Q&A with writer DBC Pierre
Edward O'Hare speaks to writer DBC Pierre at the Cúirt Literature Festival in Galway.
During your adventures, did you develop a philosophy of life?
I came to an understanding that there seems to be an energy in people – we are not divided by race or religion but by how we use this energy, either creatively for good or for evil to destroy. I had a demonic energy and I realised that this could become a positive energy.
Is that why you decided to take up writing?
I took up writing more by accident than anything else. I was in a state of absolute desperation at the end of the 1990s. I wanted to do something creative but I was too poor to afford the materials. Not too long into it I realised these pages could be used to produce great things.
The majority of modern fiction is dull and emotionally uninvolving. Do you make an effort to break the usual conventions of the novel?
I think I've tried to do that more now than ever before in [DBC's latest novel] Ludmilla's Broken English. I am in the unusual position that I'm not an especially well read person – I still don't know what the state of English literature is. I wrote my first book for myself. It was this huge eruption of feelings I had. After the Booker I had to make some decisions – I wasn't going to just sit back and capitalise on what I had done. I know now that novels have work to do – they are there to subvert.
Your first novel,Vernon God Little, was a fantastic sucess both critically and commercially. Did you ever imagine it would have this universal appeal?
None at all. I had no idea how it was going to be received. I thought that if it was going to be read by anyone at all it would be 17 year old American boys. I am still astonished at the range of people who have connected with it. I have met priests who loved Vernon and yet there was a group of convicts in a prison in England who gave it up because they found it too profane. They must have been born-again Christians.
In researching Ludmilla, you travelled to Armenia. What did you dicover there?
I learned from the trip that I could not realistically depict it in a work fiction. What happens in that country is far too brutal. All I can do is give readers a taste of how hard and terrible life is for them. It is such a shame because the Armenians are people of great dignity and beauty.
Since the 9/11 attacks the world seems to have become a caricature of itself. This gives a writer plenty of material but does it also make writing satire difficult?
I remember someone once said that we had actually reached the stage where satire was impossible. That was just after Henry Kissinger was given the Nobel Prize. That is why with Ludmilla I made a conscious decision not to even try to make the whole thing plausible. It's a new form of fiction – I call it realism.
In Ludmilla's Broken English Britain seems about to become a police State. Do you think this will happen in reality?
There is a definite breed of new fascism. It's now a crime to sympathise with terrorists in any way. This makes no sense. I wrote a terrorist book, just for a laugh; it was never published. It was about this group of Pakistanis who are being watched by the State. It turns out that the real terrorists are the old ladies who run the charity shop next door. The next decade will prove the turning point – we shall see the pendulum swing the whole way.
Do you think that any writer who explores modern civilisation inevitably has to face some dark questions?
The world is dark but if it were not, it wouldn't be nearly as funny. As a race, we are weak and whimsical and wonderful. We are glorious when we are dreaming but we have a terrible capacity to take ourselves too seriously – this leads to darkness.
At the Cúirt Festival you are taking creative writing workshops. What is it like to teach potential writers?
All that I can bring to these classes is my own experience. I teach them the basic, practical things like structuring – all the things that I found a nightmare. I wrote Vernon very quickly but it took me two years to turn it into a novel.
Your life has taken so many unexpected turns. Do you ever feel that fate is playing some kind of game with you?
There were moments in it all where I felt that I was singled out. At other times I invited myself into hell to see if it would make me an artist. As for whether I want the challenge of destiny, of course I do. For the first time I want to flap my wings and really do something with my energy. I promise this to my readers. No more concessions – just a reckless, mad rush of an odyssey into hell.p