This interview launches the series “The Art & Act of Writing”. In sharing interviews I have conducted with authors, writers, poets and playwrights I aim to highlight the practice of writing, what inspires people to write, how they coalesce their ideas into print and what role writing plays in their lives.
I hope this series of interviews provides motivation and inspiration for your own writing!
You will find links to the interviewee’s published works at the end of the interview.
If you are interested in being featured in this series, please use the Contact Mav Kuhn page to connect with me.
Paul A. Green is a published author, poet and playwright. Magickal techniques and alternative realities are a core part of his writing. He is a magickian of the written word, interweaving reality and surreality in such a way as to manifest the essence of truth around such characters as Aleister Crowley, Jack Parsons and Montague Summers. His articles have featured, amongst others, Crowley. Burroughs and Colin Wilson. A full list of his publications is at the end of this interview. Enjoy!
Mav Kuhn: Describe your current writing set-up.
Paul A. Green: It’s currently chaotic as I am in the process of moving house. But I normally use a combination of longhand notebooks and notepads in the first instance. First drafts are usually written chapter by chapter using Pages on an Apple Mac which I can convert to Word or pdf when I’ve finished. Poems sometimes go straight to the Mac. I’m lucky enough to have a room of my own where I can keep box files of old manuscripts, random notebooks going back many years as well as a wall of key books which include esoterica (e.g about thirty books by or about Crowley), the surrealist poets, the Beats (notably Burroughs), philosophy and science.
Despite the convenience of the Web for instant research I still prefer to read print. I also have some audio equipment for recording or remixing radio and podcast material, including an old TEAC open-reel recorder – plus a small digital radio. There are currently various pictures and posters, including a Sun Ra print by my wife, a poster based on the cover for Kerouac’s On the Road and some prints by the artist Allen Fisher, plus a poster for a Kurt Schwitters exhibition at the Tate. I want a really good print of the Qabalistic Tree but I haven’t found the right one yet.
Mav Kuhn: What’s your ideal ambience and environment for writing?
Paul A. Green: A quiet room, as above. But I have also written on trains, in cafes and parks. The ‘Basement Mix’ poetry sequence was written in a grungy basement, the title poem of the Gestaltbunker collection was conceived in a converted washroom while the first drafts of Ritual of the Stifling Air, my necromantic Nazi play, were written in a Paignton laudromat. I often have music playing, either BBC Radio 3, Resonance FM or iTunes via headphones from iTunes. It has to be instrumental. I can work with Bohren and the Club of Gore (Goth doom-jazz), John Coltrane, Sun Ra, Miles Davis, Bach, King Tubby, Brian Eno, Ornette Coleman, ambient electronica on the Expanding Records label, Eric Satie, Blue Note soul-jazz Hammond organists like John Patton, or Nino Rota who composed the scores for Fellini’s movies.
But sometimes silence is essential. As are cups of tea, espresso, maybe a little wine or gin. I did experiment a little with drugs back in the 70s – cannabis and on one occasion, opium. People sometimes presume I have constantly used narcotics because of the imagery and abnormal locales presented in the work, but in my experience they make the actual writing process unmanageable. I still have a notebook where the scrawl expands so that an entire page is filled with a single scribbled vowel. I have managed to salvage something from this material in my Shadow Times poetry collection, still bubbling in the publisher’s pipeline, but it required very severe editing.
Mav Kuhn: Do you identify with the idea of a muse? What inspires you to write?
Paul A. Green: I did identify with the Muse very specifically (and disastrously) as a young man, usually projecting it/her on various bewildered young women who quickly found excuses to wash their hair or go out with rugby players who had cars.
But underlying that, I think a focus on the female archetype energises my work. There’s a cliche about writers loving their characters, and in The Qliphoth I put a lot of care into Pauline, the tough-minded Marxist schoolteacher, the ethereal student Robyn and the joyously carnal Leila, who becomes a muse of sorts for protagonist Lucas. She’s a kind of Lady Babalon figure. In the subsequent books – the Beneath the Pleasure Zones series – her role is taken by Carla, a woman of magical power and turbulent sexuality, while Viv, reflective artist and witch is closer to Robyn. And, at a very superficial level in my Saul Wolfe extravaganza Space Virgins of the Third Reich, a regiment of wonder-women, passive at first, finally dominate, in several senses of the word. I can understand why feminists are weary of the romantic notion of the Muse as an essentialist concept, limiting the female to an inactive role and a narrow stereotype of femininity. But Camille Paglia, my favourite feminist, stresses the dynamic between men and women as the creative drive behind all art. I should add that a poem sequence I wrote for my wife is one of my favourite pieces.
