Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Gavin James Bower interview: 'I'm straight but a raving queen ...'
Gavin James Bower! Happy New Year! Now that I've actually read your debut novel Dazed & Aroused I find it (as I wrote on Twitter) ... dilateful. That is to say, it makes me dilate, ie parts of me fill out (irises, for instance). Should a novel have this effect? (you will have to interpret this as you see fit) And did it make you dilate while writing it?
Writing the novel did indeed make me dilate, especially when I wrote the sex bits. In the nude...that’s what you’re getting at, right...?
To be fair I wrote one, which was so mechanically pornographic that I later realised, in hindsight, it was purely for my own amusement. It was later deleted. But yes, ideally, a novel should be ‘dilateful’. And it should start with you, the writer. If it doesn’t turn you on, what chance does it have of ‘dilating’ anyone else?
Much is made of your handsome looks, the fact you were once a male model and are aged 20-something. Do you think your publisher Naim Attallah at Quartet factored this into the question of whether to publish you? - given the problems of releasing books by unknowns and the general appalling gargoyle sight of writers, their personal problems and hygiene issues.
I could answer this in several ways:
1. Funny – for example, ‘I can't speak for Naim, but rumour has it he likes girls.’
2. Wounded – for example, ‘Well, that I was once a model and am in my twenties was probably helpful, given that I wrote about being a model...and being in your twenties...’ *Storms out of room*
3. Flippant – for example, ‘Some writers are frightful to look at, but almost all are ugly on the inside too. I, however, am neither.’
Nearly everyone in Fashion is gay – that’s why girl supermodels are such dykes – and those that aren’t, like me, are raving queens by society’s standards anyway.
I did go to Milan and discover its dirty little secret, though; namely, that it's the shittest place on earth. And I've been to Milton Keynes.
And I didn't meet Kate Moss but I did manage to piss of Jefferson Hack. I used to think it was the title of the book, or that he felt threatened by me. But if truth be told it’s probably Alex’s suggestion, in the book, that he's not all that impressive. Have you met him, though? He's really not all that impressive, and he was rude to me when I interned at Dazed. Who's laughing now, eh?
Is Kate Moss fanciable? I imagine post-coital smells are a bit faggy and citric-burpy, but you may not know that ....
When you walked the catwalk did you think you'd become a published novelist? Were there psychological or behavioural signs of the fictive outsider observing his peers? - please think anecdotally. You're a history graduate ain't ya? How do you think your fellow models perceived you?
I can vividly remember almost falling over on my first catwalk appearance - for John Galliano in 2005 - and realising that I would indeed one day be a published novelist. I blame my near-Naomi Moment on this epiphany...
To be honest, modelling was a kind of out of body experience. I just went with it, like most other boys that fall into that world.
And that's not to say I'm now trying to distance myself from it or the choice to pursue that as a career - albeit a short one. I was ready for it to take off, and made changes in my life to give it a go - moving from the North to London, getting part-time bar work to clear my days, and so on. It just never took off.
But I was a writer before modelling, while at uni, and was always going to go back to writing. I had a premise and a story for a novel already. The modelling just gave me a world to set it in.
Please supply a short history of your cock.
0-13: Owner occasionally and accidentally gets a hardon in non-sexual situations
13-16: Owner prays to God that he would go through puberty and his cock grow
17-: Owner rejects God
Now, back to Dazed & Aroused. The exotica and glamour of the high fashion modelling world is plainly unsatisfying to your central character Alex - who I assume has some of your DNA. Did you feel this void as a model, or did the absurdities of the runway life only hit you when you allowed your distancing literary mind to take over later? Basically, is the novel an example of creative bipolarism?
You know what they say about assumptions being the mother of all fuck ups? Well.
I went into modelling with my eyes open. The only thing I found illuminating was something quite outside of Fashion, about what it feels like to be post-university bubble living in a post-postmodern city in a post-industrial Capitalist economy. (Post much?!) It's that sense of alienation, based on a social relation that is itself predicated on a kind of ephemeral exploitation - taking what you can, now, and worrying about it later - that I discovered while modelling. Fashion's just symptomatic of all that.
Did you do drugs on the circuit? Do you now?
I am a pussy.
Was there ever an issue over the use of an ampersand in your book title? And give me your honest appraisal of the lipsticky cover, which one blogger likened to an Athena card. I think they should have put you on the cover (without lipstick).
Yes! And how did you know?!
