Graham Joyce first appeared on my books-to-read radar way back in 1995 when a friend of mine, Sheila Holligon, shared the same publisher and editor. However, I carelessly let him slip past on my blind side and missed the chance to boast I was there at ground zero when his career took off. Over the years Graham's name has cropped up time and time again, always spoken with a hushed sense of reverence, and friends threw me looks of sorrowful pity when I admitted I still hadn't made the effort to seek out his work. It pains me to say that I waited until 2010 before I finally took the plunge with his metaphysical thriller 'Indigo' which possibly saved my sanity while stuck in a grotty Cambridge Travel Lodge in the middle of winter for a whole week. Since then I've devoured many of Graham Joyce’s books whole without even chewing them properly before swallowing. The aforementioned 'Indigo', 'The Tooth Fairy', 'Dark Sister', 'Dreamside', 'The Silent Lands', and the brilliant and almost incomparable 'The Facts of Life', are just a few examples of what can be achieved when a writer has complete faith in the power of his own imagination and the courage to shrug off the confining restrictions of genre fiction.
Despite winning more fantasy awards than I've had spam fritters for lunch, I've never classed his work as Fantasy. What Graham Joyce does is write between the cracks in reality, deep down in those shadowy, hard to reach spaces where anything is possible. His latest novel, 'Some Kind of Fairy Tale' has already racked up a mountain of critical acclaim while his first novel 'Dreamside' has recently been republished on Kindle. If you haven't yet read any of Graham Joyce’s books, go buy/steal/borrow anything you lay your hands on. If you have read his work, just go read them again. Okay, McQuade - get to work.
|Strachan McQuade (R.I.P.)|
McQuade: If I was to describe a much admired British writer as blunt, feisty, outspoken, tender, earthy, passionate, mystical, and almost universally adored by his peers, you’d guess right away whom I was talking about. But enough about me. Today I’m chatting with Graham Joyce, another much beloved writer. Normally, as a matter of form, I refer to guests strictly by their surname which I feel imparts a sense of gravity to these proceeding. However, calling him Joyce would make me feel more than a little uncomfortable so we’ll stick with Graham.
So then, Graham, before we commence with the business at hand I’d like to say I do feel a sense of kinship with you as we’re both goalkeepers. I of course was once a famous international shinty goalkeeper, while you played between the sticks for the England (Writers) team in the World Cup. Obviously there’s more skill involved in shinty goal-keeping as the ball is much smaller and you have to fend off burly, bearded men waving sticks, but I applaud your lesser efforts all the same. My very first question to you shamelessly continues to indulge upon the thinly-veiled goal-keeping analogy – SO – how would you sum up your life philosophy? Catch or Punch? Or is it more a case of simply allowing the ball to trundle through your legs and into the net?
Joyce: You know McQuade, as one gets older, life has a habit of delivering the curving ball. It's as if God or Nature were a kind of meddling FIFA, endlessly piddling about with the stitching on the ball, so that some guttersnipe can make it spin and dip and rise right in front of your face, whereas in the old days the thing would come at you straight and heavy and nicely waterlogged. So in my more mature years I'm much more likely to punch them. I mean punch the ball. As it were. Before it gets up to its tricks. And may I say what a delight it is to encounter a fellow who appreciates an extended metaphor. What was I saying?
McQuade: I've no idea, I was fiddling with my hearing aid while you were talking. History is strewn with the names of famous builders. Noah, who built the Ark is one. Phidias the Greek sculptor who oversaw the construction of the Parthenon is another. Christopher Wren. Isambard Brunel. George Stephenson, and last but not least - Hamish Scott & Sons, who did a more than adequate job of repairing my old church steeple at a very reasonable cost. (Editor - Stop bloody advertising, McQuade!) Great builders one and all. Even God himself is often referred to as the Great Architect. From this rather long winded statement a burning question arises. As a lad, Graham, what did you prefer - Lego or Meccano? Personally I was a Meccano man myself as the little screwdriver provided was not only useful for fixing my spectacles, but could also be used to toast small pieces of turnip over an open fire. Obviously this was before marshmallows were invented.
Joyce: Meccano, man. We're clearly of the same ilk, you and I. As a lad I was fortunate to inherit my cousin John's somewhat rusted but extensive set. I mean there were a lot of bits rusted all to hell and it's a bad joke on a young boy to give him a spanner with no purchase. Plus a lot of those long thin green rods were completely bent out of shape. I daren't speculate what was happening in Douglas's room just before the onset of puberty. Whatever it was he became depressed later in life. Took his own life. I feel sure the corroded nuts had much to do with it.
McQuade: My nuts corroded very quickly after my demise, but a nifty spray of WD40 never fails to restore them to normal working order. I'm terribly sorry to hear your cousin took his own life, but the mental and physical rigours of Meccano aren't for everyone. Those of a fragile disposition would always be well advised to stick with Lego.
