issue 32: september - october 2002 

Extract from Nalda Said | Spanish translation

Stuart David InterviewTBR Interview with
Stuart David

Born some thirty years ago in Scotland, Stuart David spent his youth playing in bands and writing novels, five in all. One he thought was good enough to put on the Internet. By 1999 he had his fingers in a number of pies and was achieving critical acclaim in every area. First there was the band he co-founded with Stuart Murdoch, Belle and Sebastian, in which he played bass; then there was a multimedia project called Looper in which David sang and told stories while his wife, Karn, projected films and Ronnie Black projected photos. And then there was that Internet novel which Kaye Roach at I.M.P Fiction had decided would be a lot better in print. The reviews for Nalda Said were ecstatic: The Times: ‘Delicately written and achingly sad, with just a hint of a moral in the poignant denouement; if David ever gives up the day job, pop music's loss could well be literature's gain.’ The Guardian (Books): ‘Tender as a bruise, it will be a friend indeed for those shivering in needy isolation this autumn . . . ludicrously charming with passages of rare compassion.’ Nalda Said has so far been translated into seven languages, among them Japanese, Norwegian and German. The Spanish translation was released this summer.

"A creative writing class might be good if you feel you need someone else to say it's okay to be spending your time writing, to validate your doing it."

Something had to give, so David left Bell and Sebastian. During a Looper tour of North America he found the story for his next novel, The Peacock Manifesto, which features the two real-life protagonists, Peacock Johnson and Evil Bob. The book’s publication led to some bizarre legal problems for David, with Peacock turning up at his book signings, etc. Visit the Looper and I.M.P. websites for the full details. (Realplayer snippets of Looper’s work can also be found on their website.) David has recently signed a film deal for The Peacock Manifesto with London-based film production company Samuelson Productions.

TBR: Nalda Said came out during your time with Belle and Sebastian. What was the genesis? Was it a project long in your head?
S.D : I wrote Nalda Said during 1994-1995, so it was finished and exactly as it is now before I'd met anyone from Belle and Sebastian. I couldn't find a publisher for it at the time though. I got close with a couple of the big companies but in the end they didn't feel it was commercial enough. Then after I became a bit better known with Belle and Sebastian and Looper it came to the attention of I.M.P. Fiction that I'd written it and they put it out.

Nalda Said Cover by Karn DavidTBR: You were quite young when you wrote Nalda. Had you ever studied writing in a class or workshop? Any views on the phenomenon of creative writing programmes such as we see in the U.S.?
S.D : I've never studied writing in that way, no. I had a good English teacher at school when I was 14-15, and he gave me my enthusiasm for it. I was already writing songs at that time, and I could grasp what he was talking about through that experience. But I've always felt that the only way to learn to write is to read a lot and to write a lot. And to re-write a lot. A creative writing class might be good if you feel you need someone else to say it's okay to be spending your time writing, to validate your doing it. But if you don't have a strong sense of when something you've written is right, and when it's not . . . if you need someone else for that then it's always going to be pretty hard to be a writer.

TBR: Working in a band is time-consuming enough; how did you find time to write? Were you able to set aside a definite time every day or were you forced to work in stops and starts?
S.D : I would disagree to be honest. I don't feel that working in a band is time-consuming enough. There's always a huge amount of time spent doing nothing in a band - hence all the drugs/alcohol to try and fill up the empty time. So I found I had all this empty time, and that it was damaging to the music to try and work on it more than you should, just to fill up the time. I don't really like alcohol or drugs, so I filled up the rest of the time writing books.

Pink Floyd"

TBR: Writing is a solitary pursuit whereas working in bands is quite the opposite. Do you have a preference or is it nice to have both options?
S.D : It's nice to have both options, yes. A lot of my musical work is solitary too, 'cause I quite often work on my own writing, the songs and the arrangements and other people's parts and stuff, so I like that I have the option to get together with other people to play the songs. I think it's good for me too, 'cause naturally I prefer to be on my own, and if I was just writing books all the time I could sink into that entirely and be quite happy. It's good that I have to force myself into company for music now and again.

TBR:. The unnamed narrator of Nalda Said fears friendship or contact in case his secret is discovered; therefore, he's not much of a conversationalist and is forever on the move. You too are often on the move and recently, so I've read, you even went into hiding. Can one presume that there are similarities? Do you have a dark secret?
S.D : I don't have a dark secret, no.  Sometimes I feel like I do, but I had it checked out by an analyst and it turns out I don't. At the same time, I don't doubt there are similarities between me and the narrator. It's my belief that there are similarities between most people and the narrator. I think he's as much observed from humanity in general as he is from me.

TBR: The narrator's naive voice works to delightful effect, helping create a sense of enchantment in the novel. His story, slowly revealed, is filled with unexpected turns. Had you worked out the essentials of the plot before you began writing or did it unfold in the process?
S.D : I think I had the general idea of what would happen before I started, and the general idea of who the character was, but these things all grow once you start writing, or they should do anyway. If nothing comes to life and changes how you thought the book would be when you started out writing it then you can be pretty sure it’s a dead book, and it won't do much for anyone reading it either.

