George Orwell said that, when he read Charles Dickens, he could see in the author “a generous anger.” When I read David Peace’s novels – the four books comprising the Red Riding Quartet (1974, 1977, 1980 and 1983) and, more recently, GB84 – I see in the author an all-consuming fury (the kind of fury you would expect from an avenging angel, busy laying waste to all that stand in the way of that which he seeks). David Peace takes no prisoners.
Peter Wild (PW): Given the demanding and complex nature of your books, you’ve been compared in the past to Joyce – who also famously left the country of his birth and settled abroad – only to then concentrate in his fiction upon – the country of his birth. Have you found that those things which fascinate you become more acute when you have a great distance from which to view them?
David Peace (DP): Yes – but here in my Tokyo room I’m also able to recreate the past and, perversely, keep it closer, without the intrusion of the present – to the extent that now, on the rare occasions when I do return “home”, I’m paralyzed by an unfamiliar UK and unable to write.
PW: You’ve also been compared (with good reason, I think) to James Ellroy – I think that the Red Riding Quartet and Ellroy’s LA Quartet have much in common (broadly and specifically). Are you a fan of Ellroy? Have you met? Do you have any idea what he thinks of your work?
DP: Yes. No. None.
PW: Talking about reactions – obviously the police come in for a lot of stick in the works of David Peace. In lots of ways, it could be seen that you’re actually ramping up your antipathy across the course of your work (West Yorkshire Police in Red Riding Quartet, just about the whole of the UK police force in GB84). If you don’t mind my asking, ever had any trouble with the law?
DP: Yes – but who hasn’t?
PW: GB84 is a fascinating, wildly compulsive retelling of the search for the Yorkshire Ripper – presumably you grew up in that climate of fear. What are your abiding memories of Leeds during that time?
DP: I grew up outside Leeds and was ten in June 1977 when the “Ripper” murdered fifteen-year-old Jayne MacDonald in Chapeltown; his first “innocent” victim. From that time on, the “Ripper Murders” seemed to punctuate growing up in that place, at that time. Leeds itself seemed to me to be very dark and very depressing (and where they filmed the exteriors for A Clockwork Orange). I never felt at ease there and the buildings seemed almost “haunted” – the Dark Arches, the Griffin Hotel, the Millgarth Police Station, the various shopping centres, and Elland Road. Austicks Bookshop on the Headrow was an exception, and Jumbo Records.
PW: Stating the obvious but – you have a thing about years. Your books are always named after particular years and sometimes hinge upon local, national and international history. I take it from the citation in GB84 that you are something of a library bloodhound. How important is research for you? And how much research is enough?
DP: The “facts” take me back, so I research as thoroughly as I can – the newspapers, the books, the films, the music, the sport of a particular time etc – but once I am “back”, then I imagine.
PW: I read the Red Riding Quartet and GB84 consecutively and – it seems to me, your style has intensified somewhat (GB84 is your American Tabloid, if you want to follow that line of thinking). Did you make a conscious effort to intensify your writing, or – is it more a case that the subject matter draws out this intensification?
DP: The latter – the miners’ strike was intense, repetitious and demanding and, I felt, the text should reflect that.
PW: And, if that is (or isn’t) the case, can we view GB84 as the first part of a broad history of the Thatcher years?
DP: No – it is actually the last of an inverse post-war trilogy (?) which will include UKDK, a novel about the plot to overthrow Wilson and the subsequent rise of Thatcher and another book, possibly about the Atlee Govt. However, these are both some way off – the book I’m now working on is yet another return to Leeds, 1974 – this time “inspired” by Brian Clough’s 44 Days at Elland Rd.
PW: There seems to be a rule (leastways according to James Ellroy there is a rule) whereby, when somebody is dead, you can say pretty much anything about them (see what Mr. Ellroy has to say about Frank Sinatra as an example of this). But, given that Thatcher (as a for example) lurks in the background (almost deliciously in the background) of GB84, I wondered whether you were waiting for the milksnatching Iron Lady to cough her last before you jump in with both feet . . . as it were.
DP: I am waiting for her to cough her last, but not for artistic reasons. Obviously, she’ll feature in UKDK but, again, possibly in the background; she is an easy and deserving person to hate, but she also acts as something of a smokescreen – she didn’t vote herself into power, three times.
PW: All of the rave reviews that often accompany your work tend to say that you’re a great “crime” writer, that you are rewriting the “crime” genre – crime this and crime that, basically. It’s not something I wholly agree with – there are crime elements to your novels but I think your work is more literary than its given credit for. I just wondered if it irked you at all, the tag you have of being a “crime writer”?
DP: Not really – Dostoyevsky wrote crime; Kafka wrote crime; Brecht wrote crime; Orwell wrote crime. Dickens. Greene. Dos Passos. Delillo etc. But anyway, to me, these days “literary” just means British writers with their Creative Writing MAs wanting to write the “Great American Novel” and filling bookshops with unreadable shite, with no plots, no characters, no balls, no heart and, above all, no British Voice. The best work is always done in the margins and the genres: Burroughs and Ballard in Science Fiction; Iain Sinclair and Alan Moore; and I’m proud to share the same section of a shop as Ellroy, Mosley, Pelecanos and Rankin.
PW: I think you make your readers work (and I think this is a good thing). You can’t dabble with your novels – you can’t pick them up and read a chapter before bedtime. You have to commit to a book by David Peace (and I think that commitment is rewarding but at the same time – I sweat, it feels like I’m using new muscles, especially during GB84). Given that this is the case, I wondered what kind of writers you admire / read yourself and also (cheeky this but) what you do to relax?
DP: I actually prefer to read non-fiction, especially history and politics, but, aside from the above, I admire Gordon Burn, Andy O’Hagan, Eoin MacNamee; the poetry of Geoffrey Hill and Tony Harrison; but most of all the life and work of Yukio Mishima. Oh, and I try not to relax.
PW: I feel like these questions are all somewhat exacting so – to finish on something a little – lighter: what’s the weather like in Tokyo today? What do you have planned for the day?
DP: The day’s dead and gone here, but tomorrow I’ll be up at six, take the kids to school and then go to the library and work, work, work – come rain or come shine.
The Red Riding Quartet is published by Serpent’s Tail; GB84 is published by Faber and Faber.