful to you until the day and hour of my death. Or yours. After death, I will be less proactive.
I am a publisher with, rather worryingly, your contact details and I am posting you this book, will you read it and write me a brief encomium for it?
No. Unless I’m amazingly unbusy this won’t happen, either. I’d love to be more help, but I have no time to do so. Reading your book would cause me to miss out on seeing my pals, sleeping and taking nourishment. It would also stop me getting on with my own writing. Well done for knowing what an encomium is, though – you must be a proper publisher. And therefore you’ll be worried about the state of UK publishing. Sorry.
I am a journalist – will you mind when I rip off some or indeed most of this and use it to fill up my column, as it were?
D’you know, I just expect it – I really do. On you go, knock yourself out. If you don’t feel bad about it already then there’s nothing I can do to make you.
Do you hate journalists?
No, some of my best friends are journalists. Well, two of my best friends are journalists and I chat to some of the rest of them. And they are currently working under insane amounts of pressure from all sides. They are a fine thing and let me know what’s going on where I am not and are an essential element in any healthy democracy. I just loathe bad and lazy journalism – which undermines democracy, misinforms me and helped take my country into an illegal war rather recently.
Will you help me with my dissertation/ translation/ thesis/ essay?
No. Lack of time again. Plus, I would be of absolutely no use to you in this regard – I do not think along academic lines. Best of luck and I’d advise you to avoid the whole Woman Writer area and the Scottish Writer thingy. Very dull.
I am very, very unhinged and want to email, phone, stalk and perhaps kill someone – should I get in touch?
Oddly, I’d rather you didn’t. I know you may have bonded with whoever you think I am and/or developed a weirdly intense relationship with my work, but that doesn’t mean we’re pals, or ever could be. I have enough pals already.
I want to be a writer, what should I do?
Probably you shouldn’t – because it’s a horrible thing to do. But my saying that won’t stop you and it is, conversely, also one of the more wonderful things a human being can do, so probably you ought to try. Stay calm, don’t give up your job – having no money is depressing and although you may imagine that without lets and hindrances you would write all day that’s actually quite unlikely. Be a good employer to yourself, find a good agent, refer to (for what it’s worth) my FOR WRITERS section, think carefully about how you want to work, who you want to work with and then try harder than you thought you could. You currently have no idea of how good you could force yourself to be… Best of luck.
How do I get published?
No idea. It’s really hard to get into print these days – all publishers and agents are cutting back. I wouldn’t advise hanging around at the edge of London parties, having publishing-related ugly sex or otherwise demeaning yourself – unless you would enjoy that anyway. Obviously, if you’re a limbless war criminal with an abusive childhood you’re in with a head start at the moment. There are still proper literary editors out there and proper agents and they do keep any eye out for good work. Try having extracts published, try and find people you would like to work with, get a Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and The Writer’s Handbook. Doing your finest possible work should be the best you can do in every sense – it will certainly mean you develop as a writer. I do believe that it will also eventually mean you get published, but then I’m a mimsy big optimist…
No, really, how do I get published?
Develop an obscure and dreadful fatal illness, have sex with someone prominent, get a job in the media, do something else appalling and highly-publicised, marry a publisher, kidnap an editor and wait until Stockholm Syndrome kicks in… I really don’t know… We’re in a recession… Seriously, don’t do anything illegal – like eating your boyfriend and signing a deal for one of those goreporn railway station books… Just write your best and live generously, see what happens.
Can you help me get published?
Clearly not. In the current climate the Archangel Gabriel would have trouble getting you published – and might have better things to do.
Will I make money out of literary fiction?
Yes, but only after ten years, or so. Or no, not ever, keep the day job. Sorry.
Should I just self-publish then, like all those online companies suggest I should?
Well, there’s a reason why they’re suggesting that. They’re going to sell you a generally over-priced platform on to which you will lever your delightful work. Unless you put a huge amount of additional money into publicising that work, it will stay on that platform, unread by anyone – like a grubby paper bag, stuck on a railway station. And unless you have forked out even more of your cash to pay for an editor (which makes your relationship slightly odd, because you’re their boss, but really they should kind of be your boss) and a copy editor and a graphic designer – then your book will probably be in poor shape to face all those potential readers it will probably never meet. Seriously – self-publishing has never been a great idea. If you’re already established and/or you have a lot of spare cash and are very tech-savvy with a great book, you might just make it. But it’s unlikely. Publishers of all kinds will talk up your prospects and mention Fifty Shades of Nonsense, but there are millions of books out there online which are doing no business at all. Even if you sell well enough for a conventional publisher to pay you attention, they may take a look and decide you’ve sold about all you’re going to and then still leave you alone. Print publication via a reputable publisher is still your best chance of making any money and having any kind of reputation as a real author.
