Stewart Home - Anarcho Sadism In The UK
Stewart Home was born in
south London in 1962. When he was sixteen he held down a factory
job for six months, an experience that led him to vow he'd never
work again. After dabbling in rock journalism and music, Home
switched his attention to the art world in the Eighties, and
now writes novels as well as cultural commentary. Home is an
underground legend in the art world, both in the UK and the USA...
Atop a eight floor hell block that looks as though Bobby Sands has been squatting it for years, Home wrenches out a supply of unerringly unique tabloid-scorched fiction, brutally structured via a mesh of samplings from the dog-ends of the hard-boiled 'seventies youth-pulp genre. A non-stop degraded psycho-erotic diet of spurting 'molten genetics' and defiled 'rims of dark pleasure' to use two of the author's perennially favourite phrases.
This isn't just sex n' violence schlock. This is sex as violence, vice versa and all points in between; gay straight and as unmentionable as you fancy.
When Home spunkily entered himself in the annual Literary Review worst-sex-description competition, editor Auberon Waugh thought his excerpt comparing an orgasm to an uprising of Socialist Workers too shockingly over-the-top to even qualify! Melvyn Bragg won.
The crop-headed prose extremist was schooled early on a regimen of first generation punk rock and playground pulp reading: "I was brought up in a typically violent council overspill area you could either be a bully yourself, be bullied or be a psycho so that everyone left you alone and you didn't have to join the hierarchy. If anyone attacked me I'd go mental.
"My trick was always to keep pushing them until their head met a hard object, keep banging away until someone pulled me away. Didn't matter if ten or twenty kids attacked me I'd still have a go. After a year or two you get a reputation.
"The culture I grew up with in school, you couldn't get away from this kind of stuff. You saw it day in day out. I wasn't going to be bullied. But that's just the way a lot of kids grow up. If people knew who you hung out with, then that would put them off too. If you take shit at that age you just end up eating it all the time.
"I'm very rarely involved with violence now I've had very little experience of it since I was a teenager. I just lose my rag. It's kind of worrying. I seldom lose my temper but when I do that's it. I could kill someone. I wouldn't plan to, but I know it's in there."
Home left school in the summer of '78 whilst living in the suburbs, twenty five minutes from the West End. He fed a four gig a week habit with his first factory job making floors for buses in a finishing dept. Then on to art school, bands and writing for a variety of and artistically committed radical magazines.
Like young master Morrissey before him, Home developed a mondo-teeno obsession for the sex n' violence output of the glory years of 'seventies British pulp. Most notably New English Library imprints like Richard Allen's Suedehead and Skinhead (the Top Ten best-seller of 1970!) A veritable arsenal of exploitation titles usually revolving round berserk youth cults.
But Home's clockwork cultural concerns quintessentially uphold the proud English heritage of blank, pitiless ultraviolence and creative annihilation. The perfect embodiment of modern British values basking in the foul after-odour of the 'eighties.
"My favourites were always the ones about skinheads," he chuckles in his flat, nasally-challenged voice: "All that real crap 'seventies futurism. I'd read five or six of them a week instead of the usual one a month. I read very fast. I've no idea why they gripped me so much. I wasn't that interested in anything else.
"I read Boot Boys by Allen. Thought it was great using that journalistic style of writing, the sheer accessibility of these bizarre pulp ideas; the obsession with basic human drives. On the one hand it's all mechanical with no control, all genetics and inevitability and then there's this cod mystical aspect 'they had reached that peak from which no man and woman could ever return.' I extrapolate on a lot of these basic phrases and then push them further.
"I tracked down lots of the other pulp stuff by going down to the British Library reading six books by the same author in a day. Now, when people are churning out these pulp books for not very much money, you find in each one sentences and even whole paragraphs recurring between books and I liked the effect of that. After twelve hours solid reading it has a bizarre hit on you. I use the prose style of pulp fiction but the repetition deconstructs all the prose."
Thus developed Home's abiding fascination with key cult novelist Richard Allen, the reclusive Sven Hassel of sink-estate megaviolence for the functionally illiterate. With his ever bloody tales of boot and bottle appearing on every bookstand in the country and changing a nation's youthful reading habits for a generation, it was NEL publishing boomtime. Huge print runs. Bigger sales, and a slew of roguish hack authors producing them.