Mav Kuhn: When did you start writing seriously? And what does “serious writing” mean to you anyway?
Paul A. Green: I was about 16/17 and extremely serious (see above). I didn’t actually write anything that was seriously good until I was 22 or thereabouts. I think serious writing is a commitment to keep the language and perception refreshed, to re-create the world, to tackle big paradigm-shifting themes (which is why I’m drawn to speculative fiction). For me, significant writing often has a visionary quality – not necessarily in a metaphysical sense.
Writers I admire and reread for these reasons include J.G. Ballard, M. John Harrison, Iain Sinclair, Michael Moorcock at his best (Mother London), William S. Burroughs, and Jorge Luis Borges.
Mav Kuhn: What was the first piece of writing that you were proud of, and why?
Paul A. Green: I was absurdly pleased when some of my juvenilia were published in various mags, now hopefully pulped. I was ‘a poet’ at last! But the first time I felt I had produced something distinctive was in early 1968 in my poem ‘Directions to the Dead End’, which fused science fiction imagery and concepts with an incantatory rhythm and a modular structure. I’d found a voice and a sense of direction (to the dead end…). Maybe the drive to write is in part a search for what you want to read.
Mav Kuhn: What do you do to brainstorm ideas?
Paul A. Green: Ideas will arrive in quite random and different ways, depending in part on whether it’s going to be a poem, a play or a work of fiction. Once I have a title in my head I have some focus on what form the piece is going to take and where it’s going to be focussed. It’s the seed around which everything eventually crystallises. I’m also stimulated by co-operations with artists in other media. Although I wrote all the texts for ‘The Slow Learning’ video collaboration with Jeremy Welsh, his concept of a video piece involving montage that could be juxtaposed against the text, plus the on-screen persona I could adopt fed back into the writing. It was Jez, incidentally who invented the Quantum Brothers. Originally the name for our working partnership, in the videos it became an image of two stolid but sinister men in suits, whom I later developed into characters – the cyber-demons who play a key role in both volumes of Beneath the Pleasure Zones.
Mav Kuhn: How do you get from idea through to finished piece? Are you a meticulous planner or more spontaneous and off-the-cuff?
Paul A. Green: It depends on the genre. Poems often evolve in fragments or rough draft with re-writes, with cuts to reveal what’s essential to the piece. But the starting point is usually some sort of ‘psychic automatism’ as the Surrealists would say – image or phrase, fragment of a dream. The novels often develop as fragments or extended prose poems and I have to find a pattern in the images or an underlying concept.
In The Qliphoth I did have a central idea – a young man – Lucas – on a quest for truth, both in terms of family relationships and in a cosmic sense – a Bildungsroman if you like. This was combined with the familiar science fiction trope of parallel universes, which I wanted to fuse with the Qabalistic notion of a multi-layered-magical universe. In it, on the dark side of the Tree of the Life, are the fragmenting Qliphothic forces that he has to engage with. As the story developed it split off into different narrative strands and generated a complex back-story, so there was inevitably planning and rewriting as the book evolved. There was also research – into physics and cosmology, as well as magic and the history of curious cults like the Kin of the Kibbo Kift.
The same is true of the Pleasure Zones books which are effectively sequels, taking Lucas into early middle age, where he’s now embedded in the chaos created by the release of the Qliphoth and the imminent breakdown of a scientifically predictable consensus reality. So I’m not a meticulous planner but I do shape the material as it emerges.
Mav Kuhn: How does the process or method of writing change for you from writing fiction to non-fiction to poetry?
