Isabel Waidner: “Different doesn’t have to be scary. It can be fun ‘| fiction


Isabel Waidner, 47, is the author of three novels, including We are made of diamonds, which was shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize and the Republic of Consciousness Prize. In their new novel, Karat sterling gold, a non-binary migrant cleaner is arrested after being assaulted by bullfighters on a London street; the story also involves UFOs, the story of Iraq and the death of footballer Justin Fashanu. Waidner, which hosts the CIA online literary talk show It’s not a dreamspoke to me via Zoom from their home in London, where they teach at Roehampton University.

In your
first novel, Showy ball, someone by the name of Belá writes “clumsy fiction”. Is that how you would describe your job?
It was my starting point, it’s true. I was always thinking about how to produce formally innovative writing to answer some of the questions I had about the fiction itself, and that’s where the term “clumsy” comes from, but I probably wouldn’t use it. not now. Showy ball was more rooted in traditional avant-garde strategies like the play on words, giving agency to the materiality of language. I’ve always wanted to do something different with experimental fiction, something contemporary and queer / trans, but I also wanted to combine that with an engaging narrative. What I have created now is less “clumsy”!

Sterling, the protagonist of your new novel, works as a cleaner while co-producing a crowdfunded performance art project …
It reflects my life until a few years ago. Many people who come to London as migrants, especially queer and trans migrants, take on these jobs while trying to do something more ambitious and at the same time juggling the oppressive structures that impact our lives. . I worked minimum wage jobs until my mid-thirties when Roehampton gave me a scholarship to do a PhD. I put in scene a complexity that you don’t always see in novels: working class characters often do one thing – work – and then they may be a little criminal, and that’s it.

When Sterling is unfairly brought to justice after being assaulted, the judge offers to drop the case if he can appear on Sterling’s show …
Part of it was for a comedic effect, but it’s true that the power structures and institutions that have long been involved in the oppression of trans and black people suddenly want a small slice of the pie – if something is marketable, they do. are there like a blow. This part of the novel ended with a vengeance fantasy, as it gave the main queer characters a chance to determine the narrative and enjoy it. Guess I was saying, don’t think we’re so harmless; maybe the people in power think it’s okay now to capitalize on marginalized writers, but giving ourselves real power could lead to real change.

Why do you play with real characters in your work?
I wonder sometimes! Using Franz Beckenbauer as a character allowed me to evoke part of the history of racism and homophobia in the context of football. But there is also autobiographical stuff; I merged characters from my life with the real Beckenbauer. My dad played soccer, so I wanted to use a 70s footballer about his age, and my “Franz Beckenbauer” is gay and died of AIDS, which happened to my uncle. One of the things I like to do in my fiction is to generate tension and energy by working in different registers without smoothing out the differences between them.

Was it easy for you to get published?
The art world embraced my work more easily initially. I published Showy ball by Dostoyevsky Wannabe, two workers operating a print-on-demand press [in Manchester] with zero capital. We submitted it to the Republic of Consciousness Prize, then We are made of diamonds was eligible for the Goldsmiths award because I was British at the time. Getting shortlisted meant that without any traditional infrastructure, we started reaching a fairly large readership. But people shouldn’t be surprised if my work is so different; instead, people should be asking themselves, why are the other books so similar? Because it’s very simple: when different writers publish works, you get different forms of literature. What I’m trying to say with my job is that “different” doesn’t have to be scary, boring, or difficult; it can be fun.

You were born and raised in Germany; do you consider yourself a german writer?
It’s probably no coincidence that I do this kind of unusual writing, because I had a German education and it fundamentally shaped me: my parents don’t read books but I was introduced to literature. ambitious when I was a child in a public school and this is one of the differences of the German education system compared to the UK. But the truth is, I really feel alienated from Germany. I’m from the Black Forest, a small conservative part of southern Germany, and I came to London when I was 20, not knowing anyone, to start a life where I could become a queer person. We are numerous ; Queer migration was one thing, but I’m not sure how much of it has happened since Brexit.

What have you read lately?
America has longer traditions of innovative queer / trans writing and a new press called Cipher Press publishes interesting stuff, like Large animals by Jess Arndt. This is the kind of writing that fascinates me and is now coming to the UK – Shola von Reinhold [author of Lote, winner of this year’s Republic of Consciousness prize] is obviously one of them.

Which authors inspired you to write?
Kafka: teenager I read everything. Later, I discovered the queer American tradition of “New Narrative Writing,” people like Dodie Bellamy, Robert Glück, and Kevin Killian, whose poetic streak Kylie action talks about Kylie Minogue. That’s what influenced me the most, but it never really crossed over to the UK; because they are gay and working class, they don’t get the credit they deserve.

Sterling karat gold is published by Peninsula Press on June 24 (£ 12.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at Delivery charges may apply

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