|Rohan Quine by James Keates|
Rohan grew up in South London, spent a couple of years in L.A. and then a decade in New York, where he ran around excitably, saying a few well-chosen words in a handful of feature films and TV shows, modelling in a few places, and drinking deep in many more places. He’s now living back in East London, as an Imagination Thief, with his boyfriend and a rabbit named Clytemnestra.
Maldoror, the only novel by Lautréamont, whom I hadn’t heard of until I chanced on a copy in a second-hand bookshop: standing there, I started reading it (not so very fast, as the publication was in the original French, being rich and complex French), and I can still remember the sense of magic that seeped across the inches of space between the page and my eyes, like a subtle heat hitting my face, with a sense of grandeur and hidden echoes, as if I were first becoming aware of that huge unseen cavern just the other side of the air beside us, which we spend our everyday lives pretending isn’t there. Strange to say, it was a couple more years before I had time to read the book, in French and then English; but when I got there, it carried on dishing up what I’d felt from that half-page in the bookshop, becoming my oldest literary friend and shooting with ease into the number-one position, where it’s remained ever since. I haven’t dipped into it for a few years now, but there its spine is on the shelves, bleeding its gorgeous poison across the room at me.
Describe your writing space – what’s in it and why?
Sometimes the venue is one or other of a suite of immaculately sterile conference rooms occupying one full storey of a powerful tower in the Financial District of London, in the small hours of the morning, with a dead City street below through the window and nobody else around me at all: no movement, no sound, no distractions, just empty luxury and silence at a regulated temperature, possibly about as far from the land and the soil as you can get, sitting motionless, staring down at my laptop computer in expressionless focus for a long time—reminding myself, when I catch sight of me reflected across the room in the expanse of unopenable window-glass at night, of Sadako in the Japanese horror movie The Ring. (Scope for a sequel there, maybe: Ring 4: Sadako in the Conference Suite...)
But I hasten to add I’m not always such an ice-queen as that might suggest, because I do also write at a crowded desk at home, in the company of Dotty the elephant (she’s there because of her indelible association with The Imagination Thief, as well as a little sheep from Hollywood called The Sheep, and a relentlessly perky little pink Barbie I was given in Downtown L.A. who’s hitched a ride with me ever since and who sometimes winks at me when I hammer into shape a sentence that meets her high standards.
Who or what had the biggest impact on your writing life?
It’s probably the fact that, compared with the various other activities I’ve got up to (such as the film and TV malarkey in New York, where I never had any serious artistic mission at all), writing stands out for me as being an activity where I seem to have no interest in creating anything that’s not setting out to be the fullest/deepest/richest artistic response to life and the world that I’m capable of—which often means that what’s written will be artistically challenging, demanding, perverse, even deranged, because often these are the best ways of slapping life as hard in the face as it deserves, while making love with life at the same time too of course. I enjoy and admire plenty of writing that has no such intentions at all but instead has different ambitions of its own, such as to entertain, to grip, to amuse or whatever else it may be, and I have no urge whatsoever to be prescriptive for anyone else; this is simply a description of what I happen to find myself daft enough to be motivated by. And in answer to your question, this has a big impact, because (for me at least) writing in this category takes a much longer time than writing in any other. It has a big impact also because, despite feeling like the only game in town from my point of view, it runs counter to what motivates the vast majority of the marketplace, which is very sensibly commercial instead!
Perhaps the reason this category tends to take longer is that you’re involving and investing every aspect of yourself throughout all of it, even if individual sentences may not show this on their surface and may (we hope) slip down just as sweetly as good writing in other categories does. I aim to push imagination and language towards their extremes, in order to explore and illuminate the beauty, horror and mirth of this predicament called life, where we all seem to have been dropped without sufficient consultation ahead of time. In doing so, I draw on all corners of my own imaginative self as the vehicle for this exploration, backed up by a clear-eyed awareness of what the greatest and/or strangest and/or most challenging artists from the past and the present have already written, and try to slip onto that grand dance-floor and join in as best I can. Whether or not I turn out to be less fleet-footed than they are is a different question, but the aim remains the same and for me that’s the rewarding part. Our budding John Peel / Jay Jopling of literary/experimental fiction and poetry in the UK, the nascent National Treasure Mr Dan Holloway, bids each of us come up with a concise mission statement expressing our core aim in writing. For me that mission is best expressed in three questions:
· How can I illuminate the world, to the best of my abilities, using language in new and old ways, and thereby leave the world infinitesimally better than it was before I did so?