Who will make the money?
The bookshop chains – at the moment they’re running the show. Ponder for a moment how odd and strange that makes everything…. Yes, it is all exactly that odd and strange. And probably unsustainable – but that only means this situation will change, not that it will change for the better. Currently, UK publishers are (not very) secretly hoping you’ll self-publish at great expense and save them from any kind of creative or financial risk. The Advances they’ll pay you are shrinking by the day, but they’re not in the financial trouble they once were.
Will I enjoy being a novelist?
I have no idea – what kind of things do you enjoy? If crawling out of burning wells full of petrol and tetchy scorpions is your kind of fun, then it will be a breeze. If you lack commitment, like company, are not enamoured of obsessive/compulsive activities, then you may not take to it. Given that it’s on your mind – you may well be suited for it. In which case, you have my sympathies.
And how are things in the wonderful world of publishing?
Publishers selling at a loss, bookshop chains, online vendors and supermarkets dictating whatever terms they want, fewer independent bookshops, fewer and smaller reviews, less media exposure, massive recession and reduced disposable income, collapsing education system, fewer libraries with fewer opening hours…. Just stick your fingers in your ears and go lalalalala. Might as well.
Is the author dead?
This one is. From the neck down.
Clearly not, you big twonk. That’s like asking Is cheese parallel? – it is a nonsensical question.
Is the novel dead?
Look, just stop reading books by people with too much time on their hands and a loose grip on reality – or at least don’t take them so seriously. Get a hobby.
Is the novel seriously under pressure from scared and lazy agents, scared and lazy publishers and a toxic reviewing and academic culture?
Interesting question. There are, indeed, more and more shake&bake versions of the “literary novel” out there – retreads or retreads of retreads of old ideas. As review space shrinks reviewers and the academic muscle behind them get more influential but may not have an agenda that’s about the best possible and widest possible range of voices being heard. And dreadful things like “eco poetics” have emerged, invented primarily to please academics who couldn’t impose their will on poetry quite enough. If you’re looking for vibrant, imaginative new novels they’re resting unpublished in frustrated novelist’s desk drawers, or frustrated agent’s desk drawers. Or they’ve sneaked out via the well-written end of the Sci-Fi and Fantasy spectrum. (No, really – there are some well-written pieces out there.) We can hope that things get better, but it may well be that UK literature eats itself and has to start all over again.
How do you support yourself as a person while you write?
Try not to take too much of your energy for your work – even when you’re having fun. Watch out for your back and your relationships. Read the FOR WRITERS section.
How did/ do you support yourself financially while you write?
Doing whatever else you can, should you have skills. I don’t have skills, so I sold brushes and was a children’s puppeteer and clown. And I did reviewing and workshops – they’re popular. If you can do something else you enjoy that’s handy and if it’s to do with people that’s good exercise. It may not be a great idea to write – but not as you would wish to – as another job. This can adversely affect your style and your sense of joy about your personal writing.
No. But it makes a good deal of money for all kinds of people and institutions if they answer yes to this question. It is possible to attend courses with good people and learn to avoid the more simple errors, to avoid reinventing the wheel and build your confidence and your critical abilities. Good courses will fling all kinds of stimuli at you and help to speed your understanding of yourself and the kind of writer you are. If you’re thinking of a course, or a class, or a degree do remember to ask them what they will do for you – if they’re going to put a whole load of make-work timetable fillers in the way of you and your writing then give them a miss. You will do most of your learning and growing and failing and succeeding all by yourself, whether you’re on a course or not. There is no golden key and there are no shortcuts – keys and short cuts would be boring.
And what exactly are you asking me that question in – jam ?
There isn’t one – unless you mean something fundamental and vaguely disappointing like – practice or hard work or practice or paying attention or practice…. You get the idea.
No. Not unless you want it be. Sounds pretty dull doing it that way, though. Wouldn’t you rather make something out of nothing, be in someone else’s skin, someone who never was ? Wouldn’t you rather encourage your imagination to do the impossible ? Wouldn’t you rather see how far you can go into nowhere that has ever existed, or nowhere you could possibly have been and then try to get total strangers to follow you?
But the characters are all people you know, right?
No. a) This would stop you ever having pals or partners who weren’t extremely odd, or normal and then really pissed off and, indeed, leaving. b) This isn’t that practical unless you’re writing non-fiction – you need characters who will fit your book and it’s simply easier to build them from scratch so that they can. But don’t feel dim for asking the question – our culture enjoys denying the power of the human imagination and squeezing everyone’s head into the smallest and most bland and tedious space possible.
How do you win literary prizes?
No idea. And I think the best theory to stick with would be that your best bet is to write as well as you can and enjoy that as much as possible and then – stop thinking about them, because they are not central to the job/vocation/arcane curse of being a writer. If you are accosted by prizes, that’s a useful extra. Or you can network and chivvy and bargain and blackmail… I’ve seen that work, too. Depends who you want to be and how you want to live. As a former judge of many I’m aware that some prizes are better organised than others, that some people care way too much about them and that often the book that comes second is the most interesting one. (You can use this to console yourself when you don’t win and choose to believe there are exceptions to every rule when you do… )
How does it feel when you win a prize?
I can’t say that I’ve really felt anything when I’ve won a prize – the occasions tend to be so entirely divorced from reality that they don’t register. They also relate to work that may have been completed 1, 2 or even 3 years ago… which can make them seem a little distant. I was pleasantly surprised when the Lannan Foundation phoned me up about their award… huge amount of cash with no preamble and no duties entailed – you just check they’re not a carefully engineered scam, then give them your bank details and the money arrives. Do bear in mind – should you intend to win a prize – that, like everyone whose family has just been devoured by a squid, or whose leg has just been severed by killer bees working in unison, you will always be asked how you feel. So be ready to make something up. (Or, in my experience, a frustrated journalist who doesn’t want to hear that you feel nothing in particular will often tell you, “Just say it’s taking a while to sink in, but you’re delighted.” And you can go with that.)
Why do you write under your initials?
Because I – correctly – thought this would provide me with a necessary mental place of safety from which to write. It was a tiny but important fence to hide behind when I was starting out – and before I realised that if you ever want to earn a living and you’re not Salinger, then you won’t remain anything like anonymous for more than half an hour. I also liked a number of initialled writers when I was young – J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, E. Nesbit and E.E. Cummings – I know, he’s for grown ups, but he works when you’re a kid, too.
What is your name?
You pick, I don’t care…. In fact, you may submit suggestions via the Contact section.
Oh, all right – it’s Alison Louise and it’s not a secret, never was – I just have a pen name and a real name. It also massively entertains a certain brand of person to be able to call me Alison with special emphasis as if we were the bestest pals in all the world. And it’s nice to be able to please someone without trying – even if it’s someone odd. For reasons unknown to me, many folk in the lovely world of comedy call me Al.
How unhappy was your childhood?
It was averagely happy and unhappy, occasionally challenging. Like lots of people’s. I’m ignoring that whole miserable artist/suffering is necessary/lets be really self-indulgent in this Parisian café and black polo neck pile of crap, did you notice?
You write about miserable things – are you miserable or just a sadist?
Okay, you didn’t notice. The author isn’t the subject matter and the subject matter isn’t the author. Journalists assumed I was miserable for years because of my subject matter, although I was actually having a blast doing what I wanted to do and amazing myself by earning a living. I then hit a bad patch health-wise and life-wise and delighted the journalists by being miserable. Then I was happy again. Then sad. Then happy. Life happens – you know? All this only being interesting because the glee with which certain columnists embrace any traces of misery is slightly fascinating.
Besides that nonsense, I write about things that interest, infuriate and astonish me – who wouldn’t? I try (and always fail) to give the reader the best possible things I can. Because I am interested in the nature of reality and human nature, because violence and injustice concern me – there’s going to be an amount of darkness in my work. Does this mean I’m trying to beat the reader up, or I think life’s all pointless and people are shit? Clearly not. If it was all pointless I wouldn’t bother doing something as tiring as writing and if I thought people were shit I wouldn’t write for them. I’m trying to tell you the best stories I can and to take you to places that are new to you – Hollywood endings, blandness and sugar-coating are all things I find tedious and insulting and so I won’t try and offer them to anyone else or build them in my own head. If the nature of reality sometimes leaves you feeling mugged, my work may sometimes be company for you.
Are you gay?
Have you ever thought about trying a gayer lifestyle?
