Luncheon of the Boating Party, 1881. By Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
The Boating Party is a brand new feature on my blog. It’s a series of interviews with writers, artists, photographers, filmmakers and the like.
In times of economic hardship the Arts are usually the first things to be axed. But, in my view, the Arts are the most important aspect of our civilisation. Without the arts, we have no culture. Without culture, we have no society. Without society, we have no civilisation. And without civilisation, we have anarchy. Which, in itself, is paradoxical, because so many artists view themselves as rebels to society.
Artists aren’t rebels, they are pioneers.
And perhaps, most importantly; without the Arts, where’s the creativity that will solve the world’s problems? Including economic and scientific ones?
I hope a brief glimpse into their lives is as inspiring to you as it is to me.
First up, Irish writer, Patrick Chapman. Poet, screenwriter, short story writer and all round raconteur. Not only is Patrick a great friend, he’s been a constant source of encouragement and inspiration, for my own writing.
What’s your greatest personal or career achievement?
I hesitate to nominate a ‘greatest personal achievement’. As a person, I’m not entirely sure I’ve achieved anything apart from not dying. As a writer, I could nominate working with the Daleks on a Doctor Who audio play – but that’d be just the most fun. It’d have to be my New & Selected Poems, A Promiscuity of Spines, which spans 25 years of work. The book has an elegant cover art-directed by Vaughan Oliver, one of my design heroes. It was a pleasure to be able to commission him and find out that he’s a lovely bloke to work with.
What’s been your greatest sacrifice?
That’s difficult to say, as I live in the so-called First world. Someone takes away my iPad and I cite the Geneva Convention. You could say I’ve sacrificed having a regular life in order to be a writer – which to me isn’t a sacrifice.
To whom do you owe a debt of gratitude?
Too many people to list them all. There was Macdara Woods, a venerable Irish poet who, 25 years ago, gave me vital encouragement starting off. Before that, my teacher of English, Paddy Nangle, let me write short stories instead of essays.
Who and what inspire you?
People who don’t think they can write but who really can. I taught budding writers a couple of years ago and was struck by the quiet ones in the class – they hesitated and even resisted reading in front of the others but when they did, their work shone. Quiet geniuses inspire me. As for what rather than who? Everything and anything. I tend to get obsessed by a thought or an idea that won’t let go until I’ve wrestled it into a poem. Happiness, therefore, is a blank screen filled.
What was the last thing that inspired you?
It was Steven Shainberg’s film, Fur, which is an imaginary portrait of Diane Arbus. Not at all biographical in the conventional sense. Nicole Kidman and Robert Downey Jr are both superb in it. The poster for Fur showed Downey without all the hair – for most of that film he looks like a Wookiee but the marketing department, presumably, didn’t want it to come across as a sequel to Beauty and the Beast.
What makes you unhappy?
Right now it’s the thought that we’re quite possibly heading into a world of six degrees of global warming. That’s not Earth, it’s Venus. Nobody in power wants to think about it and it’s almost too terrible to contemplate, so people carry on regardless.
What makes you smile?
Woody Allen when he’s on form. His early, funny ones still crack me up, especially Take the Money and Run, and Love & Death. Annie Hall and Manhattan are my two favourites. I also have a fondness for his darker films, such as Husbands and Wives and Deconstructing Harry. Cassandra’s Dream was terrible, however.
What are you reading?
The Beginning of Infinity by David Deutsch. I loved his earlier book, The Fabric of Reality, and this one is as good. I recently finished Wetlands by Charlotte Roche, which was a hoot, especially as I was about to undergo a colonoscopy shortly after reading it.
Who, or what, are you listening to?
Dark Wood, the new e.p. by my current favourite band Abagail Grey, plus the Go-Betweens compilation, Quiet Heart, the Pet Shop Boys album, Elysium, and the David Byrne and St. Vincent record, Love This Giant.
What’s your favourite film?
Blade Runner. For thirty years I’ve loved its melancholy and its pessimism and its art direction, and Sean Young with that hair and those shoulder pads. It’s such a poetic portrait of lost souls in hell, and it’s got a great soundtrack by Vangelis. It’s also Harrison Ford’s finest two hours on film.
What frightens you?
The future. I have no idea how to manipulate it so that I don’t end up dead within the next hundred years.
What can’t you live without?
Apart from the obvious – air, water, coffee, etc – it’s the ability to write. This is what keeps me going. Without writing, I don’t really exist.
What’s your motto?
“The world is not enough.” If it’s good enough for James Bond, it’s good enough for me.
If you could be anyone other than yourself, who would it be?
J.G. Ballard, for his vision but not necessarily for his demons, though the two are inextricable. He gave a very good answer to the Paris Review when asked about his writing schedule: “Two hours in the late morning, two in the early afternoon, followed by a walk along the river to think over the next day. Then at six, Scotch and soda, and oblivion.”
If you only had one year to live what would you do?
Ignore all the warnings.
Up whose arse would you like to stick a rocket, and why?
The Catholic Church. But that’s a lot of rockets and a lot of arses. It would be only part payback, and poetic justice, for their former practice of torturing infidels to death by shoving hot pokers up their bottoms. That said, let’s not even get started on the Catholic Church and bottoms.
Who would you like to be stuck in an elevator with?
Steven Moffat. He’s a writing hero, not just for Doctor Who and Sherlock. I loved Coupling and Jekyll as well. I assume from all of this, plus his former Twitter feed, that he’d be interesting company at close quarters. I’d just let him do all the talking, and would write everything down.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’ve just put the New & Selected Poems to bed and am now turning to a collection of short stories, due out next year. Also, my physique. One of these projects is going better than the other.
Which six people would you invite to your boating party?
You know when you’ve just come down with a sudden, life-threatening illness in public and someone asks ‘Who’s your doctor?’ and you say ‘Tom Baker’? That’s how you know you’re a nerd. I’d ask Tom Baker first, not just because he was ‘my’ Doctor growing up but because I really enjoyed the tales of Soho in his autobiography – getting drunk with Francis Bacon – and his disturbing and brilliant book for children, The Boy Who Kicked Pigs. Jessica Hynes would be on the list too because I’ve admired her work since Spaced. Kate Bush, simply because she’s Kate Bush. Richard Dawkins, because he’s fascinating as a scientist, and I’m in his camp when it comes to religion. Alan Turing, just so I could tell him he’s been vindicated. And Douglas Adams, because he was very, very tall.
What question would you have liked me to ask?
Would you rather be happy than right?
I’d rather not be happy than wrong.
Thank you, Patrick.
A Promiscuity of Spines by Patrick Chapman
Patrick Chapman was born in 1968 and lives in Dublin, Ireland. He is the author of six poetry collections, the latest of which, A Promiscuity of Spines: New & Selected Poems, is published on October 10th by Salmon Poetry. His other collections are Jazztown (1991), The New Pornography (1996), Breaking Hearts and Traffic Lights (2007), A Shopping Mall on Mars (2008), and The Darwin Vampires (2010). He has also written a book of stories, The Wow Signal (2007); an award-winning film, Burning the Bed; episodes of the Cbeebies series Garth & Bev; and a Doctor Who audio play, Fear of the Daleks. In 2010 his work was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.