Craig Jordan-Baker: Maps of Fantasy Islands, Books of Brick and Mortar

September 10, 2020 00:55:28
Craig Jordan-Baker: Maps of Fantasy Islands, Books of Brick and Mortar
The Plastic Podcasts
Craig Jordan-Baker: Maps of Fantasy Islands, Books of Brick and Mortar
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Show Notes

Writer, lecturer and self-confessed folkie, Craig Jordan-Baker tells all on the eve of the launch of his debut novel, The Nacullians (published by Epoque Press). We talk grandparents, Nazis, Flann O’Brien, Samuel Beckett and fantasy islands.

Plus Doug Devaney adds another Plastic Pedestal…

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Episode Transcript

Speaker 0 00:00:01 <inaudible> Speaker 1 00:00:21 I'm Doug Giovanni and you're listening to the plastic podcasts, tales of the Irish diaspora. We all come from somewhere else. Find out more about and subscribe to [email protected] We're lucky to get our guest today. Not only is Craig Jordan Baker, a lecturer and creative writing at Brighton university. Not only is he a third generation member of the diaspora, not only is he a writer who has had his work published in Firefly potluck and text magazines, he's also got his debut novel. The Nicolaitans being launched by epoch press on the very day of this broadcast. That's how on the pulse we are here at the plastic podcasts. Now, please note, this podcast does contain instances of strong language, but only instances now with all this activity, the first question I need to ask Craig is how you doing? Speaker 2 00:01:13 I am doing very well. I've just been, um, out doing some early morning Morris dancing and I'm feeling refreshed and raring to go. Speaker 1 00:01:20 Yes. Um, so I mean, so well, let's, let's, let's dive briefly into that folk traditions then. Are you, are you a bit of a folky, would you say Speaker 2 00:01:26 I am increasingly a foci? Yeah, I, um, I, I play the Barron, uh, um, uh, focus session. Um, I, I love to sing, um, I dance, uh, more stance as well, so yeah. Yeah. I'm, uh, increasingly becoming a foci. Unfortunately I can't grow a beard and that's sort of like, I think a bit of a prerequisite, um, but I'm, I'm, I'm kind of challenged in the bed areas, Speaker 1 00:01:50 But if you can, if you can stick one finger in one ear and grow in our end jumper, you should be fine. Speaker 2 00:01:54 Oh, well then that's okay. Yeah, I think I can certainly manage that. Speaker 1 00:01:59 So these are kind of exciting times for you really aren't, they, Speaker 2 00:02:01 They are lots a lots happening. I mean, after a lot, not happening with lockdown, et cetera, there's, um, there's a lot going on. Of course, for me as an academic, there's a start of the new year, but there's also of course, the launch of a book, which has been a long time, a long time in coming. Speaker 1 00:02:17 You mentioned when we did the preamble here that you thought that two terrible things might happen over the course of this year, the end of the world, and you're not getting a novel published. Speaker 2 00:02:25 Yeah, exactly. Those two things I'm really, really, I'm really glad both having happened. So effectively 2020 for me, is turning out to be a rather super year Speaker 1 00:02:34 For those of us that either a dream of aspire to, or have no knowledge of what novel writing is about. I mean, once you've actually written and done your redrafts and so forth, just how much time does it take to actually get it from, I dunno, your screen to publish page. Speaker 2 00:02:49 Well, um, so, so I was fortunate where I'm in, in my route where I've been wanting for a long time. And, um, I was at reading where read a short story, um, which actually turned out to be a chapter of one of, um, of the novel. And, um, at the, at that this reading was, uh, Sean Campbell, uh, the, um, head of epoch press. And he was really enthusiastic about what he heard. And he said, I think this is a novel. And I, and I scratched my head a little bit and thought, Oh, could he be right? And he was right. And so it was, this novel was a fairly, I would say, compared to the experiences of a lot of writers who are trying to get their work out there was, um, was blissfully straightforward. I was tapped up by Sean and, um, I got on writing the thing and it did take, um, a fair old wall, um, but certainly less than a year. Um, so I think I've been really, really lucky. Speaker 3 00:03:44 And so did you ever see yourself as just being a, as being a, uh, a short story writer and academic primarily before that? Speaker 2 00:03:51 Oh, well, not, well, not even that I once told my mother that she couldn't expect much out of me and I would be a bum and at best a poetic bum. So, um, so I've certainly, I've certainly managed to be a poetic bum, so she should be pleased with that. Um, uh, but, uh, I was working on a novel, um, uh, called of islands, um, for several years before this novel. Um, the Napoleon's CA uh, came out, um, and, and, um, that's a much longer and much more kind of complex novel that I don't think I had the skill at that point to write. So now with the experience I've gained with writing this novel, I'm coming back to, um, that project and I'm reworking in, hopefully in the next few years, there'll be number two in the pipe. Speaker 3 00:04:33 Uh, you see a small family of books. Yes, yes. Was your home when you were young, was it a place where a lot of the family gathered together? Was it a hub, a family activity? Speaker 2 00:04:48 It changed actually. I think that I really noticed a big change in my, so I come from, uh, a counselor state, a working class community on the East side of South Hampton, um, called on Hill. And I remember, um, when I was a kid, there was a kind of sport. Um, and it was, you know, um, it was a strange kind of sport and it was when the kids of the street would go out and play with one another. There there'll be a bit of rough and tumble and, um, they get into a conflict and then they run home, tell their mum, and then mothers will come out onto their stoops and scream down the end of the road and call out the opposing child's mother, you know, Sandra get out here and then they'd have a great big, um, Barney on the street. And all the other mothers of the street were cut out and enjoy this, um, enjoy this kind of vocal Juul. Speaker 2 00:05:35 Um, and that's one way in which, um, uh, um, w we had a lot of, uh, people talking to us and engaging with us. Um, but in terms of the family itself, um, my mother came from a very large family, so there were lots of, um, aunts and uncles popping in, popping out. Um, and when I was a child, my family started to foster. So we have a lot of, um, that we looked after, um, coming in sometimes just for a weekend. And, um, and one occasion, we had, um, a six week old baby, um, delivered to, I suppose, social services. And he became my brother for 18 months before he was adopted. So lots of, lots of different kinds of, um, things happening in the house. And do you miss