ULTAN: Anyway, a warning: the new novel is called The Book of God, and it features God as a mad, filthy old sex pest.
KINDRA: Yes, I am a Christian with a strong faith in God; but, ironically, this is what should make me beyond offense.
*P.S. The following is a mix of formal interview questions and cuts & pastes from less formal conversations Dec 2021
#1. Your work is revolting and repugnant … but a masterpiece. I read The Book of God and your previous novel Meat, and I’m just dying to ask
ARE YOU RELIGIOUS?!
Meaning, do you believe in a supernatural being of any sort? I ask because you have a remarkable grasp of evil. I can’t say ‘good’, because the novels I’ve read so far are not really centered on the battle between the two, but more so on the layers of evil. Or at least that’s how I’ve understood it.
The short answer – no. I don’t practice any form of religion, but I did have a Catholic upbringing and I suppose some elements of it still shape my psyche. Christ does feature in some way or another in all of my novels, at least symbolically. I find the history, the myth and the iconography of Christ extremely compelling. That said, I’m not a deist and I believe that the concept of God is entirely anthropomorphic. Is there some conflict there with my preoccupation with Christ? I don’t believe so. I think the idea of God can be removed from much of Christ’s teachings and his (Christ’s) core significance remains the same.
As to evil, it’s a difficult and vast term to wrap one’s mind around, full of subtlety and nuance. I’d rather discuss dehumanisation, a more tangible (and narrow) manifestation of human ill. I would say I’ve a good grasp of the root causes of dehumanisation and its devastating effects. It’s the major theme and undertone of my novel Meat. Is the protagonist in that book evil? Perhaps. But his main crime is that he sets out to destroy the world around him so that he can avoid facing himself. The novel was very much born of my own decades-long struggle with mental health.
#2. You were born in Ireland? Whereabouts? Do you reside in the UK? Can I ask about your ethnic/racial/residential background (without seeming nosy)? (I ask because your work also has a cool grasp on international locales and ideas, and I wonder if any of it is influenced by travel etc.)
I am from Belfast, Ireland, but have been living for the past two years in Italy. I’m white! Irish white. Think milk that looks a little bit blue. That kinda white. I have travelled and worked the world over, living, at times, in China, Russia, Turkey, Greece and Scotland. I will settle one day soon, I hope, probably in Scotland. It is calling me.
ULTAN: In the meantime, I’m back home in Ireland for Xmas and I’m gonna take the opportunity to try and get my first two novels into indie bookstores across Ireland and the UK. That’s the next step I believe, seeing my books on shelves. I’ll start with Belfast and Dublin, then Glasgow and Edinburgh, then take it from there. I’ll let you know how I get on. : )
#3. What is the literary market like where you’re from/reside? Your work is “controversial” so I’m wondering if the culture you live in is receptive to that? What kind of books tend to dominate the mainstream? How has your work been received?
I haven’t lived in Ireland or the UK for some years now, so I’m not aware of the current ‘zeitgeist’. Probably a bit staid, like much of the rest of the world. My novels haven’t had much of a reception at all, to be fair, since I’m still struggling to get my name out there. Can we still be shocked? Do we have that capacity anymore? Maybe not, but I imagine, yes, there are things in my work that might stir controversy, particularly in light of the modern woke climate. I don’t believe, however, that there is any place in art whatsoever for wokeness or the restraints it demands. Art, if it is to fulfil its essential function, must be free to frighten, to explode. Art can be beautiful, but it must also be allowed to be brutal. Without this dichotomy, it is nothing more than a pretty picture on a wall.
KINDRA: Great commentary about woke culture, etc. The irony of course is that there’s nothing ‘woke’ about it; it’s just deceptive liberal speak for censorship, hatred (for whites) and intolerance. I’m honored to meet a milky, true Irish white. Now I’ve got an “in” into the country lol.
#4. I’ve told you that I thought Meat was a masterpiece, and the character of Hugo, the barman, reminded me a lot of The Judge character in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, which is also a masterpiece (in its understanding of good and evil) (and was not received popularly when first published). You said that it’s been on your read list for a while but you still haven’t gotten to it! Do you have any favorite authors/books?
I love the Russians: Gogol, Bulgakov, Lermontov. These are writers I will forever reread. Also McCarthy – I haven’t read his entire oeuvre, but I will eventually. Bohumil Hrabal, Sadegh Hedayat (there are massive and glaring references to The Blind Owl in Meat), Miller, Nabokov, Alasdair Gray. To name but a few.
