Tuesday 29 March 2011

Dancing WIth Myself: MARC NASH interviews MARC NASH

So schizoid time Marc Nash (if that's even your/our real name, which I/we happen to know it isn't). Ready for me to probe you like an alien abductee?

Am I ever?

If you answer a question with another one, we'll eat up our ration in double quick time won't we?

Do you want me to answer that?

Ornery bugger aren't you?

See what you've done there is mix your idioms. 'Ornery' is an American usage, while 'bugger' is quintessentially English. I like words me.

Okay, tell us about words then.

Writers organise their material, maybe around plot, or story, or character, or perhaps a central metaphor or conceit. None of these are the primary organising principle for me. I have to get the voice of the book right and that comes from language. My books, my main characters talk to the reader. It's a conversation, so the language has to seduce, wheedle, persuade, annoy, and generally communicate, to suck the reader into it. This voice varies from book to book. It is not necessarily my writer's voice, though it clearly has some relationship to me.

But language does something else for you as well doesn't it?

Yes, language is both our primary writing tool, but also it obfuscates. Whatever we mean by 'reality' - and that's all I'm personally concerned with writing about - is entirely constructed on one level through language. We see things through our visual cortex, but we name them through language. As many assumptions, elisions and approximations as are made by the eye to make a sight fit with its recognition templates, is immediately doubled by the groupings and classifications imposed by language. If you make a slave bend over and eat a meal from his back, does he become a table? Of course not, the word table here is completely obviated by the moral dimensions of such a scenario. Language is slippery, elusive and ingrained with implicit power relationships. That is part of what I explore.

You are very strident about your views of the contemporary novel. Are you trying to convert everyone to your worldview?

Not particularly. I'm happy to plough my own furrow. If I can bring readers along with me for the ride, then all the better. I happen to believe that there is an audience out there hungry for something a bit different. The ones with jaded palates. The ones like me to whom Jane Austen, stylist supreme as she is, just doesn't speak to me or whet my whistle. I started writing novels that I thought I would like to read, but which I couldn't find out there in the market place. I'm not in competition with the vast majority of the books that reside there, so I see no need to try and proselytise to such authors. Having said that, I seem to have come up with some sort of twelve step programme to ripping up the rules, but this itself is a work in progress. I write instinctively and only at the end figure out what I've just done. That's when I get theoretical about it, not while I write. I haven't a clue where any novel is going as I write it, that way I learn about it and myself and my characters as I go along and this way hopefully it stays fresh within the lines themselves. I couldn't conceive of a novel planned out from beginning to end before the author sits down to write the first draft. I could only imagine that to be an arid exercise, but hey whatever works for you right?

Care to share the 12 step programme with the reforming addicts, er class?

It's not actually 12 steps, that was what we call poetic license in order to allude to something that is both other and yet sufficiently similar. But yeah, I'll throw you some bones:

1) The patterning of story is an artificial imposition that holds us back. The human mind and memory are not linear. Stories, even those told in flashback proceed linearly. Beginnings, middles, ends. Do you regard your own life like that? Futures and pasts perhaps, but not completed beginnings, middles and ends. While we persist with such artifice, we can never approach reality, because we cannot model it in its intricacy. Linear patterning was important while we were limning reality through cause and effect. Quantum reality has outmoded this.

2) Why do we tell fictions? Why does the story you are writing, which you put in the mouth of your narrator, demand to be read by the reader? What is the relationship between writer, character and reader? How does it relate to your fiction and the reader's reality? I don't want to tell a story per se, but I do want to probe the dynamic of storytelling that lies behind our tripartite relationship. The three of us need to seal a contract within the pages of our book.

3) If one takes the view that daily life is built on huge assumptions and consensus called reality, then the role of fiction can be to reveal the fictitious nature of this consensus, of these assumptions. But fiction probably ought to steer clear of seeking to erect an alternative set of assumptions in its place. What it can do is show its characters adrift in such a world, bit like our everyday 'realities' in point of fact. Then we might be able to approach some sort of emotional intelligence in the novel.

4) Non-linear writing is the only way to approach both the human mind (character) and pursue emotional intelligence.

5) People don't really change all that much, despite all the attempts at break outs and breakthroughs. The ever increasing mound of self-help books should be testament enough. So characters in the course of 300 pages ought not go on journeys, don't transcribe arcs. And certainly don't achieve any redemption by the end. Redemption is a superannuated notion derived from religions that are dead on their feet.

6) The notion of hero originated in Classical Greek literature. It remains a literary trope, since 'hero' in society is a completely malleable notion - coming home in a bodybag from Iraq makes you a hero; kids describe a peer as a legend etc. If it's redundant in everyday life, it's now also time to pension it off in fiction. Good and evil are religious concepts so bye bye to them too. Morality is no longer absolute; consider murderous monsters like Hannibal Lecter and Dexter being offered up as the empathic pov in films and TV. There has never been any such thing as evil. 'Evil' acts emerge from within us humans. 'Evil' merely externalised them so the protagonist didn't have to take responsibility for their heinousness.

