‘Anyone who remembers Melody Maker will fall in love with ‘How I Left The National Grid’ immediately. Those of us who marvelled at ‘The Secret History’ are sure to find it equally enthralling.’ The Huffington Post.
For the latest in After Nyne Meets our columnist Daniel David Gothard meets author Guy Mankowski.
Guy was raised on the Isle of Wight. He was singer in Alba Nova, a band who were described by Gigwise as ‘mythical and evocative’. He trained as a psychologist at The Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability in London and gained a Masters in Psychology.
The first draft of his debut novel, The Intimates, was written when he was 21. It was chosen as a ‘Must Read’ title by New Writing North’s Read Regional campaign.
His second novel, Letters from Yelena, was researched in the world of Russian ballet. He was one of the first English people to be given access to The Vaganova Academy, perhaps the most prestigious ballet school in the world. The novel was adapted for the stage and used in GCSE training material by Osiris Educational.
‘How I Left The National Grid’ is his third novel. It perfectly evokes an era in music that will be very close to many readers’ hearts: post-punk. This was a loose movement of experiment, independence and rebel spirits – all concepts personified in the central character, singer Robert Wardner – who joins the ranks of legendary rock greats who disappear at the zenith.
The intensity of the narrative is breathtaking, the rush and push to resolutions that disappear as quickly as Wardner did is beautifully handled – as are the detailed descriptions of the live performances. Johnny Lydon sang, “Anger is an energy …” in the PiL song ‘Rise’ and that lyric perfectly describes the ride that is ‘How I left The National Grid’.
Guy, it’s great to talk to you for After Nyne. What inspires your work?
When I read fiction by someone like Kafka I realize how much of what we say and do to each other, and the narratives we construct in the media, are utter bullshit. What inspires me is to try, in fiction, to move the playing field onto territory which I think is more honest.
My publisher asked me the other day to describe in five words why I write. Pretentious as it sounds, the honest answer took eight- ‘to try and make people feel less lonely’.
Writing is, I think, a way to illuminate areas that for whatever reason are left unlit. I read an interview with Will Self in which he said that if he read a novel in which at no point the characters cry, masturbate, self harm, he considered it pointless, as it wasn’t in the real world. I took that as something of a manifesto.
What do you consider your greatest artistic achievement to date and why?
I don’t think I’ve achieved much. I suppose I’ve never had a major publisher or an agent who’s invested in a project of mine. My biggest ambition was to one day make something artistic that was put out into the world by someone other than me that a stranger could discover. I suppose I’d have to count that.
What’s your view on “Art for Art’s Sake”? Do you feel your work needs an audience to be ‘complete’?
That’s an interesting question. No, I don’t. JD Salinger spent much of his life writing fiction that he seemed to be disinterested in anyone seeing. I expect that when it is seen people will count it as art. My one proviso would be that any art you make should be useful.
Do you work best alone or in a collaboration?
Alone. That’s the big message of that film ‘8 Mile’- better off alone. My most rewarding collaboration is with a very old friend I wrote a film script with, Greg Fox. It worked because we know each other so well and he knows how to work round my neuroses. I don’t think I could expect anyone else to.
What best advice would you give to an artist starting out in your field?
Ignore all the people that say ‘it’s not worth it’, ‘you’ll make no money’, ‘it’s getting harder’. It is worth it. I know of writers who have been lucky enough to get grants and awards and they constantly tweet about how pointless it is, and they clearly keep doing it. How do they think that makes someone feel who isn’t published? It’s disingenuous.To me that’s classic baby boomer, pulling up the ladder stuff, and I have no time for it.
What are you working on at the moment?
A novel called ‘Marine’, which is about the kind of institutional corruption we keep hearing about in our culture and how it would truly affect a family today. In recent years there has been report after report about how whistleblowers in banking, the NHS, government and even sports organisations like Fifa are isolated and vilified.
I’ve been fortunate enough to be given a Grant For The Arts by the Arts Council to help research this novel, and for it I’m interviewing experts on corruption like Andrew Jennings, who has exposed the filthy practices of Fifa. As part of this project I’ve also been helping with the writing of the memoirs of Paul Moore, who was the HBOS banking whistle-blower. Researching this novel is requiring me to get my hands dirty, learning about this stuff, but what is quite good is that it is starting to come out into the open.
Who or what is your greatest influence and why?
It changes all the time. Right now I’ll say El Perro Del Mar- a Swedish singer whose songs do the very thing I described in the first answer.
How have you suffered for your art?
Some mild bouts of discipline related madness maybe. The grid-like mentality that comes with working on something for too long. Ended up in some weird, alien places whilst researching novels- when I was in Russia I couldn’t speak a word of the language and was pretty exiled, but I wouldn’t call that suffering. It’s good to put yourself in those situations, you learnt something about yourself. I learn that it was essential I had a hot chicken meal every day or so.
How I Left The National Grid was published by Roundfire in February 2014