Back in September I reviewed Harry Whitewolf’s novel The Road to Purification, Hustlers Hassles and Hash. Author, poet and traveller, Whitewolf’s writing is a fusion of observation, fact and speculation. I asked Harry about his work, travelling, the number 11 and gn****.
How did you write The Road to Purification? Were you making notes or recall it all when you got home?
It’s actually the third incarnation. I kept a diary when I was there (in 2010), so I see that as the ‘first rough version’, and then, a couple of months after I got back, I wrote it out as a novel – which was based on the diary but also included other remembered stuff. I then went off to Argentina a few months later and forgot all about it.
Once I was back in England (in 2012), I wrote a book about my Argentine adventure (Route Number 11: Argentina, Angels & Alcohol). I wrote that book in a new style of my own invention, somewhere between prose, poetry and prattling, and so it was only after I’d written Route Number 11 (which I didn’t keep a diary for!) that I had a sort of blueprint of how to re-write The Road To Purification (because by this point, I’d looked through that manuscript and realised it resembled something not too dissimilar to shit and that I would have to start from scratch). It was actually a tough thing to re-live Egypt whilst writing (‘cos I was freakin’ crazy and in a dark place during Egypt!), but I knew it was a story I had to tell – more than anything, because the trip actually felt like I was living as a protagonist in some hyper-reality novel at the time. By 2013, when I was writing the final version of The Road To Purification, I was thankfully back in the light and not in the dark place I had been, so it meant I could approach the crazy trip with a new set of eyes and a lot of humour.
A lot has happened since you travelled to Egypt. Would you go back to see if it’s changed?
Seeing as the revolution began only a couple of months after I returned home, a lot of my friends joked that I must have sparked it. Maybe I unwittingly did… 🙂
I remember asking some locals about opposing Mubarak and the same reply was always had: “We’ve tried before. There’s nothing we can do now. It’s useless.” So it was interesting (and great at the time) to see that shortly afterwards Egyptians began standing up against the regime. If only things could have run smoother than they did…
It would be interesting to see how things have changed for sure, though I don’t think there’s been much change in tourist friendly Red Sea resorts, and Dahab is the one place I’d like to return to, seeing as I was ill when I was there. And I never got down to Aswan or Abu Simbel, which I’d like to do. If I ever do go back, I know I’ll certainly be more prepared and sane that last time.
You mention a number of occasions where your dreadlocks made you stand out. Do you think there are advantages to travellers standing out in a foreign country?
I’d say the only advantage of sticking out with dreads is that it’s easier to score weed… But apart from that, I think travellers that stick out are more disadvantaged, as they’re likely to be targets for locals trying to make a buck. Which is why I don’t understand why you always see so many holiday makers looking so obviously foreign, with their bright shirts, sun hats and cameras…usually looking lost.
How far do you go with some of the theories surrounding the building of the pyramids? Is there more to discover about them?
How long have you got? I could go a fair way indeed. But you’re better off reading books by the likes of Robert Bauval than hearing what I have to say! But alternative history views aside, we know there’s a lot more to learn about them. I mean, there are passages inside the Great Pyramid that we still haven’t managed to get into – although a robot did a few years back, and discovered metal ‘pins’ in a hidden chamber. So we know there are undiscovered passages inside, and it’s also very likely that there’s a tunnel network below them and the Sphinx.
But more than all that, we still don’t know what the pyramids were actually for – the idea that the Giza three were tombs is completely unsubstantiated, and there’s just so much else going on with them: such as the three exactly mirroring the stars of Orion’s Belt and the Great Pyramid’s base measuring 365.24 cubits (obviously, the number of days in a year) and both Pi and a Pythagoras theorem being contained in its measurements too.
