Hi Stewart – you’ve been involved in the arts world in various ways for decades now, there’s just so much that could be asked, about Neoism, about the Situationists, the Art Strike, necrocards, the reactions of far-right Russian groups to your work, your family history, your non-fiction writing on politics, art, psychogeography, cinema, and more … but as an imprint that’s concerned primarily with literature, my intention is to focus on the fiction, and in particular your new book She’s My Witch
(although I have added some interesting links at the bottom of this piece, related to some of the aforementioned things). So …
The new novel focuses on the developing relationship between Martin, a fitness instructor, and Maria, someone who edits videos, uses heroin, and considers herself to be a witch. Maria is an entrancing character, mysterious and passionate. Have you known people who practise witchcraft? How did this operate within their daily lives, and how true to this reality is Maria?
Given the prevalence of witchcraft today I’d have thought you’d have to be pretty cut off from society not to know women involved with it, and maybe some men too. That said, the acquaintances most people will have who are involved with witchcraft probably won’t tell those they think will be judgemental about it, so some won’t know how widespread the practice is. It used to take a while for people to open up and tell me they were witches but especially since I made the visual piece Occult Androgyny which I showed as part of Glasgow International in 2016 and subsequently elsewhere, some women who’ve seen that work will introduce themselves to me so that they can talk about their involvement in witchcraft.
There are often tell-tale signs someone you know is a witch. They will often speak about their interest in astrology, tarot or their psychic powers. An even bigger clue would be if someone told me their new girlfriend was collecting their hair and nail clippings. In She’s My Witch
, Martin doesn’t fully understand how Maria is utilising magic to control and seduce him, some of that is left to the reader to figure out. For example, Martin talks about how sweet Maria is cleaning him up with tissues after he’s come, but at least some of those familiar with magick will figure out she’s harvesting his sperm to use in spells and rituals to bind him to her, just as she might use his hair, nail clippings or blood.
My initial plan when writing the book was to keep things simple by having Maria pretty much stick to folk belief and Wicca when it came to witchcraft. In the past I’ve had good friends who were very straightforward Wiccans but most of the witches I hang out with these days are post-Wiccan. They believe the world has changed since Gerald Gardener laid out his system and so magic needs to change too. I was hanging out with post-Wiccans when I was writing the book and re-reading it recently I realised rather more of their approach to witchcraft has seeped into its pages than I intended. But I’m happy with that because it adds to Maria’s complexity.
The witches I know have the same problems as everyone else, making enough money to pay their rent, health issues, sometimes even addictions of the type Maria suffers from. What makes them stand out from other people is that they tend to be much more imaginative. Some might say that they haven’t lost touch with their childhood personalities but I take a longer historical view of the matter. If you understand a future global communist society as a return at a higher level of primitive communism encompassing both the social organisation and the modes of consciousness of human tribes before the emergence of class divisions, then witchcraft is very much a harbinger of revolutionary changes to come. From a communist perspective, shamanism was very much a reaction against and resistance to the emergence of class society.
Returning to the witches I know, they might ask me to participate in a ritual, since often more than one person is required and not just in the many forms of sex magic - although there are solo forms of that too - they practice. Unsurprisingly among witches who are open with me about their beliefs there are often spontaneous manifestations of their creed. Sometimes I’ll be walking down the street with a witch and she’ll say did you just see that ghost who went past us? Or else we’ll be in a park and the witch I’m with might see a tree and say look at how twisted that trunk is, there’s a lot of energy coming up from that tree, we have to walk clockwise around it. So we’ll walk clockwise around it, spaced so that we can’t see each other because we’re each on opposite sides of the tree. This is how the witches I know behave and to a large extent how I had Maria behave in the book. It isn’t so different from the practices of other people I know, mainly men, who call themselves psychogeographers or even surrealists. Bearing that in mind, among many other things I see She’s My Witch
as correcting at least some of the patriarchal and other ideological faults of Andre Breton’s novel Nadja.
