Interview: Guillaume Morissette

img3

Set in Montreal, Guillaume Morissette’s novel New Tab spans a year in the life of twenty-six year old videogame designer Thomas. It’s a story of self-reinvention, bilingualism, ambiguous relationships, and enormous shared utility bills.

ROR: My first language is Welsh, but I’ve only ever written creatively in English, which I guess parallels your French/English situation. For me, I feel like I probably will want to write in Welsh at some point, but I maybe get the impression that writing in French isn’t even slightly something you’re considering at the moment?

GM: It’s just a pragmatic thing. Switching to English as my primary language and being friends with people from the Anglophone community in Montreal just felt like a fresh start to me, like a clean slate and a convenient way for me to reinvent myself and reset my identity and stuff. I also felt like writing in English instead of French had interesting advantages, like being able to reach a bigger audience online etc. I don’t know if I’ll ever write a thing in French, but it’s not impossible. I feel like it would have to be something I can only express in French.

I think I feel the same as you in that writing in a second language does give a sense of otherness/a unique perspective. I recently read Burrard Inlet by Tyler Keevil (who I think is roughly your age); I enjoyed that too, but it’s a very different Canada he’s writing about and stylistically it’s very different to New Tab. Do you read much Canadian literature?   

GM: I read a few things, but I also find it hard to relate to a lot of stuff from Canadian literature, probably because I don’t have the same influences or sensibilities or something. There this line in the Wikipedia entry for “Canadian literature” that goes something like, “Canada’s literature often reflects the Canadian perspective on nature, frontier life and Canada’s position in the world.” I remember reading that and just thinking, like, “Shit, I am totally doing it wrong.”

How early on did you become aware of alt lit? Which writers did you read/engage with first?

Pretty early. I got into contemporary literature in maybe 2009, and found a lot of stuff I liked just by reading HTMLGiant and other places. It honestly feels like those websites gave me a better literary education than my literary education. In late 2010, I began connecting with writers on social media and randomly added Steve Roggenbuck and other future “alt lit” people. In the summer of 2011, I travelled from Montreal to New York and did a reading with Steve, Spencer Madsen, Mike Bushnell and other internet writers. It felt like this weird inversion, like my internet life had become my real life and my real life had become my internet life. I’ve continued growing my online presence and maturing/evolving as a writer since, and I feel like I’ll probably continue pushing in that direction until it stops making my life interesting to me.

I really enjoyed the video game related stuff in New Tab. So, what’s your all time favourite computer/video game?

GM: Damn, hard to say. There are tons of games that I remember really liking, but I also feel like I would view them in a completely different way if I were to play them now. Growing up, I was really into games like Final Fantasy Tactics, Earthbound, Secret of Evermore or Uniracers. I liked role-playing games and games that had a witty script or were actually funny. The one game that dominated my imagination the most as a kid, I think, was this semi-obscure Japanese role-playing videogame called Ogre Battle. It had a linear plot that accounted for your decisions and gave you a lot of freedom to play whatever style you preferred, including good or evil. It was difficult, mysterious, at times morally ambiguous and very insane. I still experience flashbacks of that game from time to time, like, “Remember that time you got stranded in that s****y village on the far end of the map, that was good.”

My ideal game might be a multiplayer where everyone ignores each other for the most part. I really enjoyed the section in the novel where you talk about subverting Call of Duty; I’ve sometimes done similar stuff when playing online, like wounding rather than killing people and telling them this is their second chance to live a better life or whatever.

GM: There are times where writing and writers just feels like a big online multiplayer shooter to me. Like writers are jealous of other writers who they view as having more success than them, so their instinct tells them to s**t-talk other people or something, but I am really starting to feel like it’s kind of delusional to think you’re in some sort of ranked deathmatch with other writers. It seems so much more interesting to do the opposite, to try to be kind to other writers and support them. The thing is that literature is sometimes contagious, in that when you find a novel or a book you really like, you usually end up craving more stuff to read that feels equally pleasurable. So if someone else’s book is pleasurable and ends up getting people excited about books and wanting more, that’s not a bad thing for me, in that there are now more people interested in literature overall, I guess.

Guillaume Morissette’s novel New Tab (Vehicule Press) is available now @anxietyissue

Richard Owain Roberts’ short story collection All The Places We Lived (Parthian Books) will be available in March 2015 / @RichOwainRobs

img4

Physical Graffiti: Aimee Cornwell

Aimee Cornwell is a tattoo artist and recent addition to Cardiff’s Physical Graffiti.  Despite having only been tattooing for two years, she has over sixty-thousand subscribers on Facebook. Put into context, this is over halfway towards Andy Warhol’s total, ten times as many as Sam Warburton, and in excess of sixty-thousand times as many as Matthew Shaw, ‘breakout star’ of Cardiff’s vaunted/only dramality show, Cardiff Born Cardiff Bred.

Aimee is doing a piece for me (a Kevin Arnold/Winnie Cooper cycling on a tandem half sleeve) that will take between three and three and a half hours. I ask Aimee some questions.

Richard Owain Roberts: There are footballers and politicians with fewer Facebook subscribers than you, how does it feel to be ‘internet famous’?

Aimee Cornwell: It’s very flattering, I don’t really know how it happened though. Everyone jokes that I must have got my kit off or something at some point in time… I’ve never done anything of the sort! My Facebook is really just business now, I’m glad I can show my work to people all over the world.

ROR: Miami Ink/LA Ink have both been pretty big TV shows over the last few years, I’m interested to know what you think about them from an industry point of view.

