Kitchen sink epic fantasy The Bastard Wonderland was the stunning debut novel from writer Lee Harrison. As Shellie Horst wrote for SFFWorld.com, “The Bastard Wonderland has epic fantasy scale with solid industrial fantasy technologies woven in. It answers the call for the working class protagonist. It wriggled its way under the radar of man, yet continues to win readers over with its Steptoe and Son feel.” We caught up with Lee to find out more about the book, his writing process and the importance of libraries.
The Bastard Wonderland is an astonishing debut fantasy novel. Can you tell us something about where the book came from, why you wrote it, how it developed and how it ended up being published by Wrecking Ball?
Thanks, pals! The Bastarard Wonderland came from all over the shop and took a long time to evolve. It started from my lifelong ambition to write a fantasy epic like the swords and sorcery stuff I loved as a kid. I got side-tracked in my twenties, did a degree in Religious Studies almost by accident, and then had a bit of a breakthrough with some grim contemporary short stories.
I learned that humour and a sense of real life can really make your writing sing – and yet I could never quite shake the urge to write fantasy type stuff – so TBW came back, and ended up influenced by all of the aforementioned. It became a very different, more complex beast than what I thought I’d set out to do – but It’s really just about how people cope with change, in the end. I was very pleased with it – but the difference was a problem for the mainstream publishers I submitted to – almost all of them enthused about the work itself, but it was turned down on marketing grounds, being so different than the standard fantasy fare already out there. Disappointing. So when Wrecking Ball Press picked it up without any faffing or doubts, I was delighted. It is the strength of independent publishing that it has the power to champion interesting or offbeat writing without worrying about mass market appeal.
Can you explain what you mean by “kitchen sink epic fantasy”?
I realised through the process above that I enjoy fantasy, big themes, and made up monsters and all that – but I tend to see the world from Hull – from the North, from the working class perspective. The challenge and the intrigue for me, is to honour both – hence – kitchen sink epic. Most fantasy, from Tolkien to now, is written from a very entitled perspective, what with an emphasis on royalty and the old ‘chosen one’ trope – much of it is hackneyed, done to death, and doesn’t say anything to me. I think fantasy works best with its feet on the ground.
Who are you writing for?
Initially me, with the hope that some other weirdos might also enjoy it.
What experience do you want your readers to have with your work?
I want them to choke on sheer delight.
When you’re embarking on a new piece of work, whether that’s a short story or a full length novel, what approach do you take?
I usually have some sort of nucleus of an idea – perhaps just a scene or concept that intrigues me, and I start to flesh that out. Some of these fragments float around for years until they congeal with others, and the whole thing snaps together. Generally there is lots of procrastinating though – a lot of talking to myself and writing badly organised lists and notes.
Tell us a bit about your process? Are you disciplined when you sit down and start writing? Do you set a word count, work at a particular time of day, that kind of thing?
I feel like I’m working method out from scratch every time I start a new book. For the last one, Canyon of Ghosts, I had down a routine of sweeping up before I sat down to write, and lighting incense (it suited the theme and atmosphere of that story). I always prefer to write in the mornings. I tend not to apply targets because I just don’t stick to them – but recently I’ve had a go at the old minimum 1K a day rule – I found that only works when you’re drafting, and not revising – which is when the real decisions about the story and characters are made.
Do you do a lot of planning or procrastinating before you sit down and get writing?
Yes – and then more planning and procrastinating at frequent junctures during the writing. The work actually gets done in the 0.1% of the time towards the end when I get on a roll.
You studied theology/religion at University – how does this manifest itself in your writing, if at all?
It was a key part in the inspiration for TBW – I was fascinated by the idea of modernity, and that massive, calamitous shift from unshaken belief in religion to a godless, out of control modern world, and all the nuance and caveat that entailed. My degree never helped my vocational career in any direct way at all – but it set my imagination on fire. Religion contains the oldest, most profound, and most batshit stories in the world.