that? No, no, I've no, I can't. I can't say I do, but I'm really glad I had that early experience of, of caring for children. Speaker 2 00:06:24 Um, I think that's, um, that's actually guided me to not to want to have children and not that I didn't like it. Um, but I, I kind of learned what it kind of, some of the stresses and some of the difficulties of being a parent and they are, uh, and they are, as you may be aware, um, you know, they it's very demanding. Um, but I had that caring experience. I think it taught me a lot about myself and what I wanted. And, um, and of course you're helping children that are in often really, really difficult situations. So I think, you know, foster caring is a great thing to do, Speaker 4 00:06:57 Uh, before we look at the kind of longer family history. I mean, you're, uh, you're, you're, you're, you're, you're allowed in, on the East side of South Hampton and the counselor state, and then you decide that you're going to be a poetic button. Speaker 2 00:07:07 Um, were you an odd child? Yes. And I think I benefited from having a mother that was rabidly loyal and protective of my oldness. Um, uh, and I think if not for that, I would have had a much more, um, difficult and miserable, uh, time. Um, so, uh, yes, I wasn't a child. I spoke very fast. I, um, I had, uh, a rather large vocabulary and I like to use it to the annoyance of my family and those around me. Um, I didn't particularly enjoy the classic sport of beating the shit out of each other, which was kind of standing, um, uh, thing that one did when I was growing up. I remember the constant conversations in primary school about who was harder and, and you had to kind of sort out a pecking order. And then there was another league, which was whose dad was hardest. Speaker 2 00:08:03 Now there was a difficulty here because you could kind of prove who was hardest by fighting another boy, but you couldn't really always very difficult to kind of meander your dad's into having a fight with one another. So we just had to imagine whose dad was harder. Um, and this was something I remember being a constant topic of conversation that often led to fights, and I remember absolutely hating it and, um, and wanting to just get away from it, but having no other option, but to kind of participate. And so, um, for those, for lots of reasons, I was, I was an old child. Um, and I think that oddness, um, led actually to my interest in Irish literature, culture, um, and, and history actually. And I think it was through feeling odd and not liking my peers that I, um, that I came to kind of, uh, start to look in different directions. Speaker 2 00:08:56 And what I mean by that is I remember going into, I must have been in year seven, I think. And I went into the school library and I said, I'd like to read some Irish writers please. And, um, the librarian, um, scuttled off, um, and came back with Oscar Wilde and Seamus Heaney. And, um, and I read, I remember it was death of a naturalist and, um, and the collection wintering out. And I remember devouring those two collections of Heaney and being utterly transported into a world of, of, uh, musical sensitivity that I hadn't had the two experienced. And it was really, it re it was a transformative experience. I also, um, ended up reading lots of work that I actually didn't enjoy. And I think this is something that's been really important for me. I started to engage with works because they were, um, in a sense, Irish works. Speaker 2 00:09:52 And I was trying to understand, you know, what, w w you know, what this, what this is kind of Irish literary culture was. And I ended up reading things that I at the time really hated things like, um, the plough and the stars, um, things like Playboy and the Playboy of the Western world. I didn't really get as a young teenager at all. And, but it, it formed the groundwork of being okay with not getting something. And I think people are really hung up. And I think when people approach art, especially people are really hung up on not getting something and they get really upset and feel really insulted if they experience artworks, they don't have the context for the knowledge for sometimes, and they blame the artist, or they blame someone trying to be snooty. And I think because I had that quite early experience of reading the plow in the stars and going what is happening, and I'd have to then go off and read a bit about, you know, the rising and, you know, and the four sports fire or whatever. And, um, to kind of understand what was going on that, um, that difficulty maybe realize that if you, if you explore the context more broadly, sometimes art can art can then, um, be illuminated for you. And, um, it's very important to understand the context of a work of art in order to appreciate what it can offer you. So Speaker 4 00:11:11 Brooklyn context day, you say that you, um, um, uh, you investigated Irish writing, um, and you're third generation. Yeah. Speaker 2 00:11:19 Yeah. So my grandfather, um, was some Banbridge in countdown. Um, and I would, uh, and I would often, you know, sit around, uh, the table, um, uh, his house on a Sunday afternoon and ask him about Ireland. So in some sense, I think I was looking for a mythic, um, a place that wasn't boring, uh, counselor, state, England. And I kind of got that, uh, my, you know, cause my grandfather had a very, um, mixed and interesting background, um, to, to say, uh, to say the least some of that's found its way into the novel. I think there's, there's one, a chapter called the adventures of Nandana Maculean, which is, um, a dialogue between, um, a grandson and, uh, and the grandfather and telling his story of, um, effectively immigration or, um, uh, to, to England. And that's a much, um, uh, uh, bloated and, uh, kind of like highfalutin version of some of the things that I heard, uh, when I was a kid Speaker 3 00:12:20 <inaudible> not only is Craig Jordan Baker, a writer, he's also a third generation member of the diaspora before concentrating on his grandfather's crossing from Ireland. I wanted to know more about the rest of his family. Speaker 2 00:12:38 So, um, my, my father's, my father's family, um, were from a working class, Devin Devin show folk who, um, who didn't really, um, weren't particularly ever really interested in us to put it, I would say mildly. Um, and, um, on my grandmother's side, so my maternal grandmother, she was, uh, um, a woman that, uh, lived on, uh, she was on from Jersey while she lived on Jersey. And she was actually, um, she was actually in a concentration camp during the second world war because she was, um, taken by the Nazis for spying and something that a lot of people don't know is or forget is that the channel islands were occupied by the Nazis. The story I was told was that she, um, was caught drawing a plane. She was sort of a late teenager, caught drawing a plane and then was taken by, um, Nazi officers, um, and, and taken to, um, Poland and had, and was treated relatively