Richard Milward’s latest book, 'Kimberley’s Capital Punishment', is his most experimental yet: four hundred pages, broken down into six possible endings for you, the reader, to choose between. That’s more than the usual degree of authorial dedication, right? But then we’ve come to expect nothing less from the River Tees raconteur who’s been pushing manuscripts on publishers since he was twelve.
Set against the less than scenic milieus of Teaside and Tottenham, 'Kimberley’s Capital Punishment' is a tale of unlikely altruism. It is also one of the most eagerly awaited novels of the year. Speaking about its conception, his influence by the surrealists and a longstanding sympathy with feminism, the art grad who's received no formal training in writing, proves why he is one of the country’s most important and celebrated young authors.
Dazed Digitial: Why did you choose to centre your novel around a woman?
Richard Milward: The main idea behind this book is being nice, because I do pride myself on being nice myself and try to go out of my way to be nice to people. I was interested in the idea of unadulterated altruism, this almost sickly sweet, but dead persuasive, way of being.
DD: And its more believable that women are capable of that, than men?
Richard Milward: Yeah. I mean, it's not that I think women are vulnerable or whatever but it was important that the character was indiscriminately kind, even when bad things happened to them. I think a lot of the things that happen to Kimberley wouldn’t happen to a man. You know, I’ve always described Apples (Milward’s previous novel) as an anti-macho fairy story.
DD: Where did that idea come from?
Richard Milward: I guess it stemmed from when I was 15 or 16 and started going out in Middlesborough. There's a lot of machismo there, and I would always feel sorry for the girls getting just absolutely hounded by these meat-eds.
DD: The novel also has six different endings. Why did you decide to do that?
Richard Milward: I always want to experiment with form and like my second book, which is ten stories written in one paragraph to look like the tower block in which they’re set, the idea for the endings came first. I was also thinking about getting the reader involved, which is why I came up with the idea of rolling a dice to decide.
DD: Does it also tie into the whole anti-macho thing again?
Richard Milward: Because it’s more generous? Yes definitely. I’m just dead aware that someone's holding the bookend and looking down on this little world or whatever.
DD: Kimberley, like your other work, has been defined as 'black' or 'dark comedy'. Why are we so into this mode of fiction?
Richard Milward: It’s less direct, and therefore, more accessible. I needed to get a lot of stuff of my chest but I it would have been a disaster if I’d have written a serious tale of doom and gloom. We’re also all self-deprecating and I take the piss out of myself a lot in the book. Actually Andre Breton coined the term 'black humour', which is interesting, because I had him in mind when I was writing this book. It was interested in surrealism, but in the first sense, because that word really has been completely bastardised.
DD: So a lot of what happens is based on your own dreams?
Richard Milward: Yeah all of that. I mean it’s weird, because the book is an admission that I’ve taken hallucinogenic drugs and got up to certain things, I suppose.
DD: How are we going to keep people interested in the novel? Will we have to engage people with original forms and which experimental authors have inspired you?
Richard Milward: B. S. Johnson, he used to say that, you know, the novel is dead or whatever, but in the future we will just have to start making them short, funny and brutalist and sort of like a great. His novel,The Unfortunates, should be an example to us – it’s a series of six pamphlets which you shuffle before you read.
DD: So presumably your next work will be short?
Richard Milward: Yes. Shorter.
DD: And any hints on what it is about?
Richard Milward: Well, DAZED sent me to a boxing club for the Teenage Takeover issue and I’m writing my next one off the back of that. I just couldn't believe those kids. I guess it comes down to the anti-macho idea again, but while you'd probably expect them to be like aggressive and that, you realize this is an art, and when you see them training it makes you look at the fighting that happens on the street in a completely different way.