You’ve worked in libraries. What’s the importance of libraries and books in the 21st century?
Experience tells me that the more libraries and librarians are viewed as redundant and outdated, the more necessary they are. We live in an information age where people are losing the skill and wherewithal to process and challenge information for themselves. As for books – we need stories – they are how we understand and enjoy life – and books are the most solid structure to tell and enjoy them. Its all very well having the latest Disney/Netflix/Franchise/Star Wars algorithm-based pig-feed shoved down your neck – but a decent book is something else – it challenges you.
What are you working on now?
I’m sitting on a recently finished book about a boy and his undead nana, which I personally think is ace, but probably the weirdest thing I’ve ever written. Next, despite having fallen out with Swords and Sorcery epics some time ago, I am currently having a spin at one. But with fireballs. And swearing. And seventies style comedy scenes. And an old northern bastard. And more fireballs.
So what does the future hold for Lee Harrison?
Fireballs. Maybe some more ghostly nanas. Then hopefully, a really weird novel about giant monsters, which will probably be another unsellable labour of proud love.
“He went out to the balcony as the horizon brightened. That godforsaken silver coast again. That bloody bastard wonderland. Chase it or die. He was the son of pioneers and adventurers, and now he understood.”
In a land not too far away and a time yet to be decided, one man and his Dad embark on an epic journey of war, peace, love, religion, magnificent flying machines and mushy peas.
The Bastard Wonderland can be purchased online at https://wreckingballpress.com/product/the-bastard-wonderland/
A crazy download of the whole idea while standing on a tree stump in a camp site in America. I guess I needed to be slammed by it, since the whole concept of a novel on Music and the Holocaust was too daunting to wish upon myself.
Yes. It took loads of drafts – different drafts focused on deepening different characters. And a lot of site visits, reading and research. Times I’d think the book was done, leave it to settle, and when I picked it up again I knew there was lots more to tackle.
The book looks to understand that riddle, how could a Nazi love Schubert and Bach yet commit atrocities? It also looks at war from a female perspective – three generations of women, one strand of Jewish heritage and one Nazi heritage. Much of my writing looks at how the effects of war are passed down through succeeding generations.
A curious star of the book is Mango, a Rhodesian Ridgeback. For a while the novel was called Follow the Dog. We have a lot to learn from the simplicity of dogs.
I want them to be engrossed and then see their world differently when they emerge. With J SS Bach, I guess it’s to see the humanity that underpins horror. And to experience something of what it’s like to be inside the creation of music.
I write the book I’d like to read, and hope it plugs a gap in the reading experience of others. In J SS Bach I was also reclaiming the human tales of people whose existence was wiped out by the Holocaust – so I was writing it for those that did not survive, as some act of remembering and sharing.
It’s not yet won every award going and received streams of headline reviews, so I’ll always feel a bit shortchanged. But yes, I’m pleased. Folk I don’t know have written to tell me how strong their reading experience of J SS Bach has been, so having your novel connect with another life ins such a way is deeply satisfying. The Morning Star, which I’m very fond of, called the novel ‘masterful’. The Financial Times gave it a major review, which I’m glad for.
You can truly get inside a character’s head and see what propels them. And then have characters meet and see how they interact. When you try for that in nonfiction, you’re entering fictive territory. My editor for my biography of J.S.Haldane, Suffer & Survive, advised me ‘not to let my novelist’s hat tip over my biographer’s eye’.
I do plan, though characters have minds of their own and keep steering books somewhere fresh. I spend years walking around with books in my head till the steam builds up and I have to make a start.
Independent publishers are plucky, and an editor’s personal choice and passion can survive there. That’s harder for an editor in a mainstream house to achieve, with marketing departments and their like to please. Independent publishers can work without compromise.
A thriller in Patricia Highsmith mode. Two chapters to go! I’ve recently finished a play, an essay and a story as well, polishing off work that’s been banking up. I suspect it’s nonfiction next. I’ve two long term projects, but a new eco book about saving the world’s birds looks like it’s muscling to the front.
