Interview with Stephen Clayton Part 2 of 2

TVFH Interview: Stephen Clayton

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by Mike

Stephen Clayton is a founder member of the band Tractor, who signed with John Peel’s Dandelion label. They still record and tour. Stephen has also exhibited paintings at The Royal Academy. His debut novel is The Art of Being Dead published by BlueMoose books.

Part 1 of this interview can be found here.

What reactions have you had to the book, I heard that people have either a love or hate relationship with it.

The reactions to the book have taken me completely by surprise. In my innocence I believed that I had just told a story that I hoped would entertain and, perhaps, make people think. Many readers, I am pleased to say, have enjoyed the book and it has received many good reviews, but there is no denying that some people have found it hard to take. A woman recently told me that it was the most unpleasant book she had ever read, and that nobody swore like that in Halifax in the late sixties. What can you do? I pointed out that I had not written the book just to upset her. It’s the same with professional reviews. I don’t seek them out, but you are bound to come across them. And yes, bad reviews (although, thank god there have not been too many) do hurt and one does have a moment’s doubt as to the validity of one’s work. It’s amazing how you always remember the one bad review and forget all the rest. All you can do is take a deep breath and carry on.

I see that Julian Cope is a fan of the band, have you ever met him and if so what is he like?

Yes, Julian Cope is a Tractor fan, but unfortunately I have never met him. He did record at our studio in Rochdale but, sadly, I was away at the time. A great shame as his talent and eccentricity are close to my heart.

What has it been like for you to go to book events that you are speaking at compared to being before a live audience in Tractor and how have the audiences differed?

To speak at book events is, for me, a nerve wracking experience. The audience is usually enthusiastic and knowledgeable and one underestimates them at one’s peril. It does strike me, though, that in no other art form is the creator expected to stand before his audience and justify his every action. If the reading public don’t like you or your work they destroy you quietly and, usually, with dignity. If a rock audience don’t like you they just throw things. I’ve yet to work out which is the more painful.

Your career at Tractor is notable for the length of time that the band has endured. In today's instant culture do you see that you will be able to carve out a long literary career?

I’m afraid that it’s always been one of my failings not to think too far ahead. In writing as in music and art I can only concentrate on the moment: the work in hand. If a piece of work is successful and appreciated then that’s wonderful, but I don’t think one should expect a similar reaction in the future. Tastes change and, I suppose, and at the risk of sounding a little precious, all you can do is to try and achieve something that you believe in. If Tractor has continued to play and to sell some records then it’s probably because we were never really part of a particular fashion. I find it impossible to think of a ‘literary career’. I just want to write books.

As well as being a musician, you have had success with your painting. Is writing your primary passion or are all three equally important in your life?

To be honest, even when Tractor was doing reasonably well and my paintings were selling, I still wanted, more than anything else, to be a published author. For me, there is an authenticity, a depth and an intellectual satisfaction from literature that can be equalled only by the greatest of music. Each artistic endeavour brings with it its own problems, discipline and craft. I find writing much more difficult and challenging than anything else in which I have been involved. The rewards, however, when one has achieved a brief moment of success are, for me, much more rewarding. Rock music and art can, and often are, judged almost instantly, whereas to appreciate a serious piece of literature takes just a little longer.

Can you give some advice to new writers who are trying to get a publishing deal?

I hesitate to give advice on how to get published: the variables are so infinite. All I can say – and I apologise if this is too obvious – is to begin with the work itself. To be brutal there are two questions you should ask yourself: one, do I have anything to say and two, am I capable of saying it. Work hard and be totally honest with yourself. You know when you have written something not up to scratch. But don’t spend hours writing and rewriting the same paragraph. Finish the book and then rewrite. And then, and this is so difficult, pass it to somebody you trust and you know to be a serious reader and ask them for an honest opinion. There are, of course, professional editors and readers who will look at your work for you, but they do charge. Then when you are happy with your work, choose your agent or publisher carefully. Try not to give them reasons to reject you. And if you are rejected and you still believe in your talent, don’t give up. Never give up.

What are your plans for Tractor in the future and how is the second novel coming along - can you tell us anything about it?

Tractor is on the back-burner at the moment, although we hope to have a new CD out in the summer, and as for the second novel: it’s going well, but slowly. But that’s O.K. I’m about half way through and still believe in the story which, I believe, is the main thing. In the meantime, a guy I’ve known since the Dandelion days and I are busy hawking round a musical based on the life and work of Andy Warhol which we completed some time ago. There is some interest from an American theatre company, but I’m not holding my breath.

Thanks Stephen.

Stephen's book can be purchased from BlueMoose visit their website here.

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