NEVER MEET YOUR HEROES.
Especially the writers. Writers whose works have enthralled you the most are the ones you should really avoid. There is no mystery to this. Writing involves sitting quietly alone in a room, not cultivating charisma or honing conversational dexterity. The writer is not typically the person at the party who captivating a throng of admirers with their wit and wisdom. You wouldn’t want to talk to a lot of writers a couple of minutes after having bumped into one.
Alan Moore is different.
I don’t know many parties Alan Moore gets to, but if what I read is true it doesn’t sound as if he leaves one corner of his house much. Good job then that when he interrupts his reveries to talk about his work he’s got something to say about it. A lot to say about it. Talking to him is like breaking open one of his books, as I found when I phoned him to discuss Lost Girls, a book published recently in the US after many years in the making. Having read a number of anodyne interviews with Moore around the time Lost Girls was being readied to print, I struggled to think of questions that would stretch him. With just a few hours to go to the interview I began work on another interrogative gambit. I would forget all pretence of serious questioning and open my interview with, “Alan, what would you say if I said that I hadn’t read any of your books?” or “What would you say if we didn’t do the interview and I fictionalised the whole thing?” A few minutes after I thought this would be a chortlingly surreal opening, and picturing myself sniggering along with it like a kid in a Beano strip while Alan harrumphed his approval at my daring, I pulled myself together. I was about to speak to a man who had written and published more words than a lot of well read people had even read; a writer of comics, poetry and publications of many kinds since about the year I was born; a man credited with redefining the possibilities of a medium; a man whose stories had enthralled me since I was a child; the kind of writer you grew up with, then went back to as you grew older; a children’s writer, an adult’s writer, a writer’s writer; one who blew minds with words… What the hell was I going to ask this person, this… really great writer?
At two minutes past the allotted hour I dialled the number, and the telephone was answered before the third ring by the voice of the man behind the curtain, the wizard of words, the cartooning wonder himself. There was that burr of the English midlands, the voice of Northampton. Before I knew it he had asked me what I thought of his new book, Lost Girls, a book I had been awaiting far longer than was good for me. I was all ready to begin my interrogation, and he was asking me what I thought of his book. I felt like the kid at the premiere of Yellow Submarine who found himself being asked by Paul McCartney what he thought of the new songs, unable to believe that the creator of the work was actually interested in what his public thought. I said it was fascinating, and that “I thought it was a sexy book.” I voiced the hope that I was also going to talk to the artist of Lost Girls, Melinda Gebbie. He said he would see what he could do. There was a brief off-phone dialogue, then Alan explained that Melinda had just returned from a flight and wasn’t feeling up to a chat, so we continued, just he and I.
Tell me how you and Melinda Gebbie met and how you first began to collaborate together.
I’d been familiar with Melinda’s work since the earliest pieces that she did for the Californian underground scene when she was doing things like Tits’n’Clits, Wimmin’s Comix, Wet Satin, Anarchy, San Francisco Comics… And to my mind she was one of the best draughtsmen in the entire underground and there was no need to qualify with the fact that she was one of the best women artists. She was just one of the best artists full stop. I can remember that I’d written back in the very early eighties a piece for one of the British Marvel comics about women in comics, and I’d mentioned Melinda’s work in that. So I’d been familiar with her work for a long time. And then I remember that Edwin Pouncey — Savage Pencil — who was a mutual friend of ours, told me that he had Melinda stopping over at his house (which I was incredibly envious of) and then we met up a couple of times when Melinda was living over here in the later eighties. We met at gatherings, things like that, bumped into each other; we didn’t have any lengthy conversations but I think we liked each other well enough. Finally we got together when there was a proposal for an erotic anthology published over here that I think was called Lost Horizons of Shangri-La, which has since melted into non existence — it never came out but it was instrumental in getting me and Melinda together, and Lost Girls kicked off in that they [the publishers] both approached us independently asking if we wanted to make an eight page comic strip for the anthology. Now me and Melinda had always been used to writing our own work for the underground but I am in many ways similar to a Dalek in that I am immensely powerful but I can’t go upstairs, y’ know, I need an artist to actually produce a piece of comic strip work, and I know that Neil Gaiman had happened across Melinda and suggested that maybe I could collaborate with Melinda upon this eight page strip. So he gave Melinda my number, she called me up. She came up here a couple of weekends to just hash out the idea and probably, yeah, the first couple of weeks we were discussing things we didn’t want to do and ideas started to emerge and I think it was probably a kind of weird fusion of two half-notions that we’d come up with. I’d got the idea that it might be possible to do an erotic version of Peter Pan, mainly because of the flying scenes in Peter Pan and Freud’s assertion that dreams of flying are dreams of sexual expression. It was nothing very complicated, or clever, it was just a half-idea. And Melinda mentioned she was interested in stories that had got a dynamic of three women characters. She’d done a couple of pieces for the underground that had worked on that kind of structure. And these two ideas kind of interbred and it was a fairly logical step from thinking if Wendy from Peter Pan was one of these three proposed women, who would the other two be? It was a fairly short step from that to thinking of Alice and Dorothy, and once we’d got those three names in place the idea just snowballed massively from that point very quickly. I think that probably within another week, or two weeks at the very most, I’d got the entire story roughly planned out and I knew that we weren’t talking about an eight page inclusion in an anthology, you know, so Lost Girls pretty much kicked off from there.
