In an exclusive interview, Simon Siabod Publishing spoke to author Anthony Bloor about his novel The Big Wheel.
Simon Siabod: First, some clarification. This is your début novel but it’s not your first novel. Can you explain please?
Anthony Bloor: It’s the first to be published so yes it’s a début novel but it’s not a first novel in terms of the writing. My first novel is a quasi-autobiographical piece which took ages as I was trying to create a literary masterpiece, but the feedback I had from agents and publishers was that it simply wasn’t marketable in the current literary climate. I had some very kind comments from Giles Gordon, who was the only agent who had a close look at the manuscript, and I shall return to it at some point. But given the feedback I decided to shelve it and get on with something else, something with more popular appeal and hopefully more marketable. And shorter.
Simon Siabod: So you turned to The Big Wheel? Is this your second novel in terms of the writing?
Anthony Bloor: Yes, it’s the second.
Simon Siabod: You mentioned Giles Gordon. He died, very sadly, towards the end of 2003. So how long did it take you to write The Big Wheel? Five, six, seven years or more?
Anthony Bloor: No way! The first version took about three months and was finished in 2001. It then went through several edits, partially as a result of the feedback I was getting from readers, till I decided there was no more to be done. It then took another age to gather reviews from people in the business. I was writing other things in the meantime.
Simon Siabod: A long time then between writing and publication. It’s not that unusual, which is why many writers steer clear of writing anything too topical, unless you’re a journalist of course, where the reverse holds true. What inspired you to write The Big Wheel?
Anthony Bloor: A number of things kind of came together. First, there was the Millennium shenanigans. Then there’s the John Buchan connection; I’d just re-read The Thirty-Nine Steps and was struck by the comic elements in it. And then there’s the landscape. I’m fond of walking and I do like the Cambrians, that central area of Wales which seems to go on forever and gives one a sense of wilderness. I wanted to pay homage to that landscape and also pay homage to John Buchan, who I think is a great writer and who loved his Scottish landscapes in a similar fashion. In The Big Wheel, the Cambrians play the role that the moors of Galloway do for Buchan in The Thirty-Nine Steps.
Simon Siabod: In terms of genre, this isn’t a straight crime novel or adventure story, but more comic crime and very tongue in cheek, with the obvious references to Buchan and The Thirty-Nine Steps. Do you have a leaning towards humour and pastiche?
Anthony Bloor: I’m not sure whether I’d call it pastiche. I didn’t set out to parody Buchan’s style of writing in any way; it was more the case of taking various plot elements and transplanting them into modern times. But humour, yes. I don’t think I could write a serious crime novel; real crime is very scary and very depressing I find, and also banal at the same time. It’s not something I’d want to get close to. Imagine – butchering an old person for the sake of a purse and 50p. I find that sickening. It reminds me of that expression “the banality of evil” – I can’t remember who coined it.
Simon Siabod: It was Hannah Arendt, writing in 1963 about Adolf Eichmann, the chief administrator of the Nazi concentration camps. Returning to The Big Wheel, one reviewer had a look at your manuscript and said you were anti-American. How do you respond to that?
Anthony Bloor: I remember reading those comments, he said a lot of other odd things as well. I don’t think he had a sense of humour. I’m not anti-American – why, if anyone criticises American foreign policy, does that make them anti-American? It’s nonsense. The same has been said about Gore Vidal and John Le Carré, Chomsky as well, and they’re such big names that what they say attracts a lot of media attention and often an uproar. In the novel I was referring, perhaps obliquely and certainly with exaggeration, to the Neo-Conservatives, who are let’s face it rather scary in their pronouncements on what they’d like to do to the rest of the world. That doesn’t make me anti-American. America has led the way in technological advances and music as well – I’m a fan of house music and its derivatives, which all came out of America – and I think one has to respect that capacity for innovation, which the US seems to have in abundance. I also think it’s a myth that Americans don’t appreciate satire; some of the best post-war satire has come from America in my view – Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and Don De Lillo’s White Noise spring to mind, for starters. I think people who point the anti-American finger are using that as an excuse, simply because they don’t like what they’re reading, and are actually trying to make American foreign policy a taboo subject, something that shouldn’t be criticised because they believe it’s the right policy.
Simon Siabod: It’s obvious from The Big Wheel that you weren’t a great fan of the Labour government either.
Anthony Bloor: Blair was a monster, a real warmonger. Beware of a Prime Minister who is motivated by faith. How he came to be a peace envoy for the Middle East I’ll never know. He’s made a fortune out of the Iraq war, it’s shameful. And now he’s pursuing his crusade in respect of Iran. He’s as scary as the Neo-Cons, I don’t like him at all; he gives me the shudders. As for the Labour government, I think they did do some useful things, though I wasn’t really aware of it at the time because of all the negative things they were doing at the same time. But now they’ve gone, I’ve begun to appreciate the positive aspects, possibly because they’re about to be wiped out by the current lot. Making the Internet more publicly accessible was one positive thing, and they did a fair amount for wildlife protection which I’m very much in favour of. Now we stand to lose public libraries and every bit of open space is threatened by proposals to change the planning laws. All this from a government that nobody actually voted for; I don’t think we live in a democracy at all.
Simon Siabod: So, moving away from politics, what are your future writing plans? Are you writing anything at the moment?
Anthony Bloor: I’m putting the final touches to another novel but I’m not writing anything new at the moment. I spend ages editing things which were written in their first form sometimes years ago. I like to polish and prune if necessary. Writing is the easy part; editing is a lot more time-consuming. For me, anyway.
Simon Siabod: Have you always been a writer? This is a question that often gets asked as readers like to know about these things, so we thought we’d better ask it. When did you start writing?
Anthony Bloor: At school. Isn’t it, like, part of one’s education? I’ve always been involved in writing something, but not necessarily for publication. I’ve done a lot of internal stuff in the past, for companies and such like. I started writing fiction – seriously – as a result of doing a PhD on that very same subject, which I completed in 1997. My first novel – the quasi-autobiographical one – began as a short story in 1989 and I returned to it eight years later, turning it into a novel. And it’s still not finished. Well, it is finished, I mean it’s not growing like a Tristram Shandy, but it needs a lot more editing. It makes me laugh when I read things some writers say; they give me the impression that they leapt out of the womb with the urge to be a writer. I think it’s something you have to grow into. I used to write surrealist poetry in my teens, then I started to write pieces that were intended for the screen as cinema was my first love (besides music) but I didn’t develop them so they remain as sketches. I’ve never leapt out of bed at any point and said, “I want to be a writer.” I can’t really see why anyone should want to be anyway, unless it’s the JK Rowling effect. There’s no money in it for the vast majority, probably less than the minimum wage. And it’s hard work. Satisfying though when you get to the end of something and know that you’ve created it; even better when you read it and you actually like it. But you need to read with a critical eye, that’s the key.
Simon Siabod: How do you make a living?
Anthony Bloor: Don’t ask! Doing other things basically, which may or may not involve writing. I’d rather not say at the moment. No doubt it’ll all come out in the wash. As they say.
Simon Siabod: Okay. So, finally, as the sole proprietor of Simon Siabod Publishing, don’t you feel somewhat schizophrenic talking to yourself like this?
Anthony Bloor: Slightly, but it’s good practice. Anyway, writers have to be a little schizophrenic. You have to step outside yourself in order to create characters, to see the world from a different point of view. It’s just an extension of that, trying to see yourself as others might see you. I think a sense of humour helps. If you can’t laugh at yourself, your life must be so much the poorer.
For information on Anthony Bloor’s The Big Wheel, click here.