The poetic & the profane: an interview with Miles Vertigan, on Life Kills

Sleepers Publishing
9781742701851
October 2011 (paperback

This interview was first published in Bookseller+Publisher magazine.

Life Kills is a slim novel but I imagine many hours went into its construction. Can you talk a bit about how it came together?

For a number of years I’d been writing rants; stories told in single, unpunctuated paragraphs that sit somewhere between poetry and prose, play around with words and rhythm and can create very vivid imagery in the mind of the reader. I felt this form had great potential for a longer work and so embarked on writing Life Kills. Early on, all of the characters kindly emerged from out of the ether and it just kind of took off from there. And you’re right, it did take a long time to write, but it was a lot of fun to do and I’m really happy with how it turned out.

The language is an incredibly inventive mix, what did you draw from? Advertisements (and TV in general), eavesdropping on conversations, hanging out at the shops, reading poetry?

It’s hard to know where it all comes from, but the language of advertising was definitely a big part of it. It’s this ubiquitous background hum that forms the sonic and literary wallpaper of our lives, but we’re talking wallpaper with superpowers. It’s everpresent, inescapable and often seems to just seep in without us really noticing. Ads use language in a way that can coerce, demean and treat people like idiots along with their equal ability to entertain, move us and of course, shift units. I wanted to use some of that extraordinary pool of contradiction that swirls around us every day to tell a story. I also love banter and classic double headers from Pete and Dud to Howard Moon and Vince Noir, so I guess all those hours of bantering and listening to the masters of banter helped me with the crazy conversations that make up much of the story. TV and reality TV in particular are also there in the mix and I think poetry is too. I love poetry, as long as it’s by Brautigan or Bukowski—so those guys may well have helped in some way. And yes, I eavesdrop. A lot.

In my review [Bookseller+Publisher July 2011] I say it reminded me a bit of A Clockwork Orange, have you read it? Are there other texts that inspired the work?

A Clockwork Orange is my favourite movie and I did try to read the book once, but let it slide because it was somehow messing with my memory of the film. Appalling, but true. There isn’t a single text that inspired Life Kills, but I am a huge fan of Mark Leyner’s work from the time before he tragically disappeared into the void of Hollywood screenwriting-world, in particular Et Tu, Babe and My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist. So Leyner’s been an inspiration, but he has to share that with William Burroughs, Richard Brautigan, Hunter S Thompson, Wake in Fright, Charles Bukowski, Johnny Rotten, Quentin Crisp, Banksy, Morrissey, Andy Warhol, Miles Davis, Dylan Thomas, Woody Allen, The Chelsea Hotel, Henry Rollins, my uncle, Dylan Moran, Northcote Plaza, Brett Easton Ellis, Bill Evans, Team America, Barry Humphries, small aircraft, big aircraft, Melrose Place, Damien Hirst, Texan vodka, the Kimberley, Dorothy Parker, San Francisco, appalling infomercials, the opening sequence of Manhattan etc etc etc. It’s a crowded room, that one.

Who do you see as being the main character of the story? We start with the terrorist, but for me Chad the co-pilot was this kind of tragic, sad character who seemed to speak some reason here and there (in a skewed way). Or is there none? May it’s even be the reader/observer?

I see the terrorist as the main character of the book, but also feel other characters are just as important. But that’s just my opinion! One of the great things about fiction is that readers raise, ponder and answer or attempt to answer all kinds of questions for themselves that come up in the unique version of any story they create by reading it and I wouldn’t want to interfere with that process too much—or at all, in fact.

Do you see yourself as an experimental or avant-garde writer? What does that mean to you?

I think if you call yourself an experimental or avant-garde writer you run the very real risk of either instantly clearing the room or facing some kind of festival of eye-rolling, so I’m not going to! It’s actually a great shame, because experimental writing as I see it—finding new ways to tell stories—is a wonderful thing that has the capacity to progress language and writing and I wish it had a more prominent place in the literary landscape. I hope this situation changes, either by stealth (call it what you like, just don’t call it experimental writing!) or, and this would be so much better, through the courage and commitment of publishers putting this kind of work out there.

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