Paul A. Green: Writing plays like Babalon, The Magus of Klooks Kleek and Tell Me Strange Things, which were based on the lives of real people (Jack Parsons, Crowley, Graham Bond, Montague Summers et al), involved a more linear approach and a lot of research. Babalon was particularly difficult because when I started in the mid-nineties there were no biographies of Parsons, so I had to delve around in the NASA and Jet Propulsion Lab on-line archives to find out about his career as a rocket scientist. I traced the story of his involvement with Thelema and his disastrous relationship with L. Ron Hubbard from various sources – biographies of Crowley and Hubbard, essays by Michael Staley and Allen Greenfield, as well as various American websites (now oddly vanished). Later the first biography of Jack was published (Sex and Rockets by John Carter) which gave more insights as I rewrote the script. My play is obviously fabulation, not literally accurate, with the compression and stylisation that’s involved in any dramatic narrative but I still feel that it’s captured the essence and energy of the Parsons myth.
Graham Bond was easier, as I had seen him live on stage in the 60s and several friends of mine had met him or worked with him. There was a good bio of him although little about his occult interests, which I had to investigate via other sources. As for the mysterious witchcraft scholar Father Monty Summers, there was an indirect connection in that my father had corresponded with him and I had met his biographer Father Brocard Sewell (Sewell was a curious character in his own right – a mild-mannered Carmelite monk who edited a progressive literary magazine but was a closet admirer of Oswald Mosley). All these projects involved constructing chronologies and navigating through potential storylines. The same applies to a screen play I’m working on the moment where I’m exploring conspiracy theories and Islamic terrorism. I actually have a scene-by-scene treatment for this, although this will probably mutate as I develop it…
Mav Kuhn: Name one book that has influenced your vocation to write the most, and explain why.
Paul A. Green: It would probably have to be an anthology The Beat Generation and the Angry Young Men which I read when I was about 17. It included Ginsberg’s Howl, extracts from Burroughs, Colin Wilson’s The Outsider and Kerouac’s On the Road. It challenged so many assumptions acquired through my Jesuit education, showed me how to experiment with language and form and gave me a valve for releasing adolescent energies. Other key books would be: Burroughs’ Nova Express for its use of cut-ups and synchronicity and Andre Breton’s Manifestos of Surrealism, with their advocacy of the power of the dream. “Everything tends to make us believe that there exists a certain point of the mind at which life and death, the real and the imagined, past and future, the communicable and the incommunicable, high and low, cease to be perceived as contradictions.”
Mav Kuhn: Tell me about people who have influenced your writing in a vocational and/or practical way.
Paul A. Green: I owe a debt to the pioneering British jazz poet Pete Brown who encouraged me to perform when I was young and aspirational. Thanks to him I had my initiation as a performance poet at the sharp end of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1965 and he subsequently took part in various jazz poetry events I set up in London and Oxford with my old friend keyboard player Vincent Crane (Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Atomic Rooster).
Subsequently Vincent and I performed sporadically in the 70s and 80s, either as a duo or with a small band and he also devised music for two of my radio plays. Working with improvised music and the jazz/rock culture obviously influenced my performance style and we sometimes achieved an almost telepathic rapport on stage. I still think we could have done a unique studio album together but Vincent’s tragic suicide in 1989 meant that this never happened.
Another collaborator in writing for audio theatre and performance has been the Canadian playwright, fiction writer and musician Lawrence Russell. At the beginning of the 70s I began submitting tapes to his audio magazine DNA which in the web era eventually morphed into http://www.culturecourt.com, a platform for articles, reviews and the hybrid ‘techno-jazz’ idiom we have developed, in which I recorded texts in the UK, to be mixed into soundscapes in his Vancouver Island studio. We also share a fascination with the ambiguity of reality, displayed in our collaboration in the radio drama Obo, developed from one of his short stories, in which glamorous Western ex-pats and movie stars come adrift in a sinister Saharan republic.
And, of course, Jeremy Welsh, as mentioned above, was instrumental in introducing me to the possibilities of the video poem.
However, my agent provocateur has probably been my mentor on the University of British Columbia Creative Writing Course in the late sixties, J. Michael Yates. His volcanic energy, furious critiquing and equally fierce encouragement forced me out of any complacency I might have had about pretending to be a writer. Sometimes he’d deliver a practical admonition: ‘I’m gonna thrash your Oxonian ass if you don’t buy a fucking typewriter!’ But it was his attention to language and his awareness of the whole ‘high modernist tradition’ and its ongoing possibilities that made his workshops so valuable. Yates’s own work, still virtually unknown in the UK, despite his Canadian reputation, ranges from a poetry of glacial surrealism, often set in the landscapes/mindscapes of the extreme North, through bleak fables (‘I’m a bastard son of Swift and Kafka’) to absurdist radio drama. It was with his encouragement that I wrote my first non-naturalistic play The Dream Laboratory, experimented with tape and played around with persona and structure in the poems. You had to develop saurian hide to cope with Mikey on a difficult day and I never took up his invitation to go hunting in the Yukon territories. But he was a catalyst.