well because she was, um, at least, um, considered nominally Arion, but she did, um, I think lose part of her lung due to, um, the, the conditions out there and getting really bad, um, respiratory infections. Speaker 2 00:13:46 And, um, I've seen her journal, um, from those times in the concentration camps and it's got little bits of German that she learned, um, do best. I Luda you are a bastard. I remember reading. Um, uh, and, um, and, uh, you know, she had a really, really tough time. Um, and then she came, um, then, then when she was liberated, she came back and met my grandfather in Southampton. Um, and he had come across cleaning, um, and initially was clearing out bomb sites during, um, during the blitz. And he told me a little bit about, um, you know, he alluded to seeing some really other, the horrible things in, uh, which probably made more bodies in coming up on sites during the blitz, but he wasn't an active service person, um, during the second mobile, but he was, he was in England, um, you know, um, yeah, clearing up bomb sites. Speaker 2 00:14:36 He told me what brought up across sectarian violence was parcel there. Um, I, uh, he, he wants said something to me which really, really struck me. And you might even sort of might even see an element of it in the book where he taught, I asked him why he came across and he told me very bluntly that the, um, the Protestants cut a hole in a prick. And, um, and I remember being absolutely stunned at this statement and I, and I, and partly because I was trying to work out the mechanics of it, and I started imagining hang on, what does my grandfather's prick actually look like? And, um, and it was a, it was a really wild, he was such a stark thing and given without any particular context. Um, and he said no more. And, uh, so I was left wondering this kind of strangely surreal image of well pricks have holes in them, don't they? I thought, and, and so I wondered what is extra hole might've looked like. Um, and so it was a coup, but it was a really kind of macabre and almost kind of surreally comic image that I held of me for a long period of time. Speaker 3 00:15:39 So your, your grandparents come from very, very traumatic backgrounds. Your grandmother is essentially called it off to a concentration camp for purposes of art. She's drawing a plane. So when you decided that you're going to be an artist and so forth, is there, is there a suspicion of, it's like a thing that'll get you into trouble? Speaker 2 00:15:58 There's this, there's a kind of, um, I remember my, um, my, my father's funeral and I'm at the wake in easterly working men's club. Um, my father was a TrackMan and, um, you know, works at work. He was, uh, he was a lorry driver and a TrackMan. And, um, and I gave the eulogy, uh, and, um, one of the hardest things I've ever done. And, um, I was in the toilets and I was pissing next to one of my dad's, um, colleagues, uh, you know, working class guy from South Hampton. And he said, Oh, your dad always said you were literary. And now I know what he means. And, and that really spoke kind of volumes about, I think, a really kind of broad attitude that I experienced where to even use the word literary was a kind of strange word that meant, meant sort of something that was outside of a lot of people's experience. Speaker 2 00:16:46 It was viewed with suspicion in some ways. Um, I think my mother viewed it with a certain sense of pride without necessarily knowing what a writer was and what my literary aspirations were. She was happy that I was doing that, but she didn't really ask me much about it because as happens so often in working class families, when one member of that family is doing something that the others don't know anything about, they just remain silent about it. So if you happen to be an actor and you come from work class family, or loads of actors, I know saying, yeah, my, my, my parents just don't even ask me about my work, you know, and then the middle-class parents are like, Oh, so how's it going? Huh. You know, did you get that job at the beam? And, um, so I think there's a lot of silence around that, which you, that, which you don't know. And I remember so powerfully this guy that I was pissing next to saying, you know, he w we said you were literary, and now I know what he meant. And I don't know if my dad sort of knew what you meant when he was saying that about me to his work colleagues, but it was, um, it was, uh, a moment where I, I saw the sense of discomfort and, and, uh, and not having anything to say about those other worlds that are outside of your experience. Speaker 3 00:17:57 It actually links across quite nicely to, uh, the, the, uh, the, the, the novel itself. Um, because I mean, the nickelodeons is described on the back here, and I'm going to read it out just to prove that I can, uh, three generations of one family living in a brick house in a line of other brick houses. Um, this is, um, a work which a hundred glories in the, I suppose, the everyday in the working class to a certain extent, doesn't it? Speaker 2 00:18:21 Yeah. Um, perhaps it's interesting that you say glories, I feel kind of, uh, I feel sort of, I think I see it as more ambivalent, but it certainly is soaked and, um, and drenched in, in that world. Um, uh, and, uh, and, and I would like to think that it's, um, it's in no way sentimental, I would, I I'd really like, I, I'm not, I'm not a fan of, of, of sentimentality and sententiousness, but, um, but it is, but I do want it to be, um, uh, a kind of reflection and a, not an account, but more of an inquiry into that world into the, into the way in which, um, working, working class families or families pass on, um, experiences, uh, that they might not even know they're passing on, um, through the ways in which your great grandmother might have raised your, your grandfather, you know, and then how your grandfather raises your, your mother. Speaker 2 00:19:17 Um, and you, these are kind of sometimes inheritances, which we, which are, are real they're felt the material, I think. Um, but we don't often note them or notice them. Um, and I, but they're very powerful things. And I think by, by engaging with them and thinking about them, we can come to understand what it is to be in a family better and also understand what it is to be from a certain kind of place better. So it's the thing about home. Yeah. Um, home is a really strong, um, a really strong theme, but it's not, again, I don't think it's home without sentiment. I think it's home without sentiment. I think it's home, it's a, it's an inquiry into home and homecoming, a lot of things. Um, I think for some of the characters in the nickelodeons there's, um, uh, Shannon Nicholean, who's our second generation, she kind of views Ireland as this kind of abstract, um, romantic place and Bernard, um, who's, her brother has absolutely no time for it whatsoever. Speaker 2 00:20:16 He even says, you know, it's shit over there. Of course it's shit. That's why they all come over here. And, um, he's got a very, very sort of, um, a fairly hostile attitude. Um, I think to anyone that isn't, um, English and he certainly, uh, the character is very, very keen on being English and fitting in. Um, and it has a certain amount of embarrassment for his Irish father, I think. And so it's about, it's about the imaginary homes that we create. Um, it's about the streets that we live on and those homes, but it's also about how a city, um, and, and the broader spaces we live in, um, can affect us. So the novel isn't just about, um, the family, but there are little interludes in the novel where I talk about different aspects of the city. Um, so I talk about the sky. Speaker 2 00:21:03 I talk about the parks. I talk about the water in the city, how, um, how, how a city that's built upon two rivers changes, how you cross the city, how you engage with it. And, um, and I think that's really important because for me coming from, um, the East side of the city, um, we are separated by, um, by the itching river. I always felt on the edge of the city and part of it was having to cross this river. And I always felt that, um, that I was far away from what was happening, you know, the center of town, the pubs and clubs, the, you know, the parks and so on. Um, and, and, and I realized later on the, uh, the part of my experience of even growing up was shaped by these really kind of very broad ways in which a city has even planned. And so that's something that book's interested in as well. It's about home from that, um, that, um, top down view, the bird's eye view and home also from that street level and home also in that sense, a place of dream, you know, the place we, the homes we dream about that aren't where we are now, and we have to dream about them. Cause otherwise our existence is pretty intolerable. Speaker 3 00:22:13 You write about bricks and a lot about bricks. I mean, it's like I'm looking at the book, the cover is made pretty much of illustrations of bricks and also, uh, Nan dad, um, is a brick layer. Yes. Speaker 2 00:22:26 So, um, so I just topping up my water here Speaker 3 00:22:28 And, uh, that, that will be a relief to anybody just listening to that relevancy. Speaker 2 00:22:35 Yes, indeed. Power of the power of the podcast. Um, so, uh, so what was, what was the bricks, bricks, bricks are, um, this might sound, uh, well, actually though it doesn't sound strange at all. I think works that I like, um, have a, what I call a symbolic order. And by that, I mean, there's, um, there's something in the work that comes to mean something beyond its physical measure. And so you might imagine a story about, I don't know, a guy that comes from a peach farm and he goes off to the big city, but you always had a peach in his, in his lunch pail. And he always eats a peach and it always reminds him of home. Now that's fairly bland, but it's an example of the peach, um, functioning as something beyond a simple peach and in the nickelodeons and bricks and walls and building, um, is, um, is in a sense the symbolic vocabulary of, uh, of the work. Speaker 2 00:23:28 Um, and Nan dad is very aphasia, not only just with bricks, but with, um, the metaphysics of bricks and what bricks mean and how they reflect personalities and personality types and how different kinds of wall and different kinds of brick bond, um, um, reflect different aspects, how we engage with the world. So there are two chapters that are named after brick bonds. There's one chapter called English bond, which is about birds, um, uh, sort of, um, you know, rabid attempt to feel English by being a horrible racist at all. Um, and, um, and then there's also another, um, chapter called common bond, which is, um, about, um, Bernard as a younger man first going onto the building sites and trying to deal with this very masculine environment, um, in a way that doesn't embarrass or insult his father who, uh, who he needs to win the approval of, um, in order to be a come a real, a real man and a real, you know, brickie or a real builder Speaker 1 00:24:37 We'll return to Craig Jordan Baker shortly. In the meantime, this is the plastic pedestal section of the podcast, where I normally ask one of my interviewees to nominate a member of the diaspora of personal political or cultural significance to them. Given this is the start of the second series. I thought I would dip my toe in the water. One more time. Last time round, if you recall, I nominated Terry Wogan. And this time I was going to talk about John Leiden or Johnny rotten or whatever it is that you want to call him. Certainly his was a voice you could ignore over the course of the last 40 years and with a father from Galway and the mother from cork while raised in acute poverty and Finsbury park. This was the voice of the London Irish long before Shane McGowan, his stair was the stare of the outsider. Speaker 1 00:25:20 His sneer was his own personal banshee whale. He was always wanting to push against what was expected of him. Even his decision to advertise butter was a kick against the bricks and with an autobiography names, no Irish, no blacks, no dog. He was clearly a diaspora artist who deserves his place on the pedestal, but I can't, I'm not a punk. I never was at age 11 in 1976. I was more about star Trek than the pistols. More about delirium crystals than anger as an energy. Even the music of P I L left me feeling nauseated the metal box album in particular, but maybe that was the point. So instead I want to nominate someone quite different. I'm nominating Dave Allen now like Terry Wogan. He was a native Irish man who found fame abroad, firstly, in Australia, and then here like Wogan. He became a shorthand for a different kind of Irishman, but unlike Wogan, Alan was always an outsider. Speaker 1 00:26:18 He would rail against Canton hypocrisy, particularly in the church. He would skew a ridiculous arguments with a keen logic. He would champion the eccentric and face the world with a mixture of both joy and its strangeness and disbelief at it. Stupidity. He never talked down to his audience. He was happy to laugh at himself and always made you feel included. I'd have loved to read a novel by him and to an 11 year old star Trek fan. His was the voice of anarchy, albeit perched on a stool with a whiskey and a fag. And now back to Craig Jordan Baker, Craig's book, the Napoleon centers on three generations of diaspora family, where the grandfather is a brickie, not unlike his own. Now on a personal note, my own father felt depressed by being surrounded by red brick buildings in his first year, over from rural County clear. So does Craig think that our characters get shaped by where we live now, please remember this podcast does contain adult language. Speaker 2 00:27:10 One thing I'd like to know more of, I'd like to know more about a lot of things, but one thing I'd like to know a lot more about is actually architecture. And I've started to read, you know, I read, I've read a little bit about architecture