scarecrow interviews

Monday, March 05, 2007


Ben Myers: DIY punk spirit

Lee Rourke: How long did the The Book of Fuck take to find a suitable publisher?

Ben Myers: It didn’t take very long actually. I was actually meant to be writing a collection of short stories for Wrecking Ball Press, but it turned into a novel of sorts, mainly because a lot of the stories turned out to be nonsensical, indulgent and unpublishable – a half-page story about a dog turd in a child’s sandpit sticks in my mind as being a low point. There’s a turd, there’s some sand. That was the extent of the story.

I honestly only wrote the The Book Of Fuck for my own amusement, and never showed it to anyone for a few months, maybe a year or so. Then Wrecking Ball read a few pages and said they’d put it out. The slow part was actually getting the book out. For various reasons it got delayed a couple of years, so it ended up coming out four years after it was written. I think the lesson learnt was: just write for yourself and assume it’s not going to be published.

LR: Are Wrecking Ball Press the unsung heroes of British independent publishing?

BM: Yes, I think they are. They are the most under-rated publisher in the UK. They have balls.

Wrecking Ball Press is what happens when high-brow poetry collides with the DIY punk spirit – but in a backroom of a Hull pub, whacked on real ale, all credit cards maxed-out in the pursuit of literary immortality. Money has little to do with anything.

They’re certainly something of an anomaly – simultaneously old-fashioned in their approach to detail, design, paper quality etc but forward thinking in their actual content. Anyone who publishes Dan Fante and Tony O’Neill, alongside unsung British poets like Roddy Lumsden has got to be doing something right. And anyone who can exist independently publishing poetry for nine years for the sheer hell of it deserves a medal for service to culture. Shit like this saves the lives of people like me.

LR: The Book of Fuck was translated into Italian; how was the book received in Italy?

It has only been out a few months, but The Book Of Fuck – or Il Dio Della Scopata – seems to be doing very well over there. For ‘well’ read: a lot of people were offended by both the title and my sarcastic and slapstick quips towards organized religion. Italians are very serious about their religion, whereas I’m not sure I’ve ever been serious about anything least of all some messed-up ideologies from a thousand years ago. I’m sure when those that get offended by the liberal use of a common Anglo-Saxon word actually read it they realize it's essentially one big joke without a punchline. I’m the guy in the corner at the party who starts to tell a long and convoluted anecdote, gets lost on the way, but ends up telling an equally as ridiculous story anyway. But that’s the thing about religion isn’t it? It breeds fundamentalism, which by its very nature can only exist without a sense of humour or an appreciation of irony.

There seems to be a small army of readers over in Italy who hassle book shops and spread the word. Most of them are young women. I don’t know why.

LR: Your writing style is a clever pastiche of good pulp fiction; who are your literary influences?

BM: The Book Of Fuck was essentially an exercise in writing that somehow got published. I’d written a couple of half-finished novels so decided to adopt a different tactic. The goal was to complete a book, which is the hardest part. Actually sticking with something to fruition. So I realized the simple way was to write a story about someone getting from A to B, and I gave myself a time limit of a week. It was done in seven days and nights of espresso and marijuana, a lot of time sitting in a café in Kennington, because my flat at the time had no heating. In fact, in parts it didn’t have a ceiling. A smackhead lived upstairs and he would occasionally invite me up there to shoot his gun. It was handy for culling the mice population.

Style-wise, part of the idea sprung from bad pulp fiction novels, but particularly Dreaming Of Babylon by Richard Brautigan, which itself is a pastiche of a pulp novel, about a hapless private detective and comprised of many digressions. And also The Case Of The Missing Blue Volkswagon by Gerald Locklin – another Wrecking Ball Press book about not very much. I’m no hard-boiled American hack, so I decided to relocate the story into the murky world of music journalism and the London music industry, which is possibly why a few reviews drew comparisons to Hunter S. Thompson. Other literary influences would be Henry Miller, Jack London, Dan Fante, Charles Bukowksi, Pedro-Juan Gutierrez, Jack Kerouac, John Fante, Jean Genet, Bret Easton Ellis, William Burroughs, Billy Childish and Jim Carroll.

LR: There are currently a glut of new writers emerging in the UK at present who are linked via the internet; do you see some sort of electronic-based scene developing?

BM: There’s definitely a – urgh - new wave of emerging writers using the internet to get published, to link up with one another and to cross-reference. The internet though is merely the tool, the medium. It doesn’t necessarily inform the writing, but it does render things such as geographical location or the long boring process of physically mailing stuff out as irrelevant. I think there are writers publishing stories online now who will be responsible for some of the most important literature over the next couple of decades. I truly believe that. Various tags have already been bandied about - The OffBeat Generation, The Brutalists . . . but only time will tell. Pigoen-holes can be damaging. Remember The New Puritans a few year ago? That name made me hate all involved immediately, so you have to be careful when identifying movements.