Mav Kuhn: Magic and the occult are recurrent themes in your writing. To what extent do you use magical procedures in the process of composition? In fact is writing part of your spiritual life?
Paul A. Green: When I first discovered Surrealist texts like The Magnetic Fields I began writing fragments in the free associational mode advocated by Andre Breton (‘pure psychic automatism’). I can’t pretend these early experiments were pure automatic writing. I wasn’t channelling some external entity, as Crowley appears to have done, transcribing The Book of the Law at the dictation of Aiwass. I was at this point simply articulating my own repressed material or semi-conscious mental activity.
Dreams were another subway to other levels of consciousness, a source of imagery, personae and locations in many of the early poems. My play The Dream Laboratory (1972) was triggered by learning about the work of Stanley Krippner and the Maimonides Lab and their experiments exploring a possible link between the dream process and telepathy, using sleeping subjects to transmit their dreams to teams of remote viewers, with some interesting results. The possibility of controlling or re-editing dreams occurred to me, as it has to other writers, notably William S. Burroughs. Indeed a totalitarian regime might want to neutralise the dream process – in particular its sexual aspects – as an instrument of social control. The drama begins in the format of a documentary but the imagery and the dialogue become increasingly surreal and fragmented as the reporters become subjects and eventually victims of the technology. In much of my work there’s a tension between rationalism and the magical world view, as if I’m trying to hack away at the credibility of a magical universe – only to find that the magic keeps resurfacing in different guises, a truculent serpent from the Tunnels of Set.
My first overtly occult drama was Ritual of the Stifling Air in 1977. Neo-Nazi necromancers conduct a rite to channel the spirit of the Führer. I found the title in Pauwels and Bergier’s Morning of the Magicians which makes a passing reference to a mysterious ceremony enacted by elite members of the SS in the vault of Wewelsberg Castle. My obsession with this scenario and the compulsion to develop it into a short poetic drama was perhaps symptomatic of my state of mind at that time. I’d reached a nadir of nihilistic depression, maybe a necessary phase of ‘nigredo’, the black mess/mass of the psyche in the alchemical sense. The play was structured as a magical ceremony. After the opening invocations, a long rhythmic chant climaxes in an utterance from the female medium. The presiding magus is not satisfied with the authenticity of her communication and invites the Hitler-entity to speak through him… I wasn’t present for the rehearsals but the producer told me that the actors complained of an increasingly oppressive atmosphere in the studio as the recording began. The session was also disrupted by frequent and inexplicable technical malfunctions and curious noises in the control room speakers, to the bewilderment of the highly experienced technicians. I have spent enough time in sound studios to know that technical issues can arise, but this was in the simpler pre-digital age of tape. (I had a similar experience of ‘mystery tape malfunction’ in 1979 when a BBC engineer was trying to record me interviewing Iain Sinclair in the crypt of St Anne’s, Limehouse).
I was certainly in an odd place during the post ‘Stifling Air’ period. Dreaming was sometimes a descent into a black hole and I was also acting out my psycho-dramas on stage performing such self-penned punk classics as ‘Porno Madness’ and ‘Fantasy Robots’ with the notorious Riff Power Band. The pub/punk rock involvement experience eventually surfaced in a naturalistic drama which was eventually broadcast by Capital Radio.
