You might know Stanley Donwood from his (rather brilliant) art. He’s, among other things, Radiohead’s artist in residence.
More importantly (well, today, at least), he’s a writer too. And a very good one at that. I had the pleasure of reading his latest collection of short fictions, ‘Household Worms‘ just before the holidays and I enjoyed it a huge amount. The book’s filled with great moments, funny ones, tragic ones – all of them believable (no matter how strange they may be) and it comes highly recommended by me.
And here he is. Right here, on the blog, to talk a bit about it.
Stanley! Hello and welcome to the blog. It’s a pleasure to have you here.
It’s very nice to be here, wherever here is.
So, you’ve just published a collection of short fictions, ‘Household Worms’ (which I enjoyed very much). Could you tell us a little about it? Who’s it for? What’s it about?
I’m not sure who it’s for. I tried to advertise it as ‘an idea stocking filler for the slightly deranged’. I also claimed that it was ideal for East Anglians. It’s proved very popular with people who drink in pubs. It’s not about anything in particular, though. Some of the stories are less miserable than others; that’s about it, really.
‘Household Worms’ isn’t your first book, is it? Could you tell us a little about what you’ve put out before, and how they all compare?
My first book was called ‘Slowly Downward’, which was also a collection of stories. The stories in that book were all part of a self-administered therapy, as I had gone a little mad. Originally I wrote out my ‘episodes’ and sent them via post to as many people as I had addresses for, which seemed to alleviate the symptoms. Publishing them as a book helped enormously, and I am no longer mad. My second book was called ‘Catacombs of Terror!’ and was a tawdry, cheap and sensational pulp detective novel featuring guns, drugs and a horde of blind, albino flesh-eating pigs. It was written as a result of a bet that I couldn’t write a novel in a month. I’ve done a few picture books too; ‘Dead Children Playing’ was followed by ‘Department of Reclusive Paranoia’ and then by ‘Red Maze’. [Click to check out his other titles – Nik]
One of things that struck me with the collection was its honesty, even in bizarre or unusual circumstances. Do you think it’s easier to show honesty and truth (in whatever form that might take) when circumstances like those are presented?
I am bemused by your impression, because I hadn’t intended that at all. Even stories that are ‘based on true events’ such as ‘Wage Packet’ are cushioned with a tremendous amount of exaggeration, hyperbole and deceitful interpretation. My actual life is quite mundane and would make dull reading. Or is it? I don’t know, if I’m honest. I have nothing to compare it with.
And talking of slightly unusual situations. I must ask (after reading the brilliant ‘Sky Sports’): would you rather attend a piss foam party than watch the football? Are you not a fan?
I will let my daughter answer this, as she is bored: No, I love football, I try to watch it at least once every day. One day, I think I will learn to play football and join the local team. I will bring fairy cakes and orange squash to boost team morale.
I thought ‘Household Worms’ had moments of brilliant comedy – some really laugh out loud moments. Do you find that an easy thing to write? Is it intentional or does it just happen?
It is not intentional in the slightest. I was actually rather disturbed when my editor and typographer Devlin Crease first read the material and spent a lot of time spluttering with what proved to be amusement. There is nothing funny about it, in my view. Tragedy loves comedy, they say. Whoever they are.
You’re not only a talented short story writer – a few people reading here will possibly know you for the art you’ve created (most notably as Radiohead’s artist in residence). I know this is a huge question but, for you, how does the process of creating stories differ from the process of creating visual art?
It is completely different. It seems that for me the two are mutually exclusive, and I’ve found I can’t do one whilst being occupied by the other. I have been making art consistently for the past five years, and in that time have written no fiction whatsoever. It is possible – even likely – that I will never write again. Unless I stop making art. It’s kind of a shame, because I do like writing, although I find it very hard. Thank you for the compliment though.
Could you describe ‘Household Worms’ in a sentence?
Yours for a tenner.
Any tips you’d offer to aspiring writers (or artists?).
You have chosen a very tricky proposition. Good luck. Try not to give up, but don’t worry too much if you do.
What’s next for you?
I’m having an exhibition of an 18 foot long linocut of Los Angeles being destroyed by fire and flood and meteor storm in a quasi-mediaeval style. The exhibition will be in Los Angeles, appropriately. That will be at the end of April, at Shepard Fairey’s gallery. You are the first person I’ve told, actually. I’m beginning to get nervous about it.
Anything you’d like to add?
I’m going to have a cup of tea now.