My post-riot Friday Guest, Marc Nash

Posted: August 19, 2011 in Friday Guest

Noted British novelist Graham Swift is quoted as saying that contemporary novels are “an impossibility”. He reasons that since books take a protracted period to write, that even if the author starts off a new project in the now, that ‘now’ has moved on already way before he or she types the final full stop.

Trying to define fiction or what a novel actually is, also usually involves some notion of a fictional character moving through a period of time, usually in the past, whether recent or historical. But the emphasis is very much that period in the past.

Um well I respectfully beg to differ. Actually I disrespectfully beg to differ, but I’m a guest here so am trying really hard to keep it polite.

I only write contemporary novels. Novels that engage with my times. Books that interrogate them. Stories that speak of and to my experience and hopefully to those of readers as well.

My debut novel is about binge culture, through the filter of the British when they travel abroad. That unalloyed sybaritism (pleasure seeking) that so permeates our culture today. It also explores the gangsterism and criminality, tracing its development in the 1980’s through to today. It has a riff about the ubiquity of camera phones and the content people record with them, as witnessed in last week’s riots.

I am also about to release on kindle a book about a home grown suicide bomber and where people turn to when they feel the limits of protest within a democracy yields no redress. Again, none too dissimilar themes to what we have just witnessed behind the riots and harping back to the recent paranoia in the wake of the bombs on the London Underground at 7/7. Go on admit it, if you live in or near an area hit by last week’s riots, for a couple of days at least every time you heard a siren now, you wondered if it was starting up again. Well that’s what it was like for us Londoners using the Tube for a couple of months after 7/7. Scrutinising the face of every other person in the carriage. Staring at their luggage… Fear. Dread. Insecurity. I will, and have, written about them in these contexts, because such feelings persist. The catalysts may change from year to year, decade to decade, but not the emotions involved.

And back to the riots. I have written an unpublished novella about gang culture and youth on youth knife violence. It is told from the parents’ point of view, in order to demonstrate the yawning gap in understanding (and language) between the generations. Lo and behold, what do we have demonstrated in the riots, but a complete paucity of understanding between the authorities and the rioters with no stake in society, where there is no possibility of mutual understanding, of communicating even one to another?

I am not a seer or a prophet. But I do observe. I do try and engage and understand the world around me. And I reflect on it and I metaphoricalise it and I fictionalise it and I release it in the form of novels. So please don’t tell me you can’t write contemporary fiction. For me the question is maybe why you wouldn’t. Yes writing about the Romans or the Tudors can shed the odd insight on to our times, because some things like the lust for power don’t change. But how less tangential and indirect to try and deal with things in our own immediate purview. I got my university degree in history and one thing it taught me was that although it does often repeat itself, one can never be sure which bit of history is going to repeat itself when… And then the conditions are never the same across any two eras.

I openly acknowledge the possible shortcoming of writing contemporaneously, as outlined by Swift in his full argument. How such books risk becoming dated in their references, when such references are those of today, but not necessarily those of tomorrow. But I have two responses to that.

Firstly I welcome the word risk. It admits of the possibility of a book daring to go further than the anodyne. My books take plenty of risks, stylistically, linguistically, as well as in the ideas they deal with. Getting some of the ideas wrong in the fullness of time hasn’t invalidated plenty of ‘classics’. “Oliver Twist’s” portrayal of London’s pickpockets hardly stands scrutiny with today’s exponents on their BMX bikes and hoodies; does that make Dickens’ book any less worthy of reading? Soviet Communism is over, yet Bulgakov’s satire of it in “The Master And Margarita” which I recently read for the first time, is no less enjoyable. You didn’t have to consult the notes in the appendix if you didn’t want on all the specific allusions to apparatchiks and institutions, the book still works all of a piece.

Secondly, the details may change, but the trends and human behaviours under scrutiny do not necessarily. My novel about binge culture deals with our human inquiry into what makes us happy, what the nature of pleasure might be. Because it is set in Greece, it encompasses the classical Greek philosophers’ musings on the nature of pleasure and considers how far removed we here and now find ourselves from any real conscious understanding of why we follow the pursuits we do. And that coincides with inquiries our discontented society is now starting to make as the dust settles on the riots.

The rioters focusing on looting the consumer desirables we are constantly told we ought to strive for, suggests to me that not only are the rioters in the wrong, but a society that constantly bombards us with exhortations to upgrade and own the latest model may also be wholly amiss. Yeah, well I’ve written about exactly that in a book that was published two years before these riots broke out. I don’t claim to be a prophet. Just an author. Of contemporary novels…


Marc Nash has two novels coming out on Kindle in August.

“A,B&E”“Not In My Name”  and book trailer.

In September he will also be publishing an anthology of 52 pieces of flash fiction called “52FF”

  1. W. Peace Esq says:

    I am not a seer or a prophet. But I do observe. I do try and engage and understand the world around me.

    I’m pretty sure I read a comment by yourself at YWO along the lines that you never read newspapers or magazines, or watch television, or read non-fiction books. In fact, you stated you only read fiction, and you have a limited taste in that (only reading ‘Literary’ fiction).
    White how this qualifies as trying to engage and understand the world around you, I have no idea.

  2. W. Peace Esq says:

    *or even ‘Quite’

  3. yearzerowriters says:

    true in most cases you cite, although I do watch tv and read the occasional non-fiction. Unless a hermit like yourself Warren, an observer has more than enough opportunity by simply going about their daily lives in the world. If people choose to clog up their focus with an I-Pod, mobile phone texting, hiding behind a free newspaper, that is of course their prerogative, but they stand to miss out on things.


  4. W. Peace Esq says:

    I believe the picture is of Daisy Anne Gree. She wrote this:

    “And so love came to mean nothing to me, and the only time that I felt alive was when I was thinking about dying.”


  5. yearzerowriters says:

    er no, it’s not Daisy… But it’s true, it ain’t me either


  6. Stace says:

    Despite what Split Enz had to say about it, history repeats. If so, surely it’s impossible NOT to write contemporaneousssssly… which, apparently, is a real word after all! Who knew?

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