Or maybe underneath the Giza plateau there’s a huge sculpture of the Statue of Liberty buried in the sand and the three pyramids are just the points of her crown sticking out… meaning we are living in a Planet of the Apes type world after all! O.K, O.K, I’m getting carried away now…
It’s a long story! Although I mention the strange so-called 11:11 Phenomenon in The Road To Purification, I write about it in more detail in Route Number 11. So here’s an excerpt from that to give you a taster of what it’s all about:
“…I kept seeing 11:11 on the clock all the time. I don’t wear a watch, and I’m not one for particularly following what time of day it is, but whenever I looked at a clock, it was often either 11:11 a.m or p.m. It just kept on happening. I thought nothing big of it. Just an odd quirk, y’know. Oh! 11:11 again. But then it started happening everywhere. £11.11 in change at a shop. Taxi numbers whizzing past: 1111. Numbers on houses- 111. Then, a pay cheque for £1111.11. Unbelievable…
…So, a few years go by with 11:11 just cropping up pretty constantly… Then one
day I type 11:11 in to Google. That’s when I find I’m not the only one ‘experiencing’ this shit. There are thousands, if not millions of people out there experiencing 11:11, whatever that means. Atheists, believers, people of all countries and backgrounds. Uri Geller has loads about it on his website. There are chat rooms devoted to it, local groups that meet, and several books on it. Incredible. And every one had the same story to tell- seeing the numbers everywhere, on clocks, purchase totals, pay checks etc. And every one thought they were the only ones experiencing it. I even read one account of 11:11 being a sign to some coke heads that it was their ‘liner time’!”
And when I discovered that 11:11 was the Universal Time for the winter solstice of 21/12/12, the date of the Mayan ‘end time’, things got a little stranger still…
Yes and no. I’m trying to do my own thing, which is what surely any artistic writer is attempting to do. I’m not a fan of bandwagonesque authors. I much prefer to hear individual voices who write from their soul. So, yes, it’s frustrating that mainstream publishers have taken less and less chances on such individuals over the years, but that’s also why I’ve become a big fan of indie publishing – if you search through the dross, you’ll find some exceptionally good stuff. And it’s kind of nicer to be a fan of authors who aren’t well known, just like a favourite indie band that you want the world to appreciate as much as you do, but secretly want to keep for yourself.
I would describe your writing style as buoyant, as if it’s bobbing about on water. How do you get into the right frame of mind to write?
I simply have to write when I’m in the mood. Inspiration either comes or it doesn’t, so I tend to write in bursts of inspiration over long hours and then I’ll dry up for weeks. Coffee and smokes certainly help ‘n all.
Do you rewrite? What’s the process from idea to finished manuscript?
Oh sure, yes, I rewrite. Who doesn’t? The initial writing is always a spontaneous fury where I can’t get the words down quick enough, but I then edit and rewrite as many times as it takes. Once it’s all down, I can look at it objectively and see what works and what doesn’t. I’ll have read my books dozens of time, changing things on each read through, before it gets published. I guess my process is something like: write like Kerouac and edit like Gertrude Stein.
Are you optimistic about the future of publishing or are we heading for an alternative version of the current closed-door system, with a different set of obstacles such as reviewers, Amazon’s dominance etc?
I am optimistic actually, despite the things you mention that will make it more difficult. It’s almost impossible to get a proper book deal these days, Amazon are dominating the scene, it’s going to be more difficult to post reviews, and in the world of indie publishing, it seems like every man, woman and dog are publishing their books, so it’s a difficult feat to get noticed – but amongst all that, indie publishing is growing all the time and more and more talented authors are emerging. And more and more people are starting to enjoy reading indie authors, as they’re as fed up with the mainstream rubbish as much as I am, so that will naturally make authors receive more of an audience. Basically, publishing – whether it’s mainstream or independent – is always going to be a gamble.
What is your definition of success?
It has nothing to do with the material world, I can tell ya that.
None! Bloody gnomes. If they start invading my garden with their stupid pointed hats and beards, I’ll gun them all down in a Gnome Massacre and stick their fishing rods where the sun don’t shine.
Thanks to Harry for taking the time to answer my questions, and apologies for bringing up the subject of gn**** again.
You can join Harry on Goodreads here: Goodreads – Harry Whitewolf