and certainly about brick bonds. And now I go around and I can identify different brick bonds on houses. Um, but often, you know, if you go to certain places, you can like unknown Luton, for example, you feel it's just so depressing, but there is a malaise in that you can't put your finger on, on why it is depressing. Like I was once traveling sort of through the, um, when I was a kid, we were, we were going from going to Mayo for a holiday. And, um, and I was going through the kind of Midland kind of, sort of counties awfully and, you know, uh, sort of places like that. Speaker 2 00:27:52 And I was thinking, God, this is, this is depressing, but you couldn't quite somewhat boy. It was. And I think sometimes you go into a state and you can't quite somewhat, what's depressing about it. And I think, I think that's a problem because, um, well, one, I want to explain everything and I can't. Um, so I it's personally frustrating. Um, but also it's, um, without that vocabulary, you can't necessarily describe, what's awful about your context. And I think, um, for a lot of people actually going back to the book for a lot of people in the book, they don't always have the vocabulary to really understand and describe their own context. And so they're kind of bound by it and trapped by it. Um, you know, we talk about glass ceilings and you hear this kind of thing about social mobility and the glass ceiling, you know, you try and rise and, and then suddenly you're stopped. Speaker 2 00:28:41 But I think very often people don't talk about the fact that, um, that some people don't look up even, you know, awkward at all. You know, it's not even a thought that enters your head to rise up and then hit the glass ceiling. You're looking down at the concrete, you know, you're looking at, you know, you're leaning against the wall and looking, you know, across, you know, a level plane. So yes. Is the answer. Um, I, I, you know, I, I, I, I really, I am, uh, I, I, I'm thoroughly convinced that the spaces that we reside in shape us in, in very daily ways, but also in ways, which we don't necessarily know about, or aren't really conscious of, um, you know, I guess it's cool today. Psychogeography right. You know, there's the old thing about, um, the Liffey and, you know, if you're from the North side of the Lithia or down at heel and your you're, you're kind of rough around the edges, and if you're from South Dublin, then you're, you know, much more genteel and educated and even those ways of space can change how we experience our lives and who we are, how we think of ourselves and others. Speaker 3 00:29:49 Well, they said that there are sometimes practical reasons for that. I mean, I'm a West end and East end of a, of a city are often defined by the fact that the tractors would have been in the West of the city and the wind would have blown Eastwood's, which means there'll be like the area, which is much more depressed we could sort of, because it's more covered in smoke. Speaker 2 00:30:03 Yeah. And then this idea still exists in a post-industrial society. You know, it continues on the stereotype, you know, continues on it. And, um, Speaker 3 00:30:14 That's bricks again, isn't it. That's all I got. I'm wondering how that leads onto another, onto another one to another. Speaker 2 00:30:18 Yeah. And, um, yeah, so, um, yeah, so, so bricks are really important to, um, to the novel. And so, and so is the idea of building and, um, I think something was really something that's quite powerful for the character of, um, of Nan down the Kuhnian was, is that when he comes across, he's a brickie, he comes across and he starts working on these English building sites and he is, um, racially abused. He gets, you know, he gets lots of, um, uh, lots of, you know, Patti jokes and, and, you know, uh, fuck off back to your own country kind of, um, statements. And, um, and then the wind rush happens and, um, and, and the books is, and that stops. And then suddenly, you know, this Irish guy becomes like Winston Churchill or queen Victoria. He is, you know, as English as his English workmates. And, um, that comes from a family story that I was told by my uncle, which was exactly that for my grandfather of being, having absolute a terror of a time on the building sites, um, in the, you know, in the kind of late forties. And then, and then along comes the wind rush and suddenly, you know, um, the, the IRA and the anger is being directed at the, um, uh, the, uh, the Caribbean guys. Speaker 3 00:31:25 When you look at the, the, the, the, the, the, the, the family of the Napoleons, do you like them? Speaker 2 00:31:33 I acknowledge them. I understand where they are coming from. I understand some of the reasons that they are like, they are even, you know, there's, there's, sometimes we w sometimes it's, we need to recognize the positioning of, of individuals, even if we find them really unpleasant, um, uh, even racist, misogynistic individuals. I think we do ourselves a disservice if we don't, um, give them the credit of trying to understand them and trying to understand where they're coming from. And I think, um, you know, talking about Brexit, I think there's, there is an element of in people's surprise at Brexit. And I admit I was very surprised. And then after the election, I became less surprised. And I, and I can understand that there's in white working class communities. There's a lot of frustration, a lot of feeling left behind, um, a lot of, um, feeling bewildered. Speaker 2 00:32:32 Um, I think, and I, and I, I think that's, I think a lot of liberal lefties don't want acknowledge those people because those people make them feel rather uncomfortable, um, because they, they, they are sometimes, you know, lively, um, you know, uh, um, you know, racist, misogynist, homophobic, um, kind of, you know, um, you know, ignorant and there's, and I've experienced a lot of that when I was growing up. Um, and I, and I recognize it and it's something that, um, obviously I don't celebrate, but something that I, that I in the book as well, acknowledge, I think so. Yes. I, I don't think I like any of the nickelodeons as such, I think I acknowledge all of them. And, um, and, and in that there's, uh, an attempt to kind of understand and, you know, explore them. Is this a life you're trying to escape from the one I have now, the w the, the, one of the McWilliams? Speaker 2 00:33:30 Um, yes, there is a sense in which I think for, so being, you know, working class kids, um, you know, didn't really have any expectations of university. I went to university initially to escape my mother. I mean, that was my main, main kind of reason. And maybe I could carry on being a poetic bomber at uni. Um, that was my, my main reason and also to, yeah, to escape. And, um, there are characters in the novel, um, that, uh, that maybe escape, but they escape in different ways. Um, no, there's one, perhaps a shining light in the Napoleon family who that's Betty in the, and she's rather, um, she