Was Lost Girls more character driven, to see what happens to these characters in another narrative? Or was it more the concept of taking the characters and giving them a sexual life?
It was all of those things. I mean, the initial idea of putting those three characters together was exciting enough. Bear in mind that this was a long time before I did anything with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. In fact, it was Lost Girls that was certainly one of the main parents of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I found that I was having so much fun using other people’s characters in this kind of literary afterlife… and it seemed to work so well in terms of pornography… I thought, hey, maybe this would work for an adventure book as well. And that was pretty much where the whole thing with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen came from. But once we had the idea for those three women it seemed that they would serve our purposes sublimely in terms of the kind of sexual narrative we wanted to tell, in that they provided an immediate source of identification for most of the readers. We all grew up reading about these characters when we were at a very young and impressionable age and to a certain degree… We read about them as children, now we’re adults reading about them as adults. There’s a certain sort of identification you can get there… To a certain degree every single one of us was once a beloved children’s fantasy character, even if only to ourselves. All of us, our own lives, our own childhoods, we mythologise them, and we probably sentimentalise them. So these characters that we first encountered when we were young, they almost become a kind of shorthand for ourselves. That was what we were hoping. And the fact that each of these three female characters are suddenly plunged into this bizarre world in which nothing makes sense in the way that it once had done, which seemed like a kind of a no-brainer in terms of being a metaphor for how all of us, to a certain degree, enter into sexuality. Then there was the characters themselves and those specific narratives seemed to offer such a lot of material that could be interpreted sexually. I’m not suggesting for a moment that any of them intended anything sexual in those narratives. I think quite the reverse, with the possible exception of Peter Pan, which is the darkest of the three stories and it does seem to have an awful lot to do with growing up. But even if the authors didn’t intend anything sexual in their stories they were drawing imagery from their own unconscious so it’s not really surprising that there are going to be sexually symbolic elements that creep into the original imagery. It seemed like fair game. It seemed like whether the authors had intended the sexual element or not that was at least a reasonable interpretation, amongst many, that could be drawn from that material. And it provided us with a quite interesting intellectual puzzle, taking these events from these three stories, how can you possibly decode this part or that part and make it into something that is both sexual and meaningful? When it works it works wonderfully, you know, the final scene with Captain Hook where we made sense of the alligator and the clock in its stomach in terms of the anxieties of a predatory paedophile. When it worked it really seemed to work well, you know, it seemed like these were obvious ideas, almost, to be drawn from the original texts and it seemed sort of natural, even though they did take an awful lot of contrivance. We’ve had a few people that have said that when they’re read the scenes in Lost Girls they have a strange sense of deja vu because they are so familiar with the regular versions of those particular scenes.
There’s a kind of intersection that happens between the original narratives and what you’ve created that forms something special there.
Hopefully, yeah. We wanted to be as true as possible to those original stories and characters because both the characters and the stories we respect a great deal. So we very much tried to make it a realistically conceived notion of what Lewis Carroll’s Alice, for example, might have grown up into. We had to make assumptions about the class of the three characters because we were delighted to find that not only were they three different ages, that they also come from three different class backgrounds, which was something that we wanted to emphasise. But we tried to project those childhood characters forward. You know, Wendy the way J. M. Barrie portrays her is a very respectable, almost prudish, middle class little mother, whereas Alice could conceivably come from a fairly well heeled Oxford background. That seems conceivable. Dorothy, of course, is from rural Kansas and it’s a fairly blue collar existence. We tried to extrapolate from what we could believe about these characters… and our Alice, yes, she is semi addicted to laudanum but that really wasn’t something that we just pulled out of thin air. Of all the three books, the one that seems to have the most overt drug references is Alice in Wonderland, as Jefferson Airplane so wisely pointed out for us in White Rabbit. She does seem to eat and drink a lot of substances that change her size; there is that hookah smoking caterpillar… so that seemed to be an element along with the general psychedelia of the Alice story itself. It is very opiated and strange.
I was going to ask you about that, wondering what part drugs played in the creation of the books — if at all.
Well, about the same as they play in any of my work. I’ve been smoking hashish since the age of fifteen, so that’s, what, thirty seven years now. Christ! Is it really thirty seven years, well, well. So it’s something throughout all of my work… I am probably sitting there and smoking while I’m doing it. It’s something which is pretty much like eating or breathing to me now. It doesn’t really disable me in any way. I don’t think that I am a traditional stereotyped pothead in that I don’t just sit on the sofa all day, I do quite a lot or work, and I find that it really helps with the work. That said, it probably also colours certain perceptions in the work, so if I was writing about Alice I probably tend towards more florid and drug influenced language because that would seem to be more appropriate to the character. Beyond that it certainly wasn’t a work where I would be doing magickal rituals involving drugs as I would have done for, say, Promethea or work like that. It’s whatever’s appropriate to the work in question. But with Lost Girls it was just the general default tons of hashish really.
I was wondering about you and Melinda in the process of creating the books, about how your relationship developed.
It’s interesting. It’s a good question. Obviously, the book has taken us, what, sixteen, seventeen years to do, and there’s a lot of relationships that don’t actually last that long. So it’s the first time that I’ve collaborated on anything major with a woman, but it’s certainly the first time that I’ve collaborated on anything with somebody that I’m in a relationship with. It would seem that there might have been all sorts of problems but actually we found that the reverse was true, that to some degree there was a kind of — horrible modern word — but there was a kind of synergy in it in that I think that the book certainly helped our relationship in that if you’re going to be doing this kind of material then a prerequisite is that both collaborators have to be completely honest about their reactions to various ideas. So right from the very start there was a kind of sexual frankness that was existing between us that was almost demanded by the work and there’s a probably a lot of people who can have relationships for years who never achieve that level of frankness which was the level we started out at.
You must have found out things about each other that surprised you both. I can imagine you possibly thinking of a scene and then thinking, “I wonder how this is going to play with Melinda.”
During that sixteen or seventeen years we had endless conversations about almost every conceivable aspect of the work, about almost every conceivable aspect of each panel. Sometimes I would suggest a scene for way down the line, and Melinda would perhaps suggest that she had some reservations, maybe, so we’d discuss that and I’d try and think of ways to adapt the scene so that I still found it as exciting and so that Melinda found it exciting as well. It was a good acid test for the material, if we could after great deliberation both arrive at a point where we thought that yes this is the scene and this is how both of us feel comfortable with it and how we best imagine it. That happened an awful lot. Actually we disagreed on surprisingly few things. That’s possibly because we both have very similar agendas that we arrived at independently. We were talking about this the other day, that actually, looking at it, Lost Girls is pretty much a perfect product of the agendas of the 1960s, which was the time when me and Melinda had our most formative experiences politically, and in terms of life experiences. If you look at Lost Girls it’s got an incredibly strong anti war message, it is pro sex, it is dripping with art nouveau, it’s about Alice in Wonderland and children’s fantasy stories. These are all classic motifs of the 1960s, everything was in art nouveau, we’d only just discovered Aubrey Beardsley at the time, or at least in faux art nouveau. There’s even a lot of flowers throughout Lost Girls, it’s a very flower powered narrative. It’s talking about Victorian times, Edwardian times, but I think the agendas behind Lost Girls pretty much do boil down to make love not war… Given that we both have this almost identical agenda: sex is good, war is bad, all these other simplistic hippie notions that are so dear to our hearts. And so there were very few points at which we disagreed upon. I can’t really think of any major points of disagreement… Melinda was very concerned that all of the scenes have an inviting warmth — if that was appropriate — to them.
There must have been — I’m guessing — there was a point where you were thinking during the creation of it that this is going to be quite strong; that this is going to have ramifications wider than with people who ordinarily read graphic novels.
This occurred to us right from the start because the subject matter is so universal. You don’t have to know the complete back story of Superman to enjoy reading about sex. You don’t need all of that cluttering continuity that affects most genres. There has been nothing like this actually done before, not just in the first person, not as far as we know, but in the wider field of erotic art, I don’t think there’s been a work of this ambition… There might be something that might turn up but I couldn’t think of anything, not this sustained and like I say not with this much ambition. Given that, we were aware that this was going to be something pretty spectacular and something fairly new. We couldn’t even let ourselves even think about… I mean, obviously we knew there might be a huge negative reaction to it. That was always a possibility. But it seemed that if we took our time with it and if we did it to the best of our abilities that we might be able to take Lost Girls and pornography into some completely new area where pretty much all bets would be off. I remember that during the sixteen years there have been various comments upon Lost Girls from the comics press. I remember reading somebody saying that, “You know, this is a work that I’m really looking forward to, it’s a pity that because of its subject matter it probably won’t get a very wide audience,” and I was thinking I really can’t understand that point of view. I mean, the guy was being very sympathetic towards Lost Girls but it seemed to be such an insular comic book viewpoint: the idea that something that is based around sex is automatically not going to get a wide audience, whereas if it had been based around superheroes, of course, in comic book terms they would be thinking the sky’s the limit.
Did an English writer say that?
I can’t remember to be perfectly honest. I remember it struck me as odd because right from the beginning I was kind of thinking that, actually, if we do this well enough this could be massive. We got a lovely postcard — if you can just excuse me bragging for a moment, I’m as smug as hell about this — we got a lovely postcard from Brian Eno, who’d got a copy of the book and was describing it as epoch making or at least epoch shaking, which might be over egging the pudding a bit but it’s a very nice thing to say… We also started to see parallels as we approached the publication of the book that we hadn’t originally intended to be there but these parallels had started to emerge with Stravinsky. Originally, when we included the Rite Of Spring — which is one of my favourite pieces of Melinda’s artwork in the entire book — when we originally included that at the end of Book One it was purely for structural reasons and historical reasons. It seemed like a great way to end the first third of the book with this ominous suggestion that all was not right in Europe, that there was sort of an emotional storm brewing, that the attending Rite of Spring had somehow kicked off or played into, and that as we’ve approached the publication of the book… I’m not equating the Rite of Spring with Lost Girls in any way, except that they’re both about quite primal things, they’re both about sex and death, they’re both being released into a world that is, at least in terms of America, is probably more repressed than in any time in — well, certainly in my lifetime, since the Eisenhower years. There’s an incredible level of repression, sexual repression over there, and there’s also all of these political tensions existing in the world. It is obviously overripe for war and this is coming out of the early years of the twenty-first century. Rite of Spring came out in the early years of the twentieth… you know, it struck me that there might be a couple of interesting parallels there…
There’s already plenty of reaction on the Internet to it. There’s already a lot of debate, both pro and against what you’ve done from people who haven’t read the book.
This is the thing. Leah, my daughter, was telling me that she’d been looking on some of the messageboards and websites, and she said that, “You’ve got some people who have not read the book who are reacting to the concept of the book,” or overreacting to the concept of the book. And there was apparently some string of commentary that kicked off with someone saying “Alan Moore is fucking sick,” and going on about how this was a foregone conclusion given the nature of Lost Girls, and Leah said that actually developed into a really interesting message strand, lots of other people joined in with the debate and she said that it was generally illuminating that there were people discussing issues that they would perhaps otherwise not have discussed, and she said that the end result was actually fairly informed and intelligent which is a good thing. Whatever the outcome of the debate if these things are even being talked about then that is certainly is step in the right direction. One of the main things we wanted to do with Lost Girls was to transform pornography into something that might actually have a social and human function, something where pornography could become an arena, a forum in which our sexual ideas could be discussed openly and without shame and guilt, and could be discussed harmlessly. There aren’t really any such forums, other than the current generally dismal regular pornography, or the antiseptic sex manuals, neither of them representative of the way most of us feel if we’re actually thinking about our sexuality.
I wondered if it might possibly inspire some couples to attempt to create pornography together with each other.
I would recommend it. We were saying a while ago, I thought the fact that me and Melinda were working upon Lost Girls was an incredible benefit to our relationship, and I would recommend it, yeah. The secret of a long and happy relationship: work on a really complex piece of pornography together and I guarantee it will work wonders. On the other hand, I think that there was feedback the other way in that I think that the fact that me and Melinda were in a relationship together brought something to Lost Girls that would not always have been there. I think that there was a warmth and a kind of compassion in Lost Girls that is not generally there in other pornography, and I think that to a certain degree that probably came from the fact that me and Melinda were in a loving relationship.
The other books that you quote from… I think it’s in Book Three in the chapter “A Merry Crew Beneath The Setting Sun,” with the book by Pierre Louÿs… Now that’s a real book, isn’t it?
Well, “A Merry Crew Beneath The Setting Sun” is actually a quote from one of the three source books — probably from Peter Pan. Now, Pierre Louÿs, he’s a real author as were all of the authors we were pastiching, and it was a pastiche, it wasn’t really by Pierre Louÿs but he was a fantastic pornographer. I mean, he had early literary success with, I think, Love Song of the Lotus, which got him immense literary acclaim and a lot of money, and literary acclaim so disgusted him that he spent the rest of his life writing pornography that he knew was so over the top that it could not be published. Nevertheless, there were a few pamphlets of his work that were published. But I thought that was very committed, you know, to actually brush aside respectable literary fame and just devote himself purely to pornography. His most available pornographic work is The She-Devils, which is published I think by Creation Books. That is probably a lot stronger than we made the supposed Pierre Louÿs section in Lost Girls, and the illustrations for that section, that was the Marquis Von Bayros illustrations. Those were the ones that nearly sent Melinda mad because she was trying to pastiche all of these artists, these great erotic artists, including ones like [Otto] Mueller, who perhaps due to overexposure people don’t think of as an erotic artist, but he was. Then there was Goder Wegnar who was a wonderfully cartoonish German woman artist of the twenties, something like that. Pastiching her style was relatively easy but then you get to… I mean, even Beardsley, it’s fairly easy to pastiche Aubrey Beardsley but the Marquis Von Bayros, he was a real person, he lived in Austria. You can find his work in those collections of TASCHEN. They were beautiful b&w illustrations with exquisite detail, every piece of lace had got an erotic scene embroidered into it, every bedpost was carved with intertwined fawns and nymphs, and I know that Melinda, she spent — that was probably the demanding section of Lost Girls for her, just working on those Von Bayros pastiches because she had to make it as insanely detailed as the originals or it wouldn’t have looked like Von Bayros.
I didn’t realise that was her work. I thought that was by a different hand.
Oh yeah, everything in there was Melinda’s. She is very versatile. And the illustrations that accompany the Oscar Wilde chapter of the white book, where it was supposed to be an expurgated chapter of Dorian Gray in which Dorian is taken to a male brothel. And so I was doing my best to pastiche Oscar Wilde, which is very difficult because he was a clever bugger, and almost every line is an epigram, very difficult to keep up but luckily I only had to keep it up for four or five paragraphs. Melinda did all those Egon Schiele pastiches that went with that. Everything in Lost Girls is Melinda’s… When Melinda first came up to visit she brought up her portfolio. Now, bear in mind that I’d only seen Melinda’s b&w work for the underground and one of the first things that I saw was what her colour work looked like and that was what decided me on, yes, Lost Girls had to be a full colour work that would actually show off what Melinda could do with colour because it was obviously an incredible strength of hers. And I also noticed how good she was at pastiching other artists’ styles and I thought that it would be really good… I know that she enjoyed doing it as well, it was a lot of fun to recreate the style without actually swiping anything, you know. It’s a challenge and it’s a lot of fun. So that was more or less the genesis of the whole idea of the white book, of this kind of porno Gideon’s Bible that’s in every hotel room. We wanted to give a kind of potted history of erotica included within Lost Girls.