Now, back when I still proudly sported the clerical collar I used to enjoy spicing up my Sunday sermons by inserting characters from Grimm's fairy tales into the readings. The look of consternation on my parishioners faces when I'd read a passage from Rumpelstiltskin's letter to the Corinthians was a joy to behold. And renaming the Book of Revelations to Snow White and the Seven Vials always raised a muted chortle or two. This harmless piece of tomfoolery rebounded when I slipped up at the Church of Scotland Synod and referred to the Calvary Cross as the Singing Ringing Tree. This resulted in me having a soft cushion placed on my hard wooden pew as a punishment. The mixing of these mystical metaphors does however pose the pertinent question - would it be true to say that Folklore and Mythology provide a more accurate blueprint for human morality than their more stuffy counterpart, Organised Religion?
Joyce: Sans doute, McQaude, sans doute. And if I tell you that the gypsies stole my tricycle - which at the tender age of five I'd foolishly left at the end of the lane one twilight of an evening - you will understand that I've been waiting for them to return it ever since, as they do in stories. It hasn't' turned up. Forgive me if I'm politically correct here but I know in my heart this tricycle will be returned. It won't look like a tricycle. Because those gypsies - you see - they were not gypsies at all. No. Though the priest and the parson may hate me for saying so.
McQuade: By Jove! What a co-incidence! Gypsies once stole my wheelbarrow. Unlike yourself I wasted no time in alerting the village Bobby who raided the campsite and recovered my wheelbarrow which was being employed by a one-legged gypsy as a make-shift wheelchair. The dishonest fellow was sentenced to six months hard labour you’ll be glad to hear.
I have to remark you’re a difficult sort of bloke to pin labels on as your books don’t so much jump from genre to genre as tear down the walls between them. Is this a deliberate ploy to keep your readers on their toes – expect the unexpected sort of approach? Or do you simply lack the concentration to buckle down and chart a more narrow ‘genre defined’ course like everyone else?
Joyce: Look here. When I was a youth I got into trouble for staring out of the window (or in at the window) at inopportune moments. There's a real temptation in publishing to do the same thing over and over, especially if you have some success. If a writer hits a pleasing note, then the audience wants more of the same. It's understandable. But then writing becomes a performance rather than an exploration. I think there's a huge difference between those two things. I'm not trying to surprise people by tearing down genre walls. I always want to be looking out of the window to see new things. Does that answer your question?
McQuade: Not in the slightest but it did sound interesting in a vague, esoteric fashion. Probably didn’t help that I was reading the Sunday Post during your answer. 'The Broons' are thigh-slappingly funny this week.
A reoccurring theme to your work is the inclusion of underlying anarchy. Free thinking radicals appear in many shapes and guises, spreading a credo of alternative life-management and sexual promiscuity. I did once get involved in a similar experiment of ungoverned communal-living when I attended Theological college. All we did most days was wander around aimlessly wearing frocks and occasionally read a book or two. It does have to be said there wasn’t much in the way of wild sexual frolics unless you count the Reverend Adolf Luther (now a Kirk Session Moderator in Düsseldorf) getting his penis stuck in the opening of a half empty milk bottle. What I’d like to know is – does Graham Joyce still retain an active streak of smouldering working class subversion?
Joyce: Again when I was a youth I was recruited into selling a radical journal which my have been called The Black Mole. Or maybe The Red Mole. Or was it The Little Red Struggler? O I forget. Time does that to you, McQuade. But I was always ready to smash the cistern. When you've been born down a mine shaft it's no surprise to find that the toffs can smell coal-dust on you from a mile away, and they can't help mentioning it, or wincing, or both, can they? And if they want a bit of ferret and fisticuffs well I'm their boy. It's an angry pride and it doesn't go away easily. I must say I have been seen to drink red wine instead of the old frothy amber WMC Federation Ale and that has improved my temper.
McQuade: Strange you should mention a ‘Mine Shaft’. That's exactly what the Reverend Adolf Luther screamed when he got his penis trapped in the milk bottle. Just to end this interview on a more light-hearted note please tell me this. Whether inscribed by chisel upon the cold granite of a headstone or by permanent marker on a small ceramic pot holding ashes and chips of charred bone – what would you have as your epitaph?
Joyce: It was all too brief.
McQuade: My late wife, Edith used to say the same thing about our marital coupling. Still, she got planted in the ground long before me so I had the last laugh. Many thanks to you Graham for your spirited answers. As a token of my everlasting thanks I'd like you accept this tin of pilchards. I tried passing them off to the church fete committee for their Tombola stall a few years back, but as luck would have it I won them back. I was hoping for the bottle of sherry, too. Anyway, I'm sure you can see your own way out. Just be careful not to use my enchanted fire exit or you'll discover twenty have passed in the real world when you...... Ah, too late. I really must get that thing boarded up. Join me next week when I’ll be interviewing Mark Billingham in the famous Glasgow Empire theatre.
Buy Graham's latest novel 'Some Kind of Fairy Tale'
Buy Graham's Kindle version of 'Dreamside'.
Visit Graham's web site http://www.grahamjoyce.co.uk/