Please buy J SS Bach or request it from your library and read it and write and tell me what you think about it. I’d love to know what touches you.
Literary outlaw, novelist, playwright and poet Dan Fante (1944-2015) was born and raised in Los Angeles. At 20, he quit school and hit the road, eventually ending up as a New York City resident for 12 years. Fante worked at dozens of crummy jobs including: door to door salesman, taxi driver, window washer, telemarketer, private investigator, night hotel manager, chauffeur, mailroom clerk, deck hand, dishwasher, carnival barker, envelope stuffer, dating service counselor, furniture salesman, and parking attendant. Wrecking Ball Press published his poetry collection A Gin Pissing, Raw Meat, Dual Carburettor, V-8 Son-of-a-Bitch from Los Angeles in 2001 and novella Corksuckerfour years later. We miss Dan a lot.
On the day of the publication of A Gin Pissing, Raw Meat, Dual Carburettor, V-8 Son-of-a-Bitch from Los Angeles, Fante was in Hull for a reading and book launch. Wrecking Ball assistant editor Dave Windass, then a freelance journalist, recalls meeting Fante in the city’s Peaberry’s Coffee House to interview him for The Big Issue.
“It was a just a few weeks after 9/11 so it was an odd time to be talking to an American, never mind one so unapologetically loud. I walked in and Dan, wearing a ridiculous jacket, stood up and thrust out his work-worn hand and knocked something off the table in front of him. He really was an unstoppable whirlwind and I was only in his company for a few seconds before I realised he was a complete force of nature and that I liked everything about him. He never really stopped talking, which is how I like interviewees, and he gesticulated wildly throughout, spitting out bits of his sandwich and spraying me with coffee. I just sat back and let him go and he covered a lot of ground in a relatively short space of time. I’d crammed in his first three novels before meeting him so I didn’t feel well prepared and the whole 9/11 thing made me anxious about the interview but it didn’t really matter because I hardly got a word in. This was my first real encounter with any Wrecking Ball writer and I loved it. 19 years on and I realise what a privilege it was to spend some time with Dan and then remain in touch with him on and off for the next few years. His voice remains one of the most authentic I’ve ever read. He wrote the way he lived.”
Dan Fante had been to the printers with Wrecking Ball Press editor Shane Rhodes the day before the interview to pick up copies of his collection. The inscription he wrote in Shane’s treasured copy reads: “One of the best days of my life was yesterday, when we picked up this book from the printers – a great moment. Thanks is all I can say. Your pal, Dan Fante.” (10-27-01).
In the interview below, originally published in 2001, Fante talks about the shadow cast by his father John Fante, suicide, alcoholism, his home country, surviving via the written word and his approach to writing.
If this is a game of spot the American then Dan Fante has made it far too easy for me. He’ll be the one sat in the corner of the Hull coffee shop with a rather ridiculous Tom Cruise Top Gun style US Air Force jacket on.
“If you don’t mind me saying, you look every inch the crazy American writer,” I tell him during the obligatory handshake.
“Why thanks man,” he shouts back. I’m not sure I meant it as a compliment, but still. The jacket, it turns out, is Fante’s tribute to those that lost their lives on September 11. Having just read the man’s three autobiographical novels – Chump Change, Mooch and the recently released Spitting Off Tall Buildings – a gesture like this seems totally out of character.
In his fiction, Fante – or rather alter-ego Bruno Dante – is a low life, self interested, suicidal sleazeball writer only interested in fuelling his alcohol dependency and getting laid. He hates everything. EVERYTHING. So you don’t expect an act of kindness. You don’t expect to like Fante. Not one bit. But for two hours of caffeine fuelled chat, he has me mesmerised.