It helps to make the main characters’ stories stronger, more believable if you like, when they are reading stories in embedded narratives; it’s a very powerful technique.
Well, it also manages to make a very strong contrast between pornography as it is conventionally understood and pornography as we attempted to make it in Lost Girls. I mean, one of the nice things Neil said in his review was that in pornography generally there are no consequences. There are no pregnancies, there are no emotional consequences. It’s a pornotopia in which these stories occur, whereas in Lost Girls there are all sorts of consequences. So it was interesting to have our kind of pornography in the foreground and to contract that with these imaginary but fairly typical other forms of pornography, these worlds in which — you know, in the Pierre Louÿs and the Franz Von Bayros story in which you’ve got unbridled incest and everybody’s completely happy with it, which of course is something that I don’t think happens in the real world, it only happens in the realm of pornography. So it was interesting to contrast that with the different form of pornography that we were attempting to construct with Lost Girls where these are real characters or as real as we can make them, where they do actually have character which is more than can be said for the protagonists of most pornography, and where the things they are doing and the things that have happened to them has emotional consequences. It’s a fairly small alteration to the pornography formula but perhaps quite a vital one. I mean, if you actually care about these characters it’s sexier, isn’t it? And at the same time it’s more fulfilling in other aesthetic senses. I’m not anticipating that Lost Girls is going to set off a wave of beautifully rendered and literate pornography but it would be nice to think that we’ve provided some sort of benchmark, something that says that this is possible, it is possible to produce something like this from the human imagination, something in which sex and sexuality are treated with the beauty that they deserve. To read Lost Girls you’d think that there was nothing shameful about having thoughts concerning sex, which is the kind of impression that we wanted to give because it strikes me that the way people generally regard pornography is a kind of — at least in cultures such as here or in America — the way that pornography generally functions in those cultures is as a kind of control leash. In cultures such as Holland or Spain or Denmark where they have a completely different relationship to pornography, where pornography is widely available and is so ubiquitous that people hardly notice it… Those countries have a much lower incidence of actual sex crime than Britain or the United States. In our cultures we’ve got just as much pornography as they’ve got in Denmark or Holland or Spain but we’ve got a different attitude towards it. We have all of this immense reservoir of guilt and shame that is seemingly hard wired to our sexual imagination, and we exist in highly sexualised societies in which every Pot Noodle advert is dripping incongruous sexual imagery. And the sexual imagery in a Pot Noodle advert is not just selling Pot Noodles, it’s also selling sexuality itself. It’s helping to increase the sexual temperature of the entire culture, as if every twelve year old girl in a “Porn Star” t-shirt, this kind of post Spice Girls sexualising, of self sexualising of the nation’s nine year olds, which of course all The Media cheerfully go along with ’cause it’s, “Aw, isn’t it cute, she’s got a belly button ring and lurid suggestion on her t-shirt.” So, we end up with these very sexualised societies and some people under the pressure of that are going to try to find some sort of release, probably in pornography, and the moment that they have achieved that release they will immediately be plunged into feelings of shame, wretchedness, self disgust, loneliness. It’s a bit like a B. F. Skinner lab experiment only crueller. It’s like if you’ve got your behaviourist rats in their boxes and you’ve given them the stimulus, you’ve shown them Britney Spears in her schoolgirl outfit in that video enough times so that they’re really charged up, you’ve given them the stimulus. Then they press the lever and they get their brief couple of seconds of orgasmic reward, and then immediately after that they get an electric shock, immediately they’ve got the reward they’ve got the punishment: shame, guilt, wretchedness, loneliness.
Those are emotions that you have your characters experiencing, and that for me helps make it sexier because it feels more believable. They have these wonderful scenes of sexual abandon, and then afterwards they feel shame and guilt, and real human emotions, and that’s something that’s absent from ordinary pornography.
Almost anything that isn’t involved with… plumbing and meat mechanics is absent from most pornography. If you look at the way that pornographies are structured you’ll find that most writers of pornography, they start at full blown orgy level and they continue at full blown orgy level, and they end at full blown orgy level, with an exhausting number of repetitive permutations in between. With Lost Girls the first book is almost innocent. I don’t think there’s any penetration in the first book. It’s in the second book that the action becomes a bit faster and a bit more frequent. And it’s not until the third book that we sort of crossover all lines and plunge into the full blown sexual hinterlands, which was intentional, y’know? An ordinary novel would have a structure and build to a climax, so surely pornography should build to a climax — any genre should. We wanted to do all the things that regular writers, proper writers and artists, do in order to engage an audience’s attention, and we thought that this would only enhance how sexy the book is. You don’t want to hear about the mundane concerns of somebody’s life in the middle of a hot sex scene, no, that wouldn’t work, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t want to hear about their personality or their experiences. It’s possible to write stuff that is sexy where there’s other stuff going on as well. As long as you can keep the readers’ sexual interest engaged then all of the other stuff can be absorbed around the periphery, they’ll be picking up the rest of the stuff subliminally, they’ll be starting to find that they like one of the women more than the others, they’re finding out about the three different characters. They’re actually interested in the characters rather than who they’re having sex with and how they’re having it.
