Jason Michel talks to the irrepressible U.V. Ray
Q1: Hey, u.v.ray. Tell the readers a bit about yourself.
I was a child prodigy. By the time I was just 6 years old I was already well on my way to inventing a self-stirring saucepan. I tell you, if I could have solved the problem of the melting rubber band I’d have been a millionaire today. As it stands, I dropped out of school at the age of 15 without any qualifications and spent the 80’s and 90’s drifting around the backstreet bars and clubs of Birmingham City. Several of my friends from that era are dead. But I don’t remember anything with any real clarity, I mean a lot of crap went under the bridge. But I think I had a good run and I’d do it all over again if I was younger. None of us had shit to our names but at least everyone seemed to be trying to do something; either form bands, make films or, in my case, be a writer. I would ask behind the bar for a pen and write on torn up beer mats and cigarette packets and the likes.
Q2: How did coming from that big old industrial town of Birmingham affect your writing & with it, of course, your attitude to living? Does environment matter?
For my recently completed novella, Spiral Out, I did absolutely no research. It was all written from my memory of the bars and clubs and people who were around me in the late eighties in Birmingham . The book is 85% autobiographical. I also did business for many years in the city’s Jewellery Quarter. There’s a lot of money involved in that industry and hence there is, shall we say, a lot of creative accountancy that goes on. And a lot of characters you wouldn’t mess with. I haven’t gone into too much detail quite yet – but my experiences there have cropped up a few times in my fiction. I think psychogeography is hugely important if we want to write anything of worth.
Q3: You mentioned that people around you were into all sorts of stuff. What was it about the time you grew up in that caused people to desperately create?
I think for a period of time drugs like LSD and acid open up new worlds of perspective. Escaping reality to the extent of being almost perpetually on another planet, as I was, now means I know the difference. I don’t think anyone who has never tried such drugs actually knows what reality is. I enjoyed over a decade of hedonism. But eventually it fucks you up. Friends started dying, mostly as a direct result of drugs. But there were also a couple of suicides and one was shot. I knew when to get the fuck out of Dodge. My own theory was that if you continued with the heavy stuff into your 30’s and 40’s; it’s game over. I was 28 when I realised enough was enough. I’d been doing anything that was on offer. At this point I weighed about seven and a half stone, my teeth were falling out and my skin was green. I eventually left the city in 2000. It’s amazing I have come out the other end as good-looking as I am. It’s a shame the old body eventually blows a fuse. It is with great regret that I accept maturity. It was all worth it.
Q4: Who were your formative influences & how have they changed with the coming of internet-based zines, such as 3:AM & PMM?
I was really more influenced by the likes of The Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth and The Jesus & Mary Chain. And also people like Andy Warhol and Robert Frank. There’s definitely been a fusion. In particular, zines like yours and 3:AM are embracing a whole swathe of art-forms. It makes for a potent cocktail. But there’s still some shit writers out there who would never have gained a foothold previously. I’ve been around the small press scene since the late eighties. It was much more difficult to get published then. So I do feel writers like myself cut our teeth in a tougher literary environment.
In the early nineties an editor of a then well known magazine called me a “rubbish writing charlatan.” Well, I’ll tell you how much of a charlatan I am. At the age of 40 I gave up a thriving business to commit myself to my writing. For the last three years I have had no money coming in whatsoever. I put myself on death ground for the sake of what I do. I don’t expect I’ll ever break into the mainstream. I’m going down in flames.
Q5: “I’m going down in flames.”
I’ll see you down there, matey!
Tell us a little bit about the novella you’ve written.
What’s your angle on the writing process, creativity & all that nonsense?
Yeah. Anyone who chooses this as a way of life is going down. And we probably all deserve it. Using the imagery of flames does romanticise it somewhat. What it actually is is a steaming pot of vomit. We’re choking on it. I’ve said before that the internal writing process is like a terminal disease for which there is no cure. But I couldn’t live as a failed inventor. One of those unsolicited homeware catalogues was pushed through our door when I was about 16. And blow me down if some cunt wasn’t peddling a self-stirring saucepan. And these things were for sale globally! Even though I take great glee in knowing the things never caught on, I can tell you, it left me feeling bitter. I felt robbed. All my hard work. Alcoholic lemonade, too! That was my idea – years before it became available. Bastards! And that’s when I thought fuck this for a game of soldiers, I’ll be a writer. And hence, I have Spiral Out being looked at by a publisher right now. It’s a story of drink, drugs, sex and violent retribution. From that description you might be able to guess who the publisher is. But for reasons of etiquette I will refrain from revealing who they are right now. The head honcho sent me an encouraging sign a week or so ago – just a little hint – but I haven’t received final word yet. When it comes to my work generally I’m riddled with self-doubt, so my hopes are certainly not high.