Like his fiction, LA-born Fante leaps out at you. He’s so LOUD. Christ knows what a busy coffee shop thought of this American and his litany of filth. How many times can one man use the words hooker, cocaine and cocksucker? This conversational technique was obviously learnt during the 12 years he lived in New York. Fante certainly has a tale to tell. Unlike Bruno Dante, he’s cleaned up his act. If he hadn’t, he would never have become a writer.
“I’m 57 now. I got sober when I was 42. I started writing when I was 45.
“I was completely broke and I had my last suicide attempt and I was in the most miserable depression.”
But this is only part of the start of the story. Fante’s father is John Fante. John Fante’s writing career began with a book called Wait Until Spring, Bandini. During his lifetime, Fante failed to receive the acclaim that many thought he deserved. He ‘sold out’ his talent by working as a screenwriter in Hollywood.
Fante Sr died of diabetes-related complications at the age of 74. By this time, Charles Bukowski was singing his praises and claiming Fante Sr as a major influence. Understandably, Fante Jr has been influenced too.
“I was obsessed with the failure of my father as a writer and this depression that I’d had for 2-3 years. So I was broke and I was living in the back bedroom of my mother’s house. And it came to me that I had nothing to lose. There were no business opportunities, no jobs, I was sober a couple of years and every job I took was never the right thing. So I would leave jobs. And I finally just sat down to write.
“And what I put down was really a love letter to my father. I felt terrible that at that point he wasn’t nearly as famous as he is now. I felt terrible that his work was undiscovered.”
There’s a blurring of the lines with Fante. Man and myth, truth and fiction, they’re all pretty much the same thing.
“Bruno Dante is me,” he says. “Much of the stuff happened to me personally.”
Fante is as honest as his writing. Bruno’s life is a train-wreck, a disaster that just keeps on happening. He falls in love with the most evil, spiteful women, he cleans windows on the 70th floor of skyscrapers under the influence of huge quantities of alcohol, he goes on binge after binge and hears voices in his head. And this really was Fante’s life.
Now, Fante says, “my greatest fear is to be boring.” There’s no chance of that. In one of his many poems, In Camogli, Fante describes his mile-a-minute writing method: “I can write like a gin-pissing-raw-meat-dual-carburettor-V8-son-of-a-bitch.”
As Fante started writing, in his sober state, he found that his dead father would offer him advice. “I’d have my father’s ghost standing over me saying, ‘take that fucking comma out, put a period there, and when you say a sentence, finish the sentence.’
“I like prose that gets to the point and has punch. I like to be hooked as a reader. Writing should grab you immediately and draw you to it.”
Fante knows that he’s lucky to have lived the life he has – and got out the other side.
“In truth, I should be dead. My older brother drank himself to death three years ago. I just was one of the lucky ones. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve put myself in a position where I should be dead.”
“Writing has replaced alcohol and the terrible mental abhorration. My mind is now fertile and I’m using all of my senses. Alcoholics are always reliving some confrontation, they’re always rewriting and reliving the same moments so that they can get even. And I don’t have to do that any more. I still live in my head but it’s creative, not destructive.”
Anger runs through the sentences that fill the pages of Fante’s work. He says he keeps a lid on this anger now but, listening to him, he’s suffering from the post-modern rage that many of us feel. Despite the patriotic jacket, a lot of this pent up frustration is down to his home country. But this anger fuels his fiction.
“I’m very angry at the pretext of what’s happened to art and literature in America and what television has done. Kids no longer read – and nobody is doing a thing about it. All I have to do is plug into that and I can continue to make comment on and about this American dream that’s not a dream. America can be a horrible place.”
Which is why, despite living in sunny Santa Monica, Fante is considering a move to Europe, where his books sell in bigger numbers.
Several cups of coffee later, Fante and his jacket return to a hotel across the road. I head to the bookshop, anxious, because of what I’ve been told, to get hold of a copy of Fante’s father’s book Ask The Dusk (“that’s the one you should read”). What happens next would make Fante Jr smile.
