Belfast Telegraph

Secret & Lies: Carlo Gebler

Carlo Gebler (50) is married to Tyga and they have five chldren, India-Rose (23), Jack (18), Finn (15), Georgia (9) and seven-year-old Euan. They live in Enniskillen. Writer-in-residence at HMP Maghaberry, Carlo is the son of Irish author Edna O'Brien and writer Ernest Gebler. Carlo has published many acclaimed works of fiction and non-fiction, the latest of which is The Bull Raid, which is about the Cuchulainn story. He talked to Gail Walker

By Gail Walker gwalker@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

YOU'D better ask my wife, Tyga, and my children.

WHAT ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS? ARE YOU A GIVER OR A TAKER?

YOU'D better ask my wife, Tyga, and my children.

I probably spend too much time in my study.

But what Tyga probably finds hardest is that being a writer and toiling in Grub Street is extremely insecure, fickle and changeable. There are no certainties and, over the past 20 years, there have been so many changes for the worse in publishing.

It's always been commercial but now it 's more so than ever. Today it's all about recognising niches that will last a few months and publishing material to fill those niches.

The ending of the Net Book Agreement means supermarkets now have phenomenal power, and what they want are eight titles a quarter - a sports book, a biography, a Harry Potter - and that's it.

Publishers are no longer interested in supporting writers who are interested in producing books over 50/60 years. For someone like me who doesn't necessarily want to write a serious book but who wants to write seriously that is a disaster.

And editors now move around like silver balls in a pinball machine. You can be commissioned by someone who then leaves that publisher, and then their replacement ends up looking after your book.

Plus, perversely, there's also this greater expectation that as a writer one will fulfil some sort of special function. It's not just about storytelling anymore, there's an expectation that you can provide the meaning of life as well.

All these things do tend to make someone less and less of a giver. Making a living as a writer means, for me, the world is madder, more frenetic and febrile. I am serving so many different masters.



ONLY CHILD OR ONE OF A CROWD?



I HAVE a half-brother in America, from my father's first marriage, but I've never really had much contact with him.

But I grew up with my brother Sasha, who is two years younger than me, as well as an extended network of cousins, so I wasn't lonely.

As a child I'd no interest in traditional activities such as sport or football, but I had a rapacious interest in reading. We lived in Morden, a suburb in London at the end of the Northern Line. There was a children's library and I'd get through four books a week. I read all of Enid Blyton and loved them and I also read a lot of Biggles and Billy Bunter.

We also benefited from the last dying gasp of the initiatives introduced for the cultural benefit of the working classes by the Labour government of 1945-50. Although we lived in a middle-class mock Tudor home, there was a working-class estate all around us, and we had an open-air cinema on the common opposite our house. The first film I saw there was Whistle Down the Wind in June 1959.

I was always interested in making friends with people - or, at least, with grown-ups. I wasn't garrulous with other children, but with adults. I remember when I went on to the common to see that first film I was just four years old but I got talking to a woman who let me sit on her blanket and gave me boiled sweets and sandwiches.

It was a different country then. I walked to school from the age of five and my brother and I took buses all around London. Of course, we knew there were certain people to avoid. For example, we knew never to go into a public toilet unless there was someone else with us because you would get approached by these people who were dodgy. We were given warnings but we were still allowed out all the same.

Sasha is an architect and still lives in London, and I see him whenever I go over there. The sea lying between these two islands is a huge barrier - and also bloody expensive.





ARE YOU CLOSER TO YOUR MOTHER OR YOUR FATHER?



MY mother, no question about it.

As a child the impression I had of my father was that he slept all day and worked through the night. He was a writer and he could not bear noise nor what he saw as the blandishments of consumer capitalism. He was a Stalinist and he did not think we should have toys, particularly war toys, which he said were cheap, shoddy, a waste of money and made by slave labour in Hong Kong. He said they encouraged children to identify with the military killing machine.

In terms of diet he was also 40 years ahead of his time. He could not stand white sugar or Coca-Cola or anything with additives in it. But when you are eight years old all you want is a Mr Whippy ice-cream. Nor did he allow us to have comics. Eventually I was permitted The Topper but not The Victor or war comics or Superman - they were all American brain rot.

My father was extremely puritanical. He would not let us watch TV because that, too, rotted the brain. And he was incredibly disapproving of popular music. He didn't disapprove of Elvis because of the sexual content but because, compared to Mahler, he had no nourishment.

He also believed in clarity and that all texts should be accessible to every working class man. Though he made a lot of money from writing he had come from a humble background.

He found children irritating - they talked too much, got ill, interrupted things, did not want to go for walks.

One reason he hated America was because his first wife came from there. He'd get Time magazine every week "to see what the Great Satan was up to." Nothing cheered him up like a US setback in South-East Asia.

My father was sarcastic, cold. He was always telling me and my brother that we would turn out as squinty queers. He was forever warning us not to be finessed into cars by strange elderly gentlemen. And in the 50s you were aware of old codgers in macs who did try to get you into cars. My father was incredibly antagonistic to homosexuals. He thought over-mothering produced what he called nancys. This, of course, was complete balderdash.

