The A to Z of Ben Myers

27 September 2010

Ben Myers, author of Richard, gives you a run-down of his personal A to Z, from Atheism to Zoos, the 'saddest places on Earth'.

by Ben Myers

A is for atheism - My lack of faith is important to me. I'll defend my right to believe in nothing when under attack from those infidels who believe in "something".

B is for brutalism - Brutalism is the name that myself and two friends, Tony O'Neill and Adelle Stripe, gave to our style of poetry when we met via the internet in 2006. We discovered we shared common social backgrounds and a similar frustration at contemporary poetry, so contrived a scene. A week later we were being heavily criticised by Guardian readers who didn't realise that 'Brutalism' didn't really exist at that stage. We subsequently published a collection and are now noted as the first poetry movement to be launched via social networking sites.

C is for caffeine and chocolate - To be administered orally, twice daily.

D is for death - Writing is one of the few ways to transcend death, I think. "The more you write, the less you die" someone wise once said. Being naturally introspective I think about death too much, though I do think it can sometimes have comic potential too. Gallows humour can get you through very dark situations. Cormac McCarthy said he only writes about life and death and I'm beginning to feel the same, though I am currently working on a story about watermelons (see below).

E is for Easton Ellis, Bret - I tend to judge people on whether they find American Psycho funny or not. To share a publisher with him is immensely pleasing.

F is for fame - I've met many famous people and they're just like non-famous people, only more paranoid and with better dental work. To be recognisably famous wherever you go can't be much fun. Fame has become confused with success and exposure, I think. To be motivated by something other than merely 'being famous' is a highly subversive act in this current era.

G is for gypsies - I've spent a lot of time researching gypsy and traveller and culture in the UK for a recent project. Even if it never sees the light of day I feel like I have gained an understanding about the UK's most marginalised ethnic group - a part of society that ties our culture to a rapidly disappearing past.

H is for Hanif Kureishi - When I was 22 I was dispatched by a publication to interview Hanif Kureishi at his home. He was a gracious host to a nervous young journalist and seeing a writer at close quarters - and being able to thumb through his vast book collection - was inspiring. He poured me black tea and gave me some sound advice: "Get up early and write every day. You're not a writer unless you write. Keep at it. And never give up."

I is for isolation - Controlled or voluntary isolation is no bad thing. I feel happiest when I'm just with my girlfriend, or my close family, or a friend or two; I'm not a group person. In the past I've gone many days without seeing people and have holidayed and travelled alone, and it can be liberating so long as it is not a permanent state. We all need some human contact.

J is for joking - To joke about something is the default setting for British people, I think. I have the bad habit of making bad wisecrack or jokes at the wrong time and I think it's a form of insecurity and self-destruction to sabotage one's intellect in such a way. That's also why they never give the Booker Prize to comedic works - because intellectuality is just not associated with belly laughs.

K is for Knut Hamsun - I like his books a lot. He's a writer whose style and themes are timeless. But is that 'K' silent? I still don't know.

L is for love - Love makes you do strange things, like get married and breed. But only a true cynic could deny its power.

M is for magic mushrooms - Magic mushrooms appear to contain a property that strips away our perceived concepts of time and can make for an interesting and enlightening experience. I tried them many years ago and turned into some sort of centaur, and felt pretty good about that. Never again though.

N is for the north of England - From Northumberland to my home county of Durham to Cumbria to the varying terrains of Yorkshire, the North of England remains under-rated. Most of the 'grim up north' clich├ęs simply aren't true: living costs are lower, people are more approachable and in cities such as Manchester and Newcastle, the arts scenes are thriving. I could show you tiny villages and unknown dales of immense beauty, sample culinary delights, unearth new dialects, unearth strange stories and enjoy all types of weather in one day. You don't always get that in Zone 2.

O is for Orkney - I've never actually been to the Orkney Islands, but from reading the novels and poetry of George Mackay Brown I feel like I have. In my mind I've created a sort of 'mythical Orkney'. I did the same with Iceland too, though upon visiting the country was pleased to find that the reality was pretty close to my 'mythical Iceland'. I wasn't disappointed.

P is for Peckham - London's most maligned borough was my home for many years. It is full of characters, colour and has a certain type of edgy energy. I remember when Tony Blair and Jack Straw came down and announced all the changes they intended to make to Peckham. Peckham is still waiting...

Q is for quahog - It pays to always indulge your inner Will Self and try and learn new words. Today I have discovered: quahog ("edible clam"), qualtagh ("first person encountered after leaving home on a special day") and quarkonium ("meson formed of a quark and an anti-quark") - which begs the question: what is a quark? It's "a group of elementary particles", apparently.

R is for Richard - I decided to write the story of Richey Edwards, the guitarist for the band Manic Street Preachers, who went missing in 1995, when I read the invaluable advice: write about what you know. I grew up with his band's music and ideas, and wanted to write about Britain in the 80s and early 90s - and life in the music business.

S is for self employment - I can summarise my career as follows: door-to-door salesmen (half a day), telephone salesman (half a day), labourer (three days), self employed writer and journalist (five thousand and fifteen days). I've been very lucky to have scraped a living doing every kind of writing imaginable, from interviewing convicted murderers, to rush-writing music biographies to constructing advertising copy for faceless multi-national corporations. I fear the day I might have to enter the real world.

T is for typing - Typing is the sole cause of my RSI - Repetitive Strain Injury in my shoulders and wrists. When people ask what I do for a living I say "typist".

U is for the underground - The British literary underground is thriving. Over the past five years I have come into contact with many writers distributing work through tiny publishers or in anthologies and websites, and all supporting one another. And now many of them - people such as Tom McCarthy, Lee Rourke, Steven Hall and Chris Killen - are enjoying commercial and critical success. I maintain that anything of cultural worth comes from a place of obscurity, opposition and often poverty.

V is for violence - Violence is disgusting, yet can be compelling. On one hand I'm a big fan of boxing, yet on the other I've been attacked two or three times for walking down the wrong street. It's a surreal experience. Broken noses may straighten themselves out, but psychologically it's not something you get over quickly.

W is for watermelons - I believe watermelons to have unproven scientific qualities. I can't say any more than this, but I am conducting my own research, so watch this space. Or maybe Dragon's Den.

X is for x-rated - My first novel was entitled The Book Of Fuck. It was written in 8 days and ended up being published by a tiny publishing house in the UK and a sizeable one in Italy.

Y is for youth - Youth instils fearlessness in the individual that is responsible for many great things. I am 34 now so am at that strange stage where I sometimes think I am still young, but deep down know that I am not - I listen to folk music, for Christ's sake. I'm glad I made the most of my youth. I've sobered up now though.

Z is for zoos - The saddest places on earth.

 

 

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