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Walker Zupp: Confessions

Walker Zupp: Confessions

Tell us a little about yourself

I was born in Bermuda in 1996 to two commercial photographers. They made a living photographing executives at insurance companies, and bankers retiring after thirty years of dedication to the art of survival. I grew up in a badly-designed house in a town called St. Georges, on the east coast of Bermuda. The house itself was situated on a family-owned property where most of my mother’s family lived. I did not have my little street with my little friends; rather, I had relatives who would burst through our front door, holding gin-and-tonics, and bring with them stories about their daily adventures. I made my best friend, however, at nursery, and we have stayed friends ever since. I attended school in Bermuda and then went to Marlborough College in Wiltshire. It’s sufficed to say that my introduction to the English was less than pleasant; but my subsequent university days in Lancaster demonstrated that they were, after all, human beings. Though I started writing at Marlborough College—poems, mostly—I didn’t take my writing seriously until I quit drinking in Lancaster, and eventually signed the contract for my first novel.

  • I don’t necessarily have favourite books, but I certainly have favourite authors: Dostoyevsky is probably at the top: The Brothers Karamazov, The Gambler, Notes from Underground and The Idiot are books that I’ve enjoyed immensely. I like them because they are imperfect. And William Peter Blatty is another favourite: Legion and The Ninth Configuration are terribly good. The latter contains the best argument for the existence of God that I have come across. Philip K. Dick is, like Dostoyevsky, very imperfect, and books like Gather Yourselves Together, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer and VALIS are rather extraordinary books. Angelica Gorodischer wrote a wonderful book called Trafalgar; James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room is the best “love story” that I’ve read because it’s about someone who cannot love. William S. Burroughs, more than anyone else, is someone who I return to the most in my life: Naked Lunch, Junkie, The Place of Dead Roads—plus Exterminator! is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. The Claim of Reason by Stanley Cavell is an extraordinary book, and so is Philosophical Investigations by Ludwig Wittgenstein.

  • They have these olive loafs you can buy at TESCO. I had three miniscule slices of olive loaf, smeared with rhubarb and ginger preserve, and organic peanut butter. Adjacent, so to speak, was a milky coffee and the sunlight in my bay window. I put everything away when I eat breakfast. I seem to go into a trance.

  • I loathe the concept of “genre” and, outside of teaching literature to students, refuse to discuss such a thing. I think, if I can paraphrase Iggy Pop, that “genre” is a word that is used by dilettantes and heartless manipulators about writing that takes up the energies, the bodies, the hearts, the souls, the time and the minds of the authors who give what they have to it.

  • I believe I have a size-11 foot. I know, however, that I have big feet.

  • I write for the simple reason that I don’t seem to be much good at anything else. The emphasis on perfection, and the de-emphasis on the curative values of making mistakes, is something that I can only fight against by having a vocation that not only endorses mistakes, but elevates them: not because mistakes are valued over successes, but because mistakes are seen as the hallmarks of progress, or of the potential of progress, and therefore, of growth.

  • I was average on a heroic scale. I suffered from severe acne, like Bukowski-level acne, for most of my middle-to-teenage years, after which I was placed on medication that dried out my body and gave me perpetual nosebleeds. For some reason, I always got them during English classes, and would run into the hallway, then to the bathroom, where I would sit for several minutes and wait for the clot to form in my nasal cavity. I thought school was miserable, and I always felt stupid. In fact, I have spent most of my life feeling stupid.

  • My novels are usually the culmination of what I’ve been consuming for several weeks: movies, novels, academic papers, etc. As someone who has been in higher education for several years, Nakadai was based, largely, on my own experience at the University of Exeter. Before that, with Martha, I tackled the cultural revolution that had gripped my friend groups, and then eventually tore them apart, in my opinion. At the same time I was fascinated by the eclectic knowledge that the Internet afforded the contemporary writer, which I then exploited.

