Interviews · 09/04/2012

A Conversation With Lee Rourke

What books and/or authors have had the most influence on your writing?

When I write I read as much fiction as possible, so the good stuff naturally seeps into my writing. Nothing is original so I’m not worried about what does or doesn’t seep in. For The Canal  I was reading a lot of Heidegger and lots of French stuff like Derrida. Fiction-wise I’m inspired by writers such as Jean-Philippe Toussaint, Deborah Levy and Gwendoline Riley. But it could be anyone really, anyone I happen to be reading.

How do you decide when a piece you’ve written is “finished” enough to publish?

When a good editor tells me it is. I’m not precious about my writing, or literature in general. Good writing needs a good editor to turn it into a good book.

But, you know, it’s never really ‘finished’ as I truly believe fiction doesn’t work. So, it’s never what I want it to be. It never happens in the way it should. Luckily I let go of it, and allow it to exit as yet another failed novel.

What would you consider to be a productive day of work, and do you have a writing routine?

I write in the morning. I am happy if I produce over 1000 words a day. But I find writing hard work, I’d rather be doing other things. Writing doesn’t come easy to me. Routine? Coffee, sit at my desk, coffee, write, write, stare at notepad/screen for a long time, take notepads to cafe or pub to write some more, beer/wine/coffee, read, read, read, take notes, edit, coffee, type up, edit … this, pretty much every day. I have no idea what a ‘muse’ is.

What part of your writing process do you most enjoy?

None of it. I don’t even like holding a finished book. It doesn’t feel like mine. Even when I read the words they feel like they were written by someone else … A moron maybe.

I suppose I like the feeling when I hand the manuscript over to my agent or an editor and I can start breathing again and I’m able to think about other things. Things that have absolutely nothing to do with the book I’ve just written.

You are a blogger for SPONGE!, a contributing editor of 3:AM Magazine, and an editor of Scarecrow. How has your experience as a blogger and editor shaped your work?

Blogging gave me discipline. But it also taught me to write for myself and no one else. I have no idea who used to read my blog – which is a liberating feeling.

Gabriel Josipovici makes a great point in his novel Everything Passes in a conversation about Rabelais. Before the printing press Rabelais new his audience, he knew who he was writing for, so this restricted him. Then when the printing press was invented and multiple copies of his writing was being printed and sold he began to realise that he had no idea who was reading his stuff: he lost his audience and gained the world, Josipovici says. He invented modern literary fiction in the realisation. It makes perfect sense to me. 

I abhor fiction that’s written for an audience.

Your novel, The Canal (which won The Guardian’s 2010 “Not The Booker Prize”) is about a man whose life is so boring it frightens him. How were you able to take a seemingly “boring” subject matter and turn it into a novel that has been described as electrifying?

I think that’s because I am interested in boredom philosophically and I mixed this with a couple of tropes I stole from thriller writers. There’s no plot or characterisation in The Canal) but there is the element of ‘the chase’ threaded through it. Even a stationary novel has to move.

Plus, boredom is us … Like it or not we are all bored. It underpins every facet of our existence, always there, rippling under the surface of our lives. Beckett called this the ‘tinnitus of existence’. 

I find that quite electrifying.

You have written fiction in almost every form: from flash fiction to novels. When you create a story, do you immediately think of it in terms of flash, short fiction, or novel, or do you let it play out before assigning it a form?

No, I plan what I’m going to write. So if it’s a novel I’ll take notes before-hand. I write short fiction separately in fits and starts. It takes me longer to write a short fiction collection than it does a novel.

What else are you working on, and where can readers go to find more of your work?

I’ve just finished a novel called Amber, and another novel called Vulgar Things, a short story collection called I Like To Be Stationary and a poetry collection called Varroa Destructor.

The poetry collection is out via 3AM Press in October. The other stuff will be published at some point, there’s no rush.

Finally, what advice would you give yourself when you first started writing?

I would seriously try to persuade myself to do something else. Seriously, writing isn’t a career choice in this visual age. We’re a dying breed.


Lee Rourke is a writer and editor. He is the author of The Canal (Melville House) and short story collection Everyday. He has also written for the Guardian, Independent, TLS, Observer, and the New Statesman as well as book blogs such as Ready, Steady, Book. He is Contributing Editor to 3:AM Magazine and also blogs at SPONGE!.