We chatted to satirical author Steve Aylett about his new book project: an Unbound production about the quest for originality.
Can you summarise the thinking behind this project?
It’s about why people behave strangely around originality and how to have fun making people behave that way. People claim to want originality but when confronted with it they come over all disconcerted, at best. I’ve encountered a lot of that sort of reaction, so it’s interesting to me.
Why did you decide to do this through Unbound?
I had been disenchanted with the whole publishing industry thing for a few years, to the point where I didn’t even bother sending my last couple of books to anyone and just put them out myself through Scar Garden. The book industry seems to be being run by people who don’t like books or reading very much. They’re not voracious or curious. It’s a shame. Then I was looking at a solo album by Marnie from Ladytron which she was putting out through Pledgemusic, and thought there must be a fairly straightforward equivalent for books, and that led me to Unbound.co.uk. For the first time in ages I felt something other than jaded disgust about a publisher. It was exciting. They do digital and hardcopy editions, with these really nice-looking hardback editions for people who also like a physical book. And you can pledge more for additional goodie bags of signed merch and stuff. But basically it’s people who want to see the book come into existence paying for the book to happen, when otherwise it might not because the big publishers are too busy publishing stuff that’s dead on arrival.
What do you see as the main benefits to original work and original thought?
It provides completely new options for the world, breaks up tedium, keeps the soul alive and could even keep you alive in some circumstances. You may get to the end and find you’ve lived an authentic life rather than a load of stock footage.
What do you perceive to be the main obstacles to originality?
There’s a strange discomfort that people feel when confronted with an original idea, which is to do with the very fact that it didn’t exist before and so there’s no ‘place’ for it yet. It can be accommodated but many people aren’t willing to do that. There’s also some laziness involved and a need to stay with the familiar. That’s just in regard to original ideas coming from outside, so you can imagine how most people are in regard to coming up with original ideas themselves.
Do you believe people are becoming more, or less original in their ideas?
Less. The world is getting more conservative and fearful every day. People are willing to ‘buy’ one or other badge of individuality but the real thing is being starved out at a younger and younger age.
How can our work be improved by a “berserking hen”?
Oh, in so many ways.
Can you share with us your top three tips for creative, original thought?
I’ll tell you one way, which is to bear in mind everything that’s been done before while simultaneously disregarding it – you’d think that would let you see a few ragged gaps where things haven’t been done, but in fact the things that have already been done are a smallish speck, around which and across from which are these beautiful fertile vistas of things that haven’t been expressed yet, all recombining and supersaturated with colour. You can sit on the bus and see it. No drugs or anything.
Are you really giving people access to your shed for £10?
It’s the virtual shed on the Unbound.co.uk site – it’ll have updates, notes & videos etc.