Interview with ‘Richard’ Author Ben Myers

Following the AFIN review of his new novel Richard (a fictional take on the life of Richey Edwards from the Manic Street Preachers, to be released on Picador on October 1st, 2010), Ben Myers kindly answered some questions I had about the book.
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A Future in Noise: What initially compelled you to write a novel based around Richey Edwards?
Ben Myers: I felt as if his story was getting lost within the myth that seems to have arisen in his absence so Richard was my attempt to view it from a new angle. It seemed slightly sad that he was being defined purely by his disappearance. I remember reading a quote from Nicky Wire where he said that his memories of Richey are comprised of personal recollections, like the time Richey got drunk and moonwalked across a bar in Portugal – these are insights that the ‘doomed Welsh rocker’ tabloid stories never really report. The moonwalking story got me thinking about the difference between myth and reality, something that rock ‘n’ roll thrives upon. We thought he was locked in his room reading Nietzsche but no, it turns out for some of the time he was out with the roadies, chatting up girls, moonwalking and doing what young men in bands do.

As someone who works as a journalist but also writes fiction – and was a fan of the band during the Richey era – I felt at least partially qualified to attempt such a thing as fact-based fiction. Richard started out a series of disparate sketches and scenes that I didn’t really imagine would ever see the light of day because I’ve written loads of stories and novels which have never been published. It was only when the novel began to take over my head that I began to consider the responsibility of what I was doing – the realization that these were real people I was writing about, and that I owe to all concerned to write something that rings true, even if it’s an oblique way. 

AFIN: Tell us a bit about your research and writing process throughout Richard.
Myers: I almost feel like I did a lot of research by simply being a fan of the band from the early days. I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I’m 34 now and have the liked the band long enough to get turned away from gigs for being underage, so I’ve been following them since about 1990. Early on I liked the band just as much for their interviews, their reference points, their clothes. You’ve got to remember that Britain in the early 90s was full of bands playing the same dance-y drumbeat and spouting a lot of empty ecstasy-inspired lyrics. Some of it was good, but it was still just entertainment. Or else it was bands like The Sundays or the Cocteau Twins; bands lacking any visible personality outside of the actual music. None of it did much for the intellect.

The Manics however offered a philosophy and a lifestyle for their fans; also any band who had the piss-taken out of them so heavily by the music press for the first year or two seemed like they were doing something right. So my initial research entailed going back over all those old press cuttings and TV interviews, a lot of which I held onto. Obviously the book ends in 1995 so fortunately I was writing about the era I remember and lived. My teenage years, basically.

As for the writing process it was a case of trying to find the right voice. The novel has two narratives running in tandem – Richey’s early life and the rise of the band, then his final few days, told in the present tense. Finding and differentiating between those two voices and then weaving them together so that they were coherent was the big challenge. On a practical level I worked on the first draft of the book all day, every day for six months. The internet is a wonderful resource, but I also spoke to quite an array of people who knew Richey, many of who are friends, colleagues of mine. I didn’t do formal interviews as such, but just mined people’s memories for stories and overall impressions. The over-riding factor of this research was that everyone had good memories of him. People who knew him loved him for who he was – funny, sensitive, attentive - and that hopefully fed into this wider portrait of him.

AFIN: How do you feel about some of the pre-release skepticism coming from Manics fan communities?
Myers: I totally understand it. A novel about the “demons instead Richey’s head”? It sounds a bit cheesy on paper, doesn’t it. I think people have a right to be skeptical, though actually most people have been encouraging. Manics fans are articulate and intelligent, so even when I’ve been called names, it has at least been poetically done. Obviously I’d prefer people read the book first, then called me names but….


AFIN: What prompted you to depict Richey as battling with a voice in his head, a sort of darker side of himself?
Myers: In choosing to write this book as a novel, I felt there were certain routes I could take concerning the telling of the story. The internal voice of a narrator is something that you just can’t do in biography because obviously biographies are based in fact, whereas this fictional approach opened up other possibilities. I suppose it created an opportunity to attempt to convey the mindset of someone who is mentally exhausted.

Any accounts you read about Richey Edwards seem to mention his drinking problems, the 12 step programme, the Priory and so forth, but I wanted to dig a little deeper and try and imagine what is going on in someone’s head when they no longer want to continue with the life they have.

AFIN: Have you ever read any Manic Street Preachers fan fiction? What are your thoughts on it?
Myers: No, I don’t think I have, which possibly sounds odd given the nature of my book. ‘Fan’ stands for fanatic though, and I’m definitely not a fanatic. I think a hardcore fan of any band can be blinded by their loyalty to the artist, which isn’t always a good thing because then you immediately find that you’re convincing yourself that the below-par album or the keyboardist’s solo project is really good when it’s obviously not. I think we’ve all done it. I did however enjoy reading ‘The Diary of a Manics Fan’ in Melody Maker in the early 90s. That was funny. Also when I worked at the same publication in the mid/late 90s I often used to edit the readers’ letters page, and each week about 50% of the mailbag would be very passionate about the Manics. Not all of them were written using blunt green crayons. I’m joking. I think…

AFIN: What was the biggest challenge you encountered in writing the book?
Myers: I was plagued by a constant nagging worry that what I was writing was no good and it was all just the insane scribblings of a madman (me, not Richey Edwards) so perseverance was a challenge. Sometimes it can be hard working on the same thing every day for months and months. Equally as big a challenge though was finding a publisher for it. Publishers are (rightly) very selective these days, though I was very lucky to get the book read and then signed by Picador, who seemed to get what it was about and helped shape the first version of the book into something much better. They also publish writers who have had a massive impact on me: Richard Brautigan, Bret Easton Ellis, Cormac McCarthy and countless others…

AFIN: Would you write a Manics-centric book again?
Myers: No, I wouldn’t - and couldn’t - write another Manics-centric book again. I’m not sure I’d have much else to say, and two books would, I think, officially make me a stalker. I’m not a stalker. I’ve barely heard anything they’ve released over the past few years.

AFIN: Tell us a bit about any other current writing projects you’re involved in.
Myers: I’m currently working on a couple of other books, both 100% fiction, though it is early days on those. One is set in my native north-east of England and is partly features the traveller community - ie. English gypsies - and the other book takes place in Eastern Europe and features a lot of sex. A sort of last-days-of-Rome story. Though vastly different to Richard they do however both loosely cover similar themes of marginalisation, alienation, modern living etc.

AFIN: What would you hope newcomers to the Manics, as well as veteran fans, would gain from the experience of reading Richard?
Myers: My aim with this book was to write a novel that could be read by people who have never heard of the Manic Street Preachers, or maybe has little interest in the music scene. People of any age. The best thing that could happen is that it would feature on Oprah or The Richard & Judy book club. Obviously that’s not going to happen though! I don’t know really…Manics newcomers might glean some new bits of information about the life of Richey Edwards or young readers might get a feel for the early 90s indie/rock scene, I suppose? I don’t really know if the band has a specific ‘demographic’ these days, so haven’t really think about old and new fans too much. Readers might think the book is a complete waste of time and trees. If that’s the case I’ll try and plant a tree somewhere. Either way, it’s out of my hands…
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Pre-order Richard from Amazon | on Facebook | on MySpace | Ben Myers, Man of Letters (Blog)