If you want to hear about an author who has great acclaim and promise, we’ve got you covered. Today I have the honor of interviewing Nigel Jarrett.
Nigel served as a freelance journalist and music critic. He has written several pieces including essays, poetry and short stories for many publications such as the Observer, London Magazine, Planet, Poetry Wales, and Agenda among others. Nigel’s talent has been recognized through the Rhys Davies award, which he won for writing short fiction.
Nigel, thanks so much for joining us today and allowing us to find out more about you!
What were you like at school?
Confused. I went to an old-fashioned grammar school for boys, and many of the staff had returned from the war in fighting mood. We innocents became the enemy. A few of the teachers were definitely unhinged. It was only after assessing the implications of my confusion and worrying about the meaning of life, that I realised they were more pitiable than culpable. This might make a thesis for someone, possibly entitled, Victorious Refugees from Conflict: The Post-War British Grammar School As Battleground. I wasn’t particularly bright, but the experience affected my ability to concentrate and improve. When I got to A-level my subjects were Art, English and French. I loved them. My art teacher called me by my first name. But, after six months, my father decided there was no future in the arts and persuaded me to change to Botany, Zoology and Chemistry. I remember a conversation between him and my headteacher about my possibly becoming a pharmacist. I didn’t know what pharmacy was. I failed Chemistry, no doubt because the Chemistry teacher was part-nutter, too. I don’t blame my father; I blame myself for not making a stand, initiating a discussion. I’ve been hopeless at making stands and decisions. So, I left school confused and mildly rebellious. University was a disaster, possibly for similar reasons.
Were you good at English?
I was passionate about it. One of my early English teachers was Major Wood. He may have been reluctant to jettison his Army rank but I believe he was tearfully conscious of how vindicated he’d been in confronting Erwin Rommel in the desert. He saw us as empty vessels in the best possible sense: we were ripe for education. He took us for our O-level (now GCSE) year, when we studied both English language and literature for examination. I was probably the only boy in my village of Pontnewydd who enjoyed box analysis, a means of identifying every word of a sentence in terms of its syntactical nomenclature. It came in useful when I was a newspaper sub-editor. The O-level texts were Autobiography Of A Super-tramp, by W H Davies; Morte d’Arthur and Gareth & Lynette, by Tennyson; and Henry V, by Shakespeare. I knew the Davies work by heart, and I can still remember several lines of Tennyson. Shakespeare still thrills me, especially ‘live’ at Stratford. One of my other English teachers was psychotic. A former paratrooper, I think he would have enjoyed taking us out one by one, and I don’t mean on a nature walk. I learned nothing from him, except how to duck when he was hurling missiles around the classroom. Today he would have been hit about the head by militant parents waving placards. ‘Good’ at English implies good at passing exams. That wasn’t what reading meant to me. It was about openings on to other vistas, other lives, other possibilities. Nothing to do with exams.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
I’m not an ambitious writer. Jackie Collins is an ambitious writer, which proves the point to me at least that writers seeking publication are motivated in part by vanity and that the consequence of vanity satisfied is celebrity at one level or another. But what writer doesn’t want to be known by as many readers as possible? I’ve had loads of things published in literary magazines of dim provenance and solemn obscurity. I also spent years writing for a daily newspaper. My book publications include a collection of stories, a collection of poems, and this year a novel. A second book of stories is to be published in November 2016. Business people have true ambition: to make as much money as possible. Writers are, or should be, glad to be able to get something out of their system. Basically it’s therapy. Unless you’re in the Jackie Collins bracket, writing’s a mug’s game as a cash generator. I’ve received enough rejection slips to wallpaper my bedroom and made no money from writing whatsoever, except as a salaried journalist, which is not the same thing. But I’ll still write, I’ll always write – as a hostage to penury.
Which writers inspire you?
Almost every writer inspires me to write. It’s so difficult to get down to doing it. The first book I read was the collected stories of de Maupassant. After him, I wanted to write stories. Perhaps as a result of being schooled by men who were slightly off their snowboards, I’ve been interested in psychology. In my case, that means trying to explain why I tend to enjoy things I could do myself with a little tuition and effort. Art, for instance, which I still practise as a result of that six-month lease on creativity at school. I learned to play piano in my teens, so I love music and became a respected music critic. I don’t play at all now. I’m hopeless at cricket but in other circumstances might have made a fist of it, so I’m interested in cricket, though I’m not at all ‘sporty’. Among influential writers, I often cite those who were also journalists. Hemingway, of course, and Tom Stoppard. Norah Ephron. Lately I’ve been impressed by (the non-journalistic) Alice Munro, Raymond Carver, Sam Shepard – his fiction, though I’m sure his plays are fine – and Anne Tyler. My all-time favourite contemporary ‘modern’ is John Updike. When smart-arses tell me he’s a smug, middle-class word machine, I like him even more. I find the middle classes interesting in literature; the working class, sad for it, is so often portrayed as a mob of undifferentiated street bolshies. The great British working class novel is not anything by Alan Sillitoe, whom I admire, but Room At The Top, by the conservative John Braine, who didn’t preach but observed something that wasn’t very nice: a man ambitious for advancement whatever the cost. I guess most workers would prefer to be watching Britain’s Got Talent than wondering whether they have any untapped skill themselves or should take to the streets in support of the oppressed. That’s how the world works, despite what Marx said. But he’s an inspiration too, inspiring me to gloat over how wrong he was about history being unalterable. And it’s not class prejudice, because most of the middle class probably prefers to be confirmed in its smugness and satisfaction. I hate class, hate categories.The ‘middles’ wouldn’t like the literature that inspires me: the sort that makes you sit up, the kind that subverts received notions. Of course, every writer from Langland to Amis is an inspiration of one sort or another. Except Sheldon, Collins, Steele – that two-dimensional lot, the products of ambition realised. And Updike proved that not everyone in the middle class thought beige was a real colour.
So, what have you written?
I’m a winner of the Rhys Davies Prize for short fiction.
In summary, my publications are:
Funderland (Parthian, 2011): a collection of stories. Funderland was longlisted for the Edge Hill Prize and won plaudits from the Guardian, the Independent, the Times and several others.
Miners At The Quarry Pool (Parthian, 2013). The collection was described as ‘a virtuoso performance’ by Patricia McCarthy, editor of Agenda, and ‘witty, gritty and evocative’ by the New Welsh Review.
Slowly Burning (GG Books, 2016), a novel. I await reviews.
Who Killed Emil Kreisler? (Cultured Llama, 2016). A book of stories, due in November.
The Day’s Portion (Village Publishing, 1987). An early collection of the journalism of Arthur Machen, which I edited with the Machen expert Godfrey Brangham. Now a rarity. Try Amazon but also antiquarian sellers.
All these publications can be bought on the internet, including on Amazon and eBay. The poetry and story collections also from the Welsh Books Council. The novel from GG Books at www.glimpsesofgwentbooks.co.uk I can provide signed, dedicated copies. Contact me for details at email@example.com or 21, Maes Y Llarwydd, Abergavenny, UK NP7 5LQ
As always, the best method is to Google or otherwise browse the titles on the www.
Except for the novel at the moment, prices of these publications vary, from full price to what Amazon amusingly describes as £0.01.
My work for scores of literary magazines, websites and newspapers is sometimes available by browsing my name. In a long newspaper career, I wrote over 1,500 music and theatre reviews. I now review and write for Jazz Journal, Acumen poetry magazine, and the online Wales Arts Review, among others.
Give us an insight into your main character. What does he do that is so special?
The anti-hero of Slowly Burning, my novel, is Bunny Patmore, a former Fleet Street crime reporter washed up on a provincial weekly paper. He receives a letter in the will of a London gangster and sets off to investigate in the West Country. Sensational disclosures ensue. Bunny I see as a receptacle for all that’s good and bad about popular-newspaper journalists. He’s a self-confessed liar, he exaggerates and makes things up; and I have sprinkled the text with inconsistencies, contradictions, mis-rememberings, mis-hearings, solecisms and repetitions, though the reader probably won’t notice. Bunny is a bit careless and cavalier with the facts, but the story he uncovers is one he won’t want to write. Why? Because he’s a genuine cove at heart and understands the difference between fact and fiction. It might even be the theme of the book. The reader chooses. Its main subject, despite the goings-on, is Bunny himself. His father had Alzheimer’s, so maybe Bunny has a touch of it too. Slowly Burning is a first-person narrative, and for the writer that involves ventriloquism. It’s Bunny writing (and mis-remembering), not me. I’ve always been fascinated by the term ‘story’ used by reporters to describe a factual news report. There’s a descant on that in Slowly Burning.
Which actor would you like to see playing the lead character from your most recent book?
In a film, you mean? Brian Cox. It was Cox’s ‘lived-in’ features that were constantly before me as I wrote Slowly Burning. Bunny has been through it personally and professionally – and maybe psychologically. He’s not as good as his job description might have indicated; he half admits as much. But he’s also sexually active, if a little lacking in encouragement. But then, so is the woman he becomes involved with on his search. I read too many books about young people – ‘yoof’ – and not enough about what young people will become, viz., the elderly. Bunny and people of his age have little that’s new to look forward to but they have their past, which is why memory is so important and the loss of it so catastrophic. Bunny’s definitely losing it – or, at least, there’s an explanation for why he says certain odd things: for example, at one point he describes himself as having had ‘a common-law wife of bibulous tendency’ but later describes his wedding at a Register Office. In the 1950s, you were ‘living in sin’ by co-habiting with your partner; marriage solemnised was thus a redemptive act. Yea – Brian Cox. To a tee. And especially as someone who’s stopped drinking and smoking but still bears the scars. When you’re getting on, explanations hold you up and you expect a lot to be taken for granted. There’s no time left, you see. The slow burn eventually turns to ashes. Maybe Slowly Burning is more profound than I intended.
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