seems rather talented and she's, she's, uh, a writerly figure and she's, well, the smart, but she's viewed, um, with, uh, I think I put it that mixture of, um, that mixture that's half, or she's called something of a writer by her mother, which is a mixture, which is half criticism and Harbor ration. Speaker 2 00:34:28 And I, and I think family, um, sometimes parents can be really rather good, um, kind of mixing aberration with criticism when their child is doing something they didn't quite get, but, um, and they're a little bit suspicious of, so yes, there, um, it is about, I think it is about, uh, escape or about for the vast majority of people. There is no escape. I mean, we tell stories about people that break the glass ceiling. We tell stories about social mobility to Solvang selves, um, into believing that, um, you can, if you work hard enough and believe hard enough and follow your dreams, insert, sentimental, um, um, bilge pipe deluge, um, that you can make it well, but, or just this horrible touring narrative, which is if you work hard enough, um, you know, if you just take your breaks, you will inevitably make it. And if anyone doesn't, um, then, then your, at your, uh, your, uh, shite house that deserves to be where you are. Speaker 2 00:35:28 And, and, and I really, I, I despise that, that mentality. And I think, um, also my characters or the characters like that, I feel I can, the only characters I feel like I'm right about are characters that are more or less bound by the book by contexts that they didn't choose. Um, and, uh, and they aren't these, you know, dramatic individuals like James bonds that go around and, and, and, and change their own context. They are bound by their context and they might, and, and their ability to, uh, change it and, and, uh, you know, is minimal. And I think the very end of the book, um, I think the, the Irish times, uh, review of it said, um, the book ends in a wind putt. And I don't know if that was Sarah Gilmartin was being complimentary or not, but I, but when I read that, I thought, yes, the book does end in a whimper. And I think because I couldn't see a way of writing, um, in a way that honored the logic of the book, but it didn't end in a whimper that it didn't end in the same day being much like the last one, Speaker 1 00:36:39 <inaudible> all listening to the plastic podcasts, tales of the Irish diaspora. We all come from somewhere else, find out more about [email protected] And the last part of our talk with Craig Jordan Baker, we discussed the parallels between his life and those of his characters in the nucleons. We also get to talk about an unusual, Speaker 4 00:37:06 Something that <inaudible> came to me in, in, in whilst you were talking, was this notion of exile to a certain extent your grandfather chose to be an exile. It was forced to be an exile because of it because of holes being, being Janet genitalia, um, your, your, you, you, you yourself have chosen a form of escape as well, both from, you know, I suppose, yo societal expectations and also from, from, from, from the family and things like that, when you decide to go off to university and things like that, I mean, psycho you've chosen escape. And then here are people who can't be exiled, whose like who, for whom escape and XL, isn't a possibility, is it better to be an exile than a prisoner? Speaker 2 00:37:48 Um, S that is a very, very good question. I think, um, it is better to be an exile, but, uh, but you have to accept that there's a constant, there's not a constant sense, but there's often a sense of discomfort. And I think this is also something, um, in listening to actually some of your other podcasts, I think a theme that comes up for a lot of people that have an Irish background, it, you know, um, um, maybe feel out of place in some regard or other, is that there's a sense of discomfort, a sense of not quite belonging to any place or any one thing. And I, and I think that can be a source of, uh, tension, um, constant psychic tension, but it also, I think it's, I think it's useful in the you're always questioning and never taking your context for granted or your context. Speaker 2 00:38:37 Isn't just, isn't just, um, this sort of dead weight. I think you're more likely to ask questions of it. Um, and I think that's, um, that's very helpful for a writer, but at the very least, um, and I think that does come with dividends. It comes with an, uh, with maybe a, more of a tendency to be able to think about someone else's position and where they're, where they're coming from and why they might be there. Um, so in being an outsider, you can maybe the old, I think it is something of a cliche, but in being an outsider, to some extent you can look in more clearly, Speaker 3 00:39:13 Does that mean that home is somewhere you're going to, rather than where you are? I think home is multiple, Speaker 2 00:39:19 Um, things, um, as I've, as I've said before, and I think part of my home, uh, absolutely my home is, um, Brighton. I feel very, very attached to Brighton and to Brighton culture and to Britain's mentality. Um, uh, culturally, you know, I feel very home here. I've also got in some, in some sense, um, you know, I looked, you know, you, you still kind of look to, um, Ireland as an interesting place and not necessarily a home, but certainly a sense where you draw things from. Um, and then there's that emotional aspect where I think for me home is other people home is being around the people I love. I mean, my partner is my home. My, um, my sister is my home. Um, and whether, and whether I was in, you know, uh, Letterkenny or slouch or, or, you know, or, um, or Bristol with these people, to some extent I would be at home, Speaker 3 00:40:17 You draw fantasy islands. Yes, I do. It seems opposite to ask us like, um, can you explain fantasy islands? Speaker 2 00:40:28 Well, so, so the, the, um, my F the F the novel I wrote first, um, is called of islands, and it's a kind of history of, uh, of different fancy islands, um, uh, written by, uh, kind of, uh, uh, visionary metaphysical cartographer called Hieronymus Oh, choir who basically wrote this great big tome in the 17th century about islands that haven't been discovered yet, but they are islands of the mind and the spirit. And, um, that's the basic kind of very rough premise of my book, but I draw fantasy islands, um, as a way of actually meditate sort of meditation, I script scribble islands, and then I join up fairy networks. It's all very odd. And, um, uh, uh, and I think I like the Island because it's something which is actually really rather comforting. It's a, it's a space with a boundary of very clear boundary. Speaker 2 00:41:26 And, um, and it's also a laboratory Island communities, um, I think are places where you can experiment as well. So they are, um, th the nice place for a fertile imagination to go. Um, and I think what's true of the imagination is also true for evolutionary biology. I mean, if you look at the, if you look at Island