But my pre-occupation with the enigmas of the occult wouldn’t go away. Was there an overlap between the world as viewed through the lens of quantum physics and the magical universe of synchronicity and precognition? Were shamanic states of consciousness portals into alternate universes, as posited in the speculations of John Wheeler and David Deutsch? Were there multi-verse interpenetrations with the Qabalistic Sephiroth, Crowley’s Visions and Voices, or Dr Dee’s Enochian channelling? I was fumbling towards an interzone where science and magic could embrace – or at least grope – each other in the dark. But I wanted to write about these phenomena erupting in the ‘real world’ or least the consensus reality of everyday life. So my agonised protagonist was Lucas (a Luciferian light-seeker) who has failed his A levels, and argues with his Marxist mum. She anchors the book in the earthly Qabalistic realm of Malkuth. But Lucas seeks out his lunatic father Nick in the locked ward – and desperately needs a girl friend. He’s entering a Yesodic zone of fantasy, sexuality and illusion – which materialises around him in the locale of the nearby seaside resort, but transplanted to a bohemian parallel universe, populated by squabbling magicians and sacred harlots. I used several occult techniques to guide me through the labyrinth of the story. Forks in the plot or details of characters were sometimes dictated by Qabalistic correspondences as per Crowley’s 777, or Tarot interpretations. Dream imagery became part of the infrastructure. Some sections, like the chapter in which Lucas’s rationalist schoolteacher mum confronts malignant forces in the classroom were drafted at speed, quasi-automatically. Others were endlessly re-written. Cut-ups and montage allowed new content to leak into the story. But I was also drawing on my own experiences – low-life boarding houses, hanging out with old jazz musicians and entertainers, surviving in the educational underworld of supply teaching. I feel there has to be a link to the reality in front of my senses, or at least processed through the filters and re-mixes of memory. That’s the raw matter the scribe has to work with and transmute with magical techniques. And this is the approach I’ve continued in writing the two Beyond the Pleasure Zones books. Lucas is now living in a post-apocalyptic dystopian Britain which he has inadvertently helped to create (and perhaps unconsciously desires). Small pagan communities try to create enclaves, but are divided among themselves and are threatened by the encroachments of the Lobe, the virtual reality network that keeps the urban masses distracted while the Mo-Boys and the Heavy Shepherds fight to establish their caliphates and kingdoms. Magic works, but not always as expected, often producing the opposite of what is desired, when characters are driven by the lust of result, not to mention lust… Once again, some sections, like the sequence in The Polyverse in which Lucas invokes Thoth using the Golden Dawn invocation before an altar figure constructed from electronic detritus were written in an invocatory mind-state.
Throughout all the books, the use of language under pressure is significant. The surrealist analogy, bringing together violently contrasting images into a convulsive new unity is inherently magical. Wittgenstein famously said, ‘Of what we cannot speak, we must be silent’ but it’s the role of poet-as-shaman to speak the unspeakable, in trying to evoke extreme states of consciousness or alien inscapes. I’ve been praised for attempting to do this, but also criticised for being ‘cryptic’ and ‘impenetrable’ – ironically by occultists who haven’t made the link between the occult and surrealism. My task is to ‘make it new’ so torsions of word-play and paradox inevitably emerge.
I have of course been influenced by Qabalism, Crowley and Kenneth Grant’s Typhonian continuation of the Thelemic tradition. But the books are also influenced increasingly by Chaos magic, which I have found valuable in my own development. Peter Carroll’s Liber Kaos gave me new approaches to magical practice and new paradigms to consider. His analysis of cyclical cultural interplay between Transcendentalists, Materialists and Magicians parallels the cultural conflicts that emerge in the BPZ series. Characters would seem to embody these paradigms, or would be arguing about them internally. And actions rose out of the void of causality as they look for the lost plot. The ‘Shadow time’ of probability and its relation to ordinary ‘pseudo time’ is another useful concept. Not for nothing was old Master Therion called ‘The King of the Shadow Realms’. Maybe confronting the Shadow Side in all its multiplicity is what my work has really been about.
Mav Kuhn: If your writing were never to be read by a single soul, what would be your reason to continue writing?
Paul A. Green: That’s an interesting question and a difficult one. I would continue writing, perhaps to continue the process described in the previous paragraph and also to log the details of my environment and situation – prison cell, drifting spacecraft, last man left alive? The writing would be random, non-linear maybe, a stream of consciousness. But I suspect that there would be a lurking hope that someone, somewhere might be trying to decipher it thirty centuries hence.
Shadow Times (forthcoming)
Short fiction in various magazines, e-zines and anthologies – most recently in: Unthology 2 (Unthank Books, 2011); The Ballard Book (Terminal Press, Toronto, 2013); Small Worlds (University of Brighton 2014)
Audio & Video
www.culturecourt.com (also articles and reviews)
©Mav Kuhn/Paul A. Green 2016 All Rights Reserved.
If you liked this, you might like my posts on www.mavkuhn.com and www.starofseshat.com