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Steve Aylett

Steve Aylett is a British satirical science fiction writer.  Amongst novels and other comic books, Steve created Jeff Lint, a fictional author, who has been referenced across much of his work including a film about the character that featured the likes of Alan Moore, Josie Long and Robin Ince.  He is also a synesthete, a writer who does not think in words.

I really like creativity from nothing.

On becoming interested in science fiction

The first science fiction writer I read was unfortunately probably Isaac Asimov…yeah, he’s not brilliant. But I like the robot stories, but they are really children’s stories. When I’m writing I always try and find stuff that interests me and I’ve always written the books that I would like to read. And there has to be interesting stuff going on all the time, otherwise why continue down the page.

On Jeff Lint

I’m big into originality and that’s an axe I have to grind…but the Lint thing goes a long way back, a lot of authors have done the thing of inventing an author or artist or philosopher and then referring to that person…the obvious one is Kurt Vonnegut with Kilgore Trout and there was De Selby by Flann O’Brien and it’s probably the best frame in which to get rid of hundreds and hundreds of original ideas, dozens per page, and have done with them.  Not much need for narrative, and I really like that.  So the Lint book was just great fun, but it carried on, and there was a book of academic essays about Jeff Lint and then there was ‘The Caterer comic which Jeff might have written in the mid 70s, and when the book was published in England everyone was like, oh that’s quite clever, wry amusement, but then when it was published in America there were all these Americans getting in touch with me saying, where can I find this guy’s stuff, especially The Caterer, so I thought why don't I just make one issue and put it out there because its good fun, and people really liked that.  Originally I put it out through Lulu or something like that, but then Floating World in Portland put it out on really nice pulp paper so it really does looks like a sort of mid-70s comic now, it’s sort of come full circle into some sort of reality.

Then there was a film that I made with the worst video camera in the world, it’s got terrible sound and terrible picture but the content is I think quite interesting, I interviewed a lot of people like Alan Moore and Robin Ince, for instance, and other people who really played along really well.  But I’m just done with Lint, I won’t be doing any more of that, but it was fun while it lasted.

On reactions to originality

I really like creativity from nothing: rather than just taking some ideas and putting them together and you go, that’s nice, or taking an idea and incrementing it a little bit, changing the colours on it or something, which happens for the most part these days in films and books, no one seems to come from completely new, or very few people do.  Why do people react so badly to original stuff?  My theory is that if it’s really original, they haven’t seen it before, no one’s seen it before, it’s something that hasn't existed in the world before and so…the mind, the brain, doesn't have a receptor for it, it’s not designed for that thing, there isn't a slot for it, and I think the mind can create a slot for it without too much effort because the mind can have as many orifices as it wants.

Originality doesn't really cause massive outrage, I don't think, but it causes this odd discomfort and people don’t even know where the discomfort is.  I came up with some stupid remark that went ‘originality irritates so obscurely that you may have to evolve to scratch it’.  So that’s kind of what it is, and when people have a choice between watching a film, something that they're comfortable with and they like, and here it is again and they get a warm feeling from it, or something that’s a bit scratchy, it’s not a big deal, but they'll go for the comfortable nice thing. I mean, I love original stuff, it’s just gold dust to me. Same way that I like knowing things that I didn't know previously on subjects that I’m interested in.

I don’t know, I really don't know…I mean I have talked about putting original and interesting ideas into a housing which is kind of like, fairly traditional, but people very quickly see…it doesn't fool anyone really for very long.   There’s a thing about repeating the same behaviour and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity, I can’t remember who said that, but it doesn't take into account the factor of external conditions changing…I value people who are voracious, and how can you take people who aren't voracious and make them voracious?  I don't think you can, can you?

On working with synesthesia

My synesthesia is music to visuals, I mean, I’ve always said I don’t think it’s that unusual among people, but they're not necessarily entirely conscious of it, because it sounds like a strange thing to say, but I think probably most people see visuals of some kind when they listen to music, otherwise what the hell’s going on, it wouldn't have the richness.  So I think most people have some of that but they're not so conscious of their mental processes to see that, oh yeah, of course that’s what happening.  It could be like having a really good screen saver that works to music but the shapes…it’s not meaningless, the shapes are the music, stuff that moves to the beat or something, sounds have a shape in the same way that ideas have a shape, they're like sculpted objects that can click together and revolve and they have a temperature, that’s how it is to me.  

Even though I’m a writer, I don’t think in words, I think in objects and colours and processes and shapes, and I have to do a lot of translating back and forth but that’s kind of like, as to where synesthesia bleeds over into Asperger’s kind of stuff, because that’s what that thinking in shapes thing is often kind of identified with.  But the other bit of synesthesia specifically is that sometimes colours signify over into flavours and temperatures, and I’ll give you two examples, both films.  There’s a not very good film with Milla Jovovich called Ultraviolet and for some reason she can just change the colour of her hair and clothes all the time, and the whole movie is codified with colours all the way through.  It’s generally not a very good film but in terms of its colours, there are these sort of rich colour washes that happen, and for a synesthete with my particular thing it’s just amazing, you get this kind of bodily flush as colours change from one kind of ruby like colour to another one.  The other film is that Tarantino film, Death Proof. It goes into black and white, and some woman is sitting on the hood of a car in black and white, and then suddenly it clicks into colour and the car is this kind of lipstick red, and for me, that’s really good.

But it’s mainly music, where you basically get a whole shape and light show going on.  I just…I don't think in words but, as I said, I have a lot of translating back and forth to do, so sometimes in the middle of a conversation I’ll be sitting looking completely gormless and I’m just doing that, or sometimes someone will say something that’s actually interesting and has this shape to it and I’m just turning it round before I get back into the conversation, but by then its moved on and I’m looking like an idiot!

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