Likewise, Martin isn’t really very far removed from witchcraft with his sports science. Exercise is very much a ritual involving a lot of repetitive moves and sports people talk about going into the zone. The zone is an altered form of consciousness not dissimilar to those you get from practicing witchcraft and it also relates to the experience of subspace in BDSM. As well as witches, I have quite a few friends who are personal trainers but I haven’t yet come across anyone who is both as long as yoga teachers are discounted. So Martin accurately reflects the life of a personal trainer, although most personal trainers I know have at least one or two regular gym classes a week alongside individual clients. I didn’t give Martin regular gym classes because I wanted pauses in the physical relationship between him and Maria in order to move more quickly and easily through the three and a half year time frame I was covering. Providing Martin with very rich clients who wanted him to go abroad with them regularly enabled me to put that in place. Some trainers I know have been taken abroad by their wealthy clients, but not to the extent Martin goes on trips with his in my novel, and this would have been more tricky if he’d had regular gym classes to teach.
Both Martin and Maria reflect the social realities of people I know who lived in London in the period I’m writing about, 2011 to 2014. I’ve had plenty of friends with drug addictions like Maria. I also have friends who work as professional dominatrixes and recently I’ve been working on cultural projects with femdom artist and suspension bondage mistress Itziar Bilbao Urrutia. We should have had an exhibition together in London called Sexus Maleficarum in April but it was delayed by the pandemic. An online version of it will appear soon via the Hackney based Darling Pearls & Co Gallery.
So much of Maria’s thoughts and aspirations is related to her belief in Martin being her ‘psychic twin’, and the potential for them to use sex and domination to take them towards forming a kind of hermaphrodite entity together. She constantly speaks of reincarnation and predestination, yet her drug use often impedes this life with Martin. Was this important for the novel – to ground spirituality and mysticism within contemporary reality and the flaws & limitations of ordinary people?
Witches and dominatrixes - and Maria in the novel has been both - have all these fantasies projected onto them by others, most usually men, who want to believe they spend all their time either naked doing sex magic or dressed from head to toe in latex while beating their subs. If you stop and think about it, then it’s obvious that both witches and dominatrixes spend most of their time doing the same things as everyone else, sleeping, eating, cooking, cleaning, watching TV etc. There are only ordinary people in this world and the main reality we experience is the contemporary and impoverishing one of capitalism. So I wanted Maria and Martin to have lots of flaws to reflect this reality. I didn’t want anyone not already active in a coven or whatever reading the book and thinking that spirituality and mysticism are something that only supposedly ‘superior’ people engage with. If you think of witchcraft as being about altered modes of consciousness then that’s something we all need to get into in order to extract ourselves from the shit storm that is our contemporary world.
The dominatrixes I know spend far more time doing DIY than tying up submissive men and pegging them. Likewise the witches to be found among my friends are probably as involved in community struggles against gentrification as occult rituals, and sometimes both at once. A few years ago I mentioned to a friend that I was going to hex a local ghost flat development as a stunt to get some press coverage of opposition to it. She asked if I had a coven involved and when I said no she told me that wasn’t good enough and that if I was going to hex luxury flats and other neo-liberal property developments I had to do it for real and not just as a stunt When I told this activist friend about my plan I didn’t even know she was a witch, but she got her coven to create a cone of power as we did the demo. There’s a video version of the event including some TV coverage of it here on my YouTube channel: click here to view
I don’t think I’ve read another book that has utilised social media in such a straightforward (yet creative) way. Much of the novel is a dialogue taking place via Facebook messages, yet it’s clear from how this form is used that it enables certain textual effects – there is very little explaining shifts in time to the reader, very little mundane narration – it’s as if their worlds only really exist in relation to each other, the story is only happening when they are in contact. Is She’s My Witch
partly an exploration of how different mediums can shape personalities and relationships? Do you think it’s naïve for writers to still ignore social media in their fiction?
I’ve never really liked the bourgeois literary novel that emerged in its perfected form in the nineteenth-century and whose greatest exponents were the likes of Dickens, Austen and Hardy. Modernism broke with that tradition but then eighteenth-century and earlier literature that pre-dates the perfected bourgeois novel can also become a vehicle for moving on and away from it. So I was thinking dialectically about detouring from the bourgeois novel when I was planning She’s My Witch
. You could see my new book as continuing and expanding a trajectory of epistolary novels like Pamela, Clarissa and The History of Sir Charles Grandison all by Samuel Richardson, or the equally problematic Aline et Valcour by the Marquis de Sade. Given I was writing a 21st century novel a lot of the communication was inevitably by social media. The speed of that medium does shape the relationship between Maria and Martin, and their love affair transforms them both.
