Being asked the obvious….

A few weeks before Hunter S. Thompson died, I interviewed him. A long distance overseas call is often difficult, you can’t see them, they can’t gauge your body language, this was even more so with Hunter as he hated every question my editor wanted me to ask him. They were the usual questions, all in the vein of: 1) Why did you start to write? or; 2) What is your inspiration? For the record, I hate fucking idiots who ask these types of questions. Hunter hated them too, he screamed at me that I was being lazy, asking the obvious; it turned worse when he threatened to get on a plane and come to my house and shoot me. I yelled at him, he yelled at me, then he told me that I was okay but that the questions were shit. He quickly guessed that a bad editor had asked me to ask such questions rather than dig deeper. It was one of the most difficult interviews I’ve ever had to do, sadly the tape of it has been lost in a subsequent house move, and what was supposed to be a 30 minute interview was terminated 20 minutes in after Hunter decided he was bored with my then editor.

The obvious questions come with the territory for writers, scriptwriters and poets, it comes with the pen and pad for journalists as if constantly barraging trite questions at them will make a poet breakdown and scream, ‘Yes, yes, I am a fraud, I have never known angst or pain, I am from the suburbs’. The sad thing is that there is a belief that readers want to know the answers to these questions: 1) what inspires you? What that really translates to is: tell us your fucking secrets so we can kill you and strip your body of all your clothes.

Asking anyone what inspires them is akin to you trying to solve how the universe keeps going or how the human race has survived so long when we are patently designed from the same materials as lemmings. I have been as,ked this question as a writer. When I wrote for television ten years ago I remember being invited to talk on a panel of five writers, one from TV (me), one from film, one from radio, a novelist and poet, and sure enough the chair asked all of us the inspiration question. What struck me as it came down the line towards me was the outpouring of bullshit that was on offer, a form of storytelling to make the audience look in the opposite direction as the poet eyed up someone’s wife, the novelist thought about their shopping trip after the event (they told me this after the event was over), the radio writer texting their teenager, in full view of the audience, to go the fuck home (you could tell they were swearing on the text by the sheer violence of their thumbs coming down on the key pad), the film writer in their heads lamenting another failed production and dreaming of garroting the producer who screwed it all up (I know this daydream, I have been there and recognise the beatification face). I was personally thinking about trotting out the bullshit that when I was seven I wrote a story, I did, that I went to Mars in it, I did and that it inspired me to be a writer, it didn’t. There more to how it all started, much more. When it did come to me, what I blurted out was rather crass in many people’s eyes but was a truth at that time, for me. ‘What inspires you, Andrew?’ the chair casually asked after great bullshit tales preceding my own addition, my reply was, ‘Money’. You could hear the crowd collectively breath in, it was the longest hiss in history and I’ve done poetry in pubs. You could see the chair go red, laugh nervously as if I was making a joke. There were a few nervous giggles in the audience, even a rather posh, ‘hell yeah!’ The film writer crumbled first, adding their voice to mine with an explosive, ‘fucking yes’ (I to this day believe he was still in the midst of garrot pleasure and it just spilled out from their internal monologue), the radio writer confessed all their money went on their overactive and increasingly randy son (not randy with them, that would be wrong but the boy went through condoms like an army on leave and the lad’s mobile bill was larger than the deficit of Columbia), the novelist too admitted that their earnings had gone down and they were missing that money (they stated this quite calmly but lost the audience’s sympathy when they told them they could no longer holiday in the South of France), the poet (slightly pissed off that anyone could afford to go to the South of France) tried to hold on to the fact that it was all about art and then she too exploded in an angry fit of ‘art doesn’t pay my bloody bills. I have never owned a home’ tirade that is to this day one the most spectacular tantrums I have seen on stage. The audience had no breath left to hiss. They had been beaten into submission. Poets have a knack of doing that. Now, you may think all that is terribly crass that art shouldn’t equal money, if you think that then you haven’t dug deep enough and if Hunter was still alive he’d be on your doorstep loading bullets into his gun. It’s not about whether you value the terrible TV soap(s) I wrote on back then, or if you value the beauty of the visual nature of radio, the majestic panoramas of characterisation that is a good film, the glorious prose of the novel and the cadence of poetry, it’s about whether you value the person behind them. That is the obvious question you have missed, you ask that person what inspires them but you never ask them how they live. You’d ask that question of most people you meet: what do you do for a job? What does that entail? Married? Kids? You dig deeper and deeper. Writers, scriptwriters and poets tend to get: what inspires you? Which is one of the most jealous questions in history. It merely says, ‘I want what you’ve got’. Great. You too can be undervalued, under represented and ignored, you too can be asked stupid questions that perpetuate a stereotype that what we do is not a job, not in the sense of what you do.

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