No. Sorry. I’m aware that there’s a small hardcore band of ladies out there – and, in fact, out there – who would like me to and I’m flattered, but no. Not in my nature. All good wishes to you, but you wouldn’t want to be straight and I don’t want to be gay. Mutual respect, yeah?
Ever wanted to write about lesbian sex romps, anyway – even though you’re not gay, which is frankly rather disappointing of you?
And sometimes folk won’t take no for an answer. Enough, already – I like the gentlemen. They have the correct plumbing and accoutrements for my needs. Okay?
I really love those author interviews where they concentrate on your furniture, clothing and personal problems, don’t you?
Yeah, they don’t at all make me want to rip off my own face and fry it in butter and I always love reading about people I don’t know and feeling that I’m being sold a crock of gibbons’ doodads, or reading about people I do know and being absolutely sure that those gibbons will be left doodadless forever if someone doesn’t do something sharpish.
Why did you have the same hairstyle for a decade?
Yeah, that’s really of interest… I had back pain that meant I couldn’t really get my hair cut, because all the pulling and fiddling would lay me out for a week. So I was stuck with very long hair – which photographers didn’t like, so I had to tie it out of the way – and look as if I had no hair…. Sorry, does anyone on earth really care about this?
And now it’s different?
Yeah, now it’s cut the way I’d like. Or the way the hair-cuttist would like.
Pop psychology in interviews – your views?
Repeatedly hitting a rabid rat tied to your genitals – your views?
Does everyone who interviews you like your books?
No. But they always lie to my face if they hate them. And then rubbish them in print. Equally many others are unnervingly pleasant. I’d reckon the average would be 50 civilised interviews to 1 knife job. Which isn’t bad. It is, of course, everyone’s perfect right to dislike my books.
Does everyone who interviews you think you shouldn’t be burned in effigy and poked with sticks?
No. Again, there are people who detest me, or feel that I should be detested for the good of my soul, or the nation, or because it’s fun having a go at someone few people have even heard of. Same average as above and – yes – they’re always nice to your face. This upsets no one, as far as I’m aware, apart from my mum. It is, of course, everyone’s perfect right to dislike me, although I always find dislike more convincing if it’s coming from someone who actually knows me.
Do you like your books?
I genuinely don’t have much of an opinion, either way. They’re the best I could do at the time, I always wish I’d done better and the longer ago they were written, the more embarrassing I find them. Mainly, I don’t think about them other than as things I have to be getting on with, or things that are done. If a member of the public has a reaction they pass on then that can make the whole thing seem real – but then again, that’s their reaction, it’s not necessarily too much to do with the book.
Are you an ordained minister?
Yes, twice – by mail – not email. And I have now performed my first wedding. It was lovely.
But actually, you’re quite serious about religion?
Yes, I am and the ordinations are a joke. I have no idea what religion I currently am, but it’s an issue. I have a lot to learn from agnostics, sceptics and believers. Folk who want to burn heretics, who worship the punctuation in multiply-rewritten volumes, folk who grab political power via other people’s faith and generally crapping on humanity for ostensibly shiny reasons, I have no time for. Shouting atheists who think they’re right about everything annoy me as much as shouting God-botherers who think they know everything.
Is the internet the future of publishing?
No. Go away. And don’t go on about those horrible hand-held excuses for energy consumption. Books – on paper from managed forests – from independent bookshops – from second hand book shops – they’re light, flexible, don’t break and are a grand, cheap private wonder. Don’t mess them up. And yes, you could download them and print them off – but are you seriously going to get a decent result if you do ? Or are you going to buy the machine they’ll tell you that you need to bind your loose pages and laminate the cover… ? One-off E- printing and binding shops are interesting, yes… But not seriously our future. And see above for Internet publishing.
You write in many different forms, which do you prefer?
I like them all – they are all different ways of telling stories to people about people. Some stories suit one medium more than another, that’s all.
Do you enjoy being a writer?
Yes. The rubbish around and about it takes a bit of getting used to… Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I enjoy writing. Being a writer is a bit more about other people imposing their ideas upon you.
What are the good parts?
If the travel is controlled it can be great, the opportunity to meet interesting and occasionally attractive people, the possibility of only doing work you love and earning a living. The actuality of writing is a huge buzz – it’s also frustrating, lonely, maddening and makes you into an odd person – but middle-of-the-night battering at a piece that won’t let you stop, or seeing something taken on to the next stage by great performers and collaborators, that’s a blast.
Why does fiction matter, anyway?
