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John the Revelator Reading Group Guides
John the Revelator
978-0-547-33690-9, $14.95, April

“Imaginatively dark, intriguingly descriptive... will grip readers with its unique blend of original characters, captivating imagery, and deviant humor.”—Zachary Tomaszewski, Literary Life Bookstore & More

“Has everything you could possibly want in a novel: mystery, love, fear, friendship, grief.”—Bookslut.com

READ: Peter Murphy's Blog of Revelations

A Conversation with Peter Murphy

Peter Murphy first met Shirley Manson—Garbage singer, solo artist incumbent, and actress in Fox's Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles—in the spring of 1998. Back then Manson and her band mates were promoting Garbage's second album Version 2.0. Murphy had just turned pro as a music and arts journalist. The five bonded in a mutual melding of spiky Edinburgh wit, sardonic Mid-western drollery and southeastern Irish gallows humor.

The pair's paths are overlapping. Manson cut her journalistic teeth interviewing U2 several months ago, while Murphy has just completed an album-length spoken word/music adaptation of his novel entitled The Sounds of John the Revelator. On a warm evening in late June the tables were turned, as grand inquisitor became quivering quarry. No blood was shed. Well, not much anyway.

Shirley Manson: So Peter, you've been a music journalist for 13 years, and you've just released your debut novel. I want to know why it took you so long when we've all known for years that if anyone were going to write a book it would be you. What spurred you to take the plunge?

Peter Murphy: The spur I think was the oldest one in the book. My father died in 2000, and in the period of about a year after that I started to wake up in the middle of the night afflicted with what I call the Claw of Death, which was a sort of cold icy feeling that I hadn't achieved anything, that I was going to die having only written about other people's work and never having produced any of my own. I had ideas, stories that didn't yet exist and I wanted them to exist. And the only way they would exist was if I wrote them. And it took a long time because... It just takes a long time. It took me a long time to get even a paragraph or a page that I could stand over and read without flinching, never mind a chapter or a whole book.

When I read the book I knew your Mum was ill and struggling with dementia throughout the writing of it. I wonder if the fact that John's mother became a central figure was a result of that?

Without doubt. Actually, I hadn't thought about it until you mentioned it, but the whole process was book-ended by my parents' deaths. And I didn't really get a handle on starting the next one until after my mother passed away in May. Y'know, this is the somewhat eerie thing about art and music and writing, its predictive nature. Before my mother fell sick or was diagnosed, I had written some of those scenes. I think what happens is your subconscious divines certain things that your daytime mind doesn't want to acknowledge, so it looks prophetic when you go back and see something that you've written is predicting something that later happened, but I don't think it's prophesy. I think it's that we absorb information or signs or auguries in ways that we don't even comprehend, and some part of us understands what's going to happen, but our conscious mind doesn't want to face up to it. And there's no doubt about it, the character of Lily was a catalyst. I believe it's her book. While the narrator is John, I think his purpose is to bear witness to his mother.

Why did you call it John The Revelator? I want to know that, even though it's a really moronic question.

Oh no, it's crucial. That song title, that aggregation of words was kind of like a talisman for me. What happened was I read Greil Marcus's book Invisible Republic, which was about The Basement Tapes and Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music. And when I read it I was of course compelled to hear the Harry Smith Anthology. I remember I bought it in Amherst in Massachusetts and I was sitting on the porch as the crickets were chirping, drinking a beer in the really close heat and looking at the track listing, and I remember my eye just locking on this title. It was the Blind Willie Johnson version, and I just thought it was unbelievable. It was Biblical, it could have been from Moby Dick, it could have been a Nick Cave song or a Cormac McCarthy novel, it could have been a John Ford movie. And I couldn't believe that nobody had ascribed a story to it. And once I decided this would be the title, it became a kind of dare. It was like, “Well, can you write something good enough to stand up to this?” It became like a torch to follow.

Do you think your book will resonate with an American audience?

Absolutely. Because American stories resonated with me and were so similar to my upbringing. When I was 12 or 13 I started the Stephen King canon and just didn't stop until they were all devoured. That was my first obsessive reading of any one author. And then it moved onto Steinbeck. And it was quite late in life that I made the connection: Faulkner, McCullers, O'Connor: what do these names have in common?

LISTEN: "Born in a Storm"

What do you think is the purpose of fictional writing? Why do you want to write?

At a certain stage in my life I realized that this is what makes me feel useful and whole as a person. I'd be delighted if the book made people feel better than they felt before they started it, or if it made a bus journey shorter, or if it got them through a morning in the motor tax office. Beyond that, I've just surrendered to the fact that this is what I do, I live in language, the music of language. I discovered something through the reading of the work... I don't think of it as separate from the person I am, I think of it as integral to my own organs and breathing and walking around. It's just hardwired into my purpose. When I'm working well I'm a dream to be around, and if I'm not working...

You have a myspace page up that centers around a spoken word/music project. Was that inspired by the book or did it come before the book?

There was an open mike night here in Enniscorthy last November, and there was a lull between singer-songwriters doing their thing, so I got up and read a couple of passages. And afterwards an old friend of mine who I used to play in a band with and who was doing the sound said, “Do you fancy recording some of that?” So he came out to the house and set up the mikes and we recorded some stuff. And he had a library of recordings by local musicians, and he almost randomly began to throw the readings at these pieces of music, and 60% of the time they just sat really well. That was a really effortless and pure experience.

LISTEN:"My Mother Among the Flowers"

READ: The Largehearted Boy interview

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