I started work on the book in the summer of 2014 which is why I decided to end the narrative then. However there were a lot of interruptions and distractions, including editing the last two novels in the Semina experimental fiction series I did for Book Works. Anyway in 2016 Iphgenia Baal came to me with Merced Es Benz. It was a dream for me to edit this manuscript because it had some similarities to She’s My Witch
in that there were a lot of social media and text message exchanges, in the first draft I saw these were mixed with journal entries. Merced Es Benz is also a relationship story but in this instance it’s the male who has the drug issues and the central characters are younger than mine and from much wealthier social backgrounds. Their love affair is also more dysfunctional than Martin and Maria’s.
I sent the first draft I saw back to Iphgenia saying cut the journal stuff completely or break it up more, and figure out how much of the time and date and other header info you want on the social media messages. I also had something to say about the timeline. I didn’t need to say much because Iphgenia is a great writer and a very good editor of her own work. A much improved draft came back and after that we went through a couple more with me not having to say much and Iphgenia doing all the hard graft. Being the editor on Merced Es Benz really helped clarify my ideas for She’s My Witch
, which in its first draft was far too long, it was considerably more than twice the length of the published book.
Basically I did with my own book what I encouraged Iphgenia to do with hers, cut it back. My own Semina series novel Blood Rites of the Bourgeoisie was published in 2010 and also deployed social media messaging as a narrative technique, alongside modified email spam. As an aside, HOE# 999: Decennial Appreciation and Celebratory Analysis by Jarett Kobek - which also appeared in my Semina series in 2010 - explores the online culture that immediately preceded social media. Jarett generated the text for this book by sending his own teenage textfiles - the electronic equivalent of fanzines - to an essay farm for appraisal and he then added editorial commentary of his own too. I’m not really sure why more writers don’t use social media within their fiction when it’s such a big part of most people’s lives now. Three of the nine books in the Semina series I commissioned and edited for Book Works - including my own - had a major online element. I’d have probably included more if any others had been submitted but out of about a thousand applications in total to my open submission calls, I don’t remember any others that dealt with the online world.
The web has transformed the world in many ways and to focus in on one example, it has revolutionised our sex lives. It’s now possible to explore online all sorts of sexual practices that were unknown or inaccessible to many before the rise of social media. I’ve tried to illustrate that with a story I’ve just written for your The Middle Of A Sentence
anthology called 'A Hypno Kink Princess'. There wouldn’t have been the on and offline explosion of erotic hypnotism in recent years without social media and in particular video platforms and camming. Hypno kink is just one of many examples of ‘niche’ sexual interests in this area we could explore. I find Hypno kink particularly curious both because of the way it can be combined with so many different BDSM activities and because of how many sex platforms and camming sites ban it.
I’m dealing obliquely with the consent issues related to hypno kink in She’s My Witch
. Although Martin certainly doesn’t realise the extent to which Maria is using both witchcraft and psychology to seduce him, I trust most readers will see past his blind spots on this because there are plenty of clues that Maria is interested in the practical application of psychology and mind control in order to improve her daily life and cement her relationship with Martin. That said, while lots of people are attracted to such techniques and books on pop psychology are often bestsellers, how effective such tricks actually are is open to debate. We’re talking about everything here from How To Win Friends And Influence People through to army psy-ops manuals like General Sir Frank Kitson’s Low Intensity Operations.
I’d like to stress that when Maria applies these psychological tricks and mind control techniques to Martin her intention is to promote love and happiness for both of them. While Maria wants to bind Martin to her so that he’ll surrender his gender, she does this out of love and wants her ‘psychic twin’ to be happy. Likewise, Martin also uses deception at times. Knowing Maria is habitually late, when they need to meet at Euston station to catch a train he tells her the departure time is earlier than it actually is, to ensure she’s there when he needs her to be there.
On page 111 of the novel, Maria says: “It isn’t that I hate politics, I just know that if I involved myself with the issues of the day I’d end up becoming a terrorist out of my frustration at the way the world is”, and at another point, she refers to herself as “radically apolitical”. Do you consider this as a valid position to take? Why do you think Maria feels this and is her disavowal a form of her weakness or a meaningful alternative to participation in this political system?