Now, aged 50 myself and looking back, I can see that he was a man in the grip of terrible, disabling depression. But he had an inability to recognise that psychological malfunction requires medical intervention - that idea appalled him - and therefore nothing could be done about it.

My mother was completely different. She was affectionate and allowed us to do the things we wanted to do. TV - fine. Comics - fine. Mr Whippy - no problem, either. Sweets - here's 2s/ 6d, off you go to the shop. We had a much more straightforward relationship with her. She looked after us, loved us, got us clean clothes, sent us to boarding school, supported us through university. I didn't think of her as a writer but as a mother.

My father thought we already had 50% degenerate genes from my mother and therefore we'd turn out slovenly or alcoholic or wastrels or malcontents.

But here I am. I have supported myself and my family. I've only had one wife. I've never committed any criminal offence. All the indices would suggest I'm not a squinty degenerate wastrel.

My father died on January 26, 1998 - the same day as my last son was born. We didn't have a great relationship in adulthood. He thought I was trying to get money from him and he had a third wife by this stage who was also pretty suspicious of us.





WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?



OH God. Possibly the last two nights that I've spent with our two youngest children. After dinner we sat and watched The Seven Samurai, a wonderful film about feudal Japanese society. A village is being raided so they hire seven samurai to defend them.

Probably I'm proudest of not making a complete mess of the children and of being a good enough parent. I'm also pleased that I've written books, but I hate blowing my own trumpet - it's embarrassing - so best to leave that one there.





WHAT ARE YOU MOST ASHAMED OF?



OH God. In adolescence and early manhood I'm ashamed of my relationships or rather my separations from a number of people with whom I was in love. Disastrous love affairs with messy conclusions. I'm talking about three or four or five women. But I'm still friends with all of them, which is good.

In fact, one of those women and her husband and children are coming on holiday with us this summer.

I didn't marry Tyga until I was 30. Other than that there's not much I'm ashamed of - I've never got drunk and hit someone or crashed the car when drunk.





HAVE YOU EVER BEEN TO A LAPDANCING CLUB?





NO. Though years ago when I was in Poland some solidarity types took me to an extraordinary strip show at a train terminus in order to persuade myself and other students to smuggle papers out of the country.

It was a mother and daughter act. You had to see it to believe it. The mother played the violin while the girl came on in a succession of outfits, undressed and walked around the stage.

I'd go to a lapdancing club for sociological reasons to see what it's like.





HAVE YOU EVER BEEN TO A FORTUNE-TELLER?



I'M fascinated by that type of thing and up for all of it. When I was younger and in Brighton I'd go to these women with hoop ear-rings and black shawls. I've also been to Tarot card readers, and I'm a great believer in what Jung said about them. He believed they were excellent but don't expect them to tell the truth. You have to interpret what you hear psychologically.

Once a woman read my cards and she told me that in nine weeks time I would have an encounter with someone in uniform and that I mustn't be arrogant with them.

Nine weeks later I was driving up the M1 in the outside lane about 70mph and listening to a Proust novel. The road was deserted. Suddenly, a car with a flashing blue light came up behind me and made me pull over. The policeman wanted to know why I was driving in the right hand lane. Apparently, even if the motorway is empty you must pull back into the left hand lane. My first instinct was to say: "You must be joking, go and catch some criminals." But I remembered the words of the Tarot card reader and so I said: "I was just concentrating so hard on the road and I promise officer to always exercise lane discipline in future." And with that he went off, very happy.





HAVE YOU ANY PHOBIAS?



I'M not too keen on heights and I don't like ladders. I'm not too keen on rats or mice, either. There's a river near our house and we have water rats nearby. It's the speed at which they move that gets to me. They're also very clever.

I don't particularly mind snakes, though. In southern Italy I remember swimming in a river where there were snakes in the water. Snakes won't come near you once they have seen you. They're not aggressive.





DO YOU TIP IN RESTAURANTS?





ABSOLUTELY, always. And I also tip taxi-drivers unless they are surly.

Waiters and taxi-drivers always tend to be underpaid.





DO YOU BELIEVE IN GOD?



ABSOLUTELY. My father thought religion was the opiate of the masses. I just have a feeling there is something else but I don't know what it is.

I'm a regular church-goer.





QUICK DEATH OR TIME TO PREPARE?



I WOULD like to have my mother-in-law's death. She'd been ill and she died at 68. She organised everything - divided out her jewellery, wrote her will - then went to bed, fell asleep and never woke up.





REGRETS ... HAVE YOU HAD A FEW?



NOW, I can see that in the past people made overtures - offered friendship, offered opportunities - that I failed to recognise and could have made more of.

Sometimes these were to do with work, but on other occasions people just wanted to be friends and engage in meaningful conversations.

I'm lucky that my children are healthy and my grandson is healthy. I know that makes me sound like an old fogey but those are the things that you really start to value. Having said that, modern youth is a disgrace, no-one can spell anymore, everybody drinks too much, politicians have got worse - but apart from that everything is fine.



lThe Bull Raid by Carlo Gebler (Egmont, £12.99)

lFather & I: a memoir by Carlo Gebler (Abacus, £7.99)

lThe Siege of Derry: A History, Little, Brown, £18.99)

Daily News Headlines Newsletter

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox.

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph