So, why fiction and why Kathy Acker?
Fun! And despair. I was working on a non-fiction book about violence and the body and I couldn’t write it. I realised it was because the world was changing so rapidly I was finding it impossible to get purchase, or find a stable platform to narrate from. Instead I decided to write a kind of kamikaze, real-time novel, documenting the madness of summer 2017. As for Kathy, I was excited by how she stole material from books – histories, biographies, other people’s novels – and transferred it into the first person. I thought I might plagiarise my own life, so to speak, and put it in the Kathy Acker person. She’s such a ferocious, wild writer, and so intensely relevant to the hyper-violent, hyper-corrupt world we’re inhabiting right now.
Many parts of Crudo were written in real time, as events such as Brexit happened. Did you write this novel as a response to the present, and what drew you to write this way?
Crudo was all written in real time. I had two rules, I had to write every day, and I couldn’t edit. I’m usually a very obsessive, meticulous writer, but I wanted to capture the chaotic, fluxing nature of events. The present so quickly hardens into history, a rigid narrative. I wanted to capture it while it was still in process, still wet. Writing was a way of exorcising my own despair about the world, from Brexit and Trump to the rise of the far-right. How did it happen? How did it feel? I wanted to write from inside that moment, to document what it was like from an ordinary person’s perspective.
All of your books to date have been non-fiction. Has your non-fiction research, like reading diaries, influenced the approach to writing fiction?
Yes. And maybe Virginia Woolf, the subject of my first book, is most relevant here. Her grand project was always to capture reality, its actual lived texture. Like the way consciousness is perpetually invaded by the past, or the way the personal and the social, or the personal and the political, are in constant interplay. It’s so messy and gross and fascinating, and that was what I was trying to get at here.
Was writing fiction a release for you? A way of telling your own story without the flecks of other’s biographies, as you have in parts of your previous work?
It was the most liberating and joyful writing experience I have ever had. It took seven weeks, and I felt electrified for that entire period. But I wasn’t writing for publication. I had no agenda except to get down exactly what the world felt like over the course of one weird summer. As for biography, Kathy is based on Kathy Acker, and I did research her life, though it’s fused freely with my own. But whenever Kathy writes, it’s Kathy Acker’s work, as the end notes make clear. I did that because I wanted to draw attention to how art functions in the world, how it can offer possibilities for reflection, response and resistance, which is so often inhibited by the ongoing assault of the 24 hour news cycle.
The real events, tweets and people in Crudo made me wonder whether you habitually keep a diary?
Yeah, it’s called Twitter and I’m very loyal to it.
As well Kathy Acker, I also felt the influence of David Wojnarowicz throughout Crudo. Are there any other artists or writers that have influenced you?
Crudo is so full of artists, especially painters. I was obsessed in particular with the painter Philip Guston. He was an abstract artist who in 1967 abruptly returned to figuration, making these breath-taking, cartoonish paintings of Ku Klux Klansmen. He really interrogated violence and bodies, the desire to hurt, and his work was in my mind constantly while I was writing.
Could you tell us what’s next for you and your writing?
Well, I am committed to writing Everybody, which is a non-fiction book, about the body and freedom. Not what bodies look like, but what it’s like to inhabit them, in terms of illness, sexuality, violence and so on. I’m using various artists to explore and open up the subject, including Francis Bacon and Agnes Martin. It’s a slow book. Crudo was like lightning, this one is glacial. And after that, who the hell knows.