· How can I aim and attune my ears as clearly as possible to whatever my/our highest artistic potential is, then bring down the richest results from that place, then give those results the truest and most beautiful form I can create?
· How can what I write take an honest account of the darkness and pain in the world, while at the same time being a vote for life (maybe even an absolute blast of fun, along the way)?
How would you describe the genre of The Imagination Thief?
I’d say The Imagination Thief is literary fiction, with elements of magical realism and a dusting of horror.
Do you have a word or phrase that you most overuse?
Adverbs, perhaps. But this is addressed while polishing: I run a search throughout the text for “ly”, and then just give as many of them as possible a careful flip into some other form.
You use an amazing palette of characters – how do you keep track?
The Imagination Thief has two lead characters, five co-stars and seven supporting characters, totalling fourteen. There were a few charts along the way. But it was helpful that for the most part, each of the main characters began as a mass of discrete shards of text, the majority of these shards being mined out of myself, catalysed by music. Once created, these thousands of shards were pushed into about half a dozen different heaps, as dictated by the flavour of the shard. As the heaps grew, they came to be ferocious in the magnified distinctness of their different flavours; and each of these heaps became one of the central characters. That these characters have such strong flavour distinctions and such origins made it less possible for them to get into any unintended mix-ups.
Each of the upcoming four novellas has only a few characters, so they were simpler. Their casts overlap with the cast of The Imagination Thief, in the sense that all five tales share a small handful of characters but each tale also has other characters of its own. A given character isn’t always quite the same person from tale to tale (for instance one of them is female in one tale but male in all the others), and in The Host in the Attic one character is a novelist who wrote The Imagination Thief; so there are a few games being played with the characters. They add up to a set of mischievous little chess-pieces, whom I’m looking forward to casting in tale number six when I start writing it later this year.
One of the most appealing elements of The Imagination Thief is the location – Asbury Park. Why is it so special?
It grew into a small but authentic icon of Americana throughout the twentieth century, as a classic seaside resort, then started sliding downwards in economic terms and became more counter-cultural than wholesome, spawning many musicians along the way, most notably Bruce Springsteen. By the time I found the place, its whole eastern half was a fascinating mix of 80% ghost town and 20% functional, while its western inland half soldiered on in dogged semi-normality. It was the eastern half where I stayed for a week.
In such a scenario there was of course something universally gothic going on, which already provides rich resonances involving mortality, the transience of all human endeavour etc. But I was just as interested in the separate task of doing right by this damaged little treasure of a place in all its specific historical reality, to laminate it for all time in exactly the state I chanced to find it, perhaps to give us an unusual look at what happens to places we create—as I describe on my website. And I had a truck-load of material in my own head, which was also at once both universal and specific, in the same way as my location was: this truck-load was universal in the sense that it was a very full and complex response to having been dropped into this strange thing called life; and it was specific, in that this response was to draw from all corners of one very specific experiencer or messenger. So there were two universals and two ultra-specifics, all endeavouring to balance together in some kind of balletic square, fit for a circus act.
Do you consider The Imagination Thief a transmedia project?
Yes. It’s quite fine to consume only its words: they’re the core of it, they stand alone and they were how it began. But as another, optional dimension, you can also consume the following, either alongside or after or before reading the text. (As mentioned on the Tumblr page http://theimaginationthief.tumblr.com, the filmed elements were professionally produced, but funded very much out of Love and Experimentation, so no Hollywood gloss should be expected, nor indeed any car-chases.)
Will you tell us about the latest project?
On the 21st of Feb, four novellas will be released, entitled The Platinum Raven, The Host in the Attic, Apricot Eyes and Hallucination in Hong Kong. They will be launched at the London Author Fair a week later on the 28th. Four separate ebooks and also as a single paperback called The Platinum Raven and other novellas, which has just popped up into visibility, like a little January crocus.
New York in the 90s – sum up your decade-long experience in six words.
Bright, dark, intense, funny, hard-edged, hard-won.