Maria’s responses are valid from an emotional perspective and human beings are emotional as well as rational. That said, in this world everything is political so you can’t really avoid politics but abstentionism has also been a tactic of the communist left. However, Maria is advocating abstentionism as a means of survival and not as part of a communist programme aimed at human emancipation. She has an occult programme for that, which does ultimately link up with the communist programme, as Martin points out a few times in the novel. If you mentioned Amadeo Bordiga to Maria she wouldn’t know who or what you were talking about and certainly wouldn’t be familiar with, for example, the Theses of the Abstentionist Communist Faction of the Italian Socialist Party of 1920 ((it isn’t likely Martin would know these either). Likewise the terrorism Maria says she would fall into if she involved herself in politics is vanguardist and not something that would attract consideration from someone committed to the programme of the communist left. Nonetheless I don’t see this advocacy of non-participation as a weakness on Maria’s part - striking is also a form of non-participation - all things considered it is probably a better response to capitalism than the nihilistic and romantic gestural politics she very consciously understands attract her but that she’s rejected. She may not be a perfect anti-capitalist - who is? - but with her witchcraft and animal rights stands she’s a better one than she would be if she involved herself in a terrorist group.
I believe it’s fair to say two of the defining features of your fiction have been an intentional lack of character development (in a great interview I read from 1994, you called your characters “cardboard cut-outs”), and the prevalence of purposefully sterile and repetitive sex scenes (being adapted from and playing on pulp novels of the 1970’s). It seems to me that in She’s My Witch
(and some of your other books since the turn of the century) that whereas the sex scenes have persisted, you have started to place more importance on characterisation. Martin’s detached and delusional passivity frustrated me, and Maria is so far from a ‘cut-out’… or am I reading too much into them? Has your position on this changed across your writing career?
I think my writing has evolved in different ways at different times. The style I initially became known for begins with the short stories that were later anthologised alongside other stuff in the No Pity collection. These took off from British youth culture pulp fiction but with this material re-read through the prism of 20th century modernism and post-modernism, and in particular Alain Robbe-Grillet, but refracted especially through Jean Baudrillard’s post-modern theoretical writings on simulation. So whereas surrealist and nouveau roman writers incorporated elements of pulp prose into their highbrow constructions, I wanted to simulate the pulp novel by taking the type of repetition you find in the work of lowbrow genre hacks spread across many books and hundreds of thousands of words but collapse that into a single work of around sixty thousand words. This meant repeating words and phrases, particularly those associated with sex and violence - and indeed whole scenes of sex and violence - in a single book rather than across books.
My intransigent use of repetition was intended to deconstruct the pulp narratives I was plundering. I wrote five novels in the third person in this style, Pure Mania, Defiant Pose, Red London, Blow Job and Slow Death. The middle three I consider to be a conceptual trilogy about the limitations of ideological extremism, because - among other things - such extremism is relational and not rational. These are the novels in which I wanted the ciphers who populated them to be cardboard cut-outs rather than characters. It would have been funny to carry on producing pretty much the same book almost indefinitely and infinitely but I chose not to do so. Come Before Christ & Murder Love, the sixth novel I wrote - the books weren’t published in the order I wrote them - was narrated in a non-linear fashion and in the first person by a schizophrenic whom became a different character every time he had an orgasm. The occult and mind control elements of this book are reprised in some of my later novels including She’s My Witch
. Although characterisation wasn’t important to Come Before Christ, neither did it feature a cardboard cut-out narrator since schizophrenia - even if it is only being simulated - produces something more complex than that.
The first book I produced in which character is important is my eleventh novel Tainted Love, which is a fictionalised version of my mother’s life in which she’s called Jilly rather than Julia. Jilly narrates it in the first person, Jilly, like Maria in She’s My Witch
, is deeply immersed in mysticism, is addicted to heroin and makes money as a sex worker. Jilly - like my mother - was born in the mid-1940s in South Wales, whereas Maria is born in outside Valencia in the late-1960s. So each of these two novels is focused on a woman with a very similar trajectory but a generation apart. Thus while Jilly gets into Subud and then Hindu gurus, Maria involves herself in witchcraft. Jilly is a beatnik-cum-hippie, Maria a punk rocker. Jilly is a high-class hostess, Maria a dominatrix. Both end up in London and both are complex characters.
I’m still proud of my earlier books but they were short and comic and in the third person. I intended them to be cartoon like. Characterisation isn’t crucial to all my mostly first person novels written between the later 1990s and now, but I’m not a pulp novelist and it isn’t realistic to expect my sixteenth novel to work strictly with the same ideas as the first - especially considering there’s a gap of 31 years separating their respective publications! She’s My Witch
is more or less twice as long as each of my first five novels so just that extra length on its own would force changes of emphasis and structure.
