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Author interviews

Quercus Couch: Peter Cave

January 2, 2013

Quercus Couch

Joshua Ireland: Did you always dream of becoming a writer? And if so, has it turned out to be how you always imagined it?

Peter Cave: I had and have many dreams, but maybe ‘tis better not to share them with others – after all, a trouble shared is a trouble doubled.

Joshua Ireland: Do you write primarily from a blank sheet, or are you a keen researcher into other philosophers?

Peter Cave: My books being philosophy books almost inevitably will be introducing readers to great and baffling philosophers and their philosophical perplexities – but, once I have decided on the problem, I usually lighten it up, give it my own spin, maybe incorporate it into a little tale, and even add a quip or three. My aim is that readers should both enjoy the reading and be provoked into thinking that the problem is intriguing, worth reflecting on and may raise a smile. Of course, how the tale or the quips work out depends on the quantity of wine at the time.

Joshua Ireland: Who or what is your biggest inspiration? Why?

Peter Cave: Katie Price, aka Jordan – oh to have her sales, but maybe not the other parts of her anatomy, well not as literally part of me. Mind you, perhaps if I had breast implants, the sales could, er, develop. . .

Philosophically, though, let me confess that Jordan is not my greatest inspiration, but philosophers such as Wittgenstein, Moore, Wisdom – and Maynard Keynes the economist.

Joshua Ireland: Do you plan your books?

Peter Cave: Well, being non-fiction philosophy, I have an initial idea of which key points to should be included, but then I let little tales and vignettes develop round them – and sometimes a new way of looking at the philosophy, even, occasionally, a fresh attempted ‘solution’. As Wittgenstein wrote, ‘Philosophy is the battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.’

Joshua Ireland: You’re throwing your Fantasy Dinner Party: who are your five other guests, living, dead, real, mythological or made-up, and why?

Peter Cave: With philosophy as key, how could anyone resist the desire to see what Socrates and Plato were really like? And I guess, because of some mystery in my background, I would be intrigued to meet my great great grandfather.

For a fun combination, though, let’s have Plato, Schubert, Samuel Beckett, Marx (Groucho) and Marilyn Monroe – oh, and Sappho. Okay, I am not that good at counting.

Joshua Ireland: When and why did you first start writing?

Peter Cave: Sitting on the floor in a teeny terraced house, aged about eight, writing my own red top newspaper; some years later collaborating on magazine stories of an erotic nature; some years later still, writing taxation columns. Book-length writing began only about six years ago when I bravely risked displaying my philosophical ignorance. My books have been commissioned – I still lack a sufficiently silver-tongue to persuade a publisher to let me write what I would like to write, in my own way. Perhaps I fail to persuade because I am still unclear about what I should like to write?

Joshua Ireland: What was your favourite book as a child? And what was the last book you started but couldn’t finish?

Peter Cave: Favourite book is the Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass – that counts for me as both child and adult. Thomas Bernhard’s Correction, I started and will fail to finish. Most books I fail to finish – a recent exception is Howard Jackobson, The Finkler Question.
A past exception is Lawrence Durrell Alexandria Quartet.

Joshua Ireland: Other than writing, what would be your dream job?

Peter Cave: To have no job.

Joshua Ireland: What’s the book – or who’s the author – you turn to when you’re sad, ill or worried?

Peter Cave: This would mean that I am always turning. I turn to Seinfeld DVDs – and odd dialogues in Samuel Beckett, odd pieces in John Wisdom, quips in Wittgenstein – even, occasionally, in Peter Cave.

Joshua Ireland: What’s your view of eBooks and online writing – blogs, fan-fiction, etc? Are you involved in any online writing yourself?

Peter Cave: I make rare gestures – and then tire – and then think what’s the point of writing or reading yet again about how the boiled egg was too hard boiled, the postman left a ‘no one there note’ when clearly I was there, the drilling and hammering of some pointless re-re-re-renovation has started up again, the alarms have gone off once more, all to no purpose save to disturb my thinking, my sleeping or my writing letters of complaint about pointless alarms going off and the drilling and the banging and the screeching and the wailing – and, even more so, there is the repetitive beat music in a café, even on a Sunday morning, and so off goes an email or another letter, pointlessly, of course – and so the day fades into the distance as the glass of red wine tempts one earlier and earlier… and could I write another paragraph or a stunning thought-provoking thought, well not tonight, and not even a blog… tomorrow morning maybe. After all, if something can be put off until tomorrow, put it off – and when tomorrow comes, it is no more ‘tomorrow’.

Joshua Ireland: How did you first get published?

Peter Cave: Miss Fortuna was good to me: my email address worked and out of the blue came a suggestion that I write a light set of philosophical paradoxes with a touch of humour. The invitation arose because a commissioning editor had noticed that I gave talks at philosophy societies on philosophy, paradoxes and humour.

Joshua Ireland: How do you like to write: in silence, or with music?

Peter Cave: Mainly in silence – which is a rarity here – I live in Soho. I would also happily write to peaceful music of my own choice, but even that gets swamped by the drilling and hammering (did I mention such?) round here during the day.

Joshua Ireland: Do you have an “ideal” reader in your mind when you write?

Peter Cave: One who will buy my book – well, many copies. Indeed, as has been quipped, when I write about some of the horrendous activities done in the name of a deity, I don’t mind if people burn my books, so long as they buy them first.

Joshua Ireland: What was the most difficult part of writing a philosophy book, and how did you overcome it?

Peter Cave: Stopping oneself from tweaking the style, adding caveats. It is overcome by stopping.

Joshua Ireland: What do you do when you are not writing?

Peter Cave: Anguishing – losing myself in opera, music, conversation and wine – and Seinfeld.

Joshua Ireland: Do you let your parents read your books?

Peter Cave: They decline to read anything these days – being deceased. A tribute to my hardworking, educationally and financially poor parents is that they encouraged me from childhood to go to libraries and read – and my father, being a joiner, has led me, I think, into ‘crafting’ in words, my being hopeless at crafting in wood.

Joshua Ireland: Who is your favourite fictional hero/heroine? And what about your favourite villain?

Peter Cave: Neither hero nor villain – nor quite the word ‘favourite – but characters who find themselves trudging through life, unsure of their identity – such as those in Samuel Beckett’s works, in Sartre’s Nausea and Pirandello’s Mattia Pascal.

Joshua Ireland: Do you ever put people you know in your books?

Peter Cave: Yes, well their names – sometimes with a subtle warm smile.

Joshua Ireland: Here’s the question everyone’s always desperate for the answer: what advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

Peter Cave: Write.

Joshua Ireland: Here’s the Desert Island question: if you’re going to be stuck on a desert island for the rest of your life and you could only take three books, what would they be?

Peter Cave: Durrell The Alexandria Quartet – that gives me four
Böll The Clown
Beckett The Complete Plays

I really, though, should say John Milton’s Paradise Lost/Regained – as I feel I should work to read it and enjoy it.

In Philosophy, it would have to be a dialogue from Plato, Phaedrus, say – a more recent work such as the splendidly named John Wisdom’s splendid Other Minds, and another fascinating work, never completely read by me, though hardly a laugh a minute, Spinoza Ethics.

Joshua Ireland: And finally: what’s the one question you wish I’d asked – and why?

Peter Cave: May I order a 100,000 copies of each of your published books?

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