Q6: I believe you recently did a reading in London with the likes of Andrew Gallix & Joe Ridgwell.
How did that go? To stand up in front of strangers & read the words that you wrote must be a shittifying experience at the best of times!
Actually, no! That hasn’t happened yet. That is in London , at the Coach & Horses, Greek Street , Soho on July 3rd. There’s a whole swathe of underground literary darlings on the bill – and me, also. It’s going to be a great event. The evening is Joe Ridgwell’s puppy and looking at the people he’s got performing – people like David Oprava, Michael Keenaghan, Lee Rourke and Steve Finbow – I’d say it’s definitely the Brit-Lit event of the year.
There are harder things I’ve had to face in life than reading to an audience. At the moment it’s a little shaky as to whether I can make it. I intend to be there but current circumstances could thwart me making the journey down to the big smoke. I’ll know for definite in a couple more weeks. But I recommend that if you can get there yourself, Jason, you really should do so.
Q7: Which writers float your boat at the moment? Which authors or books do you always return to?
Well, Bukowski pissed and pissed until he stained the swimming pool yellow. Not many of us achieve that. So credit where it’s due: Bukowski had more piss in him than any of us. And now everyone is swimming in his piss. It’s just that some of us can swim without actually swallowing some of it. Essentially, most books end up boring me only a few pages in. I really don’t read very much and I maintain that it’s a myth that a writer is obligated to also read voraciously. There are one or two writers I could mention. I could wax lyrical about how good Joe Gould’s Secret by Joseph Mitchell is. But the fact is this – who else can truly share my subjective experience of these books? Nah… I am done with making recommendations to other people. I may as well recommend a Steinway piano to a rabid-ass baboon. Fuck ‘em in the face. Let them have their shitty Dan Brown.
Q8: What do you think of the Brit underground literary scene at the moment? Is it as vibrant as it once was or are the cracks starting to show?
As far as I can tell it’s pretty vibrant. At least, it hadn’t as yet occured to me that cracks were beginning to show. If I payed more attention I suppose I might be better connected on the scene. But I really only concentrate on my own work. I’m a bit cynical about those who form little cliques. I think the formation of groups ultimately breeds mediocrity. So it’s not impossible for cracks to appear in the veneer. I haven’t seen any cracks yet. But as in nature itself, water does seek its own level. And in the fullness of time there are those individuals who will sink without a trace. Like any point in history there are some good writers around. But the truly great, the exceptional, those who shake the very foundations of any art-form – they are indeed a rare bird.
Q9: Your work seems influenced by other forms of (for want of a better term) pop culture & your work sometimes has a cinematic tone about it.
What do you listen to while you write? Which films have left an impression?
It has been said many times that what is required is passion. I don’t necessarily agree. I mean, I’m sure Jack the Ripper felt passionate about what he did, too. So it’s certainly no justification. There’s a lot of shit floating in the pool that its perpertrators feel passionate about. It’s funny you should put it like that – I sometimes wonder if I didn’t go down the wrong road. Maybe I should have gone into something more visual like film. I have been told the language I employ in my poetry is often gripping and dramatic. I mainly write on the move; in coffee shops, bars, trains. I like having the real world around me when I write. I suppose later on I then forge these sensory experiences into a symbolic image. I’ve said before that I consider my work to be like a Warhol painting, rather than a Francis Bacon. One could also say it’s like a stylized Tarantino film, rather than a gritty Shane Meadows.
Q10: U.V., the future. What’s in the cards, old boy?
My intention is to write three novels and retire. Whether they sink or swim I will give up after three. As I’ve already said I am waiting on news of the first. I’ve already set to work on the second. And I still intend on finishing a stage play about Christ’s last supper. It is entitled, You Can’t Nail The Custard To A Wall, Boys (But You Can Nail Jesus To A Cross).
I also have my completed second collection of poetry, Road Trip & Other Poems which, due to a publisher suddenly shutting up shop, I am now again seeking a publisher for.
