Socialist Worker

A movement springs to life

ROB NEWMAN, comic, activist and author, spoke to Socialist Worker about his new book and why politics and novels do go together.

Issue No. 1875

MY BOOK The Fountain at the centre of the World is based in Britain, Mexico and the US. It ends with the anti World Trade Organisation riots in Seattle in 1999. I was there during the protests. It was the first time I was part of proper history.

The reason I was attracted to Mexico was different from what takes most European writers there. They go there because they see it as an exotic country. But what I see are the similarities, not the differences. The first time I went there I met these students protesting, and when I asked why, they said it was against tuition fees.

I started writing the book four years ago. I didn't know the ending, but the Seattle protests sorted that out for me-obviously that's why I organised them! Some writers say they get caught out by events, but that only happens if your analysis is really superficial. Four years ago you could see people were creating new organisations.

So the key questions raised in the story, like what do protest marches achieve and what is real terrorism, are more relevant today than ever. When you write a novel, you inherit this very complex form of writing because so many other writers have invested so much meaning in novels before.

So when you start writing you set in motion all these contradictions and you can't just dodge them or sell them out because that makes the novel read falsely.

You have to strive to tell the truth, to describe the social realities in which people live, but also keep in mind that people and relationships are complex. You have to show what is at the heart of the system and tell a story and not let your characters become just ciphers for political views. Some people say it is immature for artists to be politically engaged.

One critic once said that George Eliot was the only English writer who was into sermonising and moral platitudes. It's OK to sneer at people for believing in something. But just look at the top novelists. Look at Leo Tolstoy, Charles Dickens, D H Lawrence, Thomas Hardy-they are all political.

In fact, if you took politics out of, say, Anna Karenina or a Tale of Two Cities, or in fact a Clash song, you'd be left with a ridiculously thin story. You can't wish politics away. It is part of the reality of people's lives.

Most people talk about politics all the time. This is invisible in the dominant culture, but people are always talking about low pay, why the local shop has shut down, or the big political issues like globalisation.

The Fountain at the Centre of the World by Robert Newman is available from Bookmarks for £10.99. Phone 020 7637 1848.

Stop press: Ricky Tomlinson will be reading from his autobiography, Ricky, at Bookmarks on Monday 8 December at 6.30pm. Phone 020 7637 1848 to reserve places and to get details of other events.


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Sat 1 Nov 2003, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1875
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