He’d told me his father’s literary legacy hangs over him. I take the book to the counter. Waterstone’s finest takes my cash and asks, “Read any of his son’s work? It’s very good.” It’s more than good. It’s genius.
This article by Dave Windass was originally published in The Big Issue in the North.
A collection of Dan Fante’s poetry from 1983-2000 – A Gin Pissing, Raw Meat, Dual Carburettor, V-8 Son-of-a-Bitch from Los Angeles, was published by Wrecking Ball Press in 2001. Fante’s novella Corksucker, a framed collection of cab driver stories from the LA streets, was published by Wrecking Ball Press in 2005.
A good laugh, mainly.
I love With. I came to With every year on holiday when I was growing up. Lots of happy memories. I moved here a year ago. It’s a magical and wonderous place. There’s nowhere I’d rather be.
It’s all there, warts ‘n’ all!
I don’t decide what to write about and what to leave out. I’m writing in my head all the time whether I’m walking on the beach, dusting, shopping, swimming or watching Corrie.
Rhymes never leave me alone. I very rarely sit down and write unless I’m sending Wrecking Ball Press poems for my next book.
I’m only on twitter. I joined in June 2016 just before Sometimes… came out. I love twitter. A lot of my poems I put straight on there. Short and fast and fun! I’ve met some ace people through twitter. I love it.
I love performing and making people laugh. It’s the best feeling I know. I don’t like the build up – the rehearsing and the doubts and the nerves, but it’s all worth it.
I’ve got nothing to compare it to. It’s the only way I know!
It’s since I moved to With. I found one with a hole in and it blew my mind. Then a few weeks later I started Pebble of The Day on twitter and the rest is geology…
Gigs Gigs Gigs
Books Books Books
Painting Painting Painting
Men Men Men
Doilies Doilies Doilies
Music Music Music.
I couldn’t begin to imagine how people might respond to it, and consciously try never to think about the readers at all while writing. But I hope they have a good laugh and come away with lots of questions.
I probably thought about those two blokes in the pub for six months before writing anything at all about them. Once I’d decided the book would mostly take place in a pub the second bloke would find violently disagreeable, I spent a few months going for drinks in pubs I didn’t remotely like. Several encounters and details in the book were drawn from this period, and it was around then that I started writing a few passages which later went in the book. So I’d probably say live with the idea a bit first and then, if needed, live a little of it too, see if you have any idea what you’re about to start gobbing off about.
Mostly by writing as little directly about politics as possible. There’s none at all in my first book, but not really possible in Coketown. Two men in their late 40s or early 50s out for a first pint at the moment are going to talk and think about politics, the end. As a writer I’m much less interested in the mechanics and intrigue of politics – the Great Players and their Press Court – than its ripples across culture and society. The average working class Brexit voting bloke is far more interesting to me, the route travelled from where via what, than is Boris Johnson, who is a two-dimensional cartoon villain who can be read like a child’s book, and a shit one at that.
It’s all really very simple. The interpretation of utilitarian thinking which has underpinned British democracy for so long has failed. The ‘greatest possible happiness to the greatest possible number’ has boiled down to a simple matter of wealth allocation. Gradually for decades and fast since the Crash this ‘happiness’ has only been sustained by making the ‘unhappiness’ of those outside that ‘greatest number’ increasingly intolerable. At the same time, older and so more likely Conservative recipients of the ‘greatest possible happiness’ are suddenly finding it all a bit empty and meaningless and casting around for something else, something to believe in as the darkness gathers. They settled on Brexit about ten years ago and then enlisted enough pissed-off members of those – as social mobility died – to all intents and purposes permanently excluded from the gilded greatest number to their cause, with the time-honoured method of stirring up hate and grudge of ‘the other’.
No discipline time-wise, I start when I start and stop when my heart’s not in it. Lots of tea, no smoking at the computer, no music, an ordeal in itself, proper get up and leave the room breaks.