Many reasons, but let’s pick these three. Fiction allows you to enter the mind, body and maybe even soul of someone other than yourself. It takes you away from self and into another in a deep and remarkable and penetrating way – this can give you a remarkably unsociopathic understanding of other people’s reality, irreplaceability and complexity. You also have the company of another voice – that can be a huge support in hard times – for example, during World War II people in the UK read more than they ever have since. The fact that fiction demands collaboration and exercises the imagination is vital – if you don’t have a healthy, active, powerful imagination, you can’t imagine yourself or your reality could be altered – so no new government, no new way of doing things, no change, no new shoes. Hence government’s tendency to imprison writers – even though scribblers often seem like a pointless bunch of self-indulgent wasters.
Drinking and drugging help the inspiration, right?
No. They’ll steal it from you. Be who you are and then be that person writing. If you’re naturally self-destructive, then you’ll do that and presumably destroy yourself, which will be an unnecessary waste, but it’s your choice. Nothing is necessary for you to be a writer, beyond your writing – you don’t need props, they’re for fraidy cats.
You have to do/ have done everything you write about?
Oh, grow up.
Why do you read from work in progress?
I find it’s helpful to hear work out loud and get a few audience reactions as I’m nearing the end of working on a piece.
Did you intend to give up writing and concentrate on comedy full time?
No. I have no idea where this possibility came from. It seems a number folk got all confused and conflated the fact that my back pain and some lumps of life hitting me slowed my writing to a crawl in 1995/96 – which I wrote about in On Bullfighting – with the move from doing light relief at political meetings into stand-up and added it all up and got 743. I wrote and researched DAY during my first years of stand-up – kind of the reverse of giving up writing…
It’s partly a return to my roots and partly a continuation of that political speaking I mentioned above. I got into it in a bleak, but oddly positive, time when I didn’t mind taking the risk – and, as it turned out, it’s a lovely thing to do. And if I’d realised it would annoy a small percentage of the press quite as much as it does, I’d have tried it years ago. Once you get into it, the opportunity to speak directly to an audience and throw words about and play with stories is a great privilege. And a huge release of tension. I don’t do it too much just now, because I don’t have time. But I’d love to get back to it.
So why did you change from stand-up to writing novels?
Yes, I’ve been asked this quite a lot, too – which is a healthy dose of nobody’s fucking heard of you or knows what you do for a living, but you’ve just won a prize so we have to interview you. I did as a 75% joke suggest to my editor once that when I was viewed as a stand-up turned novelist, rather that a novelist turned stand-up, I’d probably do well for myself. And then I won the Costa Prize. Not that I’m suggesting that the judges were confused about my profession… but it did make me laugh. And, thanks for asking, the comedy side of my acquaintances were all very kind about it and supportive. Many of them are big readers.
Kopi Luwak Only the ethical kind. Free the Luwaks.
Favourite book club?
Glenn Gould, Murray Gold, Elvis Costello, Klezma, Redbone, David Byrne, Scissor Sisters, The Beatles, The Kinks, Bix Biderbeck… almost anything
To Have and Have Not, Notorious, Bringing Up Baby, 39 Steps (original version) North By Northwest, Chinatown, American Werewolf in London, Grosse Pointe Blank, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, Funny Bones, Groundhog Day, Delicatessen, Funny Games (original version) Five Fingers, Kind Hearts and Coronets, Arsenic and Old Lace (original version) Brazil…
R.L.Stevenson, A.P.Chekhov, Raymond Chandler, John Banville, James Ellroy, William Shakespeare and too many others…
Max Miller, Richard Prior, Bill Hicks, Jon Stewart, Eddie Izzard, Josie Long, Mrs Barbara Nice, Joyce Grenfell, Victoria Wood and too many others…
Made by John Fluevog. Which sounds much more expensive than it is. I don’t care that much, though.
British Columbia, Vancouver Island, Abel Tasman National Park, Argyll, Orkney, Sinai Peninsula, Glasgow, Bidford-On-Avon, Central Park NY.
Complan, sushi and sashimi, sweet red bean cake, sweet tamarind, dragon fruit, any local, old variety soft fruit, mangosteen, Lai chi, porridge, rare steak, Indian Curry, most Chinese food, fish fins and tails, any sea food but dolphin, squid, whale and octopus – can’t eat your chums, or anything that’s probably cleverer than you are.
Don’t have one.
186 degrees. Or 42.
Seven and a half.
96 degrees Fahrenheit.
Rice pudding or thick custard.
Fast walking pace of a long-legged gentleman in good health.