Ian Watson


Ian Watson wrote the screen story for Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence, based on almost a year’s work with Stanley Kubrick.  His most recent books are The Beloved of My Beloved, a volume of transgressive and funny stories in collaboration with Italian surrealist Roberto Quaglia, perhaps the only full-length genre fiction by two authors with different mother tongues (a story from which, “The Beloved Time of Their Lives,” won the British Science Fiction Association Award for short fiction, Easter 2010), and the erotic satire Orgasmachine, first begun almost 40 years ago but only available until now in Japanese; both from NewCon Press. Read more at Ian Watson.

“I usually write in order to have a transformative impact on people’s minds as well as to entertain…”

MMR: Could you speak a little on your experiences with A.I. Artifical Intelligence and working with Stanley Kubrick and Stephen Spielberg?

IW: In fact I only worked with Stanley himself (for about 9 months, with a couple of subsequent short recalls about a year apart).  After Stanley died, Spielberg went through the existing material, including not only my screen story but all the scenes I’d written for Stanley from which I finally extracted the screen story—and these included stuff which Stanley had instructed me not to put in the screen story, perhaps principally the Flesh Fair (the violent carnival of destruction of robots), of which I’d done several versions and which fortunately Spielberg restored to the story.  Another important thing which Spielberg did was to restore my Gigolo Joe to full eloquence again.  Stanley forever insisted that Joe and other robots should talk very simply, rather like Peter Sellars in Being There; so, if my Joe started to sound too bright or witty, Stanley would slap this down.  

Spielberg never actually communicated with me at all because there was no reason to.  With A.I. he was writing his first SF screenplay since E.T., based on my material, and I think he may have hoped for an Oscar nomination, although this never happened.  Worldwide, A.I. was very successful (and the 4th highest earner of the year) but it didn’t do quite so well in America, because the film, so I’m told, was too poetical and intellectual in general for American tastes.   Plus, quite a few critics in America misunderstood the film, thinking for instance that the Giacometti-style beings in the final 20 minutes were aliens (whereas they were robots of the future who had evolved themselves from the robots in the earlier part of the film) and also thinking that the final 20 minutes were a sentimental addition by Spielberg, whereas those scenes were exactly what I wrote for Stanley and exactly what he wanted, filmed faithfully by Spielberg.  As for sentimentality, the ending is in fact very bleak.  After one perfect day with his recreated mother, the little robot boy will never ever see her again no matter how long he exists.  Stanley hoped during his life that Spielberg might direct A.I. because he wanted the film to be a scientific fairy tale, and Spielberg has the fairy tale touch, but authentic fairy tales may have tragic endings rather than happy-ever-after.  No happy-ever-after here!  Alone-ever-after, on the contrary.

Last Autumn (2009) a large and sumptuous book about the project was published by Thames & Hudson, A.I. Artificial Intelligence From Stanley Kubrick to Steven Spielberg: The Vision Behind the Film (edited by Jan Harlan & Jane Struthers), containing a lot of concept drawings by Chris Baker (Fangorn) and photos of some of the pages I wrote for Stanley, and quotes from my screen story.

The circumstances of working with Stanley were so idiosyncratic and one-off—a bit like being struck by lightning—that they hardly yield a usable moral for other writers, although in the aftermath of A.I. I do have one spot of advice: Beware of plausible and pleasant directors with a pet project who claim to have everything lined up but who are either romancing or lying (the distinction being unclear to their brains) if they ask a writer to do work on spec, without paying for it, at least in part, up front.  I’ve learned this in the past ten years at the cost of some wasted time now and then.   

MMR: You’re a poet, too, eh? A multi-tasking writer, novelist, screenwriter extraordinaire? Do you have a preferred medium? Do you find yourself floating between them depending upon the season? A true love?

IW: I think ultimately I prefer short stories.  Right now I can find no motivation to write another novel.   My most recent novel, Mockymen (2003, after about 4 years of hard fight to get it published anywhere) may be, I think, my best novel, but it had quite a limited number of readers, few of them in my own country, whereas my stories are rather more widely read, and I usually write in order to have a transformative impact on people’s minds as well as to entertain, a purpose not served if I don’t get enough readers.  I’ll write a poem whenever an idea fits poetry better than prose, not least because in a story you have more circumstances to rationalise (and most of all in a novel). 