TBR: After leaving Belle and Sebastian, you helped form the cult group Looper. As far as I can understand, Looper originally started out as a multimedia, spoken-word act but seems to have grown into a fully fledged music act with a new CD recently out. NME said Looper was ‘a gentle act of madness’. How do you define Looper? Any danger of this expanding into a Pink Floyd-style flying-pigs rock show? Any plans for Spanish gigs?
S.D : No danger of expanding into anything that has anything to do with any aspect in common with Pink Floyd. I absolutely detest Pink Floyd. Give me a moment to calm down here....

Sorry, even the mention of the name is always enough to get me going.

No, Looper has pretty much always been a fully fledged musical act. Sometimes the words are spoken, sometimes they're sung, but the music is always there. We've done three albums now. The show we're doing at the moment has a mixture of feature films that we've made and onstage dialogue as well as the songs, that develop a complete plot and narrative, so it's quite hard to take it to places where the main language isn't English cause no-one knows what's going on. Hopefully we'll have something simpler next time that'll work anywhere.

TBR: Back in the late 90s you created ‘Ink Polaroids’, a form of flash fiction that captures a view through words. Could you give us one of your current surroundings?
S.D : I don't really do those anymore. And I'm just sitting at a computer in my living room just now, so nothing much is happening. I don't really do much physical description in my writing. Something special had to happen to make an Ink Polaroid of the event - something kind of everyday but also magical in some way. Nothing much is going on today.

TBR: The Scottish writing scene . . . Kelman, Warner, Welsh, Laura Hird, Michel Faber, Des Dillon, etc. What are your thoughts? Strong, influential and still vibrant?
S.D : Hate Warner. Welsh is a bit cartoonish but quite funny. Norman McCaig is a very good poet. Kelman values James Joyce too much, so does Alasdair Gray. I find these currently well-known Scottish writers to be very minor and I think it's deliberate that they're held up to be the cream of Scotland 'cause it means England can still convince itself that Scotland's literary talents are all minor.

TBR: Do you see yourself as part of the writing community? Do you rub shoulders with the likes of Martin Amis or Zadie Smith at literary lunches?
S.D : I've never met another writer. Never been to a literary lunch. I did meet one of the other writers on IMP once, Ian Winn, but I think he's the only one. I like Martin Amis's work though.

The Peacock ManifestoTBR: British music isn't cutting the mustard in the U.S. like it used to; in fact, for the first time in 40 years there isn’t a British act in their charts. Your thoughts and feelings on the current music scene. Coldplay?
S.D : I think that's a misconception. The British music that's cutting it in the UK isn't cutting it in the US, but a lot of British stuff that isn't well known in the UK does pretty good in America, even if it doesn't chart in the top 40. I think the UK totally misunderstands the US music scene just now, and tries to push all the wrong UK stuff there. The US has a much more vibrant thing going on commercially at the moment. A lot of the current R&B in the US is very experimental, very fresh. Stuff like the The Neptunes and Timbaland. The UK is stuck in some retrogressive idea of what's good at the moment, so America doesn't want it. Coldplay is the perfect example. They're selling to Britain what Radiohead were doing seven or eight years ago, and meanwhile America puts what Radiohead are currently doing to number one, while the UK says, "This new Radiohead music is weird. Why can't they do what they used to do and sound like Coldplay?" I like that new Radiohead stuff. You'll see another Coldplay-type band taking it to the top of  the charts here in the UK in another seven or eight years time, and then the UK will try to export it to Americag and America will have moved on again. Maybe it'll be Coldplay themselves.

TBR: What projects are you currently working on?
S.D : We've just put our our new album The Snare, and just now I'm trying to catch up on how the technology has moved on since we finished that.

Off the cuff . . .

some literary influences

Martin Amis, JD Salinger, Charles Bukowski, Raymond Carver, Sigmund Freud. Lots of other stuff too...

free music on the Net

My opinion on it? It's there and the technology makes it possible. I don't think it matters whether you think it's right or wrong, it's just a fact now. I've never downloaded anything. I prefer to buy stuff.

three favourite web sites

Ebay, Ebay, and Ebay.

Scotland versus the U.S.

Scotland. The U.S. reaction to September 11th has really made me tired of them. Scotland is just more realistic in general, in everything from the architecture to the people’s attitudes to the weather.

the pound versus the euro

I liked all Europe's individual notes and coins, in all the different countries. But I think economically the euro make sense.

Tony Blair versus George Dubya

Tony Blair if he'd take his tongue out of George Bush's arse.

your greatest fear; greatest joy

My greatest fear is something dark and vague and horrifying, and my greatest joy is the rare moments when that isn't present.


2002 The Barcelona Review

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 tbr 32           september - october  2002

Short Fiction Adam Haslett: The Beginnings of Grief
Kate Atkinson: Inner Balance
Todd Sandvik: The Note

novel extract
Stuart David: Nalda Said
pick from back issues
Frederick Barthelme: Driver
Carole Maso: Rupture, Verge, and Precipice...
Interview Stuart David
Quiz Raymond Carver
Barcelona: The Answers
Book Reviews Adam Haslett, Haruki Murakami,
Dorothy B. Hughes

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