What made you want to write a sequel to News Pigs?
Neither the characters, nor New York would let me go. I had some things to say about NYC, about status, about anxiety, about insurgency there, and about the whole class––wiped out now––of writers and bohemians that scrounged out a living pre-Internet Ascendancy. This novel seemed like the right spot. As I was writing, Donald Trump commenced his rise. How could I leave him out? I spent a pleasant anxious afternoon with The Don through my job with TVNZ. Do you know what? His hair is real. Everything else? I can’t say. We fell out, sadly, Mr Trump and I, and no longer talk. He didn’t like the piece I did; I doubt he’ll enjoy The Straight Banana either. Note: ignorance of News Pigs is no barrier to reading The Straight Banana.
The main character in The Straight Banana and News Pigs, Thomas Tudehope Milde, is a New York correspondent for Erewhon TV of ‘the PLC’ (Plucky Little Country). You spent ten years as the New York correspondent for One News. How much of Tom Milde is you?
What an outrageous suggestion! True, I was working for TVNZ for most of my time in NYC. I once worked in print, like Milde. I’ve botched stories, like Tom; my first job for TVNZ was a total washout. I’ve read widely, but without depth. I know what a bar looks like at 9.10 pm; 11.20 pm, 1.45 and 3.38 am. I’ve roistered with vivid, insalubrious characters. I remember a cameraman in Portland whose strategy for parking was to vandalise every meter he parked at, then send an immediate letter of complaint to the local authorities. The notion of fictional biography fascinates me, just as it mesmerises Milde. My mother’s middle name is Tudehope; so what? I love reading and writing, and yet appear to be a man of action; I once enjoyed dinner at the Harvard Club, like Tom Milde. Such trifling coincidences aside, this is a work of pure imagination.
Like News Pigs, The Straight Banana is packed with references, in-jokes, wacky fonts, quizzes and off-the-wall layout. Do you think books have a duty to entertain the reader?
Books have no duty to entertain readers, but they must entertain their writers. I want to write the kind of book that I’d like to read, one that mimics the junky energy of Allen Ginsberg’s poem ‘Howl’ and New York itself, a place where half a morning on the streets can leave you feeling like you’ve been on an all-night Scotch binge. The Straight Banana has quizzes, a pie graph, diary entries, and a painting by one of the greatest artists of the era. Thumb through it, and the eye jumps here and there. But it’s also a plot-driven story that involves increasing jeopardy for Tom Milde. Books are to be read, devoured hopefully. One of the greatest compliments ever paid News Pigs was from someone who was reading it in tandem with Anna Karenin. He confessed that for relief, he kept finding himself drawn to my book. There’s the tag line: Bored of Tolstoy? Try Wilson.
Recently in a panel on comic writing, Danyl Mclauchlan said that when he went back to redraft his latest novel he took all the jokes out and that made it funnier. Making people laugh is hard work, are there any tricks to humour that you’ve discovered in your writing?
Humour is like dancing. If others agree you’re doing it, you are.
You’ve got two young children, present shows on TV and radio, and you’ve just written a novel. Do you ever sleep?
My wife is the best; she likes me to write. I take Fridays off to do novels, but spend a lot of time thinking about what I’m writing the rest of the week. On Friday, mostly I’m mooching around the house with my head in other places. Fortunately, I’m still available to change nappies, and replace dummies. Yes, we use dummies in our house. I love writing. I’m so blessed to be able to do it. Admittedly, time is a problem; if I’d had more of it I might have written a shorter book.
The Straight Banana by Tim Wilson is available at the best bookshops and online at VUP now.