Matt Richardson interviews local author, Guy Mankowski
Legend Press has just released an exciting new short story collection called 8 Rooms. Palatinate caught up with one of the featured writers, former Durham graduate Guy Mankowski.
1) Who is your favourite writer and why?
If I had to name one it would probably be Nabokov. Lolita showed me how persuasive a narrator can be. How even a deeply flawed narrator can seduce readers into his skewed world view by using words in a captivating way. I’m intrigued by the idea of an uneasy trust developing between the narrator and the reader; there has to be enough of a bond there for the reader to stick with him, if only for his word play, but enough intrigue for the reader to want to see out his situation.
In my story, ‘A Body Of Strangers’, I tried to create a manipulative narrator who you somehow keep listening to; it was Nabokov who showed me that was possible. It amazes me that Lolita wasn’t even written in his first language.
2) If you could have written one book, which would it be?
Paul Auster’s Moon Palace. I love the idea that someone can only create their own identity, aside from the one we’re encouraged to cultivate, if at some point they’re reduced almost to nothing. In Moon Palace his protagonist is reduced to desperate, poverty-stricken circumstances, but describes his recovery from that position with such warmth and sensuousness that he discovers himself in the process. It’s an idea I wish I’d thought of, and since reading Moon Palace that concept has become central to a lot of my writing.
3) Give us a rough outline of your writing day.
It completely varies: sometimes I can only write at night, sometimes I’m really disciplined about it from the moment I wake up. Before writing there’ll usually be a bit of research to finish; for instance with a recent story I had to find out more about The New Romantics before starting it, as my characters were part of that movement. I ended up watching a whole documentary about Steve Strange before writing a word. After that I’ll often keep writing in bursts until I fall asleep. When I was at Durham I often used to write late into the night, only to delete it all before going to bed in a fit of disappointment.
4) Do you think the short story form still has a relevance in today’s multimedia world of TV, movies, sitcoms, iTunes and all the other possible entertainment mediums?
I think it definitely does. People have an unsettling need to make things disposable at the moment– as if they’re scared of losing themselves in something for too long. People want to skip to their favourite part of a song straight away.
I think part of the reason writing has its place is because it demands you see out a piece in its entirety. I think short stories are particularly relevant now because they offer a compromise between the short attention span of our age and the nourishment an extended piece of work offers.
Whenever I read a brief article in London Lite or one of those free papers I always feel a bit empty afterwards; writing needs to resonate more, and short stories do that. I think it’s up to writers to rise to the challenge of meeting the demands modern readers have. Legend Press are great because they are one of the few publishers bold enough to consistently give writers the chance to rise to that challenge.
5) What advice would you give to a wannabe writer?
To never think that what you need to say is worthless, and shouldn’t be written. P.J. Harvey once said she felt ridiculous going into a studio to record “these pathetic, stupid songs” but I’m glad she didn’t give into that voice, because her work has enormous value to me. So my advice would be try to resist value judgments, no matter how disdainful people can be.