Writer’s Questions – Ned Beauman

6 Aug

The problem with reading a lot of books is that they can all start to seem the same. I had no such problem with Ned Beauman’s debut, Boxer, Beetle, which sets itself apart with a wink from the get-go. In the very first line, we’re treated to one of our narrators, a Nazi memorabilia collector and smelly recluse named Kevin, merrily reconstructing Goebbels’ forty-third birthday party in his mind.

The book that follows is a mad dash through obscure intellectual theories and beetles named after Hitler and an usually strong, beautiful Jewish boxer with one missing toe. This story is positively crammed full of strange facts and repulsive characters. Rather than becoming distracting, these details are the life and soul of the party (the quintessential “bizarre dinner party” kind of party, with a hodge-podge of quirky guests and no shortage of mysterious deaths).

Despite the dark themes and dark characters, this book never loses that initial wink. “This is a novel for people with breeding” the blurb boldly proclaims. It’s also a novel for people with a sense of humour, and maybe an internet connection – Beauman happily credits Wikipedia as the source of many of his weirder plot points.

If you’d like a chance to win a signed copy of Boxer, Beetle, leave a comment with a fascinating Wikipedia article you’ve stumbled across lately. Take a look below at my interview with Ned for some ideas on where to get started, like Cthulhu Sex, feral badgers, and a “List of People Who Have Disappeared Mysteriously.”

ANY_CHARACTER_HERE

ABOUT READING

Did you ever pretend to be any fictional characters when you were a kid? How about now?

All I can remember from my childhood is Bucky O’Hare. These days, for guidance, I look to Bruce Wayne, Tony Stark, Don Draper, Scott Pilgrim and Ghostface Killah. Although most of the time I feel more like the narrator from The Good Soldier.

Which author makes you jealous?

The quality that tends to make me most jealous in other writers is imagination. So, this year so far: David Foster Wallace, China Miéville, David Mitchell, Pynchon, Borges.

Come across any choice Wikipedia articles lately?

As always, yes.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unknot

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potsdam_Giants

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_who_disappeared_mysteriously

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oneirophrenia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brazen_bull

ANY_CHARACTER_HERE

ABOUT WRITING

Are you a disciplined get-down-to-work kind of writer, or more of a procrastinating artist?

There are feral badgers with more discipline than me. It’s awful. That said, my writing often relies on ideas that I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t procrastinated for so long.

What distracts you from writing?

The internet and hangovers.

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever written?

When I was at university I was eager to publish some short stories and I found a list of print magazines that accepted unsolicited submissions and paid per word. There were not many of these, but one was a magazine called Cthulhu Sex, which only took stories that included “sex, tentacles, or, if possible, both”. I thought this was an irresistible challenge, and I love HP Lovecraft, so I started a horror story set at a girls’ boarding school. But stuff like that is trickier to crank out than you might think! In the end, I abandoned it half way through, and sadly Cthulhu Sex went bust in 2007.

ANY_CHARACTER_HERE

ABOUT BOXER, BEETLE

If this book had a soundtrack, what would be on it?

A lot of 1930s jazz, which I don’t know much about. I think Kevin probably has really good taste in metal and hard techno.

You’ve packed Boxer, Beetle full of little references. And, presumably, some inside jokes (like “nbeauman” making an online appearance). Did you include any other details that have some personal meaning?

So many! I mean, even “nbeauman” itself is a pretty crude allusion to The New York Trilogy. Also, from just the first few chapters: Myth FM, Kevin’s favourite pirate radio station, is a big plot element in an unpublished novel I wrote before Boxer, Beetle called The Martyr Street Theatre Company, and indeed that whole passage is an attempt to evoke Burial’s second album. Erskine does his research at the London Library because that’s where I did my own research for the novel. The stuff about the Thule Society and the Holy Spear of Destiny is partly a nod to Mike Mignola’s Hellboy comics. And the paragraph about Galton’s rabbit experiment is, for me, key to the whole book, although I don’t really expect anyone to notice that.

Is it fair to say you enjoy writing unlikeable characters?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, because I honestly had no idea when I was working on Boxer, Beetle that so many readers would pick it out as a characteristic quality of my writing. One response might be as follows. If you think about the romantic relationships among your outer circle of acquaintances, the really loving, tactile couple comprising two really grotesque, obnoxious people is always the most fascinating – that’s the couple you can’t stop looking at, eavesdropping on, gossiping about after the party etc. And it can be the same in fiction. Still, there are a few noble souls in my book!

Every character here seems to have an obsession – Nazi memorabilia, beetles, artificial languages. What’s yours?

The London night bus network. I’ll never forget you, 78.

Is there anything happening today that you think someone in the future will point to (or write about in a book) and say, “Can you believe they used to do this in the 00s?!”

A gloomy answer: that at least a million people a year die in traffic accidents (with lots more maimed or crippled) and we just put up with it as if it were a law of the universe. I think if somebody invented something today where the sales pitch was “This will become the number one cause of death among teenagers, but at least you won’t have to take grimy old public transport to work any more!” we wouldn’t be rushing to rebuild our cities around it. Also, Twitter.

ANY_CHARACTER_HERE

PICTURE TIME

Can you provide a photo relevant to your work?

"My current desktop background is a photo that I came across as part of the research for The Teleportation Accident, which is the novel I'm working on at the moment."

Do you have any writer’s pets?

"I love dogs, but I don't have one. However, in my flat there is this fox head by a Brighton artist called Emily Warren and this tiger head by a guy at Brick Lane Market whose name I don't know. (He also makes great lamps.)"



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27 Responses to “Writer’s Questions – Ned Beauman”

  1. Lija August 6, 2010 at 1:47 pm #

    I should say now, the signed book contest is only open to UK addresses. But you’re still welcome to share your most time-wastey Wikipedia links.

  2. Emma Young August 6, 2010 at 2:10 pm #

    This interview made me want to hear Ned Beauman read and maybe even meet him so much. I’d like to do it on Monday. In Soho. And maybe throw in some other writers like Adam Thirlwell and Natasha Solomons. And I don’t want to pay for it, but I would like to maybe have a drink while I do it. And get on a mike. Maybe I’ll set up a facebook group about my desires or something. See if they come true here: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=108148175902928&v=app_2344061033&ref=ts#!/event.php?eid=147912595218932&index=1

    • Lija August 6, 2010 at 10:19 pm #

      I had exactly the same desire. Weird.

  3. Claire (Paperback Reader) August 7, 2010 at 11:38 am #

    Great interview, Lija. I’ve linked to it and mentioned your give-away in my review of Boxer, Beetle (no need to enter me).

    • Lija August 7, 2010 at 7:57 pm #

      Thank you, Claire! I remember it was your praise way back when that got me interested in the book.

  4. Kati Schmidt August 7, 2010 at 3:10 pm #

    I’m glad his book is finally out in the UK.

    Here is a wikipedia article which seems a little odd (to me):

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Century_egg

    • Lija August 7, 2010 at 7:52 pm #

      Wow, that is truly disgusting. Good work!

  5. Harriet August 7, 2010 at 5:22 pm #

    Stories don’t have enough sex and tentacles these days, I always say.

    This one gets me every time: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schr%C3%B6dinger%27s_cat

    • Lija August 7, 2010 at 7:52 pm #

      This is a long-time favourite of mine as well.

  6. Tom C August 7, 2010 at 7:15 pm #

    Now, that sounds like a book I’d enjoy. But I don’t want a copy as my TBR pile is high enough to make me think I should go on a six month cruise.

    Characters I wanted be as a child – well the whole Swallows and Amazons gamut rang my bells. I was obsessed between 10 and 12.

    • Lija August 7, 2010 at 7:55 pm #

      I was obsessed with runaways. Sooooooo cool. My mom and dad probably disagreed.

      This book is a good rut-getter-outter if you ever get tired of your TBR.

  7. OMD August 7, 2010 at 7:48 pm #

    This is the first I’ve heard of the book but it sounds juicy.

    I recently took a trip back in scandal time with Thalidomide.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thalidomide

    • Lija August 7, 2010 at 7:56 pm #

      Thanks for commenting for the first time. I think you get extra points for visuals and thousands of references.

  8. LisaG August 9, 2010 at 11:46 pm #

    Only open to UK residents – have you forgotten your Saskatchewan roots!

    Last month I went through an obsession with lobotomies. Found out that Walter Freeman was the inventor of the “ice pick” method. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lobotomy#Walter_Freeman

    Makes a person glad to have the frontal lobes intact.

    • Lija August 10, 2010 at 6:37 pm #

      Don’t worry, Saskatchewan roots intact. And I will gladly dump off a million good books next time I visit.

      I’m starting to realize that people like their Wikipedia articles a little on the gruesome side.

      • LisaG August 16, 2010 at 9:11 pm #

        Yeah, a bit morbid, hey?

        That’s okay, I know your Saskie roots are still intact.

  9. Rosie August 10, 2010 at 10:00 am #

    So many wikipedia articles, so little time. I would love to win a copy of Boxer, Beetle (although if I don’t win one, I will almost certainly buy one, as it sounds fantastic, and any writer who claims to have less discipline than a feral badger wins my respect).

    Some of my favourite wikipedia articles are:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teardrop_tattoo
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synesthesia
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuskeegee_Syphilis_Study

    If I am only allowed one entry, please use Synesthesia, as that is absolutely fascinating.

    Great blog entry :)

  10. Elly August 10, 2010 at 12:19 pm #

    I read the word ‘hauntological’ for the first time on a blog last weekend and immediately had to look it up. Then a friend used it in a tweet quoting a music review, I suspect the journo read it in the same place as me.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hauntology

    • Lija August 10, 2010 at 6:40 pm #

      Thanks for commenting, Rosie and Elly! Admirably weird and wonderful entries. When I came up with this, I forgot to take into account that I’d be wasting my own time reading all of these (I initially planned on just wasting other people’s time).

  11. Kanga August 13, 2010 at 10:22 am #

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gropecunt_Lane

    That’s all.

    • LisaG August 16, 2010 at 9:13 pm #

      Wow, Kanga, that street name means exactly what it sounds like!

  12. Lija September 1, 2010 at 10:18 pm #

    Out of the eligible entries, Ned picked Rosie’s Synesthesia – it’s a well-known concept, but the article itself has some surprising nuggets of info in it.

    Lisa, honourable mention for your ice-pick lobotomy entry!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Boxer, Beetle by Ned Beauman | Paperback Reader - August 7, 2010

    […] of Writer’s Pet has interviewed Ned Beauman and is hosting a give-away of a signed copy of Boxer, Beetle on her […]

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