Q&A Monday: Clinton Caward 2 Comments

Q&A Monday: Clinton Caward

Clinton Caward. Male. Lives in Sydney with his daughter. Debut novel Love Machine published early 2010. Has completed a Master of Arts in Writing by research. His work has appeared in Meanjin, Southerly, Quadrant, The Australian and some short story anthologies. Has worked as a bank clerk, plumber, barman, landscape gardener, pizza cook, video store clerk and flotation tank maintenance technician.

Writing: necessity or luxury?

A necessary luxury? Writing has become so much a part of my life that it keeps me sane. When I don’t write I become increasingly frustrated, irritated, annoyed and depressed, and it becomes quite a struggle to find meaning in life. I basically think, in a practical sense, that life is pretty meaningless and so it’s the meaning you give to it that’s important. Writing gives meaning to my life. Thinking about the world, through writing, lifts your awareness out of the boring and the banal and helps create a transcendent awareness. There’s a meditatively grounding resonance that comes from sitting with your thoughts for hours and hours that quite literally rejuvenates the spirit. It must sound weird to people that are deployed in a war zone or into extreme sports, but writing is just about the most exciting thing I’ve ever done. When you’ve had a good writing day you’re on top of the world. You could take on Rudd in a televised debate and not flinch when he gets all prissy with statistics. But, with jobs and bills, the world is pretty much set up so that you don’t get much time to actually spend writing. So, sadly, it’s a luxury when you actually get time do it.

How much of Love Machine is written from personal experience?

This is tricky to answer. I did once work in an adult shop in Kings Cross. I did get shit pay and was expected to do some fairly horrendous things. And there was a whole lifestyle that came with working 1-9 am and existing in a trancey twilight on the edge of those hours, but, did I get commission from someone selling drugs out of the store? Did I fall hopelessly in love with a teenage prostitute? Did I live with a harem of blow up dolls that were starring in my video recreations of great Bible stories? The truth is everywhere and nowhere. A scene might be composed from a number of different sources. I think the elements I started working with were basically from the real world, and I found that I had a lot of time to think about that world, of the underground adult shop, while I was in it. Certain ideas or thoughts became more persistent and then I began to explore those ideas. And once I started exploring those ideas, from the foundation of the real, the writing went somewhere else. And that somewhere else is kind of like the aura of a Braille world that rises up from the real to become something totally new.

In the book you don’t shy away from the sometimes tawdry and often animalistic nature of sex: e.g. “…protein stink of stale semen coming out of the wanking booths” and “Using the hand soap, she milked me like a barnyard animal…”. Was this frankness deliberate?

We are animals and sex is animalistic. I don’t think these phrases are tawdry, although the whole environment that the story operates within is a bit tawdry. You’re right, there is something brutal about some of the descriptions but the words are trying to be succinctly declarative and the more successful they are at that the more starkly or clearly objects come into focus. On the one hand I’m aware that certain phrases may be confronting for some readers, but when you’re alone, and writing, I don’t think there are any taboos. You simply try and describe something in the clearest, most evocative way. The closer you get to clarity the more powerful the description is. If the description is fuzzy or soft, or lacking in specificity, then the reading experience will be similar because you won’t connect as directly or as powerfully with the material. And the more powerful you make it, the more energy you compress into the work, the more alive the thing will be, and then after a while there’s a cumulative effect whereby the starkness of the language creates something that begins to transcend what’s being described.

You’ve made Kings Cross read like a character as well as a place – it is angry and beautiful, technicoloured and dark. Is it a close friend, or someone we know from whom we keep some distance?

I don’t know. Maybe it’s someone we want to be but are a bit ashamed to admit to? There’s definitely a love hate relationship going on here. Kings Cross, if a person, is someone very honest living life in a public way. It doesn’t try to hide its dysfunction or its desires. It’s not repressed. It drops acid and falls down drunk after a long night, looks at you from the gutter, and says with a laugh, why are you so scared to be alive? It gains your confidence and then steals your wallet. This is the world. People fall apart, make mistakes, get rich. They love each other, they con each other, they don’t care about each other. There’s attraction and revulsion in equal measure. I think the place represents human nature in a bug catcher through a magnifying glass. I wanted to base a novel on working in the adult shop, not necessarily on Kings Cross, but the place just kept becoming a larger and larger presence. It’s so rich in a lot of ways. But I had no desire to rehash some romantic mythology of gangsters and drugs, because I just don’t think that’s an experience that any real person actually has. I think that’s a bit of a default Kings Cross perception. What I ended up with was more of a Ken Loach kitchen sink version of Kings Cross. Or maybe a video booth version.

If you could read anyone’s journal or raid anyone’s hard drive, through whose would you rifle?

I’d love to read Flaubert’s diaries one day.

The internet: friend or foe? Discuss.

A writer’s best friend.

You can punch one person in the schnoz and get away scot free. Who do you clobber?

That’s tough. Everytime I hear that song ‘Back In the summer of 69’ I really want to punch out Bryan Adams. And then there’s the Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, who looked like a glint of hope for a short time but then quickly veered toward stroke-me-I’m-a-demi-god-or-go-to-jailness. Then there’s the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who strikes me much more as a rodeo clown rather than an apocalyptic chest puffing doom merchant with a bad tailor.  But, after some quite difficult deliberation, I think I’ll have to go for the former NSW Premier Bob Carr. Not even Rudd can match this guys self righteous poncyness. How’s his form? He retires and takes a job at Dymocks. Under the moniker Coalition for Cheaper Books he spills a few faux tears for the struggling families that can’t afford to put books on the table, and then, runs a phoney public good campaign to undermine Australian authors, probably out of some repressed bitterness that regardless of how many GVs he gets monogrammed into his leopard skin crotch-less undies, Australian’s have had the audacious temerity to not recognise him as the Australian incarnation of Gore Vidal. As Gore himself said, “It’s not enough to succeed. Others must fail.”

You’re an exile, banished to a tiny island in the middle of the ocean. You are allowed one book and one album of music (in a solar powered iPod) to last the rest of your days. Any preferences?

Some incomprehensible philosophical tract that after the tenth reading suddenly makes sense.

Have you ever hit a cane toad with a golf club? Could you?

Only if it was already dead. And frozen. And filled with red dye. And aimed at Bob Carr.

  • RBS

    What an interesting man Clint is! It’s always a joy to read an interview with good, lengthy answers. Perhaps even interesting answers, too.
    I do wonder if, now he has called upon his experiences as a video store clerk, his lives as a banker, or a pizza cook, or a landscape gardener will be summoned in his next novel. For me, this interview really brings to mind the, ‘write what you know’ debate. Does the experience that comes exclusively though living something enhance our writing in an irreplaceable and authentic manner? Thoughts?

    • Warren Butler

      I reckon the experience of living definitely does enhance our writing in an authentic way. If he’d written this novel , which I just finished, as an outsider to Kings Cross and just bought into the gangster mythology as he said, then we wouldn’t have had the rich detail of a world that only someone who’s been there can really give. it’s those that live through something in a visceral way that will always be best qualified to talk about it. I also just finished reading The Good Soldiers – a reportage from a journalist who spends 8 months with a group of soldiers who go to Iraq as part of the Surge in 2007. You don’t get a story about the politics of war. Regardless of your own political views, what you get is a story about a bunch of mostly 19 year old guys who are shit scared about getting getting killed or horribly disfigured every day. It’s a story you could only get by someone writing about what they know and experience….

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