I’ve gotten into some of the worst relationships of my life
on this month, and last year, this was the month when things almost ended
between my husband and I.
Yes, a month into marriage.
Yes, that shit happens.
Look—I am one of millions when it comes to the amount of
insecurity I carry inside this body. I am not special in this, I am a victim of
it. But, FUCK I hate that word, and I hate this feeling and I want out of my
brain and would much rather be humming “A Night Like This,” by The Cure
Truths are painful.
I play them like a broken record in my mind until sleep finds
Here I am, a year later and still, that damn record keeps on
Fainter, softer, but that humming doesn’t end.
It is perpetual.
Still, I always give in.
I want to be well equipped for this process.
I want to hear this humming, but as a background noise.
Something like traffic or music inside a restaurant.
I preach strength because that’s where I’m headed.
I preach love because that’s what I’m made of.
I am afraid of what I am feeling and why.
But I am in this with him, and that has more depth than “man
meets woman and they get married.”
It is more than that.
It is a harsh reminder of going back to myself after being
torn to shreds.
But see, I am not broken, I am with missing pieces.
I’m fascinated by the talking cows in the story, is it an amalgamation of both literal and metaphorical ideals or is it something different?
Well, when I started writing Cows I
didn’t have any idea where it was going to go. I had the idea for a guy with a
horrific mother, both of them living in a dreadful apartment. So I have this
guy and then he goes off and gets a job at the slaughterhouse and he’s sitting
at his station there and then I think….he hears a Cow speak to him through a
ventilation grate. And I think are you fucking serious? A talking Cow? And then
I think, fuck no, that’s good. Then I worry about how to explain the Cow’s
ability to speak, and then I think fuck it, the cow speaks because he speaks,
get on with the book. And that’s where the talking Cows came from, a starburst
idea between one second and the next that ended up shaping the whole book.
Some people have tried to pin an anti
meat-eating meaning to the cows – sorry, even though I think I was only eating
white meat during that period, the idea of making that kind of statement was
the furthest thing from my mind.
If there is any metaphor in play, it is
that the cows embody a desire which I think is pretty universal – that of the
need for fulfillment. And, of course, for the necessary freedoms to enable
this. One reviewer described the book as a ‘will to power’ story and I think
this is quite accurate, both for the cows and for Steven, the central
How did your style develop?
Style-wise I’ve never really had any
trouble. My style was born fully formed – well, sort of – obviously it evolves
with each book – but it’s not like I wrote a whole bunch of short stories and
tried out a load of different styles. I sat down and wrote Cows, and that’s the
style that came out.
On a more useful note, perhaps, my
style obviously owes something to books that have impressed me with their style
– notably Last Exit to Brooklyn, Nelson Algren’s work and, of course Raymond Chandler.
Almost always, I think what gets me is a lyricism, a kind of poetic beauty in
language where just a few words, if chosen correctly, can rip your guts out
with sorrow or make you want to shout with joy. When I pick up a book to read,
style is the single most important thing that will keep me reading it. I’ll
read the first sentence of a book and if it doesn’t have some beauty in it (and
it can be a terrible beauty) I won’t bother reading anymore.
What inspired COWS?
Cows was inspired by the years I spent
living in London
during the eighties through to the mid nineties. At the beginning of this
was in a pretty bad state and I lived without much money and saw so much
ignorance, lack of education, poverty, violence, homelessness, drug addiction
etc. that I guess it found it’s way into my writing. One of the statements Cows
makes is that the consequences of subjecting people to these kinds of stresses
is that some of them will become warped and engage in activities that are diametrically opposed to the smooth
functioning of that (fucked up) society.
How did the plot broaden?
Day by day. Cows is the only novel I’ve
written so far that I haven’t written an outline for first. I didn’t know what the story would be
beforehand. It evolved each night when I came home from my shitty job and sat
down to write. Sometimes I’d be walking around thinking, what the fuck is
Cripps going to do next? What the hell am I going to do with Steven? But the
more I write, the more I’m convinced that the novel is already there (in some
form) in the subconscious. The task of writing is to bring it across into the
conscious mind. Novels are just so complex that I’m not sure the conscious mind
could come up with everything that ends up in a book.
Do you mimic your favorite authors?
No, no intentionally, anyhow. I can’t understand why any writer would want
to mimic another. If you haven’t got your own voice, then you’re probably just
writing for money and you won’t have much to say.
What state of mind were you in when you wrote COWS?
I had a lot of time to myself. My
girlfriend at the time was away traveling for most of the year I spent on Cows.
I was working full-time at a day job, but my evenings were pretty much free of
distraction. I guess I was lonely, also worn out from living too long in London and not being able
to see my family in Australia,
or my son who lived at the other end of the country. Apart from that, as far as
I can remember, I was reasonably ok. I wasn’t drinking or doing drugs.
Are there any characters in COWS that you derived a bit of yourself from?
Or characters that I derived from a bit
of myself? To a certain extent the main protagonists in all my books are either
some version of myself, or embody traits, needs, desires or questions that I
have or that interest me. Steven in Cows allowed me to explore the sense of
alienation I felt at the time and which I also saw all around me in British low
What is your method of execution when finishing a novel?
Well, as I mentioned before, Cows was
written day to day, without any plan. For all my novels since then, I have
written quite detailed outlines – a chapter by chapter breakdown of the plot.
Some of this changes as I write the book and hit upon ideas that didn’t present
themselves during the outline phase, but the outline serves as a map to follow
when I’m wondering what the fuck to do next.
After the outline is done, I start
writing the book and work on that until it’s finished. During this phase I very
rarely go back and read over what I’ve written – if there are any problems I
don’t want to see them – writing’s tough enough without that kind of
demotivation. All I want to do is get to the end.
Once I have the first draft, then I
start rewriting. And rewriting involves fixing plot problems and also cutting
out a lot of what I’ve written – the manuscript for Empty Mile, for instance,
was 560 pages long – I cut it down to
280. That was an extreme case, though. So, I rewrite and then I do it
again, and I keep on doing it until I’m happy with the book.
What are your hobbies when you’re not writing disturbing addictive literature?
I don’t really have hobbies. When I
lived in New Zealand
I got into skiing, probably the closest thing I ever had to a hobby. Does
What prompted Australia as the place to call home?
When I was young I didn’t have much
choice – my family immigrated from England when I was about six.
Later, after I’d gone back to England etc. I went back by choice. Sydney is a great city,
the harbour, the architecture….The city has a lot of old stone buildings
which I love, particularly after spending so long in Auckland, New Zealand,
which really has some of the most soulless pre-fab architecture I’ve ever seen.
I think sometimes there’s a little bit of a similarity between Sydney and L.A.
– beaches, big spaces, lots of cars, warm climate, a sense of potential.
What are you working on now?
I’m just about to finish a new novel
called Colony of Whores. It’s set on the periphery of the Hollywood
film industry and follows a bunch of characters who all have their own reasons
for pursuing revenge. There’s murder, there’s a screenplay, there’s incest….
Matthew Stokoe is the author of the novels: Cows, High Life and Empty Mile, and the short films: Rock (Dir. Brian Challice) and Dog (Dir. Paul Kwiatkowski) .