Always outnumbered. Generally overdresssed.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Not Voodoo's Heroes of Prose: Will Self

So far so so.

Well tomorrow anyway I'm going to meet Will Self in my role as cub reporter for Thalidomide Handball Weekly (incorporating Flapper Magazine).

I'm pretty nervous about it, I don't mind telling you, because as well as being a novelist he's a real journalist, where as I'm an adman pretending to be a journalist, (although in the more terrible moments during this current freelance stint I've been starting to think I'm actually a journalist masquerading as a novelist masquerading as an adman) and I anticipate him, at some point really early on in the interview staring me down and saying, 'you've just got no fucking idea what you're doing.'

Anyway, that may not happen.

I've only recently admitted a penchant for Self's writing. Prior to reading him I'd mainly seen him using polysyllabic words on TV and I'd always thought 'Come off it, you're just being dick.' What I've discovered, from writing this blog and trying to write a book, is that defending oneself against the accusation of 'just being a dick' is somethin g writers have to deal with internally on a daily basis. And I had this realisation that maybe the feeling of 'just being a dick' never goes away - it's just one of the unpleasant feelings you have to live with if you're in the business of exposing your thoughts in public. Or that, you can't write honestly, giving your personality its fullest expression, and avoid that feeling. This being so I've come to believe that using the word 'pabulum' on ITV is actually a rather admirable thing to do.

I'm hoping that in between calling my bluff in a deeply demeaning way I can persuade Self to talk about the short story 'Prometheus' from his last book of short stories Liver (recommended to me by Scamp, who is also a big Self fan). It's set in an ad agency somewhere near Wiedens, and is a very witty re-imagining of Aeschylus's Prometheus Unbound as a modern morality tale. While this may be the first time Self has dealt with the ad industry directly he's always had an eye on what we're up to. His brother, the writer John Self, ran a DM agency called Self Direct (I would have called it Self Addressed Envelope, obv.) He published a short story collection called 'Tough, tough toys for tough, tough boys' - the Tonka endline of the 70s and 80s and Great Apes is really just the PG Tips advert at novel length.

Self would have been an excellent copywriter, in fact he uses quite a few copywriter's tricks:
  • Defamiliarisation of cliche. Slackers 'Want to do nothing at all, and they want to do it now.' A shot of whisky goes off like an 'anti-personality mine'. I could probably find more, but it's late and I have an interview to prepare for.
  • Epigrams: both in the journalism ('Flying first class is the heroin of travel.') and the fiction: Henry Wootton in Dorian speaks almost wholly in epigrams, although the model is Oscar Wilde in modern usage we might legitimately term these endlines ('In an age when appearances matter more an more. Only the shallowest of people won't judge by them.'...Nivea).
  • TOV: In the early fiction in particular Self's voice seems strangely branded. If you read a lot of his work, and I've been reading a lot of his work, certain words keep cropping up like actors in a stage crowd. Crack, when heated, always 'deliquesces'. Men get into cars and 'dicker' with the 'servos'. The good thing about this is you only have to look up the word 'rodomontade' once. The difference between a tone of voice and literary style is something you could probably write a pretty boring essay about, but I think a tone of voice is experienced by the reader as an explicit attempt to create a specific impression. So Dan Germain at Innocent is nakedly trying to make you think 'wholesome', Will Self is trying to make you think 'intellectual' - and this is a communication that exists over and above what the words themselves say.
So, fingers crossed. Let's just hope he's not in the habit of Googling himself before interviews.

No comments: