•What inspired you to write CRYSTAL GARDEN?
They say about Paul Weller that he kept putting everyone through the 60s because he missed it the first time around. Having arrived on earth a decade too late myself, I felt a shameful envy that I’d never be able to say: ‘Woodstock? Monterey? I was there’. Living in Liverpool and Manchester and being in a band meant that most musical references were backward-facing, and I’ve always excelled in pointing out how things were good then, but rubbish now.
Hooked on the music and with weird names coming out of the fuzz like ‘The 13th Floor Elevators’ and ‘Moby Grape’, I went on a mission to find out why their sleeve artwork was so full-on and why they thought the electric jug could ever be used as an instrument. Places, names and artists kept popping up and it didn’t seem to matter whether they were musicians, writers, visual artists or just plain personalities, they all jumbled together and accidentally became dangerous. It may have been enough to get a President to pull out of Vietnam, but no one could have foreseen the dirty tricks of Richard Nixon! That’s when I got to thinking about how relevant it all is to where we find ourselves today. Not just politically, but in a planetary sense. It’s great to think that a battle versus The Man may still be on, but the most frightening thing someone said to me was that the whole 60s thing was as stage-managed as a Malcolm McLaren jaunt down the Thames.
•To what extent is the story based upon real events?
This is hard to answer without thinking of the Strawberry Fields refrain: ‘Nothing is real’! In modern parlance it might be considered a ‘mash-up’ of everything that happened, but the scenes, the visuals, some characters and their words are attributable, if you really started digging.
•I felt that there was often an ethereal feel to the writing. Was this intentional as there are elements that recount the experiences of people who are under the influence of drugs?
My style is influenced more by literature than drugs. I like the idea that the Beat Generation was more about transcendence than drug experimentation. I always supported Kerouac’s response to LSD which was to reject it in favour of meditation.
However, when immersing yourself in a culture, everything happens by osmosis, so it’s impossible to really answer this one without getting really ethereal! I suppose it’s right to say that my characters would stargaze rather than wash-up at the kitchen sink. Thinking about literature again, you can take a dose of Burroughs and mix with De Quincey and Coleridge, but how much of this is autobiography and how much is it the opium speaking? The twist is that Kerouac’s style is similar to De Quincey’s.
•This feels very authentic. To what extent is it based on your own experience, or the experiences of people you have known?
I love the idea of mythical allegorical countries or better still an author writing a work of fiction who is then taken to be an authority on a country he has never even visited. To take a flight of fancy, I’ve always had to find the highest cliff. Hats off to the writers that soul search and unearth some deep, buried aspect of their personal past. I might sit instead worrying about some out-of-body collective guilt – ‘apologies for our foreign policy’, ‘sorry for fracking’.
•Why do you think the 60s was a significant period and why?
Greenpeace, black power, gender/sexual rights, animal rights, power to the prole, mind expansion, communal living, free everything and MUSIC!
•Do you feel that there are lessons to be learned from the events described in CRYSTAL GARDEN?
No lessons - unlearn everything and have fun! But seriously, we’re all doomed. The only time I like someone being didactic is when they’re truly funny, like Bill Hicks. I always wanted to write something that never force-fed a single thing – someone can take everything or nothing from it depending on what they’re looking for.
•What is your experience of the art of writing? Do you find it easy or not?
It’s the painful experience everyone has when beginning anything. Blank page, open road, fears of inadequacy. Then, the car starts, you pull away and just GO! I love that feeling – it goes beyond the sensation of singing to the point, even, when you’re convinced the soul is being emitted through the lips. Writing ‘in the zone’ is like some higher power is taking over and typing in a blur. You can’t see your fingers. Finally you crash, inspect the wreckage, frown and try and pick up the pieces.
•Are you inspired to do more writing now that CRYSTAL GARDEN is published? Is there anything specific that you want to write about?
I have to write something that combines the story of my two grandmothers. One was Chinese and 14 years old when the Japanese invaded Singapore in 1942. Her father was killed in front of her. The other nan was a Somerset girl who married my grandad whilst he was serving in the Jordanian army. She moved to the Middle East with him until he was implicated in the Nuwar Coup of 1957 against King Hussein. Only true history could make these things up. When I say I have to write it, I mean this on several levels, including the most important one – a family one.
•What other interests do you have?
Besides collecting music and cats (I have four and am threatening more), I work as a researcher and cataloguer of heroic wartime acts for War & Son Medals. Again, some things that servicemen and women have done is beyond belief. I can scarcely believe some things have actually happened and am veering towards preordained Calvinism as a system – we can’t be here by accident.
•Is there any advice you might give to someone just starting out?
Shane Warne said this and it’s certainly true for the arts: ‘Never give up. Absolutely never give up’.
Copyright © Steve Nuwar – February 2018