I didn’t want Maria to be a cardboard cut-out. She’s the central subject of She’s My Witch
and that’s one of the reasons why Martin is more detached, to move attention away from him despite the fact he’s the narrator. Maria is charming and intelligent but her plans and schemes are continually sabotaged by her addictions. She’s a complex character with an extraordinary backstory and She’s My Witch
is in some ways the tale of her brave struggle to deal with and get over the trauma of being raped by a stranger as a small child. But at the same time she is so much more than a victim of abuse.
Maria has very intentionally set out to seduce and mesmerise Martin. He never realises the lengths Maria has gone to in her efforts to bind him to her, even when at the end of the book he learns she’s printed out and preserved all their social media conversations. I wouldn’t say Martin is delusional, just deeply in love with Maria and to bust out that old cliché - and I love clichés - love is blind. Maria has more cunning than Martin, and he doesn’t quite share her deep feminine belief in the power of education and knowledge.
To conclude the issue, you’re absolutely right to think what I had to say about my earlier novels doesn’t apply to some of the more recent ones! As Gene October sang on the second Chelsea single High Rise Living back in 1977, “times change and we change too…”
I’m aware that sound is very important to you as a writer – both the sound for the reader as they absorb the words within themselves, and for your own vocal recitals of your work. Was this again a significant part of the creation of She’s My Witch
? Did you vocalize sections of the book as you wrote in order to arrive at the right expression for each of the voices?
Yes. I always subvocalise everything, fiction, non-fiction, it doesn’t matter, I’m obsessed with sound, so I can’t stop myself doing it and I wouldn’t want to in any case. There are a lot of well-regarded literary writers who I can’t stand because you can tell they don’t care how what they write sounds, it’s just there, flat on the page. In terms of She’s My Witch
, Martin’s voice was easy, it was just my standard fairly blank male narrator but Maria was more difficult. She was a working class woman who’d learned English after arriving in London as an adult. Clearly if I was going to make her speech realistic it was going to be heavily accented and contain lots of Spanish language grammatical constructions. To me that didn’t read well so I went for good English rather than realism, with the odd Spanish word or phrase thrown in here and there.
I think many people who write (myself included) are subject to the ‘anxiety of influence’, and shy away from ever consciously writing in a style similar to the artists they love. It was refreshing and even exciting when I first saw you speak quite passionately about allowing sequences of writing by Ann Quin or certain song rhythms and lyrics to filter into your work. I’ve seen you cite Beckett, Trocchi, Burroughs, Robbe-Grillet as artists whose work you admire. Were there any conscious influences at play in the prose of She’s My Witch
? I read recently that Beckett stopped reading Kafka’s The Castle because he was worried about it impacting upon his fiction – do you understand that impulse, or will you always embrace such influences?
I’m always happy to invite other writing and writers into my texts, it makes my work richer and even more intertextual. However with She’s My Witch
I wasn’t particularly drawing on other books. Of course, like many of my novels the title of She’s My Witch
comes from a song, in this case Kip Tyler’s 1958 rockabilly classic of that name. But in the past I’ve done much more than just use song titles, I’ll quite happily lift whole passages and even more from other people’s works and place them in my own books. Given that collage and bricolage are such a huge element of modernist and post-modern culture, it seems like it’s been the most sensible way to approach writing for well over a hundred years. And of course it isn’t just me who does this, for example, Kathy Acker was also famous for it. My ninth novel Whips & Furs was a detourned work with a structure based on Alex Trocchi’s faked fifth volume of Frank Harris’s My Life & Loves. I plundered much of the content from Grant Allen’s Victorian detective work An African Millionaire, but cut it with Victorian porn in the form of The Lustful Turk. These earlier works were then re-written to be the true story of Jesus Christ. I thought that one was better than The Bible!
