A while ago I recommended the really rather fantastic Beat Anthology, the best of the also fantastic site The Beat UK, published by the equally fantastic Blackheath Books. It’s a remarkable collection of stories that it’s rather tricky to track down to a certain theme, oeuvre, or any other arts wank category. Well, almost. Because I did notice a preponderence of public transport. Is this a comment on our eco-aware age? Is it an anti-individualist statement? Are the authors actually, like me, just not quite up to getting a driving licence.
Do I have a favourite? No, not really. I loved Andrew Gallix’s train; and Melissa Mann’s car (hmm, car, it must have been one of those street share jobs). But I couldn’t say one story was better than another. Somehave more modes of transport, and some fewer maybe, but better? That’s about more than planes, trains, and automobiles.
Anyway, before the metaphor breaks under the strain, I got to interview Sean McGahey about the book, the Beat, literature today. Even public transport. Oh, and make sure you check out his really rather amazing new site Resistance Underground.
1. There are some beautiful touches to the actual physical product. How important is it to you what the finished article looks and feels like?
I was always talking about producing an anthology but I couldn’t find a publisher that had the same passion for creating a book that I would want to buy or represent the writers…Geraint created a beautiful neo-bespoke (is that a word?) book…the beat website is a platform…an ageless sterile self-promotional tool…I don’t edit…I select…the anthology content was selected by me, edited by the authors and Geraint created a onetime item of value that will age…and that’s what I like about the book…
2. How on earth did you choose what to include? The selection doesn’t feel curated – it’s not like you’ve put together a “20 pieces about the seaside” book. So what were the criteria? Come to think of it, public transport occurs a lot. Was that conscious?
It was really difficult…If I could do it again I would include Michael Keenaghan…I’ve also had a few angry e-mails from disgruntled American writers “why wasn’t I included…..blah blah blah”…I didn’t reply to them…the authors I asked were all in one way or another responsible for adding a beat to the heart of the site…Keenaghan was also a major player…so if any publisher is looking for the unsung hero of the UK lit-scene…Keenaghan is the one…leagues ahead of Tony O’neill…I should have included a UV Ray story…as for a criteria…nope…the transport thing was a fluke.
3. There’s no poetry.
Ha ha ha! I know…the first draft before I submitted the MS to Geraint had a few poems…but it didn’t work.
4. Joseph comments in the intro that most of those featured are now established. Do you think that’s 1. good because it’ll sell more books; 2. good because it means people are taking great talent seriously and rumours of a glass ceiling are greatly exaggerated; or 3. kinda weird because the whole point is to showcase the new and undiscovered?
Hmmm… I agree with points one and two…point three…yeah it is kinda weird…and I get a shed load of flack…only last week I had an e-mail from a disgruntled author calling the beat scene a cliquey bunch of wankers – it was in response to Lee Rourke being in the anthology and being a rather influential and accomplished writer..to put the record straight – four or five years ago Lee and a few other writers were probably the first UK authors to contribute to the site and made it what it is today…I’m really proud of that…
5. Anything to say about the Oxford Professor of Poetry?
What you’re doing in Oxford is exciting – it was fresh to see an established and growing…dare I say it…’scene’
6. I was intrigued reading some of these pieces – like Andrew Gallix’s and Lee Rourke’s. the short story is a great place for paying with voice and form, but I wonder if the results can ever really transfer to novels. What’s rich in shorts can be stodgy in novels; what’s piquant can become downright tedious. What IS the point of novels other than publishers don’t really know what else to do?
Stodgy…tedious…boring…Jeffrey Archer… zadie smith…they have nothing to offer – they are the KFC of the book world – they give novels a bad name
7. If I had any bones to pick at all with any of the writing, it would be on the question of endings. The endings here are way above what you get in other places, but a lot of really exciting writing struggles with endings and falls into one of three camps I find – 1. the ba da boom punchline – a dranatic, Niles from Frasier pause then a clever remark; 2. the 70s rock pants – strech and squeeze and MAKE it fit; or 3. life is inconclusive and I’m playing the pomo card to say my ending refle… IS there a problem with endings? Why do we notice them disproportionately much? Should we actually stop reading 90% of the way through a piece so we spend our reading lives convinced there are more geniuses than there actually are?
I know what you mean I read a Jeffrey Archer novel…got to the end and wanted to kill myself…never again. I wonder what it would be like to read a novel and miss the last chapter…like ‘On the Road’…do you think that has a good ending? Wonder if you can buy a novel of last chapters? (if no…It was my idea)
8. Your interviews refer a lot to the scene. What is the scene? Are there lots of scenes, and is it/are they a good thing or a bad thing?
The way I interpret the scene is “we are here…this is what we do”…..being in a scene is unavoidable…once you say “I’m not in a scene” and other people agree – you’re in a scene…
Being in a scene is also suffocating…that’s why it’s good to take time out and enjoy what other people are doing. I love the paper based zine ‘scene’ especially the ones published during the late 80s early 90s – it was a bit more rebellious (using the photocopier at work) and uncensored – I would never censor… I also think that se** is a complete ****** and what he did to a donkey…well that was considered *****, you know what I mean? Plus he’s from Birmingham!! **nt