I’ve been aware of D M Mitchell for longer than I’d first realised. As an obsessive fan of both Burroughs and Swans / Michael Gira, I picked up a copy of The Starry Wisdom in the late 90s without really paying all that much attention to the editor. Some years later, bantering over Stewart Home’s ‘Mister Trippy’ blog on MySpace, which was a real headfuck, as anyone who was there will surely agree, I didn’t immediately make the connection that one of the more vocal posters was the same guy whose book I had in a pile just a couple of feet to my left. Anyway, D M Mitchell has been an inspiration and a most encouraging supporter of my work since then, so it perhaps goes without saying that I was delighted when he agreed to provide a piece for the Clinical, Brutal anthology. The time seemed right to put a few questions to him.
CN: First off, I’d like to say a huge thank you for contributing to the Clinical, Brutal… anthology. ‘The Wild Hunt’ is a pretty warped and intense piece, and in many ways, at least to me, seems pretty well representative of your work. I know – and it’s fairly apparent – that you draw on a lot of less mainstream and, for wont of a better word, more ‘alternative’ (i.e. good) sci-fi writing and writers like Burroughs (who’s arguably a sci-fi writer too). But where do your ideas come from? What inspires you to write?
DMM: Thank you, Chris, for inviting me to submit something. I’m not exactly over-represented in the world of literature. It’s partly laziness on my side that I’ve not had much published. Once I’ve finished with the writing, I just find it too much of a pain to try touting it around – not that I feel as though there’s anything vulgar about that. I’m as shameless as the next writer (and writers are a pretty shameless, scroungy lot in my experience) but I just cant get my head around the process of trying to ‘sell’ my work. When I look at it I think ‘now why would anyone want to read this?’ and usually end up deciding that they wouldn’t. I’m really what you would call a dilettante and proud of it. I have no aspirations to be taken seriously as a writer, no interest in having a public persona. I suppose I write mostly for my own amusement and the only projects that I ever really develop are ones that amuse and surprise me. That’s awful, I know, but it’s the truth.
‘The Wild Hunt’ is part of a bigger work in progress – stuff I’ve been writing for almost a decade and patching together. The idea was to make one big novel (or anti-novel) out of all these bits and pieces of experimenting, but about three very distinct storylines began to develop so it all might end up mutating into a trilogy of sorts. Maybe after that I’ll write a ‘prequel’ and turn it in to a ‘quadrilogy’. (you cant see me but I’m laughing)
Truth is, my ideas come from other people’s writing plus lots of weird shit that has happened in my life over the years. I just take whatever appeals to me and collage it all together. And ex-friend of mine recently called me (as part of a tirade against me) a ‘rip-off jerk’ regarding my Lovecraft anthologies. Well, thanks to him I now know what to put under ‘profession’ on my next passport. I think I might even get a t-shirt printed up with that as the slogan.
In terms of writers who have influenced me – well, without trying to sound pretentious (but probably failing horribly), everything I’ve ever read has influenced me in some way, the stuff I’ve disliked as much as the opposite. I recently re-read a piece of writing I’d done a few years back, which I thought was influenced by Phillip Jose Farmer and I actually saw Stephen King in there. It was quite a surprise and it made me realise that a lot of us claim people as influences that we think will make us look cool or profound, but which more than likely we have no real interest in. We put these little ‘Desert Island’ lists together as though they’re credentials of some sort. In reality we all have these guilty pleasures that we don’t like to own up to.
CN: There’s also a dream-like – or perhaps more accurately, a nightmarish – quality to your writing. Do you use dreams as source material at all?
DMM: Dreams are very important to all of us. We spend a huge proportion of our life dreaming. And if we are deprived of dream-sleep for too long a time, we get sick and die. So it’s a large part of our being – and the dreaming state is constantly running underneath our waking consciousness, like a subtext. It’s good if you can condition yourself to tune into it.
I am one of those sad individuals who keeps a dream diary. When I first started doing it back in the early 80s, not many people were into it, nowadays everyone and his goldfish keeps a record of their dreams and feels no compunction about boring everyone else silly with it.
In answer to the second part of the question – yes, a lot of my own dreams go into the stuff I write, sometimes blended in and sometimes simply transcribed from the diary in a raw form.
CN: What started you writing in the first place?
DMM: Jeez, I can’t remember. I’m awful on stuff like that. I can’t remember my first gig, first time I was drunk – cant even remember losing my virginity or with whom that happened. Not sure if that’s the result of taking too many drugs during periods of my life or if these weird head games have really overwritten the way my brain processes information.
