Julian Gough in Singapore


Julian Gough in Singapore
by Pavan Mano

Eve of All Hallows’ Eve.

Blixa Bargeld’s rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow intones over the speakers, masquerading as chamber music.

Nearly ninety wait in eager anticipation. Or trepidation. It’s hard to tell.

An Irishman sits in the corner.

All signs point towards this fellow’s tea being one of the most unusual hosted at Tembusu College yet.

Jeremy Fernando ponders whether he should introduce, and welcome, the novelist Julian Gough in the American tradition of lavishing praise. Or the British tradition of criticism disguised as praise – praise as critique.

In the end, he settles for neither and opts instead for the grand Slavic one of hurling insults as praise – an indication of affection. He tells everyone about the time Julian stole Will Self’s pig. (Or a certain Harold’s pig, depending on whom one chooses to believe.)

And a couple of his many other accomplishments – Julian’s many acclaimed novels: Crash! that was the UK Kindle Single #1 hit; Jude in London that was shortlisted for the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize; and The Great Hargesia Goat Bubble which was turned into a radio play on BBC in 2009. Amidst all of this, he was also the lead singer of Toasted Heretic, releasing 4 albums.

Julian’s up. Literally, too. He reads aloud a short story of his beautifully. It’s a wonderful tale – amusing, even hilarious at points. Also possibly a giant metaphor for our increasing propensity to disappear into the screens of our devices. Such as now. Which would make the entire story slightly poignant too.

Writing the ending to Minecraft was quite an experience, he recalls. It had to be something that would ease one through the trauma of returning to reality after hours immersed in a virtual, and an arguably much more enjoyable, world.

Upon its release, reactions were decidedly varied in their extremes: some people challenged him to duels; others propositioned him.

Julian talks about his craft, writing, telling stories. He’s convinced the novelist is destined to always write from a position of estrangement, outside the establishment, in a critical voice. Whether affectionately or savagely is another matter altogether.

“Story-telling is primal,” he says. “It’s hardwired into us.” He pauses for a beat. “Like sex. And eating.” It’s profound. If more teachers mentioned this, it’s not entirely unimaginable that we might suddenly have a whole lot more novelists.

Julian appears to momentarily misunderstand a stool.

He goes on to tell us stories are far more important than we might realize. “Stories help us navigate our own journeys through life, as we unlock our potential and discover ourselves.”

And then clues us in as to what the people in lab coats at the Large Hadron Collider have been up to all along: “The spark of art comes from banging two things together with a lot of energy.”

Time’s caught up with us. Julian bids farewell by reminding us that we write not consciously but through our subconscious – all we can do is to try and stay out of its way.


[This piece was first published – with Adeline Chang’s wonderful photos –   at http://tembusu.nus.edu.sg/treehouse/2014/11/julian-gough-in-singapore/]

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