Monday, August 8, 2022

Q&A with Thomas Kendall




Thomas Kendall is the author of the new novel The Autodidacts. His work has appeared in publications including Lies/Isle and Entropy.


Q: What inspired you to write The Autodidacts?  


A: The Autodidacts emerged out of a paradoxical fantasy of disappearance that the book plays out and enacts and which the notion of “the author” neatly encapsulates.


It is hard to articulate the nature of this starting point but perhaps it can be stated as the desire to disappear but simultaneously merge with reality and in doing so warp it irrevocably. A conscious, active death perhaps.


It was also inspired by a friend of mine and the mythology we’d constructed out of our dual teenage loneliness. In order to write, albeit obliquely, about myself I needed to erase myself.


There are a host of books, films, and theory that informed and inspired the writing of The Autodidacts: Agota Kristoff’s Book of Lies trilogy, As I Lay Dying, Last Night at Marienbad, etc. From each of these I tried to take specific elements and incorporate them into the nature of the book.  


It was important to me that there be an element of class represented in the book. So much British fiction at least only represents middle class experiences or patronises the working class and so I wanted the book to allow for the possibility of a visionary working class, a working class that dreams, however prescribed and delimited the possibility of those dreams are. 


Q: The writer Dennis Cooper called the book “inviting like a secret passage, infallible in its somehow orderly but whirligig construction, spine-tingling to unpack, and as haunted as any fiction in recent memory.” What do you think of that description, and how did you construct the book's plot? 

A: I think it’s a really generous description that, in truth, speaks to everything I had hoped the book would be for a reader, and so for someone like Dennis to write that of my work was really moving for me. 


The plot of the book was intuitively constructed via a set of principles of reflection and refraction.


I knew that I wanted the work to have an almost circuitous structure and so it was important that the two sections mirrored and reversed one another with the consciousness of the reader being caught between these escalating possibilities. The structure of the book would provide a sense of narrative momentum where the dead lock could not.


I wanted the book to carry a sense of an absolutely real emotion that was radiating out of a structure that slowly revealed its artifice. The idea being that the attempt to constrain or conceal this emotion only magnified its effects in each direction. The specifics of the plot were divined from these starting points. 


Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you? 


A: The title was found quite late on in the novel’s development but once it had supplanted the previous title (a truly terrible title) it stuck.


I think it signifies a kind of self-construction, a sort of obsessive and rigorous commitment to the realisation of a knowledge that could be confused with an attempt to love. It’s somewhere between an outsider artist’s compulsion to create and the loneliness of children. The notion of being self-taught and its implications runs through each element of the story.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story? 


A: My goal as a writer is really just to produce work that might affect and move a reader emotionally and intellectually the way my favourite pieces of art have me. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m finishing the drafts of a second novel and playing around with ideas for a third. The second novel is very different from The Autodidacts and so I’m kinda nervous about it. 


Q: Anything else we should know? 


A: Support independent presses. That and it took me years to find a publisher and so to anyone reading this who is writing and being discouraged by the lack of support…don’t give up. 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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