By Barry Kavanagh, 17 October 2000
Yeah, I totally agree with you about writing. I find it’s like I’m coming at something from one side, as if, almost as if my own opinions are just one aspect of something larger. And then through the work you gradually begin to see the other sides and so on.
I suppose that’s the only way you can be sympathetic to your characters?
Well I mean I find that with the characters, V was a breakthrough in many ways. I was very pleased with the characterizations in V. There’s quite a variety of characters in there and they’ve all got very distinctive characteristics. They’ve all got different ways of talking, different agendas and I think they’re all credible because, well, they feel emotionally credible to me because there’s none of them that I absolutely hated. Even when writing about fascists –
– Yeah, you would have thought in advance that you might have hated –
Well, exactly. You know, like originally, when I thought “Oh, I’ll make fascists the villains,” it was precisely so that I could sort of do a bit of propaganda, I mean, remember at the time I think I was still – I mean, this was 1981? 1980-81? – I mean, I was still involved with Rock Against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League, things like that – but it doesn’t do anybody any service to actually just do a load of cartoon Nazis, you know, with funny monocles and cigars and accents.
‘Cause you don’t get any understanding that way.
Well, that’s it and they’re just caricatures. “Ve ask ze questions”, you know? Whereas in fact fascists are people who work in factories, probably are nice to their kids, it’s just that they’re fascists. [Laughs]. They’re just ordinary. They’re the same as everybody else except for the fact that they’re fascists. Like, in order to really -I mean, I’ve read somewhere that – I’m sure I’m not going to get this exactly right but the basic quote is something like – “Total understanding is total love.” It’s something [like that] or vice-versa.
I think I’ve heard that before.
If you understood everybody, you’d love them.
Is that a quote, or – ?
It’s a quote from somewhere.
Yeah, I think I’ve heard that before somewhere.
And I think that there is a certain truth in it, that the only that you could ever understand a Myra Hindley, a Fred West, a General Pinochet, is to in some way love them or at least suspend judgement, at least not hate, at least not draw back in revulsion from the very idea of these people. If you could in some way observe them with compassion, then you might actually learn something that was useful about them.
I suppose that’s why art or writing or whatever is a more holistic way of investigating something.
Yeah, I think so, I think with writing, in order to write almost anything – unless you’re going to have a story that’s just set with one character in a room and even then, I mean, almost anything you could imagine writing about, even if you’ve just got one character in a room, by extension there’s a whole world outside it, which is having an influence upon the person in that room, so to some degree you have to kind of create a credible world in all of its detail when you’re writing something, which means that you have to have at least a slender grasp upon what the real world is like and what real people are like, or at least the way that it kind of hangs together, the engineering of it, the engineering of human personalities, you’ve got to at least enough of a grasp of this whole holistic system, to be able to write something. I mean, probably that’s not true of everything. I’m sure that you could write ninety per cent of pop songs without having any grasp of anything beyond the top ten, really.
Well a lot of pop relies on a kind of extremity, an expression of emotion that is not rational and usually is the point of view of one character.
Also in an awful lot of pop there’s a very narrow pallet of allowable emotions or perceptions. You go too far beyond that and you’re wandering into the fringes, which sometimes does happen, sometimes the pop charts will throw up a splendid freak, like Laurie Anderson’s “Oh Superman” or something like that but for the most part popular culture plays it safe, whether you’re talking about comics or records or TV or movies. The mainstream is almost always deathly dull. The only place that you seem to find anything of any value is at the margins of any of these cultures, at the fringes of pop and of cinema and comics and books. That’s where the real action’s going on, not in the kind of Oscar-winning or Booker-prize winning enclave.