AC: I’m against them. Programmes like this portray the industry in a false light, glamourising it to the point of making any Tom, Dick and Harry believe they can become a tattooist irrespective of whether they can even draw. That’s my only opinion on it really, I’ve only ever seen it once… but that was enough.

ROR: Which artists inspire you?

AC: My Dad (tattooist Mark Cornwell) inspires me the most, and I like all the Pre-Raphaelite artists too. Tattooist wise, I love an Australian artist called Emily Rose Murray, a German artist called Lars Uwe, and all the guys I work with at Physical Graffiti!

ROR: How have you found Cardiff so far, both the tattoos you’ve done and the city itself?

AC: I love Cardiff… it’s a great city, and I’ve met some really nice people. Generally, the people who come into Physical Graffiti seem to want more interesting tattoos than where I worked in Oxford.

ROR: Has the general public’s attitude towards tattoos changed, both in terms of people with tattoos and the artists themselves.  Does this bother you either way?

AC: I think I’m too young to know really, my Dad tells me it used to be a lot more taboo, like if you had a tattoo you were a badass and scary. Although it’s probably true that some people still think that, I think that because so many people have them it’s seen as more arty and sexy, I guess.

ROR: Is that entirely a good thing, that so many people have them?

AC: It would be nicer if tattooing was a bit more exclusive. The public getting a £50 tattoo kit off eBay and tattooing their mates… as an artist, that’s quite insulting.

ROR: I’m interested to hear about your first time using a tattoo gun on another person.

AC: That was my dad’s friend, Neil, when I was 12. I just remember being s**t scared… I did a classic beginners tattoo, a cherry blossom. I hated every second of it, I really didn’t want to mess up.

ROR: Can you see yourself ever doing anything else other than tattooing?

AC: I really love dogs, so probably the only other thing I’d ever do it set up a charity or home for stray dogs or ones that have been abused.

ROR: Has your age (twenty-two) ever made it harder to get respect from other, older, artists?

AC: Respect is something to be earned in this industry. I don’t think age effects it, it’s more related to how hard you work and the effort you put into your tattoos. I’ve been tattooing for about two years… I went about it the right way, starting from the bottom (cleaning, helping other artists in the shop), and working my way up to becoming a tattooist and trying my best to create a quality tattoo.

ROR: Have you got a dream tattoo you’d like to do, but no one has asked for yet?

AC: I don’t really have a set design in mind that I’d love to do. I just like it when customers give me a loose idea and then say that I can pretty much do whatever I want. I like having as much creative control as possible.

Literature: Everything’s Fine

Everything’s Fine, from Rhos based indie publisher Transmission Print, is Socrates Adams’ debut novel. A new publisher, Transmission Print can be credited with putting together an immaculately presented book; immediately striking is the dust jacket cover, a perfect accompaniment to the relentlessly deadpan humour that exists throughout the book. Those already familiar with Adams’ writing will recognise the tone immediately.  Readers new to his work will quickly find themselves enjoying his dry, absurdist take on corporate culture and materialism.

“Shirt tie shoe jacket. Here I am. Sitting nervously in a room on the top floor of the office.  This is my boss’ floor. I am waiting for my superior to come and assess my performance over this last month. My performance has not been good. My performance has been bad.  The assessment room is mad of marble and gold. There is a platinum fountain full of champagne. There are gargoyles pointing out from the top corners of the room. The table is covered with fur and has elephant tusks for legs.”

The protagonist is Ian, a tube salesman who, despite his fascination with ‘building good rapport’, is not very good at selling things. As a consequence, he is given a tube to look after. The tube is called Mildred. Ian talks to Mildred. Mildred talks back to Ian. This, I imagine, is in Ian’s head, although the reader can never quite be sure given how their relationship ultimately pans out. Quickly, Mildred begins to take over Ian’s life and, monitored through in built tube-CCTV, Ian is subject to continuous harassment from his boss.

Alongside Mildred and rapport building, Ian’s other great mania is his desire to experience the joys of the French Alps, although an infatuation with Sandra, his travel agent, threatens to leave him with the apparently far less attractive prospect of the Italian Alps. Aside from the central threads, there are some fantastically funny moments. In a segment that brought to mind Fitzgerald’s ‘Pat Hobby’ stories, Ian offers his services as a freelance copywriter:

“Rare recruitment…provides a personal personnel (these two words need to be carefully enunciated by the actor/actress so that this endearing pun is not wasted) service that is impossible to impersonate. We will find you work by exaggerating your level of experience. (graphic, 3d rotating text ‘Experience not required’)”

The payoff here is both very funny and crushingly inevitable.

The narrative is refocused and given a renewed drive when Ian is finally able to afford to visit foreign shores.  As seems mandatory for Ian, events do not go exactly as planned.  Adams’ has spoken of being influenced by Hamsun, and this was apparent, although not in a derivative sense, in the descriptions of Ian’s extreme hunger.

“I am hungry. I feel like my insides are cold and thin again. I am in pain, almost constantly, from my stomach. I imagine that a creature is living inside me and is eating my organs, I imagine it crawling around in my guts and nibbling at the soft, warm intestines and kidneys and liver and bones. I imagine it sucking all of the nutrients out of me until I am a thin, grey piece of paper in the shape of a man. I am sometimes convinced I can feel its hooked feet skewering the flesh inside my body and ripping it apart. I imagine it having a bath in my hot, red blood. I imagine it using my lungs as a sauna. I feel like parts of me may stop working any time soon.”

Adams brings ‘Everything’s Fine’ to a satisfying and thoughtful end, the epilogue working especially well. Adams, having worked in recruitment, is writing from what can only be pretty painful real life experience, but his ability to seamlessly work in the bizarre and surreal is clear evidence of his skill as a writer.

@richowainroberts