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Toby Litt is the author of 'Adventures in Capitalism', 'Beatniks', 'Corpsing' and 'Deadkidsongs'. His latest book, 'Exhibitionism', is a collection of short stories.
'Exhibitionism' has a lot of sex in it and your previous book 'deadkidsongs' focussed on violence, are these themes central to all the fiction you write?
I write in as many different styles, and about as many different subjects, as I can. It's fair to say that from just before I wrote 'Corpsing' until just after I finished 'deadkidsongs' I was very preoccupied with violence. When I was putting together the stories to be included in 'Exhibitionism' I realised that at least half of them had sex as a major preoccupation - which is why I divided the book into 'Sex and Other Subjects'. My next book has sex but almost no violence, apart from the emotional sort, which is the worst.
'The Waters' was the story I liked best in the your most recent collection, perhaps because it combined a relatively simple narrative of the main character's three relationships in a surreal context. Which story do you like best?
'The Waters' was the one I completed last, so I'm almost bound to say that one.
"At times you may think Litt is a bit sick in the head" is a quotation from one review of your latest book. In the past your writing has been labelled as immoral or even amoral, what is your response?
I'm almost ashamed at how moral most of my writing is.
One of the stories in 'Exhibitionism' - 'The New Puritans' - was originally written for 'All Hail the New Puritans'. What was the experience of writing within the restricted parameters this imposed?
The only rule I had any difficulty with, and I think most of the other writers in the anthology found this too, was number 5: 'In the name of clarity, we recognise the importance of temporal linearity and eschew flashbacks, dual temporal narratives and foreshadowing.' There is a paragraph I cut from 'The Puritans' (the version in 'All Hail') which I reinstated for 'The New Puritans' (the version in 'Exhibitionism'). I have imposed far greater restrictions on myself, in other stories; for example, 'IYouHeSheItWeYouThey' in 'Adventures in Capitalism' - in which each section is written using only one person, first, second, third, single and plural.
I have to add the usual footnote: the New Puritans was a one-off, just like Dogme '95. We signed up, we wrote our stories, we signed off.
Your writing is very eclectic - novels, short stories, poetry, review pieces, interviews - do you have a preference(s)? Do you think it takes different skills to be good at each of them?
Each form has delights and excrutiations. With a review, you get the buzz of seeing it printed within a day or a week; but you pay for this with the frustration of having to complete it within three hours - and of having it sub-edited to smithereens. With a novel, you have the joy of almost total control, but to make the most of this you have to endure two years in solitary.
Poetry is the rarest pleasure.
How much time do you spend doing publicity for your work? Is this enjoyable or just a chore that comes with the job?
It probably takes up a month for each book: three weeks for the trade paperback edition, one for the mass market (which is what the publishers call them, now that they are both paperbacks). I do find it enjoyable, but get frustrated if I feel that I am being prevented from getting any work done.
You seem to have embraced publishing on the web with great enthusiasm, both your own web page and e-books. Does the web have a particular attraction for you or is it just another way to get your work 'out there'?
I've done several web-based writing projects. The first was a novella called 'ohm' for shiftcontrol, the original Guardian website. After that, I collaborated with three other writers on an interactive story site called 'babyLondon' - which I think is still around. The story 'alphabed' in 'Exhibitionism' was extracted from this. Both 'deadkidsongs' and 'Exhibitionism' have been done as ebooks - and both contain extra stuff that isn't in the paper versions. In the Autumn, Penguin are reissuing 'Adventures in Capitalism' and that ebook will probably contain about ten or twelve more stories.
I enjoy running my own website (www.tobylitt.com). I'm able to put things on it that interest me, without having to worry too much if they interest lots of other people.
Do you think that the growth of web publishing will make any significant change to authors and publishing in general?
It could make a total change or almost none at all. The big issue is finding things - how do readers find authors? As we've seen with music, people download lots of mp3s of well-known artists, but the next big thing will still be the product of a record company. Readers don't have time to do their own quality control: if they were given some manuscripts from the slush pile (unsolicited manuscripts) from a major publisher, they could search a long time before coming across a single thing they enjoyed. So, I don't think pure authorial self-publishing is the future.
You describe yourself (on your website) as ambitious, what are your ambitions?
To write better and to write better.
Desert Island Disks- but with books instead of music tracks- what five books would you choose?
Assuming that, like Sue Lawley, you grant me Shakespeare and the Bible, they would be:
Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales
Milton, Paradise Lost
John Donne, Songs and Sonnets,
James Joyce, Ulysses
On you website you list Jerry Maguire as one of your all time favourite films, why?
Since enduring 'Vanilla Sky', I have come to see why so many people hate Cameron Crowe. This may sound very vague, and like a Woody Allen-ish chat up line, but I think 'Jerry Maguire' has a very interesting quality - a dreamlike quality - like an anxiety dream, in which you imagine yourself losing your entire, carefully constructed dream-like life. It's also quite nice to see Tom Cruise suffer.
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