In tandem with the release of the collection Clinical, Brutal… An Anthology of Writing with Guts Christopher Nosnibor interviewied some of the contributors to the book about their contributions, their writing methods and their outlooks more broadly.
CN: ‘Surgery’ is a rather curious piece that builds to a punchline that’s deeply groan-inducing, and really quite audacious. To what extent is humour a part of your writing, and what function does it serve?
VC: A little audacity goes a long way. There seems to be, even now, an unwritten rule that literary and funny, or humourous, are incompatible. Similarly, while vulgarity, grotesqueness, sex and violence are acceptable, it’s only acceptable from certain authors who have established themselves as ‘literary,’ either by virtue of using long words or clever marketing. Take Will Self, for example. He can get away with ‘fuck’ and ‘cunt’ without being considered base because elsewhere he’ll use ‘pudendum’ and a whole lexicon of verbiage that ninety per cent of the readership will require a dictionary to comprehend. If anyone else does it, they’re filthy, coarse, beneath contempt in literary circles. I myself do not care all that much, but often write with a view to poking fun at the establishment, particularly the literary establishment. To that extent, humour is central to my writing.
I have to agree, the punch-line is quite terrible, but that was the whole point, deflating the climax with an even greater anti-climax. Again, it’s writing against expectations, and against the prescriptions of what confirms to notions of ‘literary’ writing. The punch-line had to be a groaner, rather than conventionally ‘funny.’ Of course, there is also a serious point being made in the punch-line to ‘Surgery.’
CN: One thing that struck me about ‘Surgery’ is that there appear to be no sympathetic characters. Is this a fair assessment, and was this intentional?
VC: I would say that would be a very fair assessment, and it was entirely intentional. I find there are few, if any, sympathetic characters in life, so why should it be any different in my writing? Fiction doesn’t have to be entirely beyond credibility.
I have a fairly deep-seated distrust of the medical profession, and of businesses and businesspeople. I find the relationship between the medical profession and multi-million or billion-pound pharmaceutical companies highly problematic, and their mutual back-scratching is a major reason for this distrust. That said, I have a fairly deep-seated distrust of politicians, of anyone with a degree of power. In fact, I have a fairly deep-seated distrust of people, full stop.
CN: What prompts you to write? When did you first start writing?
VC: I probably started writing when I was around the age of three. Just squiggles at first, before they evolved into letters, and eventually words. By the time I was five or six, I was really quite fluent, and have continued to improve since then. I have no recollection of when I began writing ‘fiction.’
I don’t write nearly as much as I would like to, or probably should. I find that work occupies far more time than I would like, leaving little time to write. In addition, I’m inherently lazy. I have no shortage of ideas, but do find it a real effort to spend the time committing those ideas to paper. Editing, revising and proof-reading is a chore beyond a chore. However, when I am motivated, it’s usually because I have a point to make.
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?
VC: Plastic surgery.
CN: Reading your work, I find it a little difficult to identify any obvious literary reference points. Who are your heroes, who would you consider to be your influences?
VC: Just as I don’t write as much as I could or should, I don’t read nearly as much as I ought or would like to. Again, it comes down to the fact that I really don’t have the time, and am terribly lazy. I read a lot of newspapers, sometimes magazines, although most magazines are rubbish, just a few sentences to promote some photographs, which in themselves are incidental to the advertisements. I suppose it would be a fair assessment that these are my main influences. News items and so on. I try not to think about any of the books or fiction I’ve read when I’m writing. I don’t want to write like anyone else. It’s inevitable that some readers will think they can identify similarities between my style and those of other authors they have read, but it’s entirely coincidental. I’m more likely to draw an influence – not necessarily a positive one – from television than another writer.
CN: Do you have any further works in the pipeline, or plans for future publication?
VC: Not at present. I suppose the reception ‘Surgery’ receives – pun intended – will have a bearing on what happens in the future with regards to my writing and any future publications. Publishing isn’t really something I can plan. I write, submit, but what happens then is completely out of my hands.