You will remember Jonny Gibbings from his wonderful post here about the joys of surfing. But Jonny is much more than just a surfer. As well as being one of the nicest, most inspirational guys you could meeet, he is a fabulous author. His debut, pitch black comedy Malice in Blunderland, caused quite a stir. His new book, Remember to Forget, is very different, yet reflects the same passionate, emotionally charged, exuberance for life that infuses his writing wherever you find it. It’s a true pleasure to get to spend time with talking to him about his rocky road through social media, writing, his passion for animals, and generally shooting the breeze with one of contemporary culture’s few genuine heroes.
1. I first met you through your comments on the Guardian Books Blog – I was absolutely fascinated and somehow uplifted by your relentlessness and positivity. Care to say a little about that?
Well, with the Guardian, it amazed me how they kept taking themselves so seriously. They seemed to be like ants, following the same path to the same conclusions and same authors. What I have discovered and am trying to resist in myself is how when knowledge expands, perspective narrows. They didn’t seem to celebrate books, rather a narcissistic closed circle of certain writers. I know I’m late to words, both understanding them and writing them, but how can you not be excited by them? I’m like a kid who held his breath, but for near twenty years. Words encapsulate history, make you laugh, cry and simply say just ‘sorry’. With just a pen and paper you can create heroes, villains, worlds and make kids laugh at bedtime – what is not amazing about that?
2. In fact, you and social media in general…
Me and social media have a troubled past. Pretending to be the Prime minister on twitter and saying “Asprin won’t bring a dead hooker back to life” etc. Caused much hassles and a day in court. I have grown apathetic to it a bit of late. I love ow you can reach out and discover artists and writers, but it also annoys how so many use it like a megaphone rather than a telephone. I hate the term fans, fan page and all that shit. It’s why I’ve resisted a fan page, who am I kidding? I don’t have fans, I have people who have read my stuff and I like to know them, they are not anonymous and I have pseudo fame desires.
3. A lot of people are surprise by the change of tone in Remember to Forget – does that surprise you? I say that because, having read many of your blog posts, it doesn’t surprise me at all.
The reaction is a bit mental. Malice in Blunderland was written deliberately badly, with errors and such. I wanted it to feel like you had found the journal of a man in breakdown. Thing is, many thought the errors were real, even though there was a huge warning page. The thing that has amazed me is the reaction to the craft of the words used, the prose, as if they’d rather I remained a literary villain. The point though of Remember to Forget I guess is a prompt. I see so many chasing pots of gold that don’t exist. Those who have everything and don’t see it, and having come from nothing I still have a strong grasp on what is important. I know that me being home to read a made-up story to my kids every night will mean more to them than me not being there, and working to pay for a bigger house or a fancy car. Life is short.
4. Why do you think the media has such a problem with comedy?
It’s not that they have a problem with it, it’s just that it isn’t taken seriously… because it isn’t serious. Comedy is like Chinese food, it nourishes a need, but an hour later you are hungry again. Great emotional pieces stay with you. Laughter lightens moods and thus carries no weight. As for dark humour, we all like it, just that many pretend not to, So many times I’ve heard “Have you heard this joke? It’s in bad taste but…” whispered to each other.
5. What would you like to see done about it?
To be honest, I’m not bothered. I care little about recognition or what the industry thinks. I do have another comedy out at some point, probably around the time of the film, but as long as some laugh, it has fulfilled its job.
6. As you know, I’m passionate about my pets. Tell me about you and animals.
At the moment we have three dogs, having just lost one. We sponsor Boxer rescue and am active in the rescue, so one boxer. The profits form the film rights went to K9 angels, that rescues dogs from illegal meat markets in China, Thailand and Korea. We have one dog that wasn’t supposed to survive, so I called him ‘Food’, but fortunately he did, so we have a Thai dog, we also rescue dogs from Romania (street slaughter) so have a Romanian dog. We have an Arab horse, and five other horses we are fostering to re-home, and three guinea pigs I took from a home when rescuing a dog that were full of cigarette burns.
7. How would you like people to see you as a writer and as a human being?
I’m not sure. I don’t, if I’m honest care that much. I hope people like my work, and happy for the books to do the talking, but as for what they think of me as a writer? I think if that becomes important, you’ve lost the plot. As for a human being, I have a low expectation on humanity, from how I’ve been treated and how people treat animals, the work I do as a campaigner, vegan and animal rescuer isn’t for the media, or attention, it is because it is unjust to allow any suffering. I can’t believe I’d ever inspire anyone and I’m not trying to. The stuff I do for homeless charities is simply because I’ve been there and can help.
8. What I love about you is you are never afraid to bare your soul. I think there’s too much snobbery against the personal and the passionate. Love your thoughts on that.
Thank you!! I Couldn’t agree more. You have to be passionate, being reserved by its very definition means reservation, of what? What you think? Feel? It better not be about what you write, else why bother? I see little point in doing anything by halves. If you love some one, love them till it hurts. If you are going to commit something to paper then commit. Don’t fuck about thinking is it commercial, will I get a booker and bullshit like that. Passion lands, it’s felt. You want to hear passion and its power? I’ve seen my parter Sophie crying her heart out at boarder security. A van full of dogs rescued from kill shelters in Romania being sent back because of political reasons. They saw a little woman, who’d driven her own car from England, funded the van, crying her eyes out, yelling and screaming. She wouldn’t leave without those dogs. Something clicked, they felt her pain, her reason, it crawled under the read tape and touched them. Against orders, they let the van through. If something is wrong say it, else you are complicit. Passion is the by-product of reason, when people contest the Vegan thing I get, “The cows are humanely slaughtered” To which I reply, “That makes as much sense as kindly raped!” If some write for fame or approval, good on them, but that isn’t me. I feel sorry for the literary snobs as they live in a world of literature by proxy, a world pre-selected. Imagine how much fantastic work their narrow vision misses out?