Would you be intrigued by the possibility of a filmed version of it?
Er, no. I think that you know the answer to that one before you asked the question… That said, I have — I mean, just because I’m cranky with the whole idea of film adaptations, that doesn’t mean that my collaborators should be penalised. I’ve stated that I simply don’t want any of my works to be filmed but in the cases of collaborative works it wouldn’t really be fair for me to say that therefore Melinda should forego anything like that, so what I’ll do is I’ll put the choice firmly in Melinda’s lap, that should someone express an interest in making Lost Girls into a film — although I can’t think why, it would be pointless, when it’s so beautiful as a book.
And the language would be a problem, and —
Everything would be a problem. When I did From Hell, y’know, I was aware that comics was the only medium that I could get away with From Hell in. The frankness with which we approached the whores in From Hell, you could only do that in a comic book. If you did that in a film it would unbearable. Like the same with Lost Girls. Considering that comics are still thought of in some quarters as a medium for children it’s amazing what we can get away with in comic books but you could never get away with in film. It’s an incredible freedom that the medium does give you, which we’ve tried to exploit with Lost Girls, so you know, there probably wouldn’t be a lot of point in trying to realise it on celluloid. I am kind of notoriously cranky on films. That’s probably just as much to do with my psychology as to do with anything rational. No, if somebody did want to make a film I wouldn’t have any objections as long as I didn’t get any money for it and my name wasn’t anywhere near it.
I’ll just pick up on a detail that struck me from one of the chapters, which is when Peter Pan says to Wendy… I think she mentions that he’s using “fairy language” when he used words like “fuck” and “cock.”
That’s a nice little scene wasn’t it? I was quite surprised at how that came out. I was trying to equate fairies with the working class in some way, I suppose. I mean sometimes I do these things and then have to unravel them afterwards: What did I actually mean by that? I probably just wrote it because it sounded good.
I wondered if maybe it had sprung from your magickal experiences.
Not really… To a certain degree everything that I do and everything that I write springs from my magickal experiences in the sense that magick these days, twelve years into my magickal career, has become indistinguishable from the rest of my life, it’s no longer a weird place that I visit at weekends. So I suppose that all of my outlook and to a certain degree all of my art is gonna be influenced by it, but I think in that particular instance it was more the — I was more trying to present Wendy’s view of a child from a traditional middle class Edwardian background of the kind of working class scum that her and her brothers had happened upon playing in the spinney. To them, the working classes would almost seem like a strange other race, a fairy race perhaps, and that the traditional coarseness of working class language, words like “cunt” and “fuck,” might seem, at least — I could imagine that to certain ears they could almost seem like a forgotten ancient language that was spoken amongst the fairy folk… That was a passage that stuck out to me when I was rereading it. I was quite pleased with that one.
I’m going to ask you about a couple of other works. You’re working on a novel called Jerusalem.
That’s right. Probably the best thing I’ve ever done… at least to my mind. And almost certainly the longest that I will ever do. It’s looking to be over half a million words, which I’ve been told is about fifteen hundred pages, which has gotta be getting close to the actual physical limits of how big and thick a book can be because this is not something that can work as separate volumes. It is divided into three parts but they’re not parts that would stand separately as volumes. It’s a very strange piece of work and it’s completely devouring my entire life. I’ve been working on it for about the past eighteen months.
Are you doing historical research for it?
To a certain degree. I’ve probably already done most of the historical research. Because of the nature of the book it’s all about the area that I grew up in, which is an area in Northampton called The Boroughs. If you go back to the 1200s The Boroughs was Northampton. Most of the early history of Northampton, which is quite colourful, happened in The Boroughs, which means that at the end of the street that I was born in, St Andrews Road, there was Castle Station which was formerly Northampton castle which was formerly the castle of bad King John, as mentioned in the opening scene of Shakespeare’s King John, therefore it was the castle in which Richard the Lionheart raised the first Crusade, the western world’s first major contact with Islam — and we all know how that worked out. Oliver Cromwell stayed in The Boroughs… We’re talking about half a square mile of ground here, of dirt. Oliver Cromwell stayed there the night before he went to Naseby. The War of the Roses was concluded just outside The Boroughs in Cow Meadow. Charlie Chaplin began his career in The Boroughs. He was born and raised in Lambeth, as was my grandmother, but he did one of his first performances at the age of seven at the bottom of Gold Street in Northampton, right on the corner of The Boroughs with The Seven Lancashire Lads. He gets a chapter, although I don’t identify him as Charlie Chaplin because that would be over egging the pudding, so I’ve just got a chapter from this particular character’s point of view, and he never identifies himself as Charlie Chaplin but the audience will probably catch on. And all these astonishing things… I mean, Thomas à Beckett and Northampton Castle was the castle where Henry II invited him, apparently as a gesture of reconciliation, but Henry was selling him out to all of the barons that were baying for his blood and his property, so that was just before Beckett fled the castle and by circuitous route went to Dover and went to France for three years before he was persuaded to come back and got martyred at the abbey… Samuel Beckett, he makes an appearance —
Well, he came to Northampton to play cricket. He’s mentioned in WISDEN for his innings at the county ground, which is just at the bottom of the street where I live now. But fascinatingly, while the rest of the cricket team were out that evening sampling Northampton’s other famed attractions, which was drink and prostitutes, apparently Beckett decided that he’d go on a weird nocturnal walk taking in all of Northampton’s fantastic churches, because the three oldest churches in the country are in Northampton, two of which are in The Boroughs. So yeah, one night Samuel Beckett was creeping round all of these ancient churches as an alternative to drinking and whoring, and so that night gets an inclusion. Lucia Joyce turns up in the book, James Joyce’s daughter who was in the mental home next to the school that I was at all the time that I was there. I didn’t realise it but she was there for about thirty five years. Lots of strange historical presences and more recent figures, and all of the actual people who lived in The Boroughs, which is where I’ve been not so much doing historical research but doing kind of living memory research. I’ve been down to visit a couple of the old ladies who I know who still live down The Boroughs, or who used to live down The Boroughs, and I’ve just got this fantastic material that is unbelievable. Some of the facts I’ve picked up about this area from the ordinary and extraordinary people that live there.
