Stuart Estell is an enigma and a genius.
He is the author of Verruca Music
Here he shares some insights with us:
1. Verruca Music. Is that a species-genus thing? What’s the relative importance of the two?
No, not at all. It’s a very literal title referring to the narrator’s activities. Although it’s a great suggestion. I feel as though I’ve missed the opportunity for a really pretentious faux botanical Latin title now…
2. Are writing and composing music essentially the same or essentially different?
My approach is essentially the same for both. I tend to mull ideas over in my head for a long time and then write everything down very quickly. Verruca Music didn’t take me very long to write in terms of committing it to paper but had been brewing for a good long while, which is exactly what happened with the fairly long organ piece I’ve just written for an old friend of mine, Huw Morgan. Incidentally, I was very proud of the fact that one audience member at its first performance declared “that did NOT go down well!” despite plenty of other folks telling Huw how much they’d enjoyed it.
Sorry – I’m digressing. The other thing my music and writing share is a lack of interest in linearity. I’m not at all bothered by the idea of plot or structure in the sense of a narrative flow. I’m far more interested in creating an atmosphere and expressing some sort of truth, whatever that might be. I’m very interested in the effects of repetition, whether proper rigorous repetition or increasingly hazy recollections. I’d love to find a way of making a text disintegrate in the way that William Basinski uses deteriorating tape loops.
3. Verruca Music is startlingly original, but I detect a certain late 19th/early 20th century end-of-decadence undertone. Were you aware of any influences?
Crumbs, I’m not sure it’s all that original, but I’m flattered you think so. I’ve been enormously affected by Finnegans Wake and the questions it poses about literature in general. If we all form part of the same narrative, then any individual experience can be generalised and vice versa. I find Finnegans Wake an extraordinarily human book for that reason – to quote our Beloved Chancellor, “we’re all in this together.”
The most obvious models for the narrator of Verruca Music, in terms of narrators who don’t really do a great deal and are in some sort of state of dilapidation, are the three in Beckett’s Trilogy – Molloy, Malone and “The Unnameable”. I’m sure the reason why some readers find Beckett thoroughly depressing is that he holds a totally unforgiving mirror up to the absurdity of life. As a hoary old existentialist I find the pointlessness of his characters’ situations both absolutely hilarious and deeply moving.
4. For me this book, like The Dead Beat and The Zoom Zoom, is confirmation that Postmodernism and the idea that the narrator is dead have run their course. Do you agree, and why do you think we became so obsessed with the death of the narator for a while? Do you think any interesting work actually came out of that kind of postmodernism?
I think you have to be careful with that one. People seemed to get hung up on Barthes’ “The Death of the Author” for all the wrong reasons. At its heart, I think structuralism’s main aim is to re-establish the sovereignty of the text over the cult of the author and authorial intention. For me that’s a really important idea as I like to leave the text as open as possible for the reader.
5. Someone’s standing in front of you in the supermarket. They turn to their friend and say they’re going on holiday and they’re taking Verruca Music. Is there anything you’d like to say?
It’d be a bit rude to butt in, really.
6. I get a sense that you are a writer for whom absolute control over detail in the manuscript is essential. Do you think you could ever work with an editor?
That would depend very much on the context. I wouldn’t put myself in the position in which commercial pressures were brought to bear on the writing, no. I have no interest in making the work more saleable. That’s not why I write.
Actually, I’ve come back round to enjoying collaborative work – which is, after all what a relationship with an editor is – after a thoroughly negative experience of it in one of my last bands. It’s been great working with both Cody James and Penny Goring on some music-plus-spoken-word projects; this year I’m also embarking on a tremendously exciting doom metal project involving brass instruments and enough amplification to stun a decent-sized herd of buffalo from several miles away.
You know, one of the things that struck me when I read some of the books on the Orange Prize shortlist – I won’t say which ones - was that stylistically they were almost interchangeable. Does that mean that they were edited by unimaginative editors? I don’t know.