Finding a ‘Space to Create’ with Ben Irvine

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As I sit down with Ben Irvine to discuss his self-published book Space to Create: A Writer’s View on the Housing Crisis in a sleepy café in Durham, I am slightly apprehensive. He seems highly aware his book isn’t something you would find on the shelf in Waterstones. I know very little about the housing crisis and politics, two key topics he investigates in this memoir.

Irvine assures me this is not a problem. When I press him on the ideal audience for his book, he is certain it is for “intellectuals, definitely. But this is a broad category so anyone should and could read this book.” Irvine seems open to students reading his book, in some ways he thinks we need to read it. He says with great concern “I worry for your generation.”

Anyone should and could read this book

As an alumnus of both Durham and Cambridge, he found moving to London after university does not always prove fruitful. He tells me “I inadvertently found myself caught in a crisis I shouldn’t have been in. I should be in the “metropolitan elite” with all my degrees but it turned out I ended up slumming it!”

The book follows Irvine’s search for the “physical and mental space to write every day” and he admits to having found this in Durham. I’m keen to know if he feels we must share the same political agenda as our housemates. His response pleasantly surprises me “I want to say yes, in order to live in the same creative space as another you have to share their political views. But I want to be able to live in a world where we disagree with each other!”

After multiple house shares, Irvine is no stranger to disagreements. He admits “what I’ve become obsessed with, essentially, is the way people argue.” He describes how right-wing political ideas tend to be shut down by “sloganeering”. Thus, his book functions as a call-to-arms to listen to one another and encourage political discussion.

On the subject of healthy debate, Irvine with a great sense of nostalgia recalls a previous relationship. A past girlfriend questioned him on what exactly it was he disliked about Margaret Thatcher. He realised that for him, there was no substantial reason. 

This was most formative in altering his political views from his socialist perspective as a student, to the more right-wing stance he now adopts. He tells me that from his perspective, capitalism is the solution to the housing crisis “I passionately believe the world would be a better place if we all embraced a free-market philosophy — that is, capitalism.”

I passionately believe the world would be a better place if we all embraced a free-market philosophy

One thing is for certain, Irvine is no stranger to setback. There’s the persistent house moves, the struggle for cash, even living in a shed at one point. This culminated in the collapse of his magazine Cycle Lifestyle which he admits is the point at which he succumbed to tears. 

I’d say go for it

I’m intrigued to know his advice for students who want to become writers, he laughs, “This is like advice to my former-self really! Get a job. Get sober. Get organised. Get some money. You just have to!” He assures me “you’re going to suffer but you’ll develop as a person. I’d say go for it.”

He quotes various philosophers without a blip, they just roll off his tongue. “I think it was Nietchsze who said ‘one must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star’, I think that’s rubbish.” 

He tells me “I prefer what Voltaire said: ‘Be ordered and regular in your life so you can be violent and original in your work’ because in this day and age, it’s going to be hard to find some little artist’s hut down south. Someone’s probably got a Porsche parked in there!” The he adds: “But up north you might just get away with it!”

I tell Irvine that many Durham students would love to have a heated discussion with him about Space to Create. He says of his identity as a controversial writer, “Look, I’m more than happy to be taken down a peg or two. I’m not part of any institution but when you’re a lone wolf like I am now, you can say what you want!”

When you’re a lone wolf like I am now, you can say what you want!

Irvine sees his profession as a writer, holed away in rural northern England, as the ultimate liberation. He deduces “This is the thing about freedom. Once you demand it for yourself, you have to demand it for others too.” Irvine seems certain “We have to bring students into this mindset [of freedom], because shutting someone down will only entrench their views so instead, try and change their views.”

Shutting someone down will only entrench their views so instead, try and change their views

I leave, not with a bitter taste in my mouth from interviewing a man whose views completely oppose my own, but with a more open mind. There is an overwhelming sense that perhaps Irvine is partially right. It is time I demanded freedom, not only of speech but of mind, in order to create. Politics and philosophy aside, take my word for it that this memoir still manages to be a page-turner.

Space to Create: A Writer’s View on the Housing Crisis by Ben Irvine is available on Amazon.

Image by Marcus Bellamy via Unsplash

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