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The Crocodile Princess

Ian Gregson THE CROCODILE PRINCESS book cover

 

I got a present the other day; a signed copy of The Crocodile Princess by Ian Gregson; novelist, poet, critic and Oxford Professor of Poetry nominee. I had only ever met Ian once in person before. That was five years ago, when he gave me his personal copy of As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner and told me to consider writing my next novel in the first person. I did more than consider it, I took up the challenge, one which, for years, was marked more by cursing than by anything I would care to call satisfactory progress. Now the novel is finished. Thank goodness. Now I can get back to reading for pleasure.

A pleasure I wish to share with you. Below is the opening of Ch2 of The Crocodile Princess. I love it for so many reasons. I’m sure you will find your own.

 

THE CROCODILE PRINCESS

 

‘No no you’re not going to catch me,’ shouted Joe Keane, the American ambassador in Cambodia. He stared in the face of Norodom Sihanouk looming on a billboard above him, Sihanouk dressed all in white and with a shaved head, saintly Buddhist, his serenity a rebuke to Keane’s desperate, breathless driving forward of his cyclopousse, his bicycle rickshaw, his pedalling ever more frantic because the finishing line was a huge jacaranda tree only forty yards past the billboard, and Peter Cook was gaining on him, now only fifteen yards behind, and calling to him, taunting him with his growing nearness, about how he would imminently overtake, about the superiority of Cook’s own cyclo, about how Joe’s contraption was wonky, about how Joe himself – worst of all, this, as Joe was gasping more and more for breath –   was an old man, was past it… and Joe was dizzy now, standing up on his pedals, then sitting down again, and the cyclo was so unwieldy, and four times heavier than a normal bicycle, and he could feel his head sicken, where dazzling white enormous Sihanouk in the silver of the nearly-full moon was swimming in his eyes above him – or no, too bright for that, because in fact lit from below by a carefully placed lamp, so now, as he approached, Joe could see lizards running all over the god/king… lizards (and he thought this ludicrously, even painfully, given what he needed to concentrate upon) attracted by the insects on Sihanouk that were, in turn, attracted by the lamplight… and then he thought about that thought and knew he was observing his thought self-consciously still because of the opium he had smoked earlier, at Madame Chhum’s, the opium whose pungent taste even now lingered between his teeth and inside his tongue, somehow both sweet and bitter, the opium that made his thoughts wrap themselves around each other, twist inside each other and open passageways that led past tens of doorways which might open at any moment and lead down other passageways… and it was being too deeply inside that thought that led him not to notice he was veering to the right, not to notice so that now he had to wrestle the cyclo leftwards, still half-hoping to go forwards as well, still somehow to win because the tree was only twenty yards ahead, but it was no good, the front wheel was pointing left but the weight of everything behind it, the hooded seat and the wheels and Keane himself, was dragging it still to the right, so that his back right wheel was slipping more and more into a shallow ditch, and he made a final effort, standing on his pedals feeling that his breath was squeezed hard as though his lungs might burst, but no, it was no use, and he slipped further into the ditch and the whole ungainly contraption toppled onto its right side, and he saw Cook go flying past him to the jacaranda where he stopped and jumped out of his cyclo and danced about him with his arms in the air.

***

I’m not quite halfway through the book but already have loads of questions. Here are a few:

 

  1. Ian, do you have any personal experience of the diplomatic service? If not, what kind of research did you do in order to portray this particular social group so convincingly?

I’ve never worked as a diplomat, but I think it’s important that the novel tackles political questions and if you focus on a diplomatic community you’re involved in politics straight away. In particular, it’s important for British writers to explore the colonial experience, especially given the extent to which writers in colonized countries have focused on that history from their perspective. So I researched the lives of ambassadors and other Embassy staff, and read memoirs of diplomats, including ones that described that life in the time and place of The Crocodile Princess.

 

  1. How long did it take you to write the book and did you use any time management software to help you? (What do you think of such software in general?)

It took me three years – some days I only wrote about two hundred words, and I revised the first draft extensively. I’m not even aware, to be honest, of what time management software is!

 

  1. One of the things I adore when reading The Crocodile Princess is the way you weave in witty observations that make the characters immediately come alive in a line or two. I also have the impression that it is at times a very thin line indeed being drawn between humour and disdain. Why did you decide to give characters this edge and have you personally ever been at the receiving end of such treatment?

The focus on comedy arose from the element of alternative history, where I invented an alternative life for the comedian Peter Cook. I wanted this component to throw a defamiliarising angle on the politics. I love the idea of the novel as a polyphonic form that incorporates multiple voices and languages. So I conceived of the satirical comedy as a language which would be a source of imagery – as in the references to the domino effect, for example. The element of disdain in it might be connected to the class aspect, of Cook’s upper-middle class origins (his father worked for the Foreign Office in Nigeria). And that might also indicate that I wanted some distance from Cook, which was why I invented Waldo Vaughan as an angry left-wing Welsh nationalist comedian as an alternative which unfortunately never occurred.

 

  1. Another thing I admire: the philosophical remarks which lift the plot beyond the mere happenings within the diplomatic circle yet without rendering the book too high-brow or know-it-all. Are any of these opinions ones you share or were they attributed to your characters much in the way you would choose the colour of their hair or select for them the right spouse?

I agree with some of them and not others. One of the things I wanted to depict was a kind of ideological norm for 1962 – people being racist, sexist, homophobic, and snobbish – but above all casually, as part of a set of unquestioned assumptions. Hector Perch, the left wing journalist, is the character whose views I would most naturally share, but – partly for that reason – I wanted to show him being alarmingly wrong in his political diagnosis of Cambodia. One of the ready resources you can draw upon in a novel set in 1962 is the ironies that arise from having characters have perceptions which readers – from their knowledge of subsequent events – realise are shockingly wide of the mark.

 

  1. A critic whose name unfortunately escapes me said that a novel in verse is an abomination. You write novels as well as poetry. How useful do you find the distinction between poetry and prose in contemporary literature?

I wouldn’t want to write a verse novel because the form of poetry, to my mind, would be too awkward. But the idea of poetry being dialogic and novelized, as theorized by Bakhtin, is very important to me. And my own poems have always invented characters who speak the poems, and they have overlapping points of view where voices collide. And I like to think that in my fiction I call upon forms of imagery which I’ve learned from writing poems.

 

  1. Tell me more about the cover.

Adam Craig at Cinnamon designed it. He came up with several alternatives, but I thought that the understated reference to Angkor Wat was cool and laid-back in a way that appealed to me.

 

  1. What’s something the readers don’t know about one of the protagonists: something you had in mind when writing the book, but which didn’t make it into the final version?

It’s not so much a character thing. A pun on ‘backwater’ haunted me: that word is repeatedly applied to Phnom Penh. It’s important that the city was patronised in that way, because it means that outlandish stuff could happen there that wouldn’t have been tolerated in Paris or Moscow. But I also thought of the word as referring to the astonishing yearly event in the city, when its river reverses its flow. That image was connected for me to the central themes of the novel’s ‘alternative’ nature – its focus on systematic disorientation, of a deep-seated bewilderment which I hoped would express how little in control people are of what is underlyingly shaping their lives.

 

  1. What are you reading right now and why would you recommend it?

I’m reading Geoff Dyer’s But Beautiful, which is a novelised version of the lives of jazz musicians like Duke Ellington and Thelonius Monk. Based on facts but extending what is known through fictive speculation. I’d recommend it because it does what I most admire – it is beautifully, accessibly written so you feel compelled to keep reading, but it also asks fascinating, complex questions.

 

The same can be said of The Crocodile Princess. Definitely. Thanks, Ian, for sharing your views with me. Some people think the author doesn’t count and that we should approach the book as an autonomous work of art. I’m not one of them. Ian’s answers allow me to get so much more out of reading his novel. And I hope they make you interested in finding out more.

My Prison Without Bars

Award-winning author Taylor Fulks, talking about My Prison Without Bars

This book and its subject matter has consumed my soul for the last three years. I’ve endured cyber bullies, AMAZON and Goodreads trolls, hate mail, and death threats, as well as a Welsh author trying to have my book banned. I’ve had to defend not only my book, but also myself as a person (child pornographer was some of the mud thrown at me).

taylor fulks tweet 1

I’m tired and weary of the fight… tired of being victimized all over again. Writing this book (my way) has lifted a weight from my shoulders. It has removed the rage I have kept bottled inside of me for 40+ years. I’m finally free. Listening to it in audio takes me “back there,” which invariably brings on the nightmares. I have to keep reminding myself while listening to my wonderful narrator, that this is giving that little girl from the trailer park a voice for the first time.

taylor fulks tweets 3

Death threats???

Yes… death threats. Some came from the UK, while others were here in the US. My biggest issue was a Welsh author who tried to have my book banned on Amazon, and rallied about fifteen other authors to join in her quest. I had nine weeks of hell, fearful of my inbox and its contents. I have the misfortune of not knowing who my friends are… all because she thought my novel was a memoir. I still fail to see the significance of the genre.

May I share this on my blog?

I don’t have a problem with you sharing my email on your blog – what an interesting concept! I do want to warn you that you may be pursued by some of my haters. They attacked any and everyone that retweeted, tweeted, or supported me in any way. They were relentless and over the top. I wouldn’t want you to suffer any ill effects. But, you’re a big girl and I don’t doubt you can handle yourself, so if you wish, be my guest.

taylor fulks tweet 2

I also support and tweet quite a few erotica authors. I find we are treated much the same. We are judged by what we write, not the person behind the avatar. Most people feel that if you’ve been sexually abused, you hate sex, you don’t have sexual urges, and God forbid, you certainly wouldn’t ever read about it!

Anyway, authors of erotica have been among the most gracious and poignant reviewers of my book. They get it. You do too.

Thank you so much for reaching out… and for reading my heart, Joan. Thanks for the kind words and encouragement. I get stronger everyday.

Taylor

2014 Global eBook Awards: Gold Medal Winner

2014 eLIT Award of Excellence: Gold Medal Winner

2013 Indie Readers Discovery Award: 1st place

2013 Readers Favourite International Book Awards: Gold Medal Winner

More about Taylor Fulks and her book, My Prison Without Bars

Thought out. Fought back

We all have the answers to our questions, tho questions should not be confused with problems.

Problem: how sure are you that you’re asking the right questions?

If you’ve never asked the question, I guess you’ll never know…

(Mut@tus)

 

JBS thinking in Berlin b:w(J.B.Simon by P.I. Copyright © 2014)

 

‘This is quite simply one of the most extraordinary and brilliant books I have ever read. Dark, disturbing, and forensically brilliant at dissecting twenty-first century sexuality. It has everything Anais Nin and Brett Easton Ellis have, wrapped up in the same incredible package.’

‘This goes beyond erotica, beyond the culturally censurable. It is sheer beauty as was Henry Miller at his most liberated.’

I don’t know what tablets you’re taking, but do, please, keep taking them. They seem to be working wonders. If you can get them on the NHS, please let me know.’

‘a D.H. Lawrence type moment.’


 

Things Said in Dreams (1)

I’m gonna be a PLAYBOY MODEL WHEN I GRADUATE. I think it’s the only career I know that would be suitable to me. Limited hours. Pay-per-job. True you can no longer shop for groceries like normal people. But I’m ok with that. Playboy models have the perfect life. Bright lights. Fluffers. I think I’m gonna need about two fluffers. If I cannot be a Playboy model then I will be a porn queen. I don’t want to do any webcam stuff, though. But I definitely want to have some lesbian stuff.

I wish I could get kidnapped. I would make an excellent kidnap victim. I’m pliable. I come with a vagina. I don’t care about my life. Also, I’m an excellent conversationalist. I like to meet new people. Like to travel. I hate smalltalk, so when we meet we’ll have to skip introductions and get down to the nuts and bolts of the kidnapping Who? Me. When? Right now. Where? The trunk of your car. When you are tired of riding alone you’ll eventually untie me and place me in the front seat next to you so I can keep you company. Then we can tackle the grander topics. Are you a mass murderer? Yes – err – well, aspiring. Do you enjoy killing people? I’m not sure yet. Are you a torture murderer? No. No? That’s ok. That’s ok. Keep your eyes on the road please. Drive safely. You don’t have to be a torture murderer. Yeah — no, totally. It takes all kinds. Is there a history of abuse in your family? Maybe something your mother or father did to you when you were young? Something you’ve never told anyone? (I don’t want to talk about it.) That’s fine. No problem. How ’bout we start off with some simpler stuff. Tell me about your dreams.

 

Matthew Temple, Things Said in Dreams.

Whilst the synopsis on the back cover may lead you to expect a story about bullying, revenge and atonement, in truth, Things Said in Dreams is a masterful exploration of much grander topics. As I read, I began in ache out of sheer admiration for Matthew Temple’s style. By the time I was through, I was paralyzed. Things Said in Dreams is amphibian chameleon hypnotic sardonic manic hypothetical incisive indelible deep treacherous tragic philosophical spiritual unblinking… forgiving. You will forget to breathe. You will never forget Matthew Temple.

*

Matthew, how comfortable do you feel calling your book a novel and how useful do you find such labeling in general?

I am completely comfortable with calling my book a novel and I find absolutely no use in such labeling.

What in God’s name is a fluffer?

A fluffer is one who keeps a porn star excited between takes.

LOL! Still don’t see why a person can’t just ‘fluff’ him/herself, we’ve got two hands, haven’t we?

Given the symbolic dimensions of the protagonist, how would you react to the accusation of misogyny? You have a female personify weakness, indecision, inaction… Not necessarily what I think but what do you think???

Misogyny… I don’t know how I’d react to that accusation.  Probably by admitting that it might be the case.  I think my reason for choosing a female protagonist here is that I want to encourage female roles, say, if this were made into a movie.  But maybe part of it is the classic idea that it’s easier to write about something if you switch the sex of your protagonist, so it seems/feel less like you.

Why the protagonist’s erotic relationship to her sub-conscience? I should swot up on Freud…

On the eroticism of the subconscious relationship… I don’t know that there is a good reason for it, I think it’s just the way it is (in this book.)

I think I commented on the fact that her language struck me as being very masculine, but then again why is strength automatically a masculine attribute? I think she is complex and challenging in the sense that she challenges us to revise our comfortable attitudes. And I think the power of the novel comes precisely from the tension between what is said/not said, done/not done and even undone in matters sex, power, politics, philosophy, theology, learning, life… gosh, I wish I had written this book!

I’m glad you liked it. And I’m enjoying your detailed analysis of what you’ve read. Keep it coming.

 

Matthew is giving away his books for FREE