The May issue of The Word magazine features an interview with Will Self, talking about his latest book, modern culture, teenagers, and, oddly, Aboriginal Australia. I wasn’t previously aware of the author’s ties to the Northern Territory, but he’s clearly fascinated with our nation’s heritage:
It’s just endlessly interesting. I worked for the Northern Territories government briefly in my early 20s and I always thought "I’m going to do something with this material." The Australian aboriginal culture just leaves you staggering: 240 languages among maybe a million people, tops. 40,000 year old continual oral culture. 40,000 years! They were the first people out of Africa 30,000 before us and walked round the coast to Australia before we had even got out of the f***ing trees to go round the other way. They were the first guys out and then they basically sat in Australia doing politics for 40 millennia. They are the most political, Byzantine people imaginable. The complexity of their politics is astonishing.
He also talks about the difficulty of incorporating any of this into fiction:
I got in terrible trouble over How The Dead Live, or at least a situation I took seriously. I named one of these aboriginal wizards in the book and ran it past a very old friend who’s lived in the Northern Territories for decades. He said no, you can’t do this, it’s got back to him. We had to pulp an edition in Australia and I had to pay compensation.
Self’s latest novel, The Butt, is set in a hybridised country, a combination of Australia and Iraq, so obviously the wrangling hasn’t dented his fascination.