I try not to use much archive material, and in this book that’s part of the point. The main character not only has no clue what he’s talking about, he knows he has no clue but has decided to blag on anyway. I did enough to put dates and such on a firm footing, because so would he, that bit’s easy! The biggest single bit of research was rereading Hard Times, which was no chore if I’m being honest. The inner monologue is totally unplanned, in the hope of catching something near the natural progression of thought to thought. Which is impossible of course, as the thought process is electricity zapping millimetres through conductive custard and I type about 20 words a minute, but is worth a bash.
The strips I write for Viz – drawn by Lee Healey, who also illustrated Coketown – are far harder. They’re usually one full page, always five decks, which at most means around 20 panels, and that’s that. If you want to go on, the idea needs to be good enough to do another 20 panels, but no more than 40. And Graham and Thorpy are tough editors. Having written as many great strips as they have they can spot a clunker at 20 paces, and quite right too. A novel has no end so all the discipline has to come from yourself, as I suppose the temptation is to waffle. Probably the years writing for Viz, where it was obvious from square one that any padding or flab in a strip would only succeed in having it returned stamped ‘shite’ has been a good training ground.
Don’t want to give much away. But the reason I gave him that name was mostly because I was trying to paint a grimmish picture of middle-aged liberalish leftish but mostly confused manhood to play off the other lad. On the first draft he had no name, but reading back I twigged that I was uncomfortably guilty of quite a lot of the things I’d heaped on him, to varying degrees, and also that by not acknowledging this I was putting myself undeservedly upon a fine little pedestal.
More or less the same as for the strips. Framed rough sketches of the components which needed to be in each image, along with descriptive extracts from the book, and left him to it. They all came back just as envisaged, with one or two as if he’d plucked them straight from my mind’s eye. He’s a sublimely gifted artist.
I see what they’re getting at, and am delighted that anyone, let alone academics, should have enjoyed my work enough to subject it to some critical thought, but they were certainly not written with that in mind.
SJ Perelman is for me the greatest out-and-out comic writer of the 20th Century, and virtually every funny American column or essay I read to this day is shot through with a manner of expression lifted direct. And he was one of the team that helped Groucho transfer his persona from stage to screen, so debate over. In every other respect I have the standard set of autodidact stopping points for a man raised in the fag-end of postwar existentialism – Kafka, Ballard, Dickens, Camus. The list is boring.
Very, although in my private life I now have a fairly good grip on its collar and it is a rare pleasure always now enjoyed to the full. Alcohol is the only state approved flight from the drudgery of consciousness and so I think it’s hugely important, culturally, to my generation and those before, which tended to be more widely – although greatly less so from the 70s on – law abiding in that regard. It is interesting to me that younger people are now apparently far less likely to drink, preferring other substances. I think this is less a rejection of drink, by the way, than a good and healthy growing disdain for the State telling you what you can and cannot ingest for laughs.
I thank goodness for them. Not to get too Dave Spart about it, but writers from my background writing books like mine would simply never be published without the indies, not in a way that is any use to them. Wrecking Ball and the like perform a vital role both in their communities, through organising events, bringing attention and activity, and generally in culture, as enablers for writers who might, just might, have an audience and the chance to give writing the hard time and dedication required.
It is yet unwritten, and no spoilers are available.
Can you cook? What do you consider your signature dish?
I don’t like to comment on my ability as a cook, I’ll leave that to those that eat my food. I really love cooking, especially things that you can get involved in like a soufflé or a risotto. Of course I’m far too working class to have developed a signature dish, but it goes without saying, that my Yorkshire puddings and Toad in the Hole come out well every time.
A few years ago, I become besotted with baking bread and that has stayed with me. Sourdoughs are the way to go. Scotch morning rolls, always good. My bread explorations led me to discover Arkatena bread, a Cypriot recipe which uses gram flour, chickpea flour that is, for the polish. Truly, it is the most amazing bread I have ever tasted.
Recommend a book to cheer us all up?