I know I was experimenting with music for a long time before I decided to start writing and maybe attempting to write lyrics spilled over into writing as a distinct discipline, but it’s all such a jumble – the inside of my head is a bit like Steptoe’s living room. There’s a big stuffed bear in one corner and a skeleton hanging up in another…
CN: The anthology gathers a fairly disparate array of authors, all with quite different and highly individual styles under the umbrella of ‘clinical brutality.’ This was pretty much as I’d expected, and hoped – i.e. to show different interpretations of the theme. What does the concept of clinical brutality mean to you?
DMM: I like the juxtaposition of the words – not quite an oxymoron but there is a distinct frisson to it. I liked the way Ballard wrote pornographic and violent texts in a clinical and aloof way, all as part of the experimentation going on within the New Worlds scene in the 60s. It’s good to mix things up and reveal new and hidden relations between stuff. Of course a lot of that experimentation has become pretty familiar nowadays and many things that Ballard (and others) predicted, in a satirical and absurdist way, have become very everyday. Things like ‘Big Brother’ and these weird ‘extreme survival’ programmes are pure Ballard. And contemporary Japanese culture – well, who would have predicted that? Even the wildest most baroque fantasies of surrealism and SF pale into insignificance compared to what contitutes everyday life in a city like Tokyo.
I haven’t really answered your question properly, have I? Ooopss… sorry..
CN: With the anthology, I’ve tried pitching clinical brutality as a genre, although this is a strategy that’s purposefully misleading, and it’s more of a comment on the way that new genres in writing, as in music, are pretty absurd. If there’s one thing that can be considered a defining feature of this (supposedly) postmodern age, it’s hybridity. In this context, would you say that the application of genres to writing is a redundant practice?
DMM: Well, genres come and go, along with sub-genres and micro-genres, and all so rapidly nowadays that if you blink you’ll miss several dozen of them. I was incredibly bewildered by all the variations on ‘dance music’ during the 90s – trip-hop, trance, jungle, raggamuffin – and it all just sounded like someone dicking around with a drum machine to my naive ears. And then there are all the variations nowadays on ‘metal’, but the less said about that probably the better.
In terms of writing, I would say ‘do anything’ – really. Just go for it. Nothing is sacred. If it moves, it’s food, so to speak. Genres represent boundaries that limit expression, but they can also function as useful ready made metaphors that can be deconstructed and recombined in ways that boost consciousness and perception. And, of course, the worst thing in the world is being bored. God preserve me from that!
CN: You’ve been involved in publishing for some years now, as both writer and editor. The two collections you’ve edited (The Starry Wisdom and Songs of the Black Wurm Gism) are clearly thematically linked, while Paraphilia is much broader in its remit. What do you see as the different challenges / benefits / downsides the different types of undertakings present? Also, do you think it’s difficult to ‘convert’ readers to more challenging, niche modes of writing, or is there a substantial readership just begging for literature that’s, by design, ‘difficult’ if they can only find it?
DMM: I try not to edit or write anything that I feel a reader will find ‘difficult’. Maybe ‘challenging’ but hopefully in an intriguing and fun way. I have to confess that most of the time I write, I spend as much time cracking up over stuff I’ve just written as I do writing it. Not that it has any wonderful comedic element to it, but often I only appreciate the utter absurdity of a situation or thing, after I’ve written it down. The actual process itself reveals aspects of it that I otherwise wasn’t totally aware of.
In my experiences as a publisher, the real barrier wasn’t any attitude on the part of the public or readership, it was always the doings of people in charge of ‘buying in’ in the various outlets. With maybe three exceptions (and I’ll name them, because they are gems – Matt Leyshon, James Hamilton and Jonathan Davies) every person I had to deal with in a book-chain or outlet was a total dick. And even if you get them to take your stock, you then have top deal with a different and even bigger dick to try to get paid for it.
When Matt Leyshon, in particular, bought in a lot of ONEIROS stock for Waterstones and put it out on display, it sold like your proverbial hotcakes. I think people are hungry for something with more substance. If you look it as being like food – most stuff is either ‘junk food’ (the potboilers and bestsellers) or some wanky extreme inedible faddy diet food (all the heavily ironic and overly serious post-post-whatever intellectual onanism) so when something nutritious comes along – Alan Moore’s writing being a good example – it’s likea revelation and folks cant get enough of it.
Paraphilia is a brand new experience for me and incredibly enjoyable, mainly due to experience of working with Dire McCain who I think is incredible. My usual way of working is very laboured and obsessional, piling stuff into a mess and then scraping bits away so the end result is a sort of palimpsest. With Paraphilia, Dire and I have a sort of wonderful telepathy and I’ve suddenly developed a light touch. The material falls into our hands as if by some magic, and slots into the issues with a weird zen-like ease. And the results are beautiful. I love every issue that we’ve put together and I’m looking forward to doing more in 2010.