Home was hooked, lovingly replicating the genre in his books Pure Mania, Defiant Pose, No Pity and just out, Red London utilising a clenched meta-prose of calculated, perfunctory dissolution. A style he describes neatly as: 'Anarcho-Sadism.'
"Allen's real name was James Moffat. He was born in 1922 in Canada. He also wrote as J.J Moore. He did detective fiction. He set up a sports newspaper in Canada, ghosted a lot of sports biogs. Worked as a publicist in Hollywood. He did over 100 paperbacks. Moved to Britain in the early sixties and by the 'seventies he moved to NEL, churning out hack novels The Footballer, The Boxer. They just chucked 'em out based on anything that might be interesting at the time.
"I started writing about him for little magazines. I tracked him down when someone in a scooter magazine got his address. He lived in the North of England he actually died earlier in 1994. I think I've read more of his stuff than anyone else. I used to write to him and ask him about other pseudonyms he'd used. He's very wary of people. He won't meet them and he doesn't want to talk on the 'phone.
"I was touting his stuff round when it had been out of print for a long time. Few publishers wanted to touch it: 'oh it's racist, it's got a rape scene.' NEL were originally putting out 20,000 of every title! If it sold they reprinted fast. NEL always focused on plenty of sex and violence. They kept things short 'cos they were for people who didn't read many books. Some of the Richard Allen titles sold over a million copies in the English speaking world.
"Skinhead was the Top Ten best-seller of 1970! Allen was once challenged on TV to write a book in a week they gave him a plot line, wrote the opening for him and he was to deliver the whole thing to his publisher to be out a fortnight after he'd been on TV. What a brilliant stunt. Fascinating." It turned out later to be a well-planned PR set-up.
In 1980 Allen stopped working as a writer. New pseudo-politically correct management at NEL, allied to the maverick's elaborate marriage and drink problems, ground everything to a halt. He became increasing unreliable. The heady days of bonecrushed stomparama were drawing to a close.
"At seventeen I started reading a lot of artier stuff. The trickledown from seeing different kinds of bands like Wire instead of Sham 69. Lots of other people on the scene introduced me to new titles. People were always shoving books at me. Now I'm trying to deal with romanticism and bringing things into these pulp plots that you would normally never find. Pure Mania has insane song lyrics based on Baudrillard's post-modern theories: Aesthetic Seduction; Smash the Individual!
"On the other hand, I could just turn out even less sophisticated versions of what I'm doing now under someone else's name. And try to get more of a mass-market audience. At the moment mass publishers think my stuff's too clever gender reversal and stuff. I do want to get them out to a bigger audience. I could do that. I can make those decisions. But I won't do it unless I get the contract in advance. I do have an underground market the music and style and gay press like my stuff and the books do sell.
"I wanted to do a ram-raid novel, but publishers who are into making money just freak out: 'but these books will be read by kids! People get killed by ram-raiders!' Y'know, they could be making money. I can write these books for them in four weeks! They should be working faster. They say it's too fashion based. I could've done Ragga too! They want books they can publish now. Sell in two years still and reprint in ten years as a classic. They should be able to deal with quicker trends. I was going to do one on the Riot Girl stuff."
Feted for years by the 'ultimate cult novel' accolades of the alternative press, Home's prankster plagiarist background extended to a festival he organised on the subject, smartly followed up with an art strike: 'as a means of encouraging critical debate around the concept of art,' and the picketing a Stockhausen festival for suspected: 'cultural imperialism and aggression' alongside a collective threat to levitate the concert hall!
The art strike perhaps Home's finest hour involved downing literary tools for several years, refusing to produce or discuss art and synthesising a perplexing number of art-sect theories. It all seemed an integral part of Home's avowed ongoing investigation into the nature and possibilities of classwar.
Naturally the idea had been eloquently ripped off from a similar American escapade in conceptual withdrawal some years previously.
More high weirdness stemmed from the recent K Foundation (KLF) assaults on the UK art investment market which appear to have used a Home's short story, 'Straight' as direct inspiration.
It's all go. And with another three novels completed this year alone, Home's ascendant underground status is assured: "If I have to make a choice between serious culture and popular culture, I'll take popular culture any day. When you're faced with a blank computer screen you gotta fill up the space. All my work is a strategy for filling up space. At the end of the day you need 60,000 words to choose from ."
published in 'Divinity', 1994