Durham-born best-selling author and journalist Benjamin Myers has successfully published two novels, The Book of Fuck (2004), which was also translated into Italian, and Richard (2010). Now his fans are eagerly awaiting his third book. Pig Iron will be in the shops on May 31st. The Bubble has the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the man behind the books.
Your first book was about a hapless music journalist. To what extent does that book fit the mould of ‘autobiographical first novel’? How have you grown as an author since then? – Lara Godden
They say that all first books are at least partly autobiographical and that’s definitely the case with my first novel, The Book Of Fuck. I wrote it twelve years ago. It was about a young, ambitious but misguided music journalist living in dire conditions in London and was written by a young, ambitious but misguided music journalist living in dire conditions in London, so it was sort of an exaggerated version of my existence at that time. An elongated version of the truth. The protagonist was pretty annoying and loathsome and hopefully not too recognisable as being me. Some of the things that happened in the book – getting sent out to LA to track down a reclusive rock star, for example – I experienced first hand. But it’s a surreal, deliberately darkly comical portrait. And if I’m completely honest, it’s a case of hiding behind fiction – a case of the writer telling all, but revealing very little.
Are all your books inspired by political and social issues? – Charlie Bransgrove
No, not entirely. They’re probably more about alienated, marginal people; those who live on the periphery of society whether by choice or not (usually not). That in itself can be political, of course. I think the personal political is infinitely more interesting than the party political, which is generally just a quagmire of hypocrisy, deceit and aimless finger-pointing.
How much of the novel is inspired by your own experiences? – Charlotte Dorrington
There’s a lot of Durham in Pig Iron, and I grew up in Durham so hopefully the representation is recognisable, even if it is a fictional version of a place. A lot of incidents that happen in the novel have happened, though I didn’t necessarily witness them first hand. Stories get passed around and often reach us second hand: things that happened to a friend of a friend…or things that have become urban myth somehow. It’s hard to write and not have personal experience filter through.
In your opinion, what kind of reader will get the most out of this book? – Clare Everson
Hopefully it will appeal to academics, perverts, deviants, intellectuals, criminals, the wealthy, the heartbroken, the corrupt, the insane – and especially Durham students.
What difficulties, if any, did you come across when writing this novel? – Victoria Ferguson
The greatest difficulty in writing a novel is retaining focus and not writing yourself into corners or down blind alleys. You have to keep that focus for months or sometimes years at a time. Then when you’re finished, you stand up, have a stretch, then sit down and re-write it all again. And again. That part is not so much fun…
Cathi Unsworth described Pig Iron as ‘an unflinching testament to Margaret Thatcher’s legacy’. Would you agree with this statement? – Alex Deung
Yes, I think so. Thatcher created a great schism, or maybe a series of cracks, right across the North: in industry, housing, (un)employment, the structure of society itself. She famously said “there is no such thing as society”. Even New Labour couldn’t paper over those cracks that were created. The result today is a generation of people who are the offspring of those who were left behind in the 1980s. People who have never known employment, and have no way of ever funding themselves through university. Durham city is a thriving place but go out to some of the backwaters and it’s a different story entirely. I’m not talking about just Durham or Tyne & Wear, but many of the towns in Yorkshire, Lancashire and so forth too.
Why did you write this novel? – Alex Deung
To transcend death.
How does this novel differ from your other works, such as the much acclaimed ‘Richard’? – Cat Collins
Pig Iron is about a different person in a different place, in a greatly different situation. It’s also purely fictional, whereas Richard was a fictional account of a real person: Richey Edwards. But there are similarities in both protagonists too: they are lost, they are sensitive to the world’s cruelties, they are both seeking some sort of inner peace and escape. They are living life in the eye of the storm.
You mentioned in your Guardian article ‘Mapping the Fictional North’ that there are some areas of the North that seem under-represented on the literary scene. Might you write other books set in such under-represented areas? – Cat Collins
I certainly hope to. There have been some great writers from the Durham area – Pat Barker’s work is amazing – but probably a lot less than certain areas, for example West Yorkshire, where I currently live, which has produced the Brontës, Ted Hughes, Simon Armitage, David Peace, Alan Bennett and countless others. I lived in London for many years and when I left in 2009 I decided to focus on the lesser represented corners of the north, places off the beaten track. It wasn’t even a conscious decision, but more of an impulse or a reaction to my surrounding. I’m a nature boy really, so the rural world is one I want to try and document at the moment. So I’m currently working on a couple of books, one set in the Yorkshire Dales and one set in Cumbria. Sense of place, geography and landscape are quite important to me, so often the setting is as much a character on my stories as the people are.
Pig Iron is published May 31st through Bluemoose. Benjamin Myers will be signing books at Waterstones, Saddler Street on June 16th. If you want to know more about him, visit his website or his Blog ‘Man of Letters’.