MMR: You and Mike Allen collaborated on the writing of “They Say That Time Assuages.” Seems that you wear collaboration well. What most draws you to working with other creatives on projects?

IW: Synergy.  But you have to be very much in tune with the collaborator.  With the Italian surrealist Roberto Quaglia I produced a complete volume of bizarre transgressive linked stories, The Beloved of My Beloved (NewCon Press, UK, 2009), almost as if we shared the same brain.  This is probably the only full-length genre fiction by two authors with different mother tongues.  One of the stories (one of the tamest!) has just won the British Science Fiction Association Award for Best Short Fiction of last year.   Incidentally, it’s 33 years since I last won a BSFA Award; so there may be a moral there.  Two other component tales were reprinted in The Mammoth Book(s) of Best New Erotica.  Recently Roberto and I collaborated on an SF film treatment for an Italian director who did pay us up front.

MMR: What’s in the works for Ian Watson? Upcoming projects? Readings? Films? Books/collections?

IW: I also co-run SF conventions, so Newcon5 is upcoming in October 2010, the only convention held in a Fishmarket (admittedly converted into an arts lab) if any readers of this happen to be near Northampton UK at the time.  I’ve enormously enjoyed going to conventions run by other people, so I like to put something back into the community.  And I preside over the Northampton SF Writers Workshop which has even given rise to a publisher, namely Ian Whates’ fast expanding NewCon Press, one of its most recent products being the first ever publication in English of my Japanese-influenced erotic satire Orgasmachine.  Beautifully produced books!

I’m still trying to get an agent or publisher for an ambitious novel about the Black Death (which was not bubonic plague) co-written over the course of two years with Andy West, another member of the NSFWG, set in medieval Syria, Iran and Ethiopia, and in the very near future in America, Europe and the Middle East.  Actually I’ve never used an agent before, simply doing the job myself, but this book is a different kettle of fish.  Always try to do something new!  I’m off to the Semana Negra cultural fiesta in the north of Spain in July (I’ve been teaching myself Spanish for a few years), so I’m hoping that the Icelandic volcano calms down or that winds blow from the south at the time, and to Sicily and Rome in September so that one of my Italian publishers can publicise his edition of my Gardens of Delight set in the ‘domain’ of Hieronymus Bosch.

Oh, and Games Workshop have finally relented and un-banned my Warhammer 40K novel Space Marine which people were paying a lot for tattered copies of on eBay, and whilst they won’t allow it in their own shops in case it confuses their younger clientele it’s now available as print on demand, and apparently copies are flying forth.  My decade-long campaign of Chinese water torture (drip drip drip of humour and patience) finally succeeded.  Never lose one’s temper with publishers!

Molly Gaudry

Molly Gaudry is the author of the verse novel, We Take Me Apart (Mud Luscious Press, 2009), and the editor of Tell: An Anthology of Expository Narrative (Flatmancrooked, 2010). She curates Walking Man Gallery, edits Willows Wept Press and Willows Wept Review, is a co-founding editor of Twelve Stories, and is an associate editor for Keyhole Magazine. She writes occasional book reviews for East&West Magazine, and she’s currently tweeting a chapter of her new verse novel, FLORA THE WHORE, every few days on Twitter. An excerpt from We Take Me Apart is featured now at MMR and is now available from Mud Luscious Press.   

“…it is not so much fairy tale and mythology that interest me but the opportunity to use them as springboards for writing that can explore and interrogate what it means to be a woman today.”

MMR: We Take Me Apart avoids convention, both in structure and content, creating a mesmeric experience for readers, one where they must focus purely on words and the protagonist’s journey—girlhood to seamstress heroine. Though your techniques are perhaps not new in isolation, together they present a new approach, a fresh look. Would you talk a little on how you came to settle on such a structure—i.e. no punctuation, poetic line breaks, unnamed narrator, long page breaks, etc.?