It sounds wonderful, very unique.
It’s got everything in it. I’ve got a black slave who’d been liberated from a plantation down in Tennessee in 1865 at the age of about thirteen, and who still had the brand of the slave plantation on his shoulder so they must have branded them early. But Ian Scarlet Wellstreet in The Boroughs is a rag-and-bone man, riding along on a bicycle that had rope instead of tyres. And I’ve got a fantastic chapter that deals with him and so I’m dealing with race and with the black population in Northampton with what has happened to The Boroughs because it is the red light district in Northampton now, it’s an absolute running sore of a neighbourhood, it’s always been the poorest neighbourhood in town but there was an incredible sense of community when I was growing up there and that has completely gone. It’s a kind of a moral crater, y’know, which is partly what the book’s about. But in amongst all this, the main core of the book is an argument that hopefully answers the questions of life and death and what it’s all about. Do we go anywhere when we die? To which my answer is, no actually, we stay here and we very probably have our lives over and over and over again down to the last exact detail, which is something I’ve since found out is something that Nietzsche talked about in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. I was thinking about space and time as modern physics would have us understand it, and it struck me that if I understand Einstein or the rest of them as well as I think I do, then they’re talking about space-time as a four dimensional solid in which there are the three dimensions that we recognise and there is a fourth spatial dimension which we do not perceive as a spatial dimension, we perceive it as the passage of time, and if that is true that means the whole of the universe is kind of coexistent. All the moments that ever were or ever will be are happening at once in some giant hyper-instant that’s got a bang at one end of it and a crunch at the other, and every moment in between is suspended there unchanging forever. Change in the universe would be something that is only apparent to our consciousness as it moves along the time axis. And that struck me as, well in that case if every moment exists unchangingly forever that includes all the moments that makes up our individual lives in which we are demonstrably alive and conscious. And so if they’re unchanging then we have to be alive and conscious in that tiny little filament of space-time that is ours… forever. And it struck me that it would certainly explain deja vu, wouldn’t it?
What you’re saying is something very close to my thinking over the past few years about change, about place, and about how so much is spoken about change. We’re always told that things are changing all the time, but the more I consider this the more I think that very little changes in terms of human beings.
Things appear to change but pretty obviously things work out how they were going to. The thing that apparently Nietzsche and my favourite artist Austin Osman Spare balked at was this idea of recurrence, the thing that they really couldn’t accept was that it implies that there is no such thing as free will, which they found too upsetting to tolerate, which I’m fairly relaxed about. I’ve been reading some interesting stuff in New Scientist about the mathematician Gerard t’Hooft (who’s got one of the loveliest surnames I’ve ever I’ve had the privilege of pronouncing). He recently proposed (this is in science-philosophy and we haven’t actually got a way of verifying it yet) there was a sub strata underlying the quantum level in which all the ideas of quantum uncertainty are actually resolved, so that there is no quantum uncertainty, which would also mean that there is no free will. So it’s a contentious theory, one that I’m playing with in Jerusalem. And I’ve gotta say, whether this idea is true or not, I find it a very likeable idea because —
It takes a lot of pressure off.
In some ways it does and in some ways it certainly pressures on you. This is a completely secular idea, at least potentially. It doesn’t require a god. It just requires us, our consciousness running on this endless loop in our little filament of space-time. Now there are interesting moral dimensions to that. For one thing, the best moments of your life forever. That is surely your eternal reward, that is Heaven. The worst moments of your life forever, that is unending damnation, isn’t it? That is Hell. And so I think there’s enough Heaven and Hell in this idea to satisfy even the most fervent brimstone preachers, and there’s a sort of a moral sense that you can extract from it in that, if you’re going to be living this moment, this moment right now, forever — potentially — then live it as joyfully as possible. Try not to do anything that you cannot live with — potentially — forever. It’s not saying that there’s gonna be some god who’s watching you and is going to come along and judge you. It’s saying that actually you’re going to be judging yourself… at almost every moment.