ecosystems and, uh, you know, you, you find freaks on islands, you know, you find very small things and you find giant large things, and you find things that have evolved to only exist on that very small Island. And I think, um, islands as, uh, imaginative endeavors are, are the kind of same. You can kind of change a few things and then see how it runs on an Island. And you've got a really strange, um, and wonderful, uh, story to tell. So, uh, um, I draw imaginary islands. I write about imaginary islands, and I'm also really interested in the history of cartography and, um, and Phantom islands. Um, maybe I should explain, uh, Phantom islands are islands, which appeared on maps in the past, but didn't exist. Speaker 3 00:42:32 Are these like trap streets what's that, uh, trap street is, is a, is a street that they make, it will have put on a map that doesn't really exist. And there was a catch out a potential plagiarists, is this the same thing? Speaker 2 00:42:44 Well it's, but it was more because it was more because, um, you know, before modern cartography and before satellites, most of, you know, uh, uh, most of your, uh, uh, an air travel and most of your, um, knowledge cartographic knowledge would often come from, um, sailors and people that were taking making charts and, and, you know, it would come back and they say, here we go, I've been to the West Indies. This is what I, and very often, um, people would get it wrong, but, and then, but a cartographer would add this to a map. And then of course someone would copy that map. And then it's kind of, um, generational inheritance, you might say. And so, um, there were even, there are even islands up to the 18th century, which were Phantom, which didn't exist, but were incorrectly, or perhaps spiritually added, um, two maps. Speaker 2 00:43:29 Um, one Island is, um, an Island called Friesland, um, which is, um, which is suspiciously close to Iceland and appears on a lots of, you know, Maketa and <inaudible> maps, um, as an, as an Island, just to the South of Iceland. And now we think it was probably just a miss, um, uh, misapplied, Iceland, but it doesn't exist. Um, so Brendan's Island, which is, um, of the, you know, the Irish, um, Saint that went West and, um, apparently, um, settled on an Island and had, and had a Mo a monastery they're all completely fabricated, but on European, you know, maps of the Renaissance, you'll find some Brendan's Island, um, out in the Atlantic. And so they are islands are islands are places which are fundamental human laboratories, and they are places always, uh, we always imagine as, um, utopic or this topic in it, uh, you know, um, and so the very powerful things for us, I think, Speaker 3 00:44:24 Oh, that's brilliant. I love that idea. I mean, it's much more than traps just cause trap streets are deliberate and these are just kind of accidental or miss miss Speaker 2 00:44:32 Mrs. Scribes, or, you know, uh, or, or sometimes people just wanting to, you know, maybe lie, you know, I saw this brilliant Island and there's gold on it and it's called and it's called Arcadia, you know, and, you know, and then we, um, you know, but you're in the know, you know, um, the land of eternal youth, uh, you know, in Celtic, um, in a mythology, we have these, um, often islands or lands, which are, which are out there. We don't know where they are, but they are the wellspring and the, and the place of, uh, of, of perfection. Um, they're know they are where we put our, our most, um, our greatest hopes and, and they're both useless there, but they're also, can't be damaged because we're not, we're not going to find that Island. Speaker 3 00:45:18 I love that in this run up towards, um, towards a launch date. And, um, obviously the reviews and the reviews have been pretty darn fine. One of the, one of them, one of them can do to Flann O'Brien Speaker 2 00:45:32 Yes. Um, uh, uh, um, that was, that was lovely. I'm actually, uh, that was cherry Smith. Um, who's an absolutely wonderful, uh, poet who recently, um, wrote, uh, um, a poetic sequence on the famine, um, called famished. Um, and it's a brilliant poetic sequence. And she, um, she worked it into a, I actually performance piece with, um, a composer and, um, and, and a singer, and it was touring. I think it went to Australia, it taught around Ireland and around the UK is absolutely wonderful. So cherry is someone I really, really respect. And, um, and so, so for her to, uh, to compare me to finally, Brian, one of my, one of my favorite writers, um, was, um, was a humbling compliment. I, and, um, and I, I had a grin from here to here, but of course you can't see my grin because this is radio. Speaker 3 00:46:20 Yes. I know. I know, but we can, we can hear it. Listen, that's the sound. That was a big one. That was a, that's a huge grin, a huge grin. Yes, indeed. Um, how does that feel? I mean, yeah. I mean, I suppose you've answered that already with the, with the grin from ear to ear, but when somebody writes something like that, you go, Ooh, is Harrison's odious. Okay. Speaker 2 00:46:40 Yeah. Um, w uh, I think, you know, the compare, I think she was probably trying to be nice, wasn't she? And you like someone that tries to be nice, that's that, but also, um, I think there is not, not that I can compare myself in terms of the, the influence I'll have in the quality of my writing, but in terms, I think of something which I really, I really like about, um, planet bones fighting, which is the flat O'Brian will look at really quite horrific and horrible things, and we'll not, and we'll take the piss out of them and we'll laugh at them and we'll not treat them in a kind of sentimental and maudlin way. Um, and I think that's something that is, is the, is actually happens in a lot, quite a bit of Irish literature. Um, I remember my favorite Beckett play end game. Speaker 2 00:47:26 There's nothing funnier than on happiness and in an, a burns milkman, um, brilliant novel. Um, there's, there's a phrase which if I can remember it, rightly it's, um, do not go freshly into that terror, which is, which is a kind of an idea that you might suffer awfully, but don't experience it. Like it's the first time don't experience it. Like it's something that happens to other people, these things will happen to you and, you know, and that, and it's there and you've got to look at it and you've got to, in a sense, acknowledge it also by being maybe not Blythe, but, um, comic. And it's not stiff upper lip because the comedy can be, you know, sometimes quite seemingly cruel, but it's a way of staring at something more clearly and being able to face it by, um, you know, laughing at the fact that, you know, someone that's had a stroke can now only say the word mice. Speaker 2 00:48:21 Um, and, and they can't do anything else apart from say the word mice, and they want to see, they want to order a cup of tea and all they can say is mice mice. And they want to tell their son, they love them. And all they can say is mice