Sunday, 9 October 2011

Peter Salmon on Haile Selassie and lost art of girting..

The second in my series of interviews with contemporary artists who I also happen to know and happen to like. Another writer this time. (I mostly know writers). Peter Salmon is an Australian polymath, brain the size of a planet (and not a small one). A former bookseller, and the curator of The Hurst, a residential writing centre in Shropshire. The former home of the playwright John Osborne.

Pete's first novel is The Coffee Story (Sceptre), a story about, er, coffee. But also much else. Linguistically and stylistically inventive at every turn it's bonkers. But in a (very) good way. It's been compared (favourably) with Philip Roth's Everyman.

He is, as this interview reveals, a man who looks at the world (and not just tomatoes and coffee) from unusual and unsettling angles.I ask him more or less the same questions I asked Mark Illis, but I get back very different answers.

Hello. Can you give me your autobiography in exactly 50 words? (Not 49. Not 51)

Where to start? Does one's autobiography begin at the moment of conception, or do we need to go back further, back to say, the 1536 Pilgrimage of Grace, where a band of plucky dissenters marched under the banner of the Five Wounds of Christ? Perhaps not, perhaps not. So.

Why should I read The Coffee Story?

Because it's great. Really great. I mean, some of it's not that great - the middle bit for instance - the middle bit is admittedly pretty dodgy. Still, it's better than the start, which is simply no good! And then the ending - terrible. Complete bloody nonsense. Which book again?

What made you want to write it?

All my life I have been driven by an overwhelming and barely controllable desire to write a book that combines the Coronation of Haile Selassie; the decline of communism in the late 20th century; and some pretty decent knob jokes. So here it is.

This is your first novel... working on a second?

It's based around the fact that wherever I go to promote my book - publisher parties, festival events, book clubs, bookshops and readings - I am always given lots of strong coffee in celebration of my book. My next book is called The Cocaine and Lots of Sex Story.

Any ambitions to write in other forms? Film? TV? Theatre? Television? Poetry?

There once was a writer called Peter
who diversified into theatre,
Telly and poems,
Said Watson to Holmes
'He's as multifarious as Bhagavad Gita!'

Another young writer, also Peter
Stuck to novels, thinking it neater
Cos this scriptwork was crap
And on top of that
His poetry tended to have some serious problems regarding metre.

You're Australian... Anything you particularly miss about Australia? Anything that has surprised you about living in England?

A fact few non-Australian people know is that - according to the national anthem - it is a a land 'girt by sea'. I miss this girting, and I'm surprised by the lack of it over here. Scotland and Wales are the problem I guess. They prevent England being girt.

What do you do when you're not writing?

Well, Steve, I guess like all writers I am always writing to some extent. When the non-writer is doing the dishes or gazing into space it is like a cow looking over a fence. But the writer! The writer is a chronicler of the universe! I also collect hardcore pornography.

Who - in life or writing - do you admire and why?

I think Jesus was pretty good. I mean, say you were out walking the dog, and the shop you were going in didn't have somewhere to tie it up, then you'd be in pretty safe hands if Jesus was walking past and offered to look after it. Really safe.

Where do you see yourself in five years time? Ten?

In five years I see myself sat beside a sparkling blue pool in LA somewhere, surrounded by handsome men and beautiful women, with great shoals of seafood piled high on plates, me taking lots of drugs and making love night after night to strobe light. Ten years - caught and jailed.

Tell me something I don't know...

All of the answers to the questions in this interview are exactly fifty words long, except one, the answer in limerick, which actually acts as a sort of accidental meta-joke, as it's caused by the last line of my poem being metrically inconsistent. One for poetry fans!

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