The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty
The most triumphant, jubilant, pump your fist in the air and cheer book I have read. It is impossible to read this book and not be happy or cheered up. Buy it right now! I don’t say this lightly, because I’ve read thousands of books and this is singular in springing to mind in that this story, which is a good story, it is so up-lifting. What else is there? Do you know any? The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint maybe. If you are going on holiday, take Ron McLarty with you. It will make your holiday.
What was your favourite game as a child, and why?
My favourite game is psst, which I still play, given four people who will acquiesce, at any given opportunity. There is the normal version, or you can introduce a tennis ball or football for variation. Endlessly amusing, everyone should play psst everyday and the world would be a better place. In fact here’s an idea for a book. Lose Weight by playing psst… For those uninitiated, you need five players who form a quincunx, the corners being roughly four metres apart. The participants psst each other and if the psst is acknowledged, the psster and the acknowledger exchange places. The person in the centre of the quincunx attempts to steal a vacant corner and replace the switchers. If successful, the runner heading towards the now occupied corner goes to the middle (does that make sense?) Anyone fancying a go, I’m always happy to demonstrate.
If you weren’t a writer, what else would you have liked to be?
Are you presuming writing to be my career and asking what other career I fancy or if I have a propensity for another proportionally futile and self-indulgent activity? I have always enjoyed being Peter Knaggs and I think I am the best person for the role. In the eighties I co-ran a mobile disco called Itchy Feet. Itchy Feet Pete, available for weddings, birthdays and football dos. I would have liked to have been a highscoring winger such as Andrei Kanchelskis. If I could sing I would front a rock-a-Billy band, The Love Cats.
I fantasize about monetarizing the things that I am good at. I am good at and enjoy listening to music. Would it be possible for a workaholic time-skint stiggy who, in wanting to be cool, may pass over this role so that somehow he could become vicariously cool? Re-holidays, I am good at going on holiday, so maybe there is a time-skint workaholic who hates holidays who would pay another to go on holiday for them?? I have this other fantasy (impossible to exist) job. I can see myself presiding in a comfy upholstered chair in a room not dissimilar to the James Reckitt Reading Room at the library, a bow-tied Jucundus; I have the vision of being sat there turning the page of a poetry book and reading it silently to myself. I’d be wearing a dog tooth jacket and my lectern style desk would have an ink pot, for some reason I would swaddle a quill and get paid for being a poem reader. As well as this I’d like to be taller and more handsome. Radio DJ that would be a good one, getting paid to play music, that would be good.
Which part of the world has made the biggest impression on you?
I have been lucky enough to go to Croatia, Montenegro and Portugal out of these, today, the memories of Montenegro spring to mind. It is utterly beautiful, rugged. Snow-capped mountains descend to the sea, so unlike Hull. Because of it’s troubled recent past and it’s slow economic development, there is very little infrastructure. By this, I mean there are endless tracts of coastline with no adjacent road. This results in a touristless, tranquil unspoilt beguiling sea.
There was this one day, my wife and I and our two kids went on a boat – I call it a boat it was like a Spanish Galleon – to the Bay of Kotor. The crew were pirate-like. Unexpectedly halfway through our journey the crew brought out a feast of Mediterranean fare; cheese, olives, bread salami and brescola, as much as we could eat, and then they brought out the wine. The boat anchored up and the passengers could jump off the boat, swim in the sea and climb up the rigging to get back on board. Swimming in that ocean, the mountains right there. That was magic.
When was the last time you were utterly terrified?
I took my kids to Go Ape. Now, my son is of the type … well, listening to health and safety talks at seven wasn’t his thing. Anyhow, you go up into the canopy of the forest and they have these zip wires. Now having both my son and my daughter, I was a bit uneasy, because it meant at any given time we would be on a platform fifty foot up in the air, then if the girl went first, she would have to unhook herself, using the correct method and in the right order – safety hoist, carabiner, belt-hook, second safety rope etc – and me being at the other end of the zip wire, I would be unable to check and if she got it wrong. Consequences could be fatal. Being in between my two, that petrified me.