Some of the current best new writers you probably already know about as they’ve been published on Scarecrow: writers such as Tony O’Neill, Adelle Stripe, Travis Jeppesen, and Peter Wild. It is writers such as these who I believe will go on to create work as collectively significant as the Beats or punk rock were in their time. Though everyone has their own style, these new writers share certain common ground. I can’t speak for any of them, but I think it’s fair to say that all have been rejected by the mainstream publishers (personally, I have a book-length pile of rejection letters). All are around the 30 years old mark – or often younger. Narcotics may have informed their worldview too. And, crucially, all are as equally as influenced by music as literature – usually the spirit of punk, cool new underground sounds or the velocity of heavy metal. In these very pages Travis Jeppesen recently said:

“If I'm looking for inspiration, I won't go to a poetry reading. I'd rather go to a heavy metal concert. In fact, I think poetry should move in the direction of heavy metal . . .”

When I read that I let out a whoop of delight. Yes, finally! Someone who values Slayer or Black Sabbath or The Stooges as equally as, say, Bukowksi. This new generation of writers write like they’ve plugged into the mains. They’re punks, basically, but with pens instead of guitars. They’re all doing it for the right reasons: to preserve their sanity. To sidestep the tawdry aspects of modern culture. To feel alive where most people stagger around in nullified torpor.

LR: Do you see the internet as the next logical step for the modern writer? Is this the kick up the arse the industry needs?

BM: I just think that various internet sites and weblogs offer an opportunity for kindred spirits to spur one another on. From 2000 to 2005 I wrote hundreds of stories, poems and a couple of unpublished novels, but it felt like I was in a void. I felt alone, like I was losing my mind. And too much of that can make you lose direction. For that reason, sites like 3AM Magazine and Laura have been pivotal. Anyway - the poetry readings I was going to were stirring violent feelings within me; poets reading to poets, everyone patting each other on the back and having a jolly good time but never breaking out beyond the same little circles. Fuck that. In the end, it became all about the free wine for me. Horrible, sex-less, joy-less affairs. Then when I discovered – thanks to the ‘net – that there were in fact people out there doing similar things, feeling similar anxieties, it was indeed the kick up the arse that I needed.

The mainstream literary world is a million miles away from what’s really going on. I mean, when’s the last time you bought a big-selling book and enjoyed it? Only very occasionally, I bet. Maybe in time the bigger publishers and agents will try and skim the cream from the top of this new movement. Maybe in turn they will be rejected. Everyone knows all the best culture comes from a place of discontent or opposition anyway.

I don’t think books will ever be replaced though – they feel too nice in the hand and you can read them in the bath.

LR: What next? Are you working on anything else?

BM: My second novel, ‘The Missing Kidney’ is coming out in 2007 and I have a number of stories in a number of forthcoming collections – a book of writings inspired by Sonic Youth song titles, a story in a collection of ‘flash fiction’ coming out through Canongate. And some other stuff I can’t remember.

I’m also working on a collection of SPAM-based poems – a weird new form of literature written by viral marketers and silicone valley geeks as a smokescreen for selling things like Viagra online. My InBox is full of them every day and it all reminds me a little of William Burroughs and Brion Gyson’s ‘cut-up’ poems, but updated for the twenty-first century. Very twisted, but evocative. I’m toying with the idea of calling it ‘Increase The Size Of Your Dick: Virus Poems’ just to shoot myself in the other foot. I suspect I have a self-destructive streak. I’ve been posting some of the poems on my website

I also have a few other things on the go, including a collaborative book about fishing on drugs (research has already been conducted this summer – three rainbow trout fell victim, and I ripped my feet on some rusty barbed wire. Karma? Quite possibly . . .) and also a confessional novel of quasi-porn that’s quite heavily inspired by Henry Miller.

And I’ve written the lyrics to an album for a project called The Gulag. It’s a classical symphony in structure, but very dark, fucked up and willfully pretentious. And quite political in its own way. It’s coming out in 2007 and more details for that can be found at: The Gulag.

LR: So, finally, Brutalism?

BM: Brutalism is a reaction to our frustrations with the conservative publishing business. It is a term coined in the long hot heatwave summer of 2006 by myself, Adelle Stripe and Tony O'Neill, all of whom are of a same age/generation/geogrpahical/cultural background, and have similar tastes and ambitions. It not a scene or a set of rules or clique, but a shared energy which celebrates a kind of back-to-basics approach of unflinching, spare writing. We're inspired by the simplicty, urgency and productivity of punk rock and the freefrom approach of jazz, plus our own individual favourite writers (Dan Fante, Billy Childish and Herbert Hunke would be obvious references points, but also various poets less closely associated with the counter-culture). We acknowledge that what we are saying is possibly new or groundbreaking - I mean, does the world really need another scene? - but there is a definite groundswell of literary activity right now that we thought needed a name in order to ensnare some media interest. We're not all hot air either - we all have book or collections already our or forthcoming. 'Brutalism' doesn't mean the writing or subject matter is neccessarily brutal, but our attitude and endeavours to get noticed are.

The Brutalists as a collective of writers is closely alligned - or a sub-division of - The OffBeat Generation, another term applied to a bunch of disparate writers that include ourselves, Matthew Coleman, the chaps at 3AM, Joseph Ridgewell, Paul Ewen, Heidi James and some shady fella called Lee Rourke - plus countless other excellent writers.

As The Brutalists our only maxim is one we've ripped off from punk and adapted for the 21st centruy: "Here's a lap-top. Here's a spell-check. Go write a novel." We're starting with BRUTALISM #1, a collection of poems by myself, Adelle Stripe and Tony O'Neill, with more collections to follow. It's out May 2007.

Please visit:

LR: Thanks, Ben.


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