mice. Um, and I, I think it's a kind of, I describe it as a kind of, um, guy rope that we get to the precipice of, of, you know, all is awful. And comedy can act as a guy rope where we can tilt ourselves further into the precipice without falling into it. Speaker 4 00:48:49 That's a lovely, lovely metaphor behind them wander back and spotlight go well, actually, so the Irish are often accused of sentimentality and a mortal in nature. I mean, so like in particular where music's concerned and if you've ever sat through it evening of watching country in Irish music, um, you'll know precisely what, I mean, it's not like a mammy. I never, I never told you I loved your sort of thing. Uh, Speaker 2 00:49:11 Oh, yes. There's, there's absolutely absolutely that aspect, but, um, uh, in terms of, I guess, you know, call it, you know, high, the high modernism, uh, you know, Irish writing, I think there's, um, uh, or even something like, you know, you know, father Ted, you know, even, you know, we all that we all know and love love very well. There's, there's a constant kind of like, you know, these people's lives are awful and shit, and they're not going to change. And isn't that awfully, awfully funny, you know? And, um, but that's also the case with, I think eighties alternative comedy, like bottom, um, you know, uh, uh, in some cases like, um, uh, you know, uh, um, the young ones, you know, uh, Rick male, Nate, Edmondson's kind of, um, shtick is often about people that are miserable and, uh, desperately, you know, and are desperate and that's not gonna, that's not gonna change anytime soon. So all you can do is have a chocolate lab. Speaker 4 00:50:02 Oh, that's exactly the classic British sitcom though. Isn't it? I mean, it's like Steptoe and son or the likely lads or porridge. Speaker 2 00:50:07 Yeah. So I, I think there's there's, um, but you're right. There is, there is certainly, uh, uh, uh, sentimentality in every culture. But, um, but I think, you know, with the things I mentioned there with burns and, you know, with Beckett and, um, like flan O'Brien's, the poor mouth, um, is sort of mocking, you know, people, uh, that dying of salvation, sleeping with their pigs and desperately trying to out-compete one another in speaking Gaelic whilst they're starving. Um, it's, uproariously funny, but it's, uh, uh, but it's also a way of looking at, um, those, uh, those very difficult and awful, awful things. And, um, and if you look at them, I w I always worry if you look at them in a too maudlin way, then, um, then it's almost as if that shouldn't have happened to you. Um, as if awful things don't happen to us at all. Speaker 2 00:50:59 And those awful things will continue to happen to us. I always get really annoyed when you see a Vox spot on the news and someone says, Oh, you don't think that kind of thing would happen around here. Do you? And I think what, of course it's going to happen around here. It happens everywhere it's going to happen. And, um, yeah, maybe I'll just stop in one, uh, going back to Becca, um, painter wants set of Beckett that every day he rubs my nose in the shit and every day I'm grateful. And that's the kind of mentality that I guess I, I really admire, Speaker 4 00:51:33 I mean, leaving aside noses as being rubbed and things like that, where in w w when you were talking about, uh, the, the, the notion that, uh, if you stay a good citizen and work really hard and take your breaks, and don't put on, don't break the rules, you will get your reward. And, and those people, that's like a, that veer off from veer off from our cultural norms and what is expected and what is respected and so forth. Well, they're going to get what they deserve. Um, and, and this takes me back round to what's happened to here. The thing that couldn't happen here, which of course has been COVID, which has been where we've all been stuck, which is where we've all either discovered or, or left home in many ways. It's like, it's either, it's either reaffirmed bonds or it's shattered them, um, uh, where, where families are concerned. Um, but also what we have is this notion that it's all like, that we're all supposed to do the right thing, despite our just finding, I mean, despite our tendency to sort like, well, no, I'm a, I'm an autonomous human being on all. It should be allowed to do these bits and pieces. We've got this tension going on at the moment. Speaker 2 00:52:36 Yeah. And I think more so now we're in call it a post lockdown situation where I think there's much more, it's far less clear. I've heard people say that when lockdown was at its height in April, you know, I felt kind of more secure, and now, now we've got options and sort of like, um, you know, sort of, uh, we can do things in there legal, but there's still a shroud of kind of like confusion or worry about what other people might think or whether, um, this is just the government, um, you know, making another terrible mistake. Um, so I think we're in uniquely anxious making times, but I think what's interesting for me is that, um, is that we're in very unheroic times. And, you know, we, we're often told, you know, adverts always tell us that, you know, we are unique and we are special and you've got to be unique and you drive this car and you are unique and you wear this lipstick and you are unique. Speaker 2 00:53:27 And, you know, the idea that, you know, we, um, our lives all about, uh, following our own unique, special story. And yet now our stories as like so, so much like everyone else's, and we are so bound by a context that we can't only have a very small amount of control over, I think it's really brought home to, um, uh, to people how some of the lives of individualism, I suppose, um, uh, it, you know, um, or the extent to which we are not as individual as we, as we are often, um, uh, uh, flattered to be, is that a good or a bad thing? Um, I th I think, um, I think it's a good thing. I think acknowledging that we are very, you know, we are much more similar to other people than we often we often think. And we, and you know, this idea that we there's this static idea that we treasure our individuality. Um, and while we are individuals, I think, I think recognizing our context again, how our context has shaped us is, um, at least allows us to explain ourselves and potentially, um, you know, become more autonomous. But I think that comes about as a result of kind of knowing a bit more about how, how much we are defined by the context that surround us. Speaker 3 00:54:53 You've been listening to the plastic podcasts with me, Doug <inaudible> and my guest Craig Jordan Baker music by Jack the Mikaelian is published by hip hop press. Find out more about us by going to the website, www.plasticpodcasts.com, where you can email [email protected] Alternatively, find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, you know how the plastic podcasts are sponsored using public funding by arts council, England.

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