#5. There’s a lot going on in The Book of God; it’s very unorthodox in its arrangement and presentation: there’s the voice of God, the voice of the Scribe, the voice of Souls, the voice of a maid and, briefly, her daughter; and they all speak as according to their character: in narration, in poetry, in stream-of-consciousness, in … It’s a remarkable interpretation and mimicry of the Bible (in the sense that I believe most religious people have a wrong understanding of God based on their idolatry and so wrong interpretation of a book); and The Book of God, to me, is a critique of that. It can be offensive, but not if a person really understands that The Book of God is really what has happened: God has become a horrible creation of people that they’ve twisted and corrupted into a wild, hateful feral man who lives in the woods and equally hates the people he’s made (and pees on their heads (amongst other things)) and keeps trying to press the reset button to kill them all over again. It’s saying so many things. God making creation but creation being capable of corrupting God—which is a wrong understanding of God as well—but, ironically, how most people think even though they’ll become angry and tell you they don’t.
That’s my interpretation. Did you mean The Book of God as a critique? How did you get started with the idea?
The book arose from a series of short pieces that I wrote each day while on holiday in Ischia, Italy, in summer 2021. This is when the ‘Soul’ stories came about, the first being ‘Celestial Night Music’. In one of these stories, though, I identified the voice of God, and once that idea took hold in my mind, that’s when the book began to develop. It was immediately clear that God was mental, and it took off from there into the mad tract that it blossomed into. It all started with a strange people that live underground…
KINDRA: “It was immediately clear that God was mental”
This is a pretty funny statement. I’m not sure how you mean it, but, as a Christian, I’ll clarify that my belief in God has nothing to do with my mind. My mind, actually, is evil. The human mind is evil.
ULTAN: About this: “It was immediately clear that God was mental”
What I meant by this was that it was clear from the tone of my piece. I mean, the voice, as I wrote it, was crazy – the ‘literary rendition’, let’s call it. Not the actual ‘God Almighty’.
I haven’t had time to analyse it yet, and I didn’t set out to write a challenge to religion, though in many ways that’s exactly what it does. For me, in part, it poses the question: If we are, as per the teachings, the children of God, each his unique creation, and we are indeed made in his image, then is God as presented in The Book of God not a distinct possibility, or at least, might he not be endowed with some of the same unbalanced and insane characteristics as us, his children? Or, conversely, is it the reverse that is true, that we have created God in our own image, and will it not stand then that God is in fact a lunatic? How can it be otherwise? Obviously, the book explores some of the extremes in belief and interpretation that people bring to religion, perverting and twisting it. So yes, this is absolutely a critique, not only of religion itself, but of the perversion of religion.
#6. Can you speak a little on Black Tarn Publishing? This is a press that you operate (that focuses on dystopic books)? Have you published any titles?
All of our titles so far are self-published. Right now, the outfit is the collaborative effort of myself and Dave Migman (writer, artist and carver from Glasgow, Scotland). We started in November 2020 and to date have put out five titles. I’ve produced four novels in two years (the latest being The Book of God), so we’ve been pretty productive. Our typical genre would be dark, dystopian, literary fiction. I’m also a big fan of the post-apocalyptic genre. There’s a post-apocalyptic novel in me for sure. It’s only an idea at the minute, but it will almost certainly happen. I even have a premise. My next work, however, will probably be a work of historical fiction. It’ll bubble to the surface soon, I’m sure, and I’ll likely sit down to begin in the next month or two.
KINDRA: When will you publish The Book of God do you think?
ULTAN: So, with The Book of God I plan to approach agencies first. It’s unusual and I think the writing is strong enough, but I’m aware it’ll take a brave agent to get behind it. It’s not commercial but it does have some unique selling points. I’ll do two more edits on it, one in January and one in February, then in March I’ll start submitting. That’ll give me time to iron out any issues it still has: layout, flow, etc…
#7. Anything else you’d like to add for posterity’s sake ha ha? If not, thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions.
I like your conception of The Book of God as the ‘anti-Bible’, and henceforth, to anyone who asks me what it’s about, that is exactly how I will describe it.
Thank you for the great questions. This has been a wonderful first interview.
KINDRA: P.S. Random, but I love how every time I look up your work on Amazon under “Ultan Banan”, it’s like, did you mean “Ultra Banana”? And I’m like, yeah, no, I’m pretty sure it’s not that … But, sure, let’s look at some ultra bananas.
ULTAN: You know what, I had a moment of crisis sometime after I’d chosen my pen name, when I asked a friend to pronounce it for me. He was like, ