Back to basics

Posted on August 20, 2006


Peter Wild interviews David Peace.

Up front, you should know this: I think David Peace is a God. He’s a God, okay? There are maybe twenty-three good reasons why but I’ll just offer a handful: (i) he doesn’t care what you think (because he’s like Iggy and Mark Smith and all of those kind of people); (ii) he has principles where other people got marrow (so you won’t find David Peace faking about the house like half a dozen other contemporary so-called authors who attempt to wear a fakey badge of integrity .. I won’t name names, they know who they are); (iii) his books are hard (which means that some people won’t get further than the first paragraph – I like that); (iv) he’s engaged (which is a shitty word, I agree, but I mean to say that David Peace is one of a very small handful of writers attempting to explain how this shitty fucking world got in the shitty fucking mess it’s in); (v) he’s never written a bad book (for those not in the know, check out the four books that make up the Red Riding Quartet or GB84 or his latest, The Damned Utd); (vi) he’s prolific as all Hell (we’ll get to the prolific stuff, hold your horses); (vii) he’s a bloody good bloke. That’ll do for starters.

I first interviewed him a couple of years back for GB84 so when we start nattering I’m not quite as intimidated as I was last time, which is good. He currently lives in Tokyo with his wife and his kids so I start by asking how Britain looks to him this time around. He says: “It’s…” and he pauses. “Uhm. I don’t know.” There’s another pause. “I’ve been in Tokyo a long time. Tokyo feels like home.” He tells me that he’s got the kids with him this time. He thought that would make things easier, but it hasn’t. Not really. His wife was over for a bit but she’d left a few days previously. “It’s difficult,” he says. “I don’t know my way around. I don’t drive. I left 14 years ago and when I was here I was either a student or on the dole so. It’s been somewhat fraught.” He says it’s been fraught and he’s laughing, laughing like a parent who has his hands full with kids.

So, I say, you’re here publicising the new book, The Damned Utd, which concerns what some people are calling a factionalised account of 44 days in the life of Brian Clough, 44 days divided by 12 years and three or four football clubs, but mainly Leeds — Leeds are the football club that haunt Brian Clough. If someone had said to me at the start of this year that a book about Leeds Utd would be up there with the best fiction of the year, would — more importantly — be just about the most compelling book I’ve read in as long as I can remember, I would have laughed my arse off. But hot damn if it aint true. I say to David that the book feels ‘easier’ than GB84. He told me that it was a conscious decision. “Quite definitely. GB84 took a long time to research and write and it was very complex to write (and to read). So it was intentional. I wanted The Damned Utd to be back to basics. A book like a Ramones‘ song.”

The novel concludes by drawing a bead between Cloughie bagging the European Cup and Thatcher coming to power. I say to David that I couldn’t quite decide whether he actually liked Cloughie or not. “Originally,” David says, “the book was much more political. It’s set between two General Elections. But I was weary of doing that. I don’t doubt Cloughie’s socialist principles. He liked Alan Sillitoe, writers like that. But the characters in those books (working class men made good) are proto type Thatcherites, I think. Cloughie supported the miners, voted Labour all of his life, but he has a lot in common with Thatcher.” The Damned Utd has Cloughie fighting his corner, out to get revenge on the world in lots of ways and do what’s right – but he also takes advantage of a lot of people close to him and neglects his family and – as a reader – there is a lot of ambiguity. The book leaves you with questions. David laughs at that. “That’s what I want,” he says.

We talk footie some at this point. David offers ‘particular acknowledgements’ to his dad, Basil, at the back of The Damned Utd. (“I haven’t heard the last of that off mi mam, either,” David says.) I ask him if it was his dad got him into the football. “He’s entirely responsible. And funnily enough, the first game of footie I ever saw was when Cloughie was in charge of Leeds. I follow Huddersfield Town. It was a pre-Season friendly between Leeds and Huddersfield Town. There was no programme just a piece of card. Mi dad took me. One reason I remember was Trevor Cherry, who had up until then played for Huddersfield Town and was now playing for Leeds. It was a bright sunny afternoon. I remember Cloughie getting off the coach.” I ask him if — given that he lives in Tokyo — he manages to keep up with what’s going on. He says that he has Sky so he watches the Premiership but he misses Huddersfield Town and Leeds, although his dad sends him a lot of clippings and that.

Mentioning Tokyo sends me off in a different direction. Last time me and David spoke, he mentioned a book he planned to write called UKDK — which, along with GB84 and one other book, to follow UKDK, would form what David called at the time ‘an inverse post war trilogy’. And yet, on the flyleaf of The Damned Utd, there is talk of a Tokyo Trilogy. I (very politely) ask: what gives? He laughs again. (David Peace laughs a lot, which is unexpected. Given the books he writes and the serious looking author photograph you expect him to gargle glass a la Monsieur Mange-Tout.) “The number of times since that Bookmunch interview people have mentioned the ‘inverse post war trilogy’. One time at a reading I totally blanked. Didn’t know what they were talking about.” He clears his throat. We get serious. “Since I finished writing The Damned Utd I’ve been writing Tokyo: Year Zero, which is now finished. Tokyo: Year Zero is the first book in the Tokyo Trilogy. There will be two others: Tokyo: Occupied City and Tokyo: Regained]. Each of these books is about Tokyo under US occupation, narrated by three different policemen each of whom have to deal with a different crime. It’s — I’m not saying my first book 1974 was all that good — but they have much in common with elements of Red Riding. Tokyo: Year Zero will come out next June. The others will follow. When the Tokyo Trilogy is done I’ll write UKDK.”

We skate off for a minute at this point. David tells me that he tries to write every day but he can’t write when he isn’t home. So he gets a lot of reading done (we’ll come back to that in a minute) but he’s “getting itchy at the minute.” He wants to be home. Done with the publicity again. Writing. He’s driven. You feel it, talking to him. “Usually,” he says, “I write every day. I’ll write but I’m researching other books while I write. So UKDK. It’s set between 1968 and 1979, during the death of the left and the rise of the right and Harold Wilson is in there and — it’s an immense book.” In context, what I think this means is that the Tokyo Trilogy will continue the vein opened by The Damned Utd (in that they will be ‘easier’ than GB84); and then UKDKIt’s an immense book. I’m imagining a doorstop of Cold Six Thousand style proportions. It won’t be easy. If The Damned Utd is The Ramones, UKDK will be like a six-and-a-half-hour Stooges‘ gig in which Iggy asks each audience member to drink from the severed head of GG Allin. That’s what I’m hoping anyway. At this point, David Peace says, “And then I’m going to write my book about the Yorkshire Rippers. That’s the next five years.” And it isn’t until afterwards that I hear what he says: The Yorkshire Rippers… Plural. There’s a whole barrage of questions I didn’t ask. Sorry. But what a fucking amazing half decade in store for David Peace fans.

We start to wind down at this point. I ask him if he’s still big on Mishima. He says, “I went through a phase when I was very, very interested in him. Mishima is fascinating. I’m still immersed in a lot of translated fiction. My Japanese is better than it was but I still read a lot of books in translation. I’ve become more interested in other Japanese writers. Particularly [Osamu] Dazai. A lot of his books are set during the Occupation. Dazai occupied a place in Japanese literature similar to that occupied by Camus in French literature. He drank and drank and he died young. I also like Aku Tagowa. He wrote the short story Kurasawa turned into Rashomon.”

After talking to me, David Peace tells me he’s off to the Kilkenny Arts Festival and then he’s on to Edinburgh for the launch of his book and Andrew O’Hagan’s new book, Be Near Me. He says he’s looking forward to Edinburgh because he gets to meet up with Ian Rankin, who is a great friend. I ask him what he thinks about the Booker longlist, announced the day before we speak. “It doesn’t bother me,” he says. “It pisses the publishers off. They’re gutted. But I’ve learnt how these things operate. It doesn’t bother me at all.”

I ask him when he’s heading home, to Tokyo. He says a week on Saturday. You get the impression he’s counting every single second.


Peter Wild is the co-author of Before the Rain and the editor of The Flash , Perverted by Language: Fiction inspired by The Fall and The Empty Page: Fiction inspired by Sonic Youth. His writing and award-winning fiction has appeared in NOO Journal, Nude Magazine, Alt Sounds, 3:AM Magazine, and others. He is the co-founder of Bookmunch.

Posted in: Interviews