Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Stewart Home Interviewed By Life Can't Wait

MIKE: What writers and books inspired you to become a writer ?

HOME: It was never my plan to become a writer. As a kid I read a lot but I was much more into rock and roll and in particular glam rock than the idea of being a writer. At the start of the seventies my favourite band was T.Rex but I liked most glam stuff as long as it had a decent stomp from Sweet through to Iron Virgin. I’m old enough to remember when Rebels Rule was getting some heavy radio play and at the time I couldn’t believe it didn’t become a hit and Iron Virgin disappeared. The couple of years before punk was a bit of a desert as far as new music went -  so I went backwards into northern soul coz I knew a lot of people into that but also British mod and what became known as freakbeat, I was listening to earlier Pretty Things and Downliners Sect in 1975. Back then I didn’t realise my taste in northern soul was very mod orientated, more Twisted Wheel than Wigan, I only found out about those distinctions later. I got into punk in the summer of 1976 after seeing the Pistols on So It Goes, and immediately discovered Nuggets and all that USA porto-punk - I knew Lou Reed’s solo stuff from the seventies but the Stooges, Patti Smith, Flamin’ Groovies and MC5 were all new to me as a 14 year-old in 1976. But punk wasn’t nearly as popular at my school as northern soul and then jazz funk for the hipster kids, or disco for those that just followed the charts.

As far as writers from that era go there were a whole raft of pulp writers doing everything from horror to youthsploitation but if I was gonna pull out one key influence it would be the Mike Norman hells angels books that I first read when I was 11 or 12, around the same time I was getting into kung fu films…. I was also reading a lot of Michael Moorcock but more Elric titles than Jerry Cornelius, I read Moorcock’s more experimental stuff later.Of course loads of kids I knew read The Rats by James Herbert around 1974/5 that and the skinhead books were probably the biggest sensations in my milieu at the time. A lot of the white boys at my school were also into Sven Hassel but I didn’t like nazi shit so I didn’t read them and neither did the girls (although many dug stuff like The Rats). Some of the African and Afro-Caribbean kids at my school also read those books but the Muslim kids who made up about 25% of the pupils weren’t interested in any of that stuff at all  There’s an interview with Mick Norman, his real name was Laurence James, on my website, coz the first four books he wrote are really important to me and he was also the editor for the earlier Richard Allen skinhead books. Sadly he died 20 years ago but I was glad I got to know him at the end of his life.

MIKE: You seem to always have some kind of project on the go, are you type of person who struggles to take it easy or is it a case of stay busy to pay bills ?

HOME: I just like doing things so I don’t really like to take it easy. I don’t think making money is a good motivation for doing anything other than a 9 to 5 work, although its great if my stuff makes a few bob and I can continue to avoid a regular job…. But I’m curious about many things including exercise systems and I never have the time to try our all the fitness regimes that fascinate me coz generally I can’t set aside more than a few hours a day to workout, although on the odd occasions I’ve gone on a sports holiday and done 6 or 7 hours a day of training I’ve really enjoyed it but of course you have to mix hardcore strength and cardio with gentler stuff like stretching, it would be counterproductive to spend that much time on nonstop weightlifting for a week or two!

MIKE I first read you back in 93, 94 Red London & No Pity but have not kept up with all your work through the years, what books of yours would you reccomend to people new to you ? 

HOME: There is a lot of variation between the different books and which to recommend would depend on someones’s interests and tastes. No Pity and Red London were part of a cycle of early books riffing on youthsploitation fiction - of those books the last Slow Death really puts a polish on what I was doing but in some ways Defiant Pose is my favourite and I think it has the single best scene, one where the Houses of Parliament are burned to the ground while the main character gets his cock out and recites an incendiary revolutionary tract. But it was 69 Things To Do With A Dead Princess that got the attention of the literary types as it’s more experimental and shows my interest in writers like Alain Robbe-Grillet and Ann Quin. I’m very fond of Tainted Love which is fiction but closely based on my mother’s life once she came to London when she was 16 in 1960 - she was working with the likes of Christine Keeler as a hostess at Murray’s Cabaret Club before I was born, then involved in the early LSD scene but sadly died of heroin overdose in 1979. She packed a lot into her short but incredible life. I did her story as a novel so as to avoid problems with certain people who were still living but most of what’s in it is true. I had to change a few things around to avoid libel problems as that one came out with a corporate publisher.

MIKE: I absolutely loved She's My Witch that I read around Xmas time , I think it's my favourite book of yours of ones I have read, can you tell us a bit about it ?

HOME: That came out of observing what was happening to people who’d been going to punk and garage rock gigs for a long time but I simultaneously wanted to do a story similar to my mother’s but for a generation down. So rather than coming to London from South Wales like my mother, the main character Maria has come to London from Valencia - it’s the same trajectory as my mother but a woman from my generation rather than the previous one. So instead of modern jazz and beatniks, the subcultural interest is punk rock. And there is an involvement with witchcraft rather than Indian gurus. I didn’t make a big thing out of it in Tainted Love but one of my mother’s favourite books was the BDSM classic Story of O by Pauline Réage AKA  Anne Desclos. So while in Tainted Love my mother does high class hostessing, as she did in real life, Maria in She’s My Witch is a former dominatrix. Over the years quite a few woman who’ve worked as a dominatrix have told me they like my fiction, so I’ve got to know a few. Recently I’ve been making art with Itziar Bilbao Urrutia, who as her name implies is from Bilbao and for a couple of decades has been the premier suspension bondage dominatrix in London. But I wrote the first draft of Witch before I met Itzi. The end of the story also parallels my mother’s life, Maria dies from a heroin overdose.

In some ways Tainted Love and Witch addresses something that few punks wanted to deal with back in the seventies, which is how close a lot of what we did was to the earlier freak subculture, so I wanted to draw that out with stories of two lives a generation apart. I also thought it was interesting to address albeit obliquely the Ruta Destroy Valencia party scene of the post-Franco period. There’s not much about it in English and it was nice to start to correct that. I was just struck going to punk and garage gigs in London a decade or so ago by how many people from the Iberian peninsula I met there who’d moved to London and who’d gone to all those amazing clubs to the south of Valencia back in the day. Of course there are loads of other subcultural scenes from that and other times which have been ignored. Just before I left school in 78 a few of the kids in my year who’d been very into northern soul were getting into the Britfunk scene and were moving over to being jazzfunkateers - that whole thing was huge around the same time as punk in the UK but its been largely ignored too, so it was nice to see a piece about it by Alexis Petridis in The Guardian last week.

MIKE: You edited Denizen of the Dead book which was great fun if you dislike gentrification,  were you happy with that ?

HOME: When I originally had the idea for Denizen of the Dead I thought I’d do a novel based on these luxury investment blocks that are being built all around me and across London. But on reflection it made more sense to do an anthology with different writers because it was meant to be a form of protest and that should be collective. Novels are a lot easier to get attention for than short story collections but I think I made the right decision to do an anthology. I’m really happy with the book and I particularly like the fact it has the sigil spells in it, I worked with some witches to do a protest called Hex In The Park against gentrification in east central London in 2017 and when I said I was doing the book they said I had to have a spell against Neo-liberalism in it and they’d do it. That wouldn’t have happened if I’d just done a novel on my own, so I’m pleased it panned out the way it did. Also if London had been gentrified in the late-seventies like it is now, we’d have never had those huge punk rock and Britfunk scenes, there just wouldn’t have been the venues for them. Lower property prices do an enormous amount for creativity, gentrification kills it. There’s some film of Hex In The Park on my YouTube channel:

MIKE: I just started 9 Lives of Ray the Cat Jones, your latest book, tell us a bit about that ? 

HOME: Many of my books are entirely made up but like Tainted Love that is based on a true story but done as fiction because it wasn’t possible to get to the truth about everything to do with my mum’s cousin Ray Jones. There are a lot fo criminals in my family but Ray is the most famous one. I hadn’t intended to do a book about him but I was talking to the writer Paul Buck one day and he said he didn’t believe the story about my relative’s escape from Pentonville although he’d included it in his book The E-List about prison escapes. The version of the story Paul had came from Mad Frankie Fraser and I thought it was bullshit too, so I asked Paul why he hadn’t researched the incident. Paul said he didn’t know how to do that but I did, so I went back through old newspapers and of course it turned out the Frankie Fraser version was a pretty stupid exaggeration of a very successful escape.Another interesting thing about Ray was he was a burglar with left-wing views when most London criminals leaned to the right - maybe that’s because like my mother he grew up in South Wales and came to London as a young adult. Anyway I found the books about crime in London in the 50s and 60s which mentioned Ray pretty fictional, so I figured I’d do the story as a novel. I had a fair bit of true material to work from including Ray’s own outline of his life alongside newspaper reports of his court appearances going back to the early 1940s. I thought it was a story that needed telling. It originally came out in 2014 but it was soon out of print, so it’s just been reissued. There aren’t too many books about class conscious cat burglars so I’m proud to have done one.

MIKE: How have you coped with lockdown? Has it affected you much in terms of promoting your work, or has it been more of a pain to your social life ? 

HOME: Worst thing about lockdown has been not being able to go out and do talks and readings coz I’d pick up money for that and sell a few books at the same time. Not being able to go out in person definitely has a negative effect on book sales, so that’s a downer. And of course I miss all the beautiful people I used to encounter at garage gigs too! I’ve got a foldout weights bench and a load of weights, so I’m happy enough at home because I can workout - glad I got all that stuff cheap over the years coz lockdown really made exercise equipment expensive. My view of lockdown was it was an unfortunate necessity to halt Covid, I just think the UK government handled it really badly, they should have acted sooner and been stricter so that we didn’t have to endure such long lockdown periods. Johnson and his cronies really need to be held to account for how badly they handled things, and those most directly involved in stupidity like the Eat Out To Help Out scheme really do deserve some form of punishment. It seems like they were more interested in corruptly handing out money to their posh mates than our welfare.

MIKE: What five albums would you grab if house was on fire?  As you are a writer would you grab any books as well ? 

HOME: Coz I’ve not been getting to any gigs due to the pandemic I’d go for all live albums right now…. which wouldn’t necessarily be the case in other situations. So in a soul groove Aretha Franklin Live at Fillmore West and Major Lance Live At The Torch, Punk rock would have to be Jayne County Rock 'N' Roll Resurrection (Live 1980) and the Adam and the Ants In Bondage 1978-79 bootleg, for the live 1978 Marquee set included on it. I saw the Ants a load of times at the Marquee in 1978, as well as at other places but never saw them after the last appearance of the old Ants at the Electric Ballroom at the end of December 1979. They really were the best band regularly playing London back in 1978/9, so it’s a real shame there aren’t better recordings of some of those songs! Final album would have be to be a toss up between Slade Alive and Hawkwind’s Space Ritual, which ever came to hand first but both are great examples of post-sixties but pre-punk rock and roll. Books? I’d have to save my sixties hardback and paperback copies of Terry Taylor’s Baron’s Court All Change - he was the inspiration for the narrator of Absolute Beginners by Colin MacInnes and was an incredible guy and friend of my mum. Baron’s Court is about early mod culture at the end of the fifties/beginning of the sixties straight from the horse’s mouth and published in 1961. it’s also the first British novel to mention LSD!

MIKE: What are you working on currently ? 

HOME: Well as I can’t go out to get inspiration it’s a lockdown novel about a guy going crazy in his one bedroom council flat in Islington…. while practising ninjitsu on Zoom and watching a load of old ninja movies. I’ve got another book called Art School Orgy finished but that has some legal issues so may be hard to get published immediately. Had the same problem with Denizen of the Dead, publishers really don’t like any risk of legal action even if it’s pretty unlikely. I’d like to be making some films too but that will probably have to wait until I can work with others on them, once we’re on the other side of the pandemic.

MIKE: I read something about Joe England saying you inspired him, does it feel good to be passing the torch so to speak, not that you are coming to end of career ? 

HOME: Always nice to be told you’re an inspiration but especially by someone whose work grooves you! We all need to get ideas from somewhere, we’re not creating in a vacuum. I got a load of inspiration from other writers too, so yeah the torch has to move on…. although I’ve no plans to stop writing for the time being I may shift to more non-fiction for a while. My last non-fiction book Re-Enter The Dragon: Genre Theory, Brucesploitation and the Sleazy Joys of Lowbrow Cinema came out in 2018, so it would be nice to follow that up with another film book…. but then my love of martial arts and exercise might also lead to some more sport orientated titles too.

This interview original appeared as a Facebook punk post.

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