To give a very different example of absorbing influence, my fifteenth novel The 9 Lives Of Ray The Cat Jones is based on the criminal career of my mother’s cousin and told in the fictional first person by him. For me it was a vehicle to explore the true crime genre and I read hundreds of such books to get the tone right, although I wasn’t literally plundering them to use as text. Ray Jones came up to London from South Wales before World War II and was a cat burglar but his best known escapade was a successful escape from Pentonville Prison in 1958. While character is important in this book, as I’ve indicated what I also wanted to do was explore the fictional nature and ideological construction of the often ghosted criminal autobiographies that have been popular for hundreds of years, from the Elizabethan cony-catching pamphlet on down. Although I call 9 Lives a novel, it is probably a good deal less fictional than many of the supposedly non-fictional ghosted books in the genre it is deconstructing. It also stands out among my novels for being almost entirely bereft of sex scenes but then that reflects an overall trend in the genre it was mimicking.
I don’t really understand why anyone would subject themselves to anxieties about influence. When I’m training for sports I watch what other people do and incorporate it into my routines, so why not do the same with writing? For me it’s the ultimate result that matters not how this is achieved. It just seems really pointless to be hung up on not letting others give you a leg up with your writing and wanting to be ‘original’. Of course anyone genuinely original won’t be understood coz they’ll have to make up a whole new language - they wouldn’t be writing in English or Spanish or whatever language they happened to speaking growing up. There seems to be less anxiety about influence in the worlds of art and popular culture than the literary world.
In an interview in 2006, you said the following with reference to your novel, ‘69 Things To Do With A Dead Princess’: “Dead Princess sells because people who grew up on fifties and sixties experimental writing (a lot of whom weren’t born until the sixties and even seventies) aren’t at all well served by the publishing industry these days … There is still a lot of interest in non-narrative literary explorations, but most publishers just won’t cater for it. Therefore if you can sneak a book into print that doesn’t patronise the reader, doesn’t assume they are thick, then despite the fact that according to the those running publishing houses it is ‘uncommercial’, it is potentially an extremely commercial proposition, if it’s well done – and Dead Princess is very well done – because there is absolutely no contemporary competition.” Do you think this situation has changed at all in the fourteen years since? Is there still the same interest in non-narrative literary explorations? Are the people interested in experimental writing still not being well served? Or do you feel there are more experimental writers in that 50’s/60’s mould at work now, and more publishers open to such books?
I think publishing has changed massively since Dead Princess came out. All book titles across the board - with a tiny handful of exceptions - sell less and there are far more titles being published. Alongside social media, podcasts and platforms such as Netflix, print on demand, eBooks and bootleg pdfs have changed everything. The words you quote from me come from a different era and don’t apply to today. Since I said that we’ve seen a massive revival of Ann Quin, which is great because I’ve loved her writing since I was a teen - and there are a lot more people writing in experimental ways getting published on micro-imprints today. So the interest in new modes of writing is still there but the major publishers aren’t going to cater for it. The big publishers have become more conservative and even more irrelevant. There is more interesting writing about now but it’s not going to be found in the shrinking ‘mainstream’. In terms of contemporary culture, the gatekeepers really don’t matter much anymore, since virtually everything now exists beyond the gates they guard and there’s nothing but a wasteland behind them.
You were the Creative Writing Fellow at Strathclyde Uni the year after I had left (2006). How was that experience? As someone who has always lived in the great city of London, what was your impression of Glasgow? Did you come to know more Scottish writers and more about the literature of Glasgow when you were here?
I first visited Glasgow in 1985 and was impressed to see a Ralph Rumney show at Transmissions Gallery, since this was his first one person exhibition in about 25 years, his previous one had been before I was born! At that time I was deeply interested in him and his work. Soon after I developed friendships with several members of the Transmission board of the time - especially Jayne Taylor, Carol Rhodes, Malcolm Dickson, Gordon Muir and Billy Clarke. I did shows and events at Transmission sporadically from 1987 onwards. From the mid-eighties on I made a lot of friends in Glasgow and spent a lot of time there.
A lot of scenes in Glasgow at that time intersected and my initial contact with people in Glasgow was through the libertarian communist magazine Here & Now, and then the art magazine Variant. These scenes crossed over in things like the Glasgow Free University and the Edinburgh Review Encyclopedia group; I was more involved with the latter because it would meet in London and also had strong connections to Glasgow despite its name. In the 1990s I retained these contacts but also became close to groups like the Workshop for a Non-Linear Architecture, who had a section in Glasgow. More recently I’ve been lucky enough to work with the wonderful Queens Park Railway Club and did a solo show there called Re-Enter The Dragon for Glasgow International. Much of the research work on that show formed the basis for the non-fiction book I published with Ledatape in 2018 called Re-Enter The Dragon: Genre Theory, Brucesploitation and the Sleazy Joys of Lowbrow Cinema. As already mentioned, as part of my Glasgow International show at Queens Park I also included a morph series entitled Occult Androgyny.
I already knew a lot of Glasgow writers before I did the writer-in-residence at Strathclyde. Peter Kravitz who signed my first novel to the Edinburgh publisher Polygon in 1988 (it was published the following year) lived in Glasgow then and was possibly the first person to introduce me to the likes of Tom Leonard and James Kelman, although I only ever met them down the pub at that time. The drinker was generally one in Woodlands Road or somewhere nearby. Carol Rhodes was for a time lodging with Alasdair Gray, doing part time secretarial work for him as well as her own painting and her many activist pursuits , so I got to see him in his home environment. I did once stay with Carol but that wasn’t when she was lodging with Gray,
in the eighties I most often used to stay with artist Jayne Taylor in Charing X. I’d read her Glasgow books when I was at her flat. If I didn’t finish them she’d let me take them away and return them next time I saw her, I definitely read her copy of A Glasgow Gang Observed by James Patrick when that book was hard to find, and while it was easier to pick up I may have read Jayne’s copy of the Gorbals novel No Mean City by H. Kingsley Long and Alexander McArthur. Back then she lived right next to the Mitchell Library, so I could also pop in there and look at stuff. More recently when I’ve been in Glasgow I’ve tended to stay with the DJ Guy Veale, and he hosted me in his west end flat when I was doing the writer-in-residence at Strathclyde - but many other people have put me up in Glasgow over the years including the artist Kenny Murphy-Roud and activist Keith Millar.
Back in the day I was also friendly with some other contemporary Glasgow writers I haven’t mentioned yet because they didn’t really intersect with the scene I’ve been describing. I haven’t had so much contact with Barry Graham since he went to the US and became a Zen monk but we were close before that. We’ve exchanged the odd email since he moved back to Glasgow quite a few years ago now but I haven’t met up with him for years. His novel The Book of Man is a great Trocchi parody. I also got to know Tommy Udo very well in the 1990s, but he’d been living in London for years by then. Tommy started off as a guitarist in Glasgow band The Jolt but quit before they signed a record contract and he made his mark as a music journalist, but he did publish the novel Vatican Bloodbath.
So I was personally familiar with a lot of Glasgow writers before doing the Strathclyde residence. I did get to meet Zoë Wicomb who I’d not encountered before, she’s great. Tim Fountain was another writer I met who was working at Strathclyde when I was there although he’s English. I also met Rodge Glass who took over from me as writer-in-residence and had previously studied at Strathclyde and worked as a secretary for Alasdair Gray, but again he’s English. I was also very impressed with the head of department Jonathan Hope’s no-bullshit approach to teaching English and we had a lot of conversations about both music and literature. There were a lot of great students there too, ordinary kids struggling to pay their way through college and open to trying different approaches to writing. It was good although generally I don’t like to do long stints in institutions, I did two six month sessions with a six month break in between at Strathclyde, which is longer than any other university or art college residency I’ve done. Strathclyde and Glasgow worked very well for me.
During my time at Strathclyde more of my out of office hours were spent talking about music than writing and I had a total groove going to clubs like Divine! and Optimo. I had to restrict my visits to the Banana Leaf - the best Indian restaurant in Scotland - to once a week in order to avoid getting really fat. I’ve long thought Glasgow is the best city in the UK after London, yeah I know I’m biased, I was born in London! But Glasgow is great and I like a lot of other Scottish cities too. Dead Princess is set in Aberdeen and despite what the narrator says about Dundee in Dead Princess, I really love Dundee too. I spent a lot of time in Dundee in the 1980s working on projects with the artist Pete Horobin. I’d also often go and stay with the painter Karen Strang in Stirling back then.
Usually I ask what someone is working on at this point in the interview, but as you’ve only just released a novel within the last month or so, I’d imagine you’re taking a well-earned break. What does the future hold; do you have other novels in mind already that you intend to write?
The next published book will be an anthology of horror stories I’ve edited that are set in a London ghost home development of luxury flats aimed at investors. Writers with pieces in it include Paul Ewen, Iphgenia Baal, Christ Petit, Tariq Goddard, Steve Findow, John King, Chloe Aridjis, Tom McCarthy, Katrina Palmer, Bridget Penney and me. It’s a new take on the haunted house story that uses it as a vehicle for social protest. This anthology is called Denizen of the Dead and will be out with Cripplegate Books in a few weeks. The idea is to make publication coincide with the completion of the apartment block the stories are set in. The developers seem to be slightly behind schedule and while a lot of the scaffolding is down, the crane is still up, so I think they’ll still be a few weeks yet.
