BSS #138: Rupert Thomson II, Part Two


[This is the second of a two-part conversation.]

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Sketchily repentant about past prevarications.

Author: Rupert Thomson

Subjects Discussed: Transitory bridges, noir symbols, being called “David Lynch in print,” bland roadside motels, on Death being labeled as a “crime thriller,” writing novels with seemingly preposterous premises, James Hyne’s description of “the tension between distancing and empathy,” reading 47 novels for a prize, Martin Amis’s fiction vs. nonfiction, writing without judgment, car accidents, visceral motivation, Thomson’s nightmares, morphing from an intuitive animal, relying upon The Five Gates of Hell for a forthcoming memoir, manifestations of imagination, Death of a Murderer‘s theatrical qualities, first-person vs. third-person, the richer prose and poetry of The Book of Revelation, individuals vs. social constructs, the convalescence theme within Thomson’s work, subconscious motifs throughout Thomson’s work, the Orwell Estuary, on unexpectedly slipping in future book titles into books, Richard Yates’s book titles, Billy’s parents and family structure, prostitutes in the gray area, moral redemption, and Thomson’s favorite sentence in The Book of Revelation.


Correspondent: This was reviewed in the New York Times by mystery columnist Marilyn Stasio.

Thomson: Yeah. Famous one, is she? I mean, apparently. Yeah.

Correspondent: I have my issues with her, but nonetheless. But when she actually — when they decided to review this book — yours — the first part of the sentence was “Although not in any conventional way a genre novel…”

Thomson: I.e., shouldn’t be in this column at all. (laughs)

Correspondent: Exactly. So the question is: Is there a certain danger, I guess, in dwelling upon a subject like Myra Hindley, because people are going to go ahead and label it? “Oh, well, this must be a true crime!”

Thomson: I just hadn’t imagined they were going to do that. I really hadn’t. And sometimes in the past, I could understand why. They’ve tried it all the way along with me at certain points. I mean, with The Insult, for instance, they tried to sell that as a thriller in the UK. Anyone who wants a thriller is going to be kind of disappointed by The Insult, because it doesn’t deliver in the kind of obvious ways that thriller writers do. In fact, right from page one of that book, you’re going off in a completely different direction to the one you’d normally go in the thriller. And the thriller — having a guy shot in a car park, practically in line one of the novel — normally, you’d then find out what that crime was about, you know. And of course, this goes completely the other way. And equally, with Soft, that was put in crime sections sometimes. I mean, I didn’t really understand. It’s like if you put Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang in the crime section. Because that’s got crime in it. I mean, Ned Kelly was a criminal. So there’s no more reason for a book about Myra Hindley to be put in the crime section than there is for one about Ned Kelly.

BSS #137: Rupert Thomson II, Part One


[This is the first of a two-part interview.]

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Trying to be careful about British accents.

Author: Rupert Thomson

Subjects Discussed: Billy Tyler as one of “society’s dustmen,” Mira Hindley, bridges and Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” readers reading Thomson’s novels too fast, flashbacks, pitch-perfect similes, a momentary interlude for lunch, movie sound effects, getting used to being on the page, active behavior, metal bins, Thomson as a “morally outstanding” individual, filming in mortuaries, chance providing what a novelist needs, Percival and Arthurian namesakes, Old World patriarchal figures, the fixed quality of character names, protection from critical assessments, hopping around in genre, Billy Tyler’s homoerotic issues, gender, The Beatles’s “And Your Bird Can Sing,” Faulkner, Django Reinhardt’s large hands, characters who are extreme versions of the everyday, the possible ambiguity contained within Thomson’s endings, stones and millstones, snooker, being a police officer, truncated names and ellipses, MacGuffins, whether it is pigeons or chickens that come home to roost, and bland hotels.


Thomson: As a novelist, you know there are — I wonder how many, I sometimes wonder how many decisions there are that you make in writing a novel. I mean, I guess it probably goes into the millions. But then I think about all the decisions you don’t make, where you simply trust what your intuition has given you, because, in the case of Newman — for instance, you just mentioned Peter Newman — I didn’t think twice about that name. Newman’s a fairly ordinary name. And I wanted just an ordinary, fairly solid — and, in fact, Susie, I chose that name because Susie, because Billy Tyler marries a girl called Susie Newman, and I sort of wanted to her have a sexy-sounding name. A name that tripped off the tongue. And then I liked the fact that she had become Sue Tyler. You know, she had become dull. As a result of having married.


  • This may very well be a first. Dan Wickett has launched an Emerging Writers Network Short Fiction Contest, in which he’ll be reading all of the short stories and passing 20 finalists on to Charles D’Ambrosio. Talk about using the Internet for an innovative purpose. The prize is $500. And the rules seem more ethical than most literary fiction contests I’ve seen.
  • Robert Birnbaum talks with Alberto Manguel. Borges fans should check it out.
  • The Octavia Butler Memorial Scholarship has been announced. (Thanks, Tayari)
  • Wordstock, which has no relation to a flighty yellow bird or flighty hippies, is happening on April 21-23, 2006 in Portland. Word on the street is that Chuck Barris may challenge Dave Eggers to a fistfight, with Ira Glass as referee.
  • And speaking of literary festivals, Frances digs up this Leah Garchik item: “Books by the Bay, the 10-year-old Yerba Buena Gardens book festival sponsored by the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, is kaput. The association’s Hut Landon said the festival, featuring author talks, panel discussions and displays by various vendors and publishers, had cost $20,000, and organizers felt it didn’t get enough attention to warrant the expense.” Frances opines that if Debi Echlin were still around, the NCIBA would have figured out a way to make up the shortfall. I’m inclined to agree. Last year’s Books by the Bay (interested parties can find my report here) happened to take place on a beautiful and sunny day, but I don’t recall seeing flyers or posters, much less heavy promotion, in indie bookstores to get people there. If there was any lack of attendance, I blame the NCIBA for failing to get the word out. It’s almost as if the organizers wanted Books by the Bay to die. I think enough individual donors or even a few more sponsors could have picked up the slack. I’ll be very sorry to see Books by the Bay go, but hopefully Litquake will be able to pick up the slack.
  • Over at Mark’s, a number of the smart and lovely women contributing to the forthcoming anthology, The May Queen, are guest blogging. A substantial chunk of the contributors are going to be at A Clean, Well-Lighted Place on April 3. I’m almost finished with the book and I’ll express my thoughts (less rushed this time) in a future 75 Books post.
  • Laird Hunt on “Nonrealist Fiction.”
  • The Morning News Tournament of Books continues, although Kate Schlegel is out of her mind to say no to Mary Gaitskill’s Veronica.
  • The Rake faces a dynastic contretemps just before his 30th birthday.
  • A.S. Byatt: “I shall never write an autobiography. The fairy stories are the closest I shall ever come to writing about true events in my life.”
  • More patriarchal bullshit: “the indispensible literary spouse.”
  • “The Dreamlife of Rupert Thomson.” (via Maud, who I understand has a Thomson interview of her own coming soon)
  • Gideon Lewis-Kraus on Black Swan Green: “Most recent bildungsromans stock tinseled epiphanies and fresh-baked-bread redemptions. Though they’re ostensibly about the character coming of age, the bad examples tend to be about coming-of-age itself. But Mitchell has refused the scaffolding on which he might hang a climax. By allowing Jason the stumbling progress of a novel in stories, Mitchell has given him an actual youth, not one smoothly engineered in retrospect.”