Favourite book cover?
I own hardbacks of all Bukowski’s prose published by Black Sparrow Press, Hollywood, Hot Water Music, South of No North, they all spring to mind … and the cover of The Reater number one … and I like the cover of The Slab of Fun, mostly though, or numero uno, I would say is The Book of Fuck.
Writing is about one thing, doing it. Write! Fill the wheelie bin every week… In the longer term, write like you. Write with individuality, write like no one else, then you will be remembered, if you are lucky.
Pull a portrait out of a magazine and have a go at describing a person’s face. don’t just do it once, do it a few times. Practise, get good at getting down the detail.
Favourite TV moment of the last 50 years?
Well, remember that programme, I forget what it was called but it was on BBC4 on Worldwide Egalitarian Day, where justices are restored to their natural equilibrium. It was great programme, firstly the BBC itself, as a concern paid for by the populace, had to restore the workforce to an equilibrium where it contained seven percent or less of staff who hadn’t attended public school. Then it was the bit were Cameron had to go to Scunthorpe and give three of his vehicles to Martin, who was on a zero hour contract at Asda. The best bit though, it was the faces, those public schoolboys walking out of the BBC buildings with their glum looks and their folders and files. Anyhow, this bit where they erected a Marshall speaker outside Dom, of Dick and Dom’s house and every seventeen minutes it emitted a BOGIES at volume. Twenty one days in and Dom comes out and he kicks the speaker, he starts punching it, wild-eyed and addled. We knew, of course, that the speaker was rigged so that if it was punched it would broadcast a BOGIES thirty seconds later, which riled Dom even more. Justice was truly done that day, he was zany, demented, off his head and I laughed my head off.
The last song to stop you in your tracks?
Music, eh! I’ve been listening to and enjoying the Mexican band Cafe Tacuna a lot. The last music that made me go f**king hell. That has to be William Onyeabor, ever since I’ve been slightly hooked on Nigerian funk from the sixties, there are two tracks that are particularly gobsmacking, from Who is William Onyeabor? The first is Atomic Bomb, the second is Fantastic Man. If I wasn’t on question 10, I would probably say more. But do have a listen. It is remarkable and you would have difficulty pinpointing which decade this stuff comes from, so ambient, so funky, so mysterious, so bloody cool.
The first in an occasional series of brief yet intense quizzing sessions with our writers.
Today, we interrogate the master of epic kitchen sink fantasy, Lee Harrison.
Can you cook? What do you consider to be your signature dish?
A nice curry – but its not signature because it changes every time – an ongoing flux curry.
Which book would you recommend to someone who needs cheering up right now?
The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. Things can always get worse.
What was your favourite game as a child, and why?
I used to love playing block in the dark, back in the days when kids still did that sort of thing. I was good at hiding in plain sight, and enjoyed the mix of applause and unease this provoked.
If you weren’t a writer, what else would you have liked to be?
Which part of the world has made the biggest impression on you?
THE SEA. THE NORTH.
When was the last time you were utterly terrified?
Utter terror is never far away. It sits on my shoulder like a fucking parrot.
What is your favourite book cover of all time?
There are loads, but I was particularly fond of an old paperback edition of The Hobbit I had, that featured the dragon Smaug posing on a mountain top. He made smoking look cool.
Tell us a writing tip
Don’t give up your day job, and don’t listen to writing tips.
Favourite TV moment of the last fifty years and why?
It’d have to be an old, formative one because these days i don’t watch it. I’ll say Rik Mayall on Jackanory, reading out George’s Marvelous Medicine, and showing off how naughty and cool and hilarious and slightly sinister books are and should be.
What was the last song to stop you in your tracks?
Just the other day I heard Still Life by The Horrors, and it sent me into a lovely, and most welcome daze.