David Peace Q&A: “If art is not honest, then it’s just decoration”

The novelist talks Twin Peaks, deadly sins and Sherlock Holmes.

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David Peace was born in 1967 in West Yorkshire, where he set his first novels, the Red Riding Quartet. He has since published six other novels. He lives in Tokyo.

What’s your earliest memory?

Dewsbury, 1970. My mother had left me in my wheelchair outside a butcher’s shop. A big black dog jumped up, stuck its head in my face and began to speak to me.

Who are your heroes?

As a child, Sherlock Holmes. Now, Father Brown.

What was the last book that changed your thinking?

I’m currently reading Paragons of the Ordinary by Marvin Marcus, which explores the Japanese writer Mori Ogai’s biographies of obscure Tokugawa scholars. This might sound rather dry, but it illuminates fascinating possibilities for biographical, historical and literary writing, and I find the implications for my own work so exciting I can hardly breathe.

Which political figure, past or present, do you look up to?

Jesus Christ: past, present, and for the future to come.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

Those five seasons in Huddersfield, from 1921-26, with their one FA Cup and then three consecutive First Division Championships. If my wings still held, I’d head to a house in Tabata, Tokyo, and there try to prevent the suicide of writer Ryunosuke Akutagawa, though my track record in such situations is not that great.                

What TV show could you not live without?

I’d happily, avidly watch a fourth series of Twin Peaks, a third series of True Detective, a second series of Mindhunter, and Red Riding 1977, the lost episode.

Who would paint your portrait?

My daughter, Emi; it might not be very flattering but at least it’d be honest. And if art is not honest, then it’s just decoration.

What’s your theme tune?

“Hip Priest” by the Fall on a bad day, “Abattoir Blues” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds on a good day. Or is it the other way round?

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

That pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth are deadly sins. I do try to abstain from them but, even in answering this questionnaire, I’m succumbing to the very worst of them. Again.

What’s currently bugging you?

My inability to make the world a slightly more equal and thus far better place.

What single thing would make your life better?

The power to make the world a slightly more equal and thus far better place.

When were you happiest?

29 May 2017, although it was already 30 May in Tokyo when Christopher Schindler scored the most important penalty ever taken.

In another life what job might you have chosen?

Exorcist; there always seem to be a few openings.

Are we all doomed?

No; as a black dog once told me, we might be in extra time, deep into injury time, with penalties looming, but if we make some substitutions and switch things around a bit, then we can still win this game: the miracle is still to come.

“Patient X: the Case-Book of Ryunosuke Akutagawa” by David Peace is out now (Faber & Faber)

This article appears in the 12 April 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Syria’s world war

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