Though I say so myself, it’s a quite fantastic collection: work that has previously appeared in Aesthetica, 3:AM, Dogmatika, Kill Author, Underground Voices, The Beat and whole swathe of other places. The book deserves to be out there. But hey, nobody wants to know ole’ u.v.
Thinking about it all, I’m actually losing the will to carry on. The bastards. It’s just not worth all the anguish. I’m definitely ready to spit on my hands and start slitting throats.
U.V. Ray can be found lurking here:www.uvray.moonfruit.com
Go & check out one of Britain’s real underground writing talents.
Paul Brazill corners Richard Godwin.
1. Sex or death? Which fuels your writing the most?
While they are two prevalent themes in my writing, they are not the only ones by any stretch of the imagination. The two are inextricably connected. The Elizabethans referred to orgasm as the ‘little death’. We come out of the darkness and will return to it inevitably, whatever religious concept you want to impose on that.
Humans use sex to ward off their own mortality. The huge industry surrounding plastic surgery is a good illustration of this as is the endless model of youth that Hollywood spawns
2. Noir, and pulp in general, is usually seen as something that only the Americans do or do best. Do you agree? Do you consider yourself to be a British writer?
I think that more noir and pulp writing has come out of the Unites States and that much of it is first class. The States has some outstanding heavyweights among its writers across the board but it does not hold a monopoly on noir or pulp.
Ted Lewis was a key figure in the 1970’s revival of British noir. His novel Jacks Returns Home was filmed as Get Carter. Since the eighties we’ve had writers such as Nicholas Blincoe.
I see myself as an English writer with a lot of respect for my own country as well as the great American writers. Literature and storytelling are a global phenomenon.
3. Tell us about the theatre; the roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd.
There are so many great dramatists from England. I am a huge admirer of Beckett for his minimalist simplicity. Someone who writes great dialogue today is the American playwright David Mamet. The theatre can be seen as a vehicle for exploring the dramas that affect us all. Some people interact and some people don’t, they’re enacting some form of solipsistic monologue, and that in itself is revealing.
My play ‘The Cure-All’ was staged at The Questors Theatre and went down very well. It is a comedy about a group of confidence tricksters using the New Age to rip off a bunch of greedy gulls. The thing about comedy is you know you’re hitting the right buttons if the audience laugh. They did. The greasepaint roared.
4. Which short stories would you have liked to have written?
I’ve never thought about it, but two that spring to mind are Stephen King’s ‘The Road Virus Heads North’ and if we can count a novella Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart Of Darkness’.
5. Your bloody footprints have been all over the interweb for about a year. What were you doing before?
Paying the bills and writing.
6. Do you think the ezines are a good breeding ground for writing talent in the same way that the old pulp magazines were?
The publishing industry’s in trouble, we’ve just come out of a global recession and it’s arguable if it’s over, we live in an age where formula writing rules as does the craving for gossip on celebrities. The ezines you and I know about out there, especially the American ones are full of talent. There are many writers there who should be in print. Agents don’t want to take a risk and the publishers are obsessed by profit. In the States people still want to read good stories, which is great. I think the comparison with the old pulp magazines is a sound one. Behind the ezines are dedicated hardworking editors.
7. Are you working on a great unfinished novel or is it finished?
It’s finished, and will be published later this year.
8. Your writing is very vivid and full of strong images. Do you have any interest in writing for the silver screen?
Yes, it would interest me, crossing genres always take some adapting but with fiction basically you’re dealing with more dialogue these days. Many writers such as Cormac McCarthy write dialogue based prose at times. Elmore Leonard is easily adaptable to film because his fictions are dialogue oriented.
It would be nice, know anyone who wants a script writer Paul?
|9. What’s on the cards for 2010?|
The publication of my novel and more stories.
10. Ask The audience:
From Richard to YOU!
If you had to identify one ingredient above all others that you look for and appreciate in a piece of fiction, what would it be?
BIO: Richard Godwin is a produced playwright whose crime novel has been accepted for publication later this year.
He writes crime and horror and his stories can be found at many vibrant magazines, among them A Twist Of Noir, Disenthralled, Word Catalyst and Danse Macabre. You can also find them in the recent anthologies ‘Back in 5 Minutes ‘ by Little Episodes Publishing and ‘Howl’ by Lame Goat Press.
He blogs here