Interview: Gavin James Bower

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September 12, 2011 by markstani


Gavin James Bower’s second novel, ‘Made In Britain’, is published in paperback at the end of this month by Quartet Books. For now, it’s available via Kindle for £1.99. It’s a grim, honest account of growing up in an ailing provincial town. You can read the opening excerpt in the post below. Here, in an exclusive Q&A, the author talks about social ills, inspiration and, er, Fred Dibnah.

When I clicked to download your book, I almost mistakenly clicked ‘Made In Britain’ by Fred Dibnah. As fellow Lancastrians, I imagine you’ll be honoured by the coincidence. How do you think stalwart Fred Dibnah enthusiasts might react if they were to make the reverse-mistake and accidentally buy your book?

I really am honoured – more so than if anyone stumbled on my book having searched for Evan Davis [who also wrote a book called ‘Made In Britain], that’s for sure. (Our approaches to post-industrialisation couldn’t be more polarised.) I grew up in the shadow of the mills – the chimneys being a kind of ironic, pseudo-phallic indictment of a policy of emasculation. Dibnah was like the Brian Cox of industry; he loved machinery, and building, and making, and grafting – and he really did think it wonderful. Plus, he climbed massive chimneys all day. Top bloke.

Steaming on (pun intended), your story of small-town strife was lent an extra perspective by the recent riots. Were you surprised? It strikes me the despair and disconnectedness in your book almost portended them.

Ten years ago there were race riots in the North – Oldham, Bradford and Burnley (my home town, and the setting, loosely speaking, for MiB). I use the official term ‘race riots’ when really these were about communities not feeling like they had a shared cause – and instead viewing ‘the other’ as the problem. The riots recently, in London and elsewhere, were quite different. The causes were clearly political and, post-crash – with consumerism more rampant and capitalism more vulgar than ever – there’s a real sense of young people not only being pissed off, but feeling like they have no stake in the future. Coupled with a sense of powerlessness that really can’t be understated, it’s worrying for any society when those charged with the task of building a future don’t believe in one – and don’t believe they can make a difference anyway.

‘Made In Britain’ is bleak and violent but also funny and not without hope: not exactly the “feral underclass” being shuddered about by politicians today. Is this blanket knee-jerkism part of the problem, and was your book a conscious effort to challenge certain stereotypes?

Everyone’s a critic now. Everyone’s a commentator. Knee-jerk reactions – live, accompanied by a constant scrolling ticker of banality – is part and parcel of everyday life now. Owen Jones covers the demonisation of the working class in post-industrial Britain well in his book, Chavs. I wanted to approach it through fiction, by creating characters – made-up characters, admittedly – who aren’t clearly classifiable. And I wanted to tackle the love-hate relationship I have with where I’m from – something most people can relate to if they’ve grown up in a small town (post-industrial or otherwise). Is it grim up North? Are our teenagers drug-using, computer-game-playing, apathetic layabouts with no sense of purpose beyond signing on? The stereotype sensationalises. It sells papers and fills airtime. There’s no subtlety, no sense of the uneasy romance of a life sitting in a pub at noon drinking cans of lager through straws – a life where that’s as good as it gets. I wanted to conjure some of that imagery and give you something tangible, too. Something that will linger after it’s all over.

To what extent did you draw on your own personal experiences for ‘Made In Britain’?

The town and my experience growing up there informed every page. The dialect, the vernacular and turns of phrase – they all come from very real situations, or my dad going off on one about the state of the place. A lot of what Hayley’s dad says comes straight from my dad. As for the plot – the stories that drive the book along – that’s all made up. There is no Charlie, no Russell, no Hayley. But they’re everywhere in towns like Burnley.

Your publisher, Quartet Books, has adopted an interesting tactic – sell the e-book for £1.99 immediately prior to the paperback’s release. It strikes me as an ingenious plan, especially in a climate where many of the so-called major publishers seem to be running scared of the so-called ‘e-book revolution’. Do its opportunities excite you?

I’m not excited about the prospect of a market flooded with shite, or the prospect of print one day being niche. I am excited about the prospect of people being able to quickly download and read a short book like mine, tell their friends – share it, even – and for a fairly nothing amount of money. How publishers monetise that is a separate issue. As an author, I just want people to read my work – but I also want to live off it, too.

I ought to ask, have you got an opinion on this year’s Booker Prize shortlist?

No!

What have you liked recently, and what are you working on now?

I’m working on a third book – a non-fiction title for Zer0 Books on the surrealist writer and artist Claude Cahun. Recently I’ve liked anything and everything about Claude Cahun. I’ve no time for anything else.

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