You know those questions people tend to ask of fiction. Did it actually happen? Is it the writer’s story? In the case of ‘Rubbish’, no, it didn’t, no, it’s not. I’ve never slept with a man researching liver fluke in sheep, never given into the particular temptation the story describes.
Never quite. I taught for years, lectured in Open University Day Schools on various topics, including Hogarth’s Marriage-á-la-Mode. I’ve felt the intoxicating power of holding an audience in my hand, as it were. And the dangerous desire to subvert it.
Although ‘Rubbish’ doesn’t address the concern about why I might want to do something dire in public, writing it gave me the opportunity to envisage carrying out such passing sensations. (Of course similar things happen in dreams, though it’s usually that you’ve left all your notes at home or been asked at the last moment to lecture to a jam-packed hall about second-century Persian ceramics when your subject is Christina Rossetti’s high-Anglicanism.)
Has writing ‘Rubbish’ cured me of the temptation? It can’t be tested: I’ve stopped teaching. But of course not. Writing doesn’t cure, it isn’t therapy.
It did allow me to utter the view that art history is rubbish, though Phil, who says it, is not a character with whom the reader will have much sympathy, I suppose. Art-historical writing can be spectacularly pretentious (cf endless examples in Pseuds Corner) but to treat that effectively would require a different story and currently I’m writing a novel set in the Napoleonic Wars. An advantage of historical fiction: no-one asks if it’s your story.
Alix Nathan lives in the Welsh Marches. Her short stories have appeared in Ambit, London Magazine, New Welsh Review and been read on Radio 4. Her collection, His Last Fire, came out in 2014 with Parthian, who commissioned a novel, The Flight of Sarah Battle, published in 2015. www.alixnathan.com @alixnathan. You can read ‘Rubbish’ in the new issue of The Lonely Crowd, which may be purchased here.
Alix will be reading ‘Rubbish’ as part of our Issue Five launch event at The Murenger, Newport tonight from 730pm onwards. Free Admission.
© Alix Nathan, 2016. Banner image, Jo Mazelis, 2016.