Tim, it’s great to talk to you for After Nyne Can you give us a little insight into The Honours, for those who haven’t yet read it?
It’s set in 1935, and it centres around a 13-year-old girl called Delphine, who moves with her mother and father into a kind of country house proto-commune run by a group called SPIM. Being rather obsessed with spy thrillers and war stories, she becomes convinced the group is a front for Bolsheviks plotting an invasion, and she sets about trying to expose them.
I know you must be busy with the promotional work around your new book, The Honours. How is life on the promotional road treating you?
I’ve been a performance poet for nearly 10 years now. I’m always on the road. Book promotion is very small potatoes!
Are you pleased with the way that The Honours has been received?
No. I’m absolutely livid.
Sorry – no, of course I’m delighted that human beings are reading and enjoying it. And, to be honest, a little surprised. It’s weird when the fever dream you’ve been repeatedly experiencing for years is suddenly manifesting in other people’s heads.
Have there been any personal highlights in the journey since the book was launched?
I don’t want to sound like a luvvie, but it’s incredibly nice when dear friends and complete strangers drop me a line to say that they enjoyed it. I know how much I love books, and how thrilling it is when a story grasps the levers of your imagination and starts yanking them back and forth. So I take great satisfaction in hearing from people who had that experience, who enjoyed meeting Delphine, who reached a certain point in the book and thought ‘oh shit’ and found themselves gripped. It’s odd and really pleasing!
What was your starting point for the book, and what was the moment where you stopped and realised that you may be onto something?
Oh I was never really convinced I was onto something. I always have that doubt that I may be babbling about nonsense that only means something to me. I think a lot of writers are driven by a desire to fill a lack, to write a book that doesn’t already exist.
So I was always chasing down something slippery and peculiar – not wilfully obscure, but, you know, not quite like anything I’d already read. So I was more convinced that I was writing incredibly niche, incomprehensible bollocks. What made me finish is I wanted to find out what happened.
I had the privilege of attending a launch of The Honours in Bethnal Green. The presentation you made on the night detailed some of the publications and people that you found in your research who created a frenzy of paranoia within the community during the late 19th and early 20th century. Do you think that nearly 100 years later much has changed?
I think paranoia, fear and hate are the dominant modes for much of our discourse on both sides of the political spectrum. Love and compassion are, at best, scorned as rather gauche indulgences, at worst, condemned as bulwarks for entrenched privilege.
I’m as guilty as anyone else of slinging round easy insults, caricaturing people who I don’t agree with, and stirring up anger – I don’t want to pretend like I’m above it. But I think love, dialogue and empathy are the hard, necessary path to life on Earth being better for everyone. It’s an ideology I suspect is better practised than blandly asserted though, and a hard one to sell newspapers or amass blog views with.
And, to be fair, I’m caricaturing the present age. A lot of people are kind, thoughtful and compassionate already. They just have better things to go on the internet.
Being an author is currently ranked the number one most desirable job, but is it really all it’s cracked up to be?
That depends what you want from it, and how successful you are, I guess.
There’s no job security, no sick leave and you work alone. I think a lot of stressed or unhappy people gravitate towards writing, thinking that through it they will finally escape their demons. What they usually discover is that they’ve locked themselves in a small room with their demons.
I think it’s a bit like starting your own business – far more work than people realise, satisfying if it goes well, hugely dependent on market forces out of your control, and occasionally massively lucrative.
You’re widely lauded for your skill and diversity as an artist, but is there anyone you’d like to point people in the direction of?
I’m not sure I’m ‘widely lauded’, but thank you.
Um, in writing I like Ursula Le Guin, Suzanna Clarke and Steve Aylett. I just read Wild Seed by Octavia Butler and it’s incredible.
UK performance poetry is an embarrassment of riches: people should ‘check out’ (i.e. listen to) folk like Rob Auton, Kate Tempest, David Jay, Ross Sutherland, Hollie McNish, Vanessa Kisuule and Harry Baker. And a whole bunch more. It’s a scene I feel very jammy to be allowed to participate in.
If you could only read one book, and listen to one song, ever again then what do you think they would be?
Oh god. What a hellish proposition.
I wouldn’t. I’d renounce all music and literature rather than be stuck with a single text and song. I can’t imagine what circumstances would produce this scenario. Am I in jail? Am I marooned? Am I alone? Because that makes a difference. If I’m stuck on a desert island then I’d want a book on survival skills (although the terms of your question imply this is a permanent situation, in which case, I’m not sure I’d want to survive, alone, for the rest of my life).
Assuming I wouldn’t have to be divorced from the society of my peers, I would make new songs and stories with them. And if we couldn’t do that (why? How? Alien overlords fitting humanity with shock collars/brain chips?) then we would all be doomed anyway.
What’s next for Tim Clare?
A spiralling propensity for alluding to himself in the third-person, followed by the establishment of a South American death cult commune, paranoid screeds and a final shootout between his followers and international law enforcement officers as the compound burns.
That’s if the novel I’m working on at the moment doesn’t pan out.
The Honours is out now.