Monday, May 3, 2010

Chad Taylor in 1995

The 11th in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is a May 1995 interview with novelist Chad Taylor by Denis Edwards. The photo is by Kendal Simich.

Chad Taylor is living the dream of everyone who decided they were going to write fiction. His work is getting published, almost as fast as it flows from his word processor. By mid-year three books by him will have appeared in the last two years. First was a novel, Heaven. Then there was a novella, Pack Of Lies. A short-story collection, The Man Who Wasn’t Feeling Himself, is due out this month.

That’s success with a capital S. He is set on more of the same, having taken care to cut away everything which could interfere with the writing process. He works as a graphic designer at the Auckland City Art Gallery. “I sit in front of a computer all day, working with Pagemaker and stuff.” If he could afford it that would go too, in favour of writing fiction all day

Being interviewed takes time and energy which could be better used on writing. He is reluctant when a profile is suggested. Backing and filling over suitable times and places takes place. Finally the meeting is set for about the only time it can work.

It isn’t perfect. Taylor is a bit worried. He is going to be talking to a journalist, into a tape recorder and having his words written down, and it’ll be happening at the low point of his day, six in the evening on a Thursday. He isn’t worried about the Thursday part. It’s the six in the evening that’s the worry. That’s when the 30-year-old Taylor tends to be in a “lull period when I’m not really ready for anything. That’s usually when I get a bit of rest.”

He looks as if he could do with it. He looks tired and pale. But after a small pizza and a Steinlager at a small parlour not far from his home near the spectacular mosque dominating the stretch of Balmoral Road between Dominion and Sandringham Road, his blood sugar begins picking up. By the time the interview ends, about three quarters of an hour later, his guarded defensiveness has lightened and he’s becoming more amiable.

His “lull” is after he finishes his job at the gallery. Later, probably around 9.30pm, he starts writing, either on his next novel – he is 60,000 words in and expects to double it before starting aggressive editing – or one of the two film scripts he is moving through the booby-trap littered process of scene breakdown, development and endless drafts. One is a version of Heaven. Midnight Films bought the rights and hired him to do the script; he’s at the second draft stage.

That’s good news for Taylor. It’s a sign he has the skill and talent to stay on the project. Film-making is famed as the toughest area for writers: if his first draft had missed the target, someone else would have picked up the ball for the second draft – if indeed it had gone ahead at all.

Taylor has been getting those sorts of thumbs-up signals since 1989. He’d done a lot of journalism, writing for a swatch of magazines like Rip It Up, Shake and Cha Cha. It paid his way through Auckland University, from which he emerged with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and part of a BA. Then one day he put eight stories into an envelope and posted them off to publisher Brick Row. Four connected. He did as writers do, and immediately began pounding out more stories. That got him what writers get, a drawerful of rejection letters.

Those have stopped, or if they are still coming he’s getting more acceptances than “Thank you for letting us see this but we regret. . .”, as he has been in almost every short-story collection of recent times. And that has brought the media. So far Taylor has done interviews for a dairy-counterful of magazines and newspapers.

The Herald was keen to find out if his first name is really Chad (it is), or whether it was something he acquired along the way. Once he wound up clutching the microphone to help a technology-challenged reporter capture the Taylor thoughts.

“If I had my way I wouldn’t do these things, but you have to. It is easily the best way to promote your book. Once this one is out there won’t be anything coming out for a while, and I can go back to getting on with the writing again.”

Before he drops out of sight he is braced for a fuss over the new book. It has a lot of explicit sex, delivered in a coolly clinical prose. Are we talking personal experience here? He’ll put his hand up for the coolly clinical part. “I tend to be very efficient.”

What about all that sex? “Not necessarily. I think that if you are a writer of fiction you go out and make it up. I don’t use people I know as models for my characters for the same reason. If you are going to write fiction you might as well make them up. Besides, it makes you stretch as a writer.”

