C.C Rose’s second novel, Who’s Who When Everyone is Someone Else, is a satire on Modernist literature, featuring an unnamed author who goes to an unnamed city to give a series of lectures at an unnamed university about forgotten books, only to find himself involved in a mystery when the professor who invited him is no where to be found, and no one seems quite sure why he’s there. This metafictional, comic novel follows on from Rose’s first book, The Biographical Dictionary of Literary Failure, a compendium of potentially great authors let down by one fatal flaw in their characters. A bleakly comic compendium of literary woe, the book acted as an antidote to the #amwriting hashtag.
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 went to a school which trained its pupils to become Tory backbenchers, regional directors of financial services companies based out of Congleton, partners in a Hale property law firm. Men who habitually begin sentences with “Actually…” or “Yes, but what about…” At best, writers of polite but dull realist novels.
I wanted none of that.
Luckily, as a sullen lad, I was left alone to read books with the vague hope that I wouldn’t go on to do anyone much harm.
A few years later, in a soul-chewing post-university temping job, the insurance company where I was a filing clerk proudly offered me a permanent position, assuring me I could soon be on career track into middle management. I fled to Italy.
What in your life can you point to and say, like Frankie, ‘I Did It My Way’?
Firstly, attempting to establish ‘The Whimsical’ as a serious literary-critical category, to stand alongside The Gothic, The Romantic, The Modern, and so on. Not an unalloyed success.
Secondly, adopting the Schartz-Metterklume Method as an integral part of my university teaching pedagogy. Not so much a qualified success as an utter disaster.
It has been for the best, however. In common with the narrator of Who’s Who When Everyone Is Someone Else, I am often baffled by the world. My insistence on ploughing through it my own terms has also been, in its fashion, a small form of rebellion, something I did my way.
What creative achievements are you most proud of?
An old friend of mine and previous respondent to this questionnaire, Dr Jonathan Kemp, responded thus: ‘I’m a Mancunian. We don’t do pride.’
While it is a good answer, and he is right, I sometimes think of the people I have connected, of things I have helped to bring into being and my own tiny role in their genesis, and allow myself a small, quiet glow.
If there was one event in your life which really shaped you, made you the person you are today, what would it be?
A long story, and not one as interesting as it should be, but a few years back, I very nearly died. When you come back from an experience like that you’re supposed to be thankful for each and every morning, or start running marathons, or some such. Needless to say, despite the occasional wheezy couple of laps around my local park, I have not taken up long-distance torture, and I curse a cold Tuesday morning and wish for the divine oblivion of the duvet much as the best of us.
And yet, the volume on the insistent tick-tick-ticking of mortality’s clock has been kicked up a notch or two. It was this growing sound that made me realise I would never write great books, only behave as if they had already been written.
All that, and listening to far too much Joy Division when I was far too young.
If you had to make a song or rap boasting about your irresistible charm and sexiness, how would you describe yourself?
I can think of no task more horrific. I abhor the spotlight, and have invented several aliases over the years in order to avoid it. I am terrible at having my photograph taken.
“A shambling man, made of cheap red wine/rolling fags, to pass the time/until death.”
Is that any good?
Have you ever made material sacrifices because of your integrity?
Many. I have been offered fortunes by major publishers, agents, film companies. I have resisted them all. I shall die penniless and alone, but as I fade from this life, I shall, at least, be able to pull the thin blanket of my spotless integrity around me, and sigh.
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.
To begin with the least: any member of the current blight of venal, corrupt, ignorant, arrogant, incompetent mess of over-privileged, over-promoted dullards and mediocrities, and their attendant hangers-on, barkers and lickspittles. You know who they are. They are banal people, and I hate them even the more as they’ve made me had to provide such a banal answer.
That said, there is also the fat bloke with BO who used to run the pub quiz.
The good: there seems to have been a bit of sniffiness about Ali Smith recently. I won’t have it. Her work is constantly formally inventive and linguistically dextrous, and is imbued with the quality of lightness Italo Calvino praises in Six Memos for the Next Millennium. It is filled with grace, intelligence, wit, kindness, and love. I aspire.
If you were an Egyptian pharaoh and had to be buried with a few key objects to take to the next world, what would they be?
A nice pot of tea and a buttered roll.
Do you have a favourite joke, quotation or proverb?
Man walks into a bar. “I’ll have a Liverpool.” Barman: “What’s that?” “A large port.”
I keep a small notebook in which I write things other people far smarter than me have said. (I plan to have them printed out, large scale, in pastel italic fonts, superimposed on pictures of mountains, eagles, and sunsets, and paste them on my walls.)
Three at random:
“When we believe we can see life and work fusing in the figure of a writer, let us consider that their life is deliberately false and has been invented solely to support the work, which truly is real.” – Alejandra Pizarnik
“People always talk about having to be strong. But for me, you have to be weak – weak enough to feel, to be involved, to be as you are. Don’t be strong; be weak.” – Anders Peterson
“I take photographs to see what things look like when they’re photographed.” – Garry Winogrand
“Never drink in a pub with a flat roof.” (I realise this is not strictly a proverb, but it is one of the soundest pieces of advice I’ve ever been handed.)
What’s your favourite portrait (it can be a song, a painting, a film, anything)?
Branwell Brontë’s portrait of himself and his three surviving sisters, in which he has painted himself out, or rather, overpainted himself as a stream of clear light; anything by August Sander; Francesca Woodman’s picture House #3 in which she is nothing but shadow and skin, echo and light; a photograph I keep of someone who was once very dear to me, and to whom I no longer speak. (And if you’re reading this, no, you’re wrong, it isn’t you.)
C.D. Rose is responsible for Who’s Who When Everyone Is Someone Else and its predecessor The Biographical Dictionary of Literary Failure (both from Melville House.) He is at home anywhere there are dark bars, dusty libraries and good second-hand bookshops. @cdrose_writer