And it focuses all responsibility on the individual. You can’t dump any of it onto another —
— A devil or even society at large. You can’t say it’s my parents’ fault, it’s society’s fault, government’s fault. It’s saying, this is your life. This is your life, live it. Live it with responsibility, take responsibility for each second of it, and take responsibility for who you are because it might be who you are eternally. Because of course this wouldn’t be the first time we’ve been through it, would it? That’s not very likely. I mean, it suggests that, in a sense, we’ve already, all of us, been dead for centuries. We are being looked back upon in some funny coloured photo album by people not yet born at the same time that we’ve not yet been born, and most of our ancestors have not yet been born. I’ve put the idea to a number of people, and they’ve either found it incredibly comforting, while some of them have found it incredibly frightening, they’ve really not liked the idea at all, and I think that’s interesting that response. It seems that there might be something to this idea. So I’m kind of unfolding this idea throughout this half-a-million word novel. There’s outrageous fantasy in there, there’s ghosts, there’s demons, there’s angels, there’s fairies, but not quite as they’re normally depicted.
Would they be based on your magickal practices?
Yeah, a lot of them are based on magickal insights but that said they’re not gonna conform to any kind of Golden Dawn or comparable view of magick. There’s the bit that I’m doing at the moment, the middle third of the book, reads more like a children’s story, but a very adult children’s story. It’s mainly because it’s primarily about children, a gang of dead children running round through the afterlife, a sort of fourth dimensional afterlife for the entire middle third of the book. The writing is quite adult and grown up but the fact that it’s about children and from their perspective tends to give it that children’s book feel. Meanwhile it’s talking about fourth dimensional mathematics and morality and the persistence of events. I’m having a lot of fun with it. It’ll be another couple of years before it’s done.
In terms of your writing, is this the major project that’s consuming you?
At the moment, yes, it’s the only project that’s consuming me with my writing with the exception of the continuation of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen that me and Kevin O'Neil will be working on. Kevin at the moment is just finishing The Black Dossier which is a big League of Extraordinary Gentlemen document, it’s not the third volume, but it’s a big self contained League of Extraordinary Gentlemen book that is a lot of fun. It’s got almost everything that you could ever hope for in it including a free vinyl seven inch single. That’ll be coming out hopefully towards the end of the year. Kevin’s just finishing the final 3D section of the narrative which should be pretty spectacular, and it’s got everything in it, like I say. There’s a sequel to Fanny Hill in it. There’s a mock Beat generation novel called “The Crazy Wide Forever” that is written by Sal Paradise who was the Jack Kerouac surrogate character in On The Road. There’s a Bertie Wooster novel which pits him against the entities of H. P. Lovecraft. There’s a life of Orlando that gives an entire timeline for this fictional world from about 1190 BC to the Second World War. There’s an unbelievable amount of stuff in it, and that will be coming out sometime before the end of the year hopefully. Then me and Kevin will be getting on with volume three of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which will be published by Top Shelf. I’ve not started writing it yet because I want to give Kevin a chance to get this out the way, but I’ve got the story pretty well thought through. So that will be something I’ll be getting on with at the same time as Jerusalem but other than that at the moment those are the only two. Jerusalem is the only thing I’m working on at the moment but I’ll be picking up The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen again in a couple of months.
Is magickal exploration something you would like to make more public or is it more of a private activity?
After I’ve finished with Jerusalem, then me and Steve Moore have got a book planned out which would be the Mother and Serpent Bumper Book of Magic that would actually be a straightforward, lucid, detailed explanation of what magick is, how it works, ways to deal with it. Hopefully there would also be a lot of quite funny stuff in there and some quite pretty and psychedelic stuff in there. We’ve been thinking of including perhaps a set of Tarot cards as part of the packaging. So, yeah, once I’ve got Jerusalem out of the way in a couple of years then the next [indecipherable] that I should like to actually launch upon is a grimoire, a book of practical instruction about magick that has also got a history of magick as part of it, and probably got an awful lot of the artists that I know contributing to it as well to pretty it up. So that’s what’s shaping.
Well, I won’t keep you any more, Alan.
I think you’ve missed your chance with Melinda. I think that she’s into the heavy passing out jetlag stage by now. Sorry about that but it’s just the luck of the draw, I’m afraid.
If you can just pass my congratulations to her —
I will do, I’m sure she would love to hear that. And let me pass on my congratulations about Headpress. The few issues that I’ve seen were fascinating. I saw one piece — I’m sure it was something to do with Headpress — that was talking about a famous pornographer of the late nineteenth century who was… he was in a kind of a cabal of progressive thinkers with a number of others including, I think Swinburne, and our local MP Charles Bradlaw. I’ve got that somewhere; that was fantastic. A lot of the pieces I’ve seen from Headpress have looked really good.
That might be quite an early issue, not sure I’ve got that.
Might be. It was some sort of special paper, it wasn’t perhaps an actual issue of Headpress but something that was a special little publication put out as a peripheral thing, something like that. [It was actually put out by Omniumgatherum Press — eds.] I’ve got that around here somewhere; it’ll probably be worked into Jerusalem at some point. But I will certainly pass on your comments to Melinda, I’m sure she’ll love to hear them.