He might be both stretching and working hard as a writer. Don’t look for him to be doing either in the writing whanau. This is a self-contained man, one who sails his own boat and who intends to keep it that way. “I probably don’t hang out at the right places and stuff. I don’t bother with writers’ societies and things, because what do you talk about? You are either writing or you aren’t. If you are, then you get on with it.

“I think there is this fantasy that people think there is somewhere they belong. That’s why they go along to writers’ groups. I don’t think there is anywhere where you belong. There is just you, and that’s it. So you have to get on with things the way they are. For me that means writing.

“Besides, those people aren’t there when I start writing at night. And they aren’t there at two in the morning and you are looking at what you’ve done and you think ‘Hey, that’s pretty good.’ There is just you. That’s how it is.”

That was just one of several references he makes to his keeping complete control of the work, and of the loneliness being part of the life needed to produce it. “Yes, when it comes to my writing I am a control junkie. I tend to take the view that if someone wants to edit my fiction they might be better off going and writing their own book.”

And the loneliness? “I’m not in a relationship, which makes it a bit of a monastic life at the moment. I’m not into sports or anything. In fact I can never understand why people play them. Writing’s the main thing.

“I have never sorted out whether you write because you are isolated, or whether you make yourself isolated so you have the time and space to write. I think because you end up on your own a lot, people think you are naturally isolated.”

That theme, the outsider and the isolated, goes back a long way for Taylor. He is from Manurewa, which by any measure is hardly Writing Central. He remains an outsider, living in Balmoral, far from the Auckland suburbs where the locals have got used to wading through writers en route to a cafe table: Ponsonby, Mount Eden, Devonport.

Parts of Manurewa could easily have been the set for Once Were Warriors. “I lived there until I went off to university. I’d quite happily walk through central Auckland at night, but there is no way I’d go through Manurewa on foot. No way.”

Manurewa also has a large middle-class section. Taylor is from this end of the Manurewa spectrum, although he isn’t keen to discuss this, and so ends any “working-class lad from South Auckland hell rising the literary ladder” story angles. He has a brother and sister. His parents saved to make it possible for him to bypass the local secondary schools and catch the bus north to Otahuhu, to Kings College. He “hated school”. That’s as much biographical stuff as is on offer.

There is at least one good memory of Manurewa: “It had a brilliant picture theatre and I used to love to go there. They’d have a western in the morning and something like Godzilla in the afternoon and then a Hitchcock movie.”

He quickly sorted out, even from the age of seven or so, that films had a script, that there was a construction and that the people on screen weren’t making it up as they went along. “Later on I found out what everyone else did, the director, photography and editing and so on. Except the producer. I never knew what they did. I still don’t.”

He has learned enough to have a script made into a short movie, Chris Graves’ Funny Little Guy – and he stays in film mode when writing fiction. “I try to approach whatever I am doing as if it were a movie. I am always asking myself whether I can shift the angles, the points of view, so I can see things from a different angle. I think it works.”

Films are about as close as Taylor gets to admitting influences. He seems to have none in particular and everyone in general. For instance, one of the books he is reading, for recreation, is Dracula, the Bram Stoker original. “That story is amazing. It just races along, right from the start. I’d forgotten how good it is.”

It’s getting on time to go. It’s 7pm, or close to it. Taylor is going back to his writing, to what sounds like an extraordinarily lonely life, one where everything is being bet on a single roll of the dice: success as a writer. “I think that’s what you have to do, make time for writing. I still don’t know where I get the time, but I do, so that’s all right. People have been pretty good. No one has really attacked me in a review or anything. I guess that’ll happen one day, but so far it’s been fine.”

With that he is off round the corner, towards home, and more writing.

UPDATE: Fifteen years later, Chad responds.


Cactus Kate said...

Fuck the words. More photos please. This Chad looks rather hot.

Anonymous said...

OMG. the hair. nice blend of tragedy and frankness in the piece.

Stephen Stratford said...

CK, there are photos of CT being gorgeous and pouting at, and if you visit his blog at the link above you will see a photo of him in bed. I can do no more.