Joe Ambrose is an incredible author, with 14 books (so far) to his name and numerous entries into various anthologies and way more besides. Joe was an early contributor to outsideleft, and brought a lot of our initial energy and momentum; I think he wrote something-like 50 rapid fire pieces about music, arts and culture. Of equal importance, Joe brought some great writers along to the project too.
Way back then, in 2004, I think we saw ourselves as doing something quite new on the internet - user generated, but collated content... The goal was always to give a platform to people who wanted to write. A shared space and a shared experience. Anyway, without an operating budget it's pretty hard to maintain or sustain or expand such a flighty notion, if at all if the intenrion is to remain steadfastly independent, that's another story; We have a welcoming but revolving door for contributors going in and out. No bigger welcome though than for Joe when he on his way in.
OUTSIDELEFT: I can't believe it, six years since you last wrote something for outsideleft. I think at that point, Chelsea Hotel Manhattan was out. What have you been doing with your time?
Joe Ambrose: Personal stuff and public stuff. On a personal level I got seriously ill and had to struggle with that for a while. That was an eye opener.
On a happier note I had a wonderful time with me friends in Tangier and wrote a lot. I brought out a collection of very short stories called ‘Tangier Tsunami’I also edited an anthology, CUT UP! with my comrade AD Hitchin which featured some great people like Claude Pélieu, Billy Chainsaw, Allen Ginsberg, and Mary Beach. That was a liberating project to undertake and I love working with Antony, by which I mean AD. Musically I’ve been working with two Portuguese virtuosos, Rui and Tiago, who have a project called Alma going on. Our joint venture has resulted in a single available via iTunes and suchlike wizardry. It features hip hop founding father Arthur Baker and Beat Generation poet/photographer Ira Cohen.
A lot of the time I’ve been sitting cross-legged on top of the mountains which surround Tangier, in the company of my pal Issam, and I’ve been thinking about my life, very much at peace.
OL: We should feature Rui & Tiago and AD Hitchin… Meanwhile can you talk a little bit about your immediate plans for your series of outsideleft essays?
JA: I hope to write a few essays which will poke around inside our cultural scrapheaps and thrift stores. I was recently asked on Facebook to name my top ten albums that I listened to in the past and still listen to today. Then I was nominated to list ten favourite books which influenced me. This got me thinking about the sort of person I was when I was a lot younger and about the things that enthused me so much then. I noted that many of the writers who were so on-trend then are not so widely read today. People like Mailer and Gore Vidal and Hermann Hesse. Whereas in music the opposite has happened. The music I listened to back then, underground and over-ground, has become a kind of cathedral of acquired good taste, preserved in aspic, forever marvelled at and taken to be implicitly magnificent – people like Lou Reed, the Stones, and Alex Chilton. Fuck all that. That generation of bands and songwriters were a bunch of young brilliant hoodlums, opportunists, over educated savants, or junkies all trying to make a place for themselves in this senseless world, scarcely knowing what they were doing or achieving. But I guess that’s always what gives rise of great art. Anyway, I’m going to share some of my thoughts on that stuff.
OL: Are you traveling much?
JA: No. Just zig zagging between Ireland and Morocco. I spend a fair bit of time in a city called Ksar El Kebir which most people will never have heard of. A large provincial souk town not too far from Tangier. In Ireland I have an apartment in my home town which is called Clonmel. A once-bustling market town now fallen on very hard times like most towns of that sort and size in Ireland and the UK.
OL: It’s interesting to me, since you’re in Ireland some of the time, how the whole Brexit thing is seen there. There is some concern I might imagine but also perhaps, oh the British, here we go again… It’s odd isn’t it, Ireland from the outside seems to be push back against social inequality in terms of human rights, Britain, not so much it might seem. I don’t know.
JA: Ireland, like the rest of Europe, is horrified by Brexit. Only moreso. As far as I’m concerned, the English are a brother people to us. I didn’t always think that but the twenty years I spent living in London brought me to love the culture. Writers like Graham Greene, C.P. Snow, Eric Ambler, Barbara Pym, Nancy Mitford, Alan Hollinghurst, Robert Harris. Hopefully now that Labour has adopted a more negative policy Brexit might fall apart at the final hurdle. Ireland has become incredibly progressive, sometimes merely for the sake of it I think, but the people I know in London are mostly much more progressive and given over to a classless society.
OL: Since we’ve started outsideleft the publishing industry has well not undergone a revolution but there has been an indie revolution and I think major publishers would like to deny that… Has some newer technology impacted you at all?
JA: Major publishers gradually ceased to be independent publishing houses with proper teams of editors and long-term commitment to sometimes difficult-to-sell authors. They became properties owned by humongous multinational commercial enterprises. Faber in the UK remain a proper independently owed publisher with offices of their own and a bit of taste and commitment. They get away with it, I think, because of all that money they got from Cats the musical, which is based on the work of T.S. Eliot. But I’m not convinced that the real indie publishing scene, the small press end of things, is achieving anything significant by way of sales or marketing of emergent authors.
I’m terribly interested in POD publishing. It’s a wonderful technology. But it is terribly difficult to shift any books merely using the technology because you still need some ability in the marketing area to get your material purchased. Fuck-all use having the covers of your book up on Amazon and a nice photograph of yourself on Goodreads. That alone will get you nowhere. I’ve used it for a few small slightly quirky projects. Books I very much wanted to do, which I think will sell some copies but not necessarily take the world by storm.
OL: You have a new book in the works. Let’s talk about that if you can.
JA: I’ve got a few things in the pipeline. In October I have the eBook/Kindle edition of my last book, Tangier Tsunami, coming out. That’s a collection of two-to-five page stories which I wrote by hand in a large spiral notebook and then, with virtually no rewrites, transferred onto my computer.
Then before Christmas I hope to have a little book out called Look at Us Now/Ghadaffi which is a work of fiction about the life and death of Muammar Ghadaffi almost entirely made up of his own words, the actual words of his friends, and the reams of vile black propaganda about him which appeared in the Western media subsequent to his being kicked to death by American collaborators. A version of this appeared in the CUT UP! anthology which myself and AD Hitchin did.
I have another long book that I’m working on, but I don’t want to talk about that.
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