  • We are all capable of good and evil. We all have the potential for good and evil, most certainly. Whether we become these by accident, or on purpose, will be due to circumstance, mood; a cornucopia of things. I have tried autobiographical writing but it makes me sick.

  • I’m quite old-fashioned and like having an office that I can escape to after nine o’clock. I tend to inhabit my university office where I will write for 2-3 hours, generally in the morning. I tend to come home mid-afternoon and spend the rest of my day doing different work: admin, banking, emails, etc. The morning is for writing, and if something screws up, I’m finished.

  • It’s quite rural in Cornwall, and I live in a very quiet area. I always need quiet to work.

  • I suppose it’s the pleasure of doing something that you’re good at. I think today, especially, there are things that people expect writers to do, such as social media campaigns, but I think they take time away from writing and make you less creative because they focus your talents on the negative: jealousy, greed, self-preservation, judgment. A book is an empathy machine, and as it stands today, fewer authors seem to be capable of sympathizing with people who aren’t from the same class, creed, or culture as they are. What I love about writing, then, is that it keeps me linked to the human family. But you write garbage when you’re angry, and nothing makes people angrier, or more dishonest, than social media. I think it’s sad that we have to be frightened all the time. That’s probably why I end up writing books that are funny.

  • I feel extremely excluded down here; neither do I want a sense of belonging in Cornwall, in a cultural sense, because that wouldn’t make me any happier. A sense of inclusion comes out of self-respect and patience, I think, and those are both things that I pour into my work and then scarcely have any left over for the people around me. I like people, but I should be more patient. I shall have to think about that.

  • My last novel, Nakadai, was influenced by being a student in higher education. It’s a Faustian tale of someone who makes a pact with an intergalactic being for supreme knowledge, only to become a slave to that knowledge as he grows up. I think it’s a cautionary tale for young academics because, at the end of the day, knowing facts doesn’t make you any happier. I thought, several years ago, that it would, but my discovery that it wouldn’t formed the basis for Nakadai.

  • I will always be a human being, and will always be a member of the human family. The cartoons are there to critique civilization and the human beings who have built it. There are some fascinating philosophical insights in SpongeBob SquarePants, especially Seasons One and Two, and the mistake, I think, is to not take cartoons seriously. Though I take human beings far more seriously than I do cartoons: that’s something that people struggle with today.

  • I enjoy cooking, mostly because I get hungry, and enjoy cooking roast chickens for my partner, with gravy made from scratch, and bread as well, which I use to meditate and chill out. There’s nothing better than kneading a lump of substance when you’re fed up with contemporary civilization.

  • I was very young when I started writing. I wrote stories about duck superheroes, and stories involving plant-life, and it probably came out of the comedic vernacular that I learned from SpongeBob. When you learn things you want to apply them—apart from murder, naturally—and there was always the sense of “practice” when I was writing. I don’t love writing, really; I find it much easier, or rewarding, loving other people.

  • Read things that challenge you; try to write 1,000 words a day; avoid activism, and embrace practice.

  • My dog died several years ago, and my partner is allergic to animals, broadly speaking. I doubt that we will own a pet in the future, but we love animals and take every opportunity to help spiders, millipedes, woodlice and moths around our house. We like other peoples' dogs.

  • There is no doubt that human beings are animals, and that I have a duty to accept that on a daily basis. Arthur Schopenhauer was one of the first people to vocally oppose vivisection and the mistreatment of animals. He said: “[…] the animal is in essence absolutely the same thing that we are, and that the difference lies merely in the accident, the intellect, and not in the substance, which is the will.” As a writer, I can attest to the idea that the intellect is a mistake.

  • I like to write in silence. I sometimes listen to music when I’m nipping through the manuscript, changing small things with “find and replace”. During this I have listened to Frank Zappa’s Hot Rats, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater and Wu-Tang Clan’s 36 Chambers—I really admire John Coltrane’s later work as well, and Ginger Baker’s solo albums.

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