I’ve finished another novel called Art School Daze, a BDSM extravaganza set in the London of sixty years ago just before it started really swinging - but I’m in no hurry to get it published. Art School Daze was started before She’s My Witch
but finished after it, just as She’s My Witch
was started before Re-Enter The Dragon but was finished after that book. I was also working on the Denizen of the Dead anthology before I’d finished writing Re-Enter The Dragon or She’s My Witch
. It used to be that my books sometimes got published out of order but were written one after the other, now the chronology gets even more jumbled up!
I’ve also done a lot of research into and writing on Eurosleaze films, as well as yoga and other forms of what I call esoteric exercise. By the latter I mean things like tai chi and ki aikido and more obscure stuff including Chinese wand exercises and Frank Rudolph Young’s bodybuilding programmes. However none of this has been completely formulated into finished books yet. But in the future I’d expect to be publishing at least something related to Eurosleaze cinema and a book on esoteric exercise or perhaps more specifically yoga.
There are a lot of great songs and a lot of kung-fu movies mentioned in She’s My Witch
. If you had to recommend a few of each to interested readers, which would they be?
I think for kung fu films it would have to be two of the Jimmy Wang-Yu vehicles I mention, Master Of The Flying Guillotine and The Man From Hong Kong. Wang-Yu was the big action star in Hong Kong before Bruce Lee. He made his name as an actor with the One-Armed Swordsman series for Shaw Brothers. Master Of The Flying Guillotine is a continuation of Wang-Yu’s one-armed fighter theme in the form of the one-armed boxer and with a kraut rock soundtrack. Man From Hong Kong was made in Australia and directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith and it also features a post-Bond George Lazenby - it doesn’t Hollywoodize the kung fu flick as much as Enter The Dragon, and I’d say it is a better. I much prefer Bruce Lee’s proper Hong Kong vehicles like Fist of Fury to Enter The Dragon!
I mention a lot of Spanish horror films as well as martial arts movies and many of those are well worth checking out, especially Cannibal Man directed by Eloy de la Iglesia, Tombs of the Blind Dead directed by Amando de Ossorio, Werewolf Shadow directed by León Klimovsk, and of course the prolific Jess Franco. The latter gets mentioned a lot but mostly because Maria is watching his movies as they arrive in the post individually but randomly plucked from box sets via LoveFilm. If you’ve never watched a Franco movie try Succubus which isn’t referenced in She’s My Witch
but is a lot better than the stuff from the humorously ‘random’ selection of his later films in the book.
Aside from the one it takes its title from, the key song in She’s My Witch
is the southern soul classic You Got To Crawl To Me by Johnny Davis, Although Martin doesn’t like What’s This Shit Called Love by The Pagans I think that’s the punk number I’d go for from the book. For original era mod Any More Than I Do by The Attack. And because I mentioned them earlier, I Can’t Wait by Glasgow mod revival band The Jolt. And I have to have something by The Heartbreakers coz Billy Rath appears in the book, so that needs to be Born To Lose.
Also given that the entire novel is structured around the tarot and many different tarot packs are mentioned, it feels like I should recommend a deck. I’ll be really boring and recommend the Rider-Waite-Smith, the most famous occult pack, because it’s easy to obtain and easy to read, even if Martin after initiation into occult practices has a slightly snobby preference for the much harder to read Tarot de Marseilles and Maria is obsessed by the ultra-gothic Giger Tarot. I’ll also point out that even for those who have no supernatural beliefs, occult divination methods can still be useful as decision aids. If I’m stuck on a choice I have to make I’ll often pull out a tarot deck and use it to help me work out what’s going on in my head. Reading tarot cards is intuitive and as far as I’m concerned there are no hard and fast rules, what you think the card or cards you’ve pulled mean is what they mean, it is subjective. I’m not keen on tarot interpretation books but they can be helpful for beginners, Sometimes just pulling a single card will give you the answer you want, and of course there are many many more complex spreads. It isn’t difficult to read tarot cards, it just takes a little imagination. ●