Jonathan Kemp’s novel London Triptych is a shadow history of gay life in the capital, from the 1890s to the present day. Richly atmospheric, dark and sexual, the novel mixes politics with pleasure, exploring three lives which intersect during the 1950s, as the authorities clamp down on homosexual behaviour, and calls for legalisation begin to be heard in the mainstream. Kemp is also the author of two further novels, Ghosting and Twenty Six. London Triptych has recently been reissued by Myriad Press in a new edition.
The Momus Questionnaire was created by musician Nick Currie, and is designed to identify the aspects of the subject’s personality which give them a positive self-image, or ‘subcultural capital’.
Have you rebelled against someone else’s dreary expectations of your life, and become something more unexpected?
I think I rebelled against my own perceived dreary expectations of my life. I never felt any pressure of expectation from my parents, and my mum always supported me in my endeavours to be a writer. The small northern village where I grew up held absolutely nothing for me beyond childhood other than misery complaint self-pity injustice so rather than end up with chips on my shoulder I cannonballed out of there pretty quick, and overshot my own expectations in many, many ways.
What in your life can you point to and say, like Frankie, ‘I Did It My Way’?
At junior school, when I was 9/10 years old, I hated five-aside football so much I asked the teacher if I could play shinty with the girls instead. At that age most of my friends were girls. Boys seemed like an alien species to me. The teacher was a bit of a hippy and had no problem with me spending games lessons with her and the girls rather than in misery amongst the boys. But I still had to change with the boys, who’d crowd around me asking me why I was playing with the girls? It’s not normal. I stuck to my guns and rode it out. Years later, when I was at a house party, around 16/17, I met a girl I’d been to school with and hadn’t seen for years, Alicia Pivarro, who reminded me of my rebellion against the gender norms of junior school PE, and recast the incident in a light I’d not perceived it in before. I like the not giving a shit attitude of that ten year old me.
What creative achievements are you most proud of?
I’m a Mancunian. We don’t do pride.
If there was one event in your life which really shaped you, made you the person you are today, what would it be?
Impossible to say. We are products of every event in our lives, I think, good and bad. My life is the event that shaped me, though I struggle to grasp a concept of ‘me’ in any stable or coherent way. My sense of subjectivity doesn’t work that way. But doing a PhD really helped shape me.
If you had to make a song or rap boasting about your irresistible charm and sexiness, how would you describe yourself?
I’d just steal a verse from Carly Simon’s ‘You’re So Vain’
Have you ever made material sacrifices because of your integrity?
Sacrifice is too strong a word for it, but I have actively and persistently structured my life as far as possible around having time to write. As such, earning any money beyond the hand-to-mouth living off your wits of the starving artist has never been a draw for me.
Describe a public personality who exemplifies everything you’d like to be yourself, then another public personality who incarnates everything you’d least like to be.
If you were an Egyptian pharoah and had to be buried with a few key objects to take to the next world, what would they be?
A photograph of me with my late mother, my late sister’s ring, and a stainless steel dildo that once belonged to Kathy Acker. Not only is it a beautiful object and great sex toy, it would double up as a cosh, which could come in handy in the next world if this one is anything to go by.
Do you have a favourite joke, quotation or proverb?
I have “Never knowing; never known” tattooed on my arm. That’ll do.
What’s your favourite portrait (it can be a song, a painting, a film, anything)?
Morrissey, “Christian Dior”.