Colin Spencer, tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’ve been painting, drawing and writing since I was a child, which means that I’ve been doing it for over seventy years. Paints and brushes cost money, so when I was in my early twenties it was cheaper to write, I was first published in a literary magazine aged twenty-two – The London Magazine – with a short story – Nightworkers.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
See above, I only felt alive when working, still do.
What books have had a lasting impact on you?
Djuna Barnes, Nightwood. Wuthering Heights (I first read it aged 10). War and Peace. Middlemarch. Madame Bovary. The great novels all go on echoing and singing throughout one’s life.
Why do you write?
Firstly, catharsis, a terror of my father who tried to murder me a month before birth, this terror pursues one throughout life.
Your advice to new writers just starting out?
Work. Go on writing even if you think it is drivel, right through the mess of ones life, to try and make sense of it all – we do not know why we are here, or where we are going, the mystery of consciousness, of awareness, of the universe itself. Write also to entertain yourself, to make yourself laugh, to have a good time. Write to block out the darkness.
As an author, what are you most proud (or embarrassed) of writing?
I don’t think I am embarrassed about anything I’ve written, I suspect the emotion of pride, but I do think I have written one novel which begins to say, to point to something of the above, a glimmer of light in the darkness, that is the second in a novel sequence – The Generation Quartet – called The Tyranny of Love.
I’ve also written two novels which are a hoot, my satire of the Greek Colonels called How the Greeks Kidnapped Mrs Nixon, and Poppy Mandragora and the New Sex.
What is your biggest failure?
Being a playwright, one play Spitting Image had a short stay in the West End in 1969 and then went to New York, not quite off-Broadway, and always has amused an audience, it is having a revival in August this year at the King’s Head, Islington. Other plays only had productions in small experimental theatres. I have huge admiration for Tom Stoppard and Michael Frayn and now Martin McDonagh – all have such brilliant craftsmanship, adroit skill and all are hilarious while being deeply serious. I’ve never got near it in play writing.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m finishing a novella, thinking about rewriting a comedy on incest and am in the throes of a new series of paintings which thrill me for I feel I have been working towards it all my life.
Your views on book publishing?
Deeply worried about it as online publishing seems top have taken over. The new technology is somewhat forbidding for people of my age.
Your views on how new technology has (or has not) changed your writing life?
A computer is wonderful for rewriting which all good writers inevitably have to do. But much of it is a mystery as I have said above.
Your views on social media?
Worrying. It us the lack of privacy that alarms me.
Do you enjoy reading ebooks?
I have not done so, so far.
If you could go anywhere in time for one day, where would you go and why?
Classical Greece, to see and speak with sculptors and philosophers.
Who are the five people, living or dead, you’d invite to a party?
Socrates. Leonardo de Vinci. Mozart. George Eliot. Picasso.
Which characters in history do you like the most?
I’ve always been fascinated by Queen Elizabeth 1, but I would really like to meet and talk with Alfred the Great, for he was so extraordinary, so cultured and civilised in an age not recognized as such.
Which characters in history do you dislike the most?
All the tyrants, dictators, the self-righteous and most of all religious nuts that believe they are doing good by inflicting self-sacrificial cruelty on others.
Your idea of happiness?
Sunny days walking on the south Downs with a lover, but beating that must be the aftermath of perfect love making, oh! ecstatic hours.
Your greatest unhappiness?
Losing my small son to the revengeful bitterness of an ex-wife inflicting rigorous and mean access on us both.
Your bedside reading?
Shakespeare sonnets, Ruth Rendell and Mary Renault.
Your greatest achievement?
Alive and still working.
Your favourite motto?
Sorry, but I don’t have one.
Colin Spencer died in July 2023, condolences to his friends and family. RIP.
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