MG: Every line breaks where there would otherwise be a comma, period, or question mark. The length of the sections were sort of predetermined, as each emerged from a short list of words taken from Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons. Whatever words were on any given list, I had to work into a self-contained section/chapter. I’m afraid that’s not terribly interesting; it sounds rather systematic, but I assure you it was fun and fresh and never frustrating during that whole first-draft stage.  

MMR: Fairy tale structures and cameos pop up from time to time. One in particular reverses the princess role, thereby testing the suitor (above excerpt). Is this ironic play on fairy tales a frequent focus for you in your writing?

MG: My current project, another verse novel (but metered this time), is called FLORA THE WHORE. It takes its inspiration from Ovid’s Fasti, which tells the story of Flora, who is raped by Zephyrus, the west wind, married to him (which she says is pleasing and satisfying), and given reign over the spring. In my version, Flora’s a drag queen and Z is the female pimp who runs Club Z’s. Looking at my answer now, I have to say that it is not so much fairy tale and mythology that interest me but the opportunity to use them as springboards for writing that can explore and interrogate what it means to be a woman today. 

MMR: What can we expect from Molly Gaudry in 2010?

MG: This fall, Flatmancrooked will release TELL: AN ANTHOLOGY OF EXPOSITORY NARRATIVE. As the book’s editor, I’m proud to leak here a partial list of the fifty contributors whose stories favor telling over showing: George Saunders, Aimee Bender, Stuart Dybek, Rick Moody, Anthony Doerr, Peter Markus, Dawn Raffel, Michael Martone, Gary Lutz, Terese Svoboda, Brian Evenson, Blake Butler, Shelley Jackson, Diane Williams, Clancy Martin, Ben Marcus, Peter Orner, Benjamin Percy, Kate Bernheimer, Lydia Millet, and I wish I could share the rest but I can’t. 

I’m also working on several collaborative projects. One is a children’s book with Ben Segal about Captain Optimism and his nemesis, Pessimist Pearl (his pony (that won’t (poop))). Another, Walking Man Gallery, involves an army of writers and visual artists; basically, I’m the curator who pairs writers with artists; hopefully, with all our efforts combined, we will profit from the results. 

Beyond these things, I’m not sure. Very likely a mohawk. And with any luck, acceptance onto a roller derby team.

MMR: You are a busy woman—author, editor with three different magazines—how do you find time to do it all?

MG: Honestly, I ask myself the same thing every day. Often, the answer is a sigh that accompanies the thought, Well, at least there’s tomorrow.

MMR: We Take Me Apart, a novella, is on its second printing with Mud Luscious Press and comes in an elegant chapbook-like form (perfect bound). It embodies both, in style and content, the spirit of socio-political “anarchies” and/or satires from such canonists as Chaucer, Swift, Marlowe. Would you consider yourself something of a postfeminist anarchist?

MG: Absolutely. Definitely. I like this question. Thank you for asking it and all the others here.

MMR: Thank you, Molly. A pleasure.

Richard Kostelanetz

Richard Kostelanetz is an author whose works readily reflect an influence of two or more media. He attended Kings College, as a Fulbright Scholar, Columbia, and Brown University and has published many books, anthologies, collections, booklets, reviews, essays and plays. Portrait by Leonid Drozner.

MMR: Over the course of your career as an artist, writer, professor, how has technology impacted the visual and/or writing craft(s)?

RK: Computers have facilitated rewriting (without complete retyping). You can’t imagine what a pain in the ass retyping and then hand-written corrections were.

MMR: Do you have a preferred medium?

RK: I’ve tried to explore possibilities for publishing my words in audio, video, holography, and multimedia installations to degrees that could not have been realized, respectively, fifty years ago, forty years ago, thirty years ago, and a decade ago.

MMR: How has the influence of polyartistry impacted your work?

RK: May I note that I’ve worked in these media as an artist, producing my own work sometimes in collaboration with those more technically skilled, as distinct from slaving for bosses in an industry? So far my media publishing has had less influence and recognition than my books, though this inbalance might change.