7) Language. We've said that words are slippery and elusive. Most have shades of meaning. Some echo their etymological roots, others interestingly have deviated from them. You want to talk about schizoid? Our dear old English language, torn between Anglo-Saxon ('ask') and Norman-French ('demand') veers between two poles - interestingly with the class and power divisions between the two writ large through the vocabulary. Not enough emphasis is given to language. Precision is virtually impossible because of words' sliding scale of meaning. Therefore probe going the other way and embody two or more of a word's meaning simultaneously in your utilisation of it. Set off reverberations and resonances of meaning by doing so. Like a distorting hall of mirrors. 'Cleave' for example has diametrically opposite meanings, imply them both!

8) Don't stop at the word unit. What about exploring alphabets? Explore design and typographies. We can produce illustrated manuscripts, which may preserve a niche for the printed book in the face of e-versions, but it has to develop organically from the text, not just be a pretty-picture add-on.

9) Metaphors. Literary metaphors are a bit tired these days don't you find? And yet there are so many new bodies of knowledge, quantum physics, theories of mind, alternative realities, which are themselves just extended metaphors. Why is it the scientists trying to explain their equations, who are coming up with such delicious metaphors? What the hell are we authors doing lagging behind? These are rich sources for us potentially to structure our narratives around. You don't have to be an expert in science either, even getting them wrong is fruitful. After all the Americans based their whole Constitution on a misreading of John Locke.

Humble, ain'tcha?

Look, all of the above could well be my misreadings of the artform. I have no formal training beyond A-Level English. I have only read maybe 10 novels written before the First World War. My interest is the contemporary novel that seeks to speak of contemporary things. Of course mistakes are going to be made. It's very hard to get outside of the present in any overview and nail down everything correctly. Doesn't stop me trying though.

Self-published = self promotion, so what do you do for yourself?

Nobody knew what Don Delillo or Hubert Selby Jnr looked like maybe as recently as 10 years ago. They just put their books out there and let the words speak for themselves. I wish it was still like that, but of course it isn't. So as much as I like to kick against the tide, I put myself out there like any other author. If I raise my head above the parapet, then my natural bent is to stir up an argument. To get a debate going on some or all of the above. But to do it with humour and as much good grace as possible and to avoid insulting people. I find Twitter an invaluable resource. It's like an endless comedy smoker.

And of course your infamous live readings. Tell us about them?

I have a voice with very little range. I would venture to say it's quite dull to listen to. So, I have to provide something extra in a reading. I put on a show. It's akin to the slam poets, I 'act' out my pieces with gestures, mostly with one hand since the other is holding the book. But a lot of thought goes into the symbology of any show. I've performed handcuffed to the micstand; dressed as a nurse; dressed a la hen party; with an electric cable wrapped around my neck; 'viewing' the audience alternately through toy micro/telescope/binoculars. Whatever the piece calls for. It's always about direct interaction with them. I did a promenade piece snapping them on my mobile phone, in a piece about the disposability of the image, the instantaneity of capture. I wrote a piece about bukkake and performed it lying down with the audience over me. I really wanted them to move around me, taking it turns to hold the mic to my lips and pass it on to the next person, but they weren't quite ready for that level of participation. I'll try it again maybe. I think of the same question as with the narrative, who is this for and what is the precise nature of our relationship? Only this time we're all present in the same room.

Do you have any fears at all with writing and performing?

None that hold me back in any way. Like any mortal there are dark periods when I think I've misjudged my approach horribly and I'm projecting into a vacuum. But then a new enthusiasm comes along and I'm inspired by some other aspect or metaphor and am usually able to banish the black dog until its next walkies. The whole thing is a grappling match with language. No falls, no submissions, just a knock-out and neither me nor language is asking for quarter just yet. For me there's too many delusions and illusions to be torn down. This is the political part of me, though it's not aligned to any theory in particular.

What's your definition of success?

To leave behind a body of work that forms part of the library of the world beyond its own lifetime. Marc Nash debut novel "A,B&E" available on Amazon. You can sample the first chapter http://www.freado.com/book/4062/a-b-e + attached cover

Website on the book, picking up some of the themes discussed above http://marcnash.weebly.com/

Marc has also contributed the introduction and two short stories to the "Pop Fiction" Anthology - Stories Inspired By Songs also available on Amazon. Lots of fiction pieces contributed to sites such as


  1. Great fun, I enjoyed that. Readings sound like quite an experience, too - good stuff!