I wanted an ampersand so I could be sure of ripping off the magazine and pissing off Jefferson Hack (see above).
Whenever I see it without one, a small part of me dies. In fact, I think my cock shrinks a bit too (see above).
I love the cover. And Athena. Can we bring it back...?
Which writers (if any) gave you the confidence to abandon punctuation in places, to give us a sense of the randomness, chaos or flow of the modelling life? Do you admire Bret Easton Ellis to whom some have claimed your book's a homage?
The no punctuation thing was a product of reading aloud, and getting very excited by a breathless stream of consciousness - and how that worked so well for Alex's POV.
I credit Burroughs and also Roger Avary, the latter for a very short sequence in his adaptation of BEE's Rules of Attraction, during which the character Victor Ward (incidentally, also a model) breathlessly 'does Europe', taking in maybe a dozen countries and quite a few more girls without ever giving you, the viewer, a sense of anything substantial. I liked that a lot. The BEE links are there for everyone to see, of course.
On that, some reviews - both positive and negative - have likened my book and writing style to his. I wear my influences on my sleeve, and was very upfront about admiring BEE. I nod to him a few times in the book too, and was definitely influenced stylistically.
But this influence, beyond the inspiration to one day maybe be a writer myself (after reading Less Than Zero in my late teens), is minimal. I always knew that the central premise of my book - about an unwillingness to empathise and do something, and the consequential focus on ephemera - was unique. Dazed & Aroused is an indictment of Capitalism and an allegory for the social relation at its heart. It's less a rip off of Less Than Zero, therefore, and far more a rip off of Marx's Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. I've said this in other interviews, but not one person has accused me of ripping that off...
I like the sexy sharp opening from your next novel Made In Britain, published on your blog. Very different from Dazed & Aroused, not at all glam. Tell us about it and whether Quartet will publish it.
I wanted to show that, despite once being a model, I could write about something other than modelling. So, being a Northerner, I decided to write about being Northern. (For my next book, I plan on writing about a washed up novelist who relentlessly promotes his two published novels, until his dying days...)
Made in Britain is finished and with my agent. I think it's the best thing I've written, a kind of love-hate story between me and the place I'm from. I'm quite proud of it.
Like most writers you're sensitive about adverse criticism - you've even feuded on Twitter with some literary nonentity. Which reviewer has most pleased you to date and most offended you - feel free to unleash your inner Nero and fiddle out a stream of abuse over their burning carcass.
I'm sensitive about most things, and a bad review, especially a negative one that's not all that constructive, will bother me for a bit. But I get over it pretty quickly.
The more people read your work, the more chance there is of someone hating it. And the more you put yourself out there, so to speak, the more criticism you invite and encourage. It's fair play and the rejection - as well as the praise - is just part of the same process. It doesn't change whether you're unpublished looking for an agent, or a heavyweight writer with a Booker Prize.
The most pleasing review (of sorts) came from 3:AM Magazine. They likened my book to BEE and Less Than Zero (in a positive, non-rip-off kind of way) and that made me very happy. It still does in fact. I love 3:AM Magazine and, even though I was prepared for rejection, I wanted their acceptance.
Have there been movie, modelling, TV offers as a result of your literary fame? And who have you written the Dazed & Aroused screenplay for?
I've written the screenplay for myself, first and foremost, as I think I'd like to go in that direction creatively. It's been really enjoyable, especially the collaborative aspect of it.
As for offers, I'll probably just put myself in the film version. Seriously.
Do you like Martin Amis' work?
I tried to read something he did for Granta a million years ago and couldn't finish it. Good luck to him, though.
Darling, enter my Tardis. You're 44, your looks are fading. You have eight acclaimed novels behind you, and two ex-wives. Tell us of the Gavin you'd like to be at 44 and where you'd like him to be.
Not writing a sequel to Dazed & Aroused, in which the characters are middle aged and looking back on their lives. (Even my jokes are nods to BEE.)
I'd like to be on a boat off the coast of France, somewhere near Cannes maybe. And I'd like to have found God, or at least be over the whole showing my cock to as many people as possible thing...
And finally for now, my sweet, do you prefer sex with or without a condom?
I wear two. There's safety in numbers.
That reminds me of a good joke I know. 9 out of 10 people enjoy gang rape...
Gavin! Thank you! I call upon Arcatistes to read Dazed & Aroused! It's ... dilateful!
Naim Attallah's blog
Dazed & Aroused to buy
Gavin James Bower and Sebastian Horsley perform together