This week’s column was about an interview I did with Lee Rourke – cult author of the very recently released Vulgar Things, published by Fourth Estate. Lee won The Guardian’s ‘Not The Booker Prize’ for his novel The Canal, which is currently being worked into a screenplay by Lee and courted by proper film dudes. He’s also a total love. Buy his book. It’s brilliant. BUY IT!
When I knew I was going to interview an author I found myself wondering if there was some kind of app I could download that would magically augment my brain with lots of clever words and literary theories I had never wanted to learn til now. I thought about skip-reading Ulysses just in case he made some Joycean reference, as writers tend to do, but then realised skip-reading Ulysses is probably like trying to roly-poly across the Atlantic. Plus I had watched my copy of it be chewed by the dog years ago when he was in training (to not chew; I let him have some down time, to exorcise the ‘wolf’, with poor James Joyce).
Lee Rourke is an author, a ‘proper’ one with Guardian quotes and stuff, he lectures in writing and critical theory, and lives in Southend. What’s more, he lives here by choice, having performed that lesser-seen migration from London. What’s more, he wrote his latest book about Southend. And Canvey.
I began reading his book Vulgar Things with a dual interest; wanting to read a book featuring my ‘hood that is going out into a wider literary arena (perhaps I felt protective of it), and because I was going to write about it for this paper.
In our pre interview chat, we talked a lot about writing, and what it is, and what it should or shouldn’t be, and what it feels like, and what we’d do without it (not much). And he only mentioned James Joyce once, so I was ok. But we didn’t talk about what the book was ‘about’.
A few days later, a few pages into my lovely worn trade copy of Vulgar Things, he had me. Lee Rourke had me, the little tinker.
Not only was it set in my home town – which, though you’d think it would be less enthralling for its familiarity, was even more compelling – but it also had a few gut-piercing themes that stirred things in me. Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m a sucker for suicide. Craft some good words about the vagaries of self-deathing and I’m all yours. But you have to get it right, and do it good, do it justice, or all the pain I carry about will want to take you down.
Lee Rourke got it right. He did it dead good. He gets to stay. Not just in town, but alive.
Once I’d read Vulgar Things, we met on Canvey to talk about it. I thought it would be nice to do it where the book was set. It was a beautiful sunny day and I was nervous. I’d never interviewed anyone out loud before. Not since I sat Ken and Barbie down in two shoeboxes and asked them why they weren’t getting along, and that was years ago. All my other interviews have been in writing, because I witter and sound like a moron. Hopefully I just need practice.
I felt unworthy to be doing it. Because what do I know about books, I’ve not finished one and had it published. I’ve got an unwieldy document I prod at from time to time ‘when I have time’. I felt silly. (We’ve all got our things, haven’t we?)
But because he’s a lovely chap, I soon felt comfortable. I felt like I could talk about those things, with him. I began wittering a bit less.
Then, days later, I was in my bookshop putting his book on the shelf, knowing that somewhere out there our interview was being read by people. And I thought life was weird but nice. And I realised that I do know something about books. I know what anyone who reads knows about books. I know I love them, and that is enough.