Meet C. D. Rose in person at the 10×10 Tour event, Waterstones, Leeds 6.30 p.m. Thursday 20 SEPT. Theme: Birmingham & Leeds: A Tale of Two Cities. With Ra Page COMMA PRESS chair, authors C.D. Rose (The Book of Birmingham) and Ian Duhig (The Book of Leeds). Book Tickets
Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in a small semi-detached house in south Manchester, and there I grew up. While I still love Manchester, I have an inexplicable fear of semi-detached houses.
What sorts of books were in your family home?
Comic and TV annuals; joke books; Swallows and Amazons and the whole slew of lesser Ransomes; the Paddington series; Silly Verse for Kids; books with faded, peeling covers bearing gold-embossed titles; dictionaries; a thesaurus; lots of broken-spined orange Penguins; some books which looked massive, impenetrable, and which I was sure I’d never be able to read; Willard Price; Ladybirds about hovercraft or soldiers; I-Spies and Observers Guides to trains, birds, pebbles; Playfair football guides; British History in Strip Pictures.
My father was the only reader in the house, but luckily his tastes were fairly catholic.
Who were early formative influences as a writer?
When we were far too young for it, my parents got us a copy of Strewwelpeter, perhaps thinking it an amusing exercise in historical kitsch. It scared the crap out of me, gave me nightmares, still does. And yet, I can’t help thinking about its influence, in many ways.
Do you write every day, and do you write many drafts?
I try, and I try.
As an author, what are you most proud (or embarrassed) of writing?
The former: anything that touches or moves a reader, or makes them think. The latter: nothing that has been published, fortunately.
Books that changed your life?
When I was about six or seven, my brother was having no small difficulty with his maths homework. He threw a strop, and the offending book along with it, right across the room, its corner hitting me squarely in the forehead. I’ve never liked maths much since then.
Your views on book publishing?
Mostly unprintable, except to point out the great work independent presses are doing in the UK at the moment: Comma, Galley Beggar, Influx, Fitzcarraldo, Melville House, Salt, Bluemoose, Dostoevsky Wannabe . . . the list goes on, and there’s a rare duff book in their catalogues.
How important were, and are, editors? Have you had much encouragement from your editor(s)?
Editors are vital. Anyone who thinks they don’t need an editor is a fool, and finding a good editor is a wonder. If you find a good one, one who gets you and what you’re trying to do, hold onto them as tightly as you permissibly can.
Which is more important, style or voice?
I’ve been much interested in the question of ‘voice’ in fiction, mostly by the fact that no one seems easily able to define it. I think the two terms “style” and “voice” are often conflated. Surely they are equally important? For me, though, everything begins with a good sentence, and if writing doesn’t have that, then I’m not interested, whatever it is.
That said, I love the idea, with short fiction especially, of having an almost tangible, audible voice there, one conjured by nothing more than the marks on the paper.
Your views on the explosion of creative writing courses? How helpful are they in reality?
There’s a lot of nonsense talked about creative writing courses, mostly by people who have never had anything to do with one. I don’t doubt there are some places – whether in academia or outside it – that may be trying to make a quick buck profiting from other people’s hopes and dreams, but the good courses and tutors are essential, and I would strongly recommend them to anyone who wants to write seriously. The idea that they produce a series of bland, samey works is simply not true – speaking as someone who has worked on a range of such courses, the variety of work I have been lucky enough to see is incredible. (I hold mainstream publishing responsible for the bland samey-ness.)
Art and music schools have been around for years, and no one has any difficulty with the concept of them. Why should it be any different for writing?
What are your favorite literary journals?
Gorse, The Lonely Crowd, Lighthouse, The Stinging Fly. (N.B. not all of these have published my stories.)
How well are your books received in Europe?
Very well. They are received with wonder and joy, incredulity and amusement.
Your views on how new technology has (or has not) changed your writing life? What about social media?
It’s made doing background research much easier, and the tangential digressive possibilities of the Wikipedia hole are things I wholeheartedly embrace. That said, once you’re in there, it’s difficult to get out.
If you could go anywhere in time for one day, where would you go and why?
Right now – due to something I’m working on – I’d head for a small town somewhere in the Austro-Hungarian Empire around 1890. The research possibilities would be amazing, and much better than anything Wikipedia could produce. Ask me on another day, and the answer might be Rome in 1600, Edo-period Japan, Umayyad Damascus or Baghdad, Neolithic Skara Brae, or the end of known time, the sun about to go out. The best bet, however, would be Manchester in the late 1970s or early 1980s, so I could have a word with my younger self.
Your favourite prose authors?
James Joyce. W.G. Sebald. Franz Kafka. Angela Carter. Ali Smith. (I hate to be so predictable, so obvious, but I am honour-bound to tell the truth.)
Your favourite noir series?
Is this a question about telly? I don’t really watch telly.
Favourite feature films?
Chris Marker’s La Jetée; Jacques Tati’s Playtime.
Five favourite bands?
I started to think of this list (Joy Division, The Velvet Underground, The Fall, the Bad Seeds . . .) but then realized it looked very predictably middle-aged Northern music fan bloke, so decided to do the more interesting thing and go for the next five instead, but then realized that list (Kraftwerk, The Go-Betweens, Can, the Cocteau Twins . . .) wasn’t actually much better. Truth is, I don’t really have favourite bands any more, just types of music I like. These might range from the drifty to the crunchy, from the spiritual to the earthy.
Your chief characteristic?
Your bedside reading?
Looking at the pile right now: Olga Tokarczuk, Flights; Mark Fisher, The Weird and the Eerie; Michael Stewart, Mr Jolly; David Hayden Darker With The Lights On. (It’s not always that impressive.)
I don’t really have a motto, but I do keep a notebook of quotations that I like. Here’s one: “The storyteller is the man who could let the wick of his life be consumed by the gentle flame of his story.” (Walter Benjamin wrote that.)
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