Duncan Fallowell is an English novelist, travel writer and critic. He has also worked with the German group, Can, on musical projects. How to Disappear: A Memoir for Misfits − described as ‘brilliant and haunting’ by Alan Hollinghurst in the Guardian − won the 2012 PEN Ackerley Prize. Fallowell is at his characteristically provocative and entertaining best in Three Romes. His most recent publication is the long essay, The Rise and Fall of the Celebrity Interview. He has just been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
Your favourite virtue?
Honesty, which is a motive. There is a world of difference between someone trying to be honest and someone trying to deceive. I also admire people who refrain from pontificating on matters of which they are ignorant.
Your favourite qualities in a man?
Your favourite qualities in a woman?
For what faults do have you most tolerance?
Your chief characteristic?
Physical degeneration accompanied by mental agility.
Your main fault?
Waiting in hope.
What you appreciate the most in your friends?
That they are all different.
Your favourite occupation?
Being fitted for trousers.
Your idea of happiness?
Having enough money to get on the Eurostar at St Pancras and just to GO, travelling spontaneously with no schedule, stopping wherever I fancy, starting again, travelling thus, let’s say for a year. I’d have a notebook with me. It would be a fabulous book.
Your greatest misery?
Having no publisher. They’ve blocked me.
Your greatest unhappiness?
My mother’s dementia.
If not yourself, who would you be?
Someone whose surname was Rockefeller, Rothschild, Mellon, Thyssen, or Torlonia, so that I could found an arthouse cinema, an arthouse publisher and a museum. But this means I would not be a writer − and I can’t imagine that.
Where would you like to live?
I’m happy in Notting Hill, but I also want a retreat in Herefordshire, a flat in Paris and landing rights in a Roman Palace.
Your favourite place?
The front steps of a great building I’ve never visited, my heart beating with expectation.
Your least favourite place?
London in a hundred years time when the green belt has been covered with tower blocks.
Your view of marriage?
I don’t impose my views on other people’s personal relationships.
Your view of children?
They must be cuddled and kissed and loved − this new don’t-touch view is terrifying.
Your favourite colour?
You want me to judge the spectrum? I shan’t!
Your favourite flower?
Snowdrop − unobtrusive, elegant, tough.
Your favourite bird?
Used to be the Cockney sparrow but they’ve all disappeared from town.
Your bedside reading?
The Cinema of Parajanov by James Steffen.
Your favourite prose author?
Late Henry James, Annie Proulx, Emile Cioran, Osbert Sitwell in his autobiographies, D.H.Lawrence in his Nottinghamshire settings, Joseph Conrad, Flaubert, Dickens, Gogol, Balzac, Henri Michaux, Ivan Bunin, Anna Kavan, Henry Fielding, Trevor-Roper in his essays, Norman Douglas in Siren Land, Gabriel Garcia Marquez in Autumn of the Patriarch, Gibbon, Somerset Maugham in his short stories and many, many more of course.
Your favourite poet?
Pope, Auden, Baudelaire, Laforgue, Thomas Hardy, Cavafy, Pessoa, Horace, Theocritus, Elizabeth Bishop, Anna Akhmatova, Wallace Stevens, Derek Walcott (when he’s tight), the Byron of Don Juan, Samuel Beckett (not his prose) and many, many more.
Your favourite heroes in fiction?
Some people can rattle off names of countless characters, but I can never remember their names. The ones who aren’t moaners. Triumph without resorting to violence is always attractive.
Your favourite heroines in fiction?
The ones who destroy nasty bullying men.
Your favourite painters?
I’m currently mad about the Fauves and would sell my soul to possess one. The Proust interview doesn’t include film directors of course, so I’ll give you some of my favourites here: Resnais, Fellini, Antonioni, David Lynch, Eric Rohmer, Chabrol, Raoul Ruiz.
Your favourite musicians?
I like all artists, writers and musicians who are original, who add something to their art, as opposed to those who just stir the same old pot. I like every kind of music that’s good of its kind, with the exception of thug mantras and operas with over-screechy sopranos performing in them. Dancing is one of the greatest sources of human happiness.
Your heroes in real life?
Those who defy darkness.
Your favourite heroines in real life?
Those who escape the tribe.
Which characters in history do you like the most?
I think Julius Caesar was absolutely marvellous and I’m very grateful to him for conquering Britain.
Your favourite names?
Valentine, Lysander, Dave, Jack, Raoul, Venetia, Grace, Maud, Alice, Massimo.
What you dislike the most?
Totalitarianism – religious, or political.
Which characters in history do you dislike the most?
I don’t dislike any character in history. They are all fascinating. When they are dead they can do no more direct harm. But the living followers of the dead can be very creepy − one must be wary of them.
The military events you admire the most?
In recent times it would be D-Day.
The reform you admire the most?
Literacy for all.
The natural talent you’d like to be gifted with?
Your views on writing?
Know the rules before you break them. I hate all this expressionist rot about how any old thing will do so long as it’s you. I don’t want to read enfeebled slop. Prolixity is the enemy, but so is a shrunken vocabulary. The deliberate, gloating rejection of literary values by all the main London publishers is one of the cultural tragedies of our time.
How you wish to die?
I’m not wishing anything about it. I’m into survival.
What is your present state of mind?
Your favourite motto?
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