A Word with Joe Dunthorne

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Rob Fred Parker talks to writer Joe Dunthorne about his latest novel, the film adaptation of his debut Submarine, and more. Fans of of the magazine and Litro Live! may also recognise Joe from last year’s Litro Summer Party, at which we were delighted to have him read, and he will be joining us again for Litro Live! at the Camden Crawl, this May Bank Holiday weekend.

Joe Dunthorne is a Welsh born, London based poet, novelist, performer and literacy champion who is certainly busy at the moment.  We spoke about his brand new novel, where he draws inspiration from and his two upcoming shows at London Word Festival.

Last year saw a collection of Joe’s poetry published as part of Faber’s New Poets series, and Ministry of Stories, a creative writing centre Joe helped found in Hackney, open its doors to school classes in Hackney. This year has already seen his 2008 debut novel Submarine become a critically-acclaimed film, and promises his second novel in the summer. Drawing upon Dunthorne’s adolescence in Swansea, Submarine, from the opening page’s examples of the loaded questionnaires narrator Oliver issues his parents, is incredibly funny. But, for all its humour, there are very raw emotional undertones, documenting the despondency and depression of adolescence. On this balance, Joe comments “writing it was a challenge, definitely. Particularly when you have a character who avoids his emotions, who always analyses his feelings as a way of dismissing them, the challenge is to give the reader a glimpse of the actual emotions that are below the surface”. Fortunately, Richard Ayoade’s adaptation brings the tone and wit to the big screen faithfully with cinefile flair, and Joe hasn’t been put off from future adaptations of his work. “I had a great experience so, yes, I’d do it again — as long as I was confident about the people I was working with”.

Joe’s second novel, Wild Abandon, takes as its focus the disintegration of a secluded commune and the delusions of characters certain of an impending apocalypse. Like Submarine, it is a ‘book about family’.  “There are young people in Wild Abandon, an eleven-year-old, Albert, and his older sister, Kate, who’s seventeen, so that creates some parallels to Submarine. Plus, it’s set in Wales. Again. But Wild Abandon has a different perspective, setting, and tone, and there are more characters, and it tells a story in a way Submarine didn’t”. Whilst Submarine’s first person narrative drew influence from J. D. Salinger and Kurt Vonnegut, Wild Abandon was inspired by a number of other dryly humourous American writers. “One of the key books was White Noise by Don De Lillo which, for me, is pretty much perfect. The characters are vivid, unusual, and very funny, the story is really gripping and yet De Lillo smuggles in wonderful diversions on imagery, shopping and death. He incorporates all the detritus of contemporary culture in to something truly transcendent. I was also reading lots of David Foster Wallace:  again, a writer who is funny, but also, hugely honest, insightful and generous. It must be said, however, he is a risky man to be influenced by. I’ve had to go back through Wild Abandon and cut out all the passages of adjectival, page-long sentences — and blame them on reading Infinite Jest”.

Joe Dunthorne

In addition to this printed work, Joe performs regularly. “Writing is a solitary experience so I like to have performance as a counter-balance to that. Some of the writing I do I wouldn’t want to publish, but it seems well suited to being read out loud. Plus, I like the different opportunities — crowd participation, video, multi-vox, theatrics — that being on stage creates. It’s a good place to experiment”. For London Word Festival, which began on April 7th, Joe co-wrote The Crash with, among others, comedian Tom Basden, a financial murder mystery in the form of an ‘immersive installation’, plus will be performing The Goodbye Library, a show influenced by library closures, with musician Emmy the Great and poet Jack Underwood.

Joe has been involved in projects in each of the last three festivals, and sees it as a good opportunity to collaborate with like-minded writers and artists. “I’m an East London resident and have always really admired the festival. I’ve seen lots of good events over the years — Iain Sinclair in St. Augustine’s Tower in Hackney, springs to mind — and it’s something I’m always keen to be involved in. Lucky for me, they keep inviting me back. There’s loads of events I’m looking forward to this year: the night for Alan Moore’s Dodgem Logic, which is an amazing magazine; Keep Breathing by Chris Goode, one of my favourite playwrights; This Is Just To Say by Hannah Jane Walker, a fantastic intimate performance about apology; and… Intergender Wrestling!” (a reinterpretation of cult comedian Andy Kauffman’s provocative act featuring comics Simon Munnery and Josie Long).

So, what advice does he have to other aspiring writers? “Just the boring advice that everyone gives young writers. Write and read. Read and write. And turn off the internet”. But before you all shut down your laptops in favour of a good old HB and notepad, take a look at the details of Joe’s upcoming performances, as they promise not to be missed.

Litro Live! at the Camden Crawl is on Saturday 30th April at the Bullet Bar. Please see our Litro Live! page for more details.
The Goodbye Library is at The Nave on Wednesday 27th April
The Crash runs at 60 Farringdon Road from Friday 29th April to Sunday 1st May
Full details on all festival events can be found at: http://www.londonwordfestival.com/

Liz Cookman

Liz Cookman

Liz is a thoroughly London-centric writer and a recent addition to the Litro Online team. She is passionate about creative non-fiction and waffles on a lot about London and the River Wandle - a total river bore. She holds a BA in Creative Writing and is studying for an MA in Travel and Nature Writing from Bath Spa University.

Liz is a thoroughly London-centric writer and a recent addition to the Litro Online team. She is passionate about creative non-fiction and waffles on a lot about London and the River Wandle - a total river bore. She holds a BA in Creative Writing and is studying for an MA in Travel and Nature Writing from Bath Spa University.

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