The first question that comes to mind about your new novel BEDLAM, is why did you choose to write this story at this time?
When I started work on Bedlam,
which was in early 1999, I'd been feeling out of touch with the
eighteenth century for a while, since after I won the Governor General's
for fiction in 1995, I was teaching most creative writing. I just love
Swift, Defoe, Fielding, and Sterne in particular, and I figured that it
really wouldn't be much more work making good eighteenth-century
sentences than it always has been making good twenty-first-century
To me, BEDLAM seemed a departure from
your previous work, though someone remarked to me that your work shared
the concerns of Michel Foucault, which he cited as sexuality, power and
mental illness. Without asking you directly about that comment, I wonder
what kind of departures or similarities you see between BEDLAM and your
As for the concerns and the subject matter, they're closer to Spin Dry,
where you have issues of madness and power too, though treated,
obviously, in a broadly comic way. What Foucault says about the
eighteenth century is more accurately applied to the nineteenth. He is
talking about the sort of institution that by the end of Bedlam
is replacing the sort of one where the novel is mostly set. My main
guide in these matters, and a man I was writing the book in part for,
though he died before it was done, was Roy Porter, a more hands-on and
empirical scholar of medicine than Foucault ever was.
The cultural niche that the short story occupied sixty years ago has been filled by TV and more lately by the Internet. Only the novel still has a place in the culture that nothing else remotely threatens.
The short story problem of course is exacerbated
by the fact that the many creative writing seminars around North
America and in Britain are teaching people mainly how to write short
stories, since they're easier to teach. So we have all these good
stories and insufficient markets. Not a situation likely to change soon,
if you ask me. I'd only add that there are some very interesting short
story writers on the Internet these days.
I think it was Carver who mainly received the
Hemingway torch, and he remains much more "accessible" today, but that
damaged, traumatized voice has been very much the voice of literary
modernism. With the women it's madness and sexual abuse, with the men
it's war and addiction. Hemingway was a major figure in that history and
a complex writer who crossed the barrier into a mass readership. He'll
be worth reading for a long time yet.
The important thing otherwise is to follow your literary interests and pay close attention to why the works you love are working for you, i.e., to technique. Otherwise, the important thing to know is that the chances that you will ever be sufficiently rewarded for this work--other than by the pleasure and the understanding that come of doing it--are infinitely small. So you'd better like doing it, or, as for most writers who keep at it, emotionally you have no choice. If you're doing it just to "be a writer" or to have published a book or a story, then you're coming at it as a consumer, not an artist.
Are you working on anything now? What's next for Greg Hollingshead?
I'm thinking vaguely about, and vaguely starting to make notes for, a contemporary first-person comic novel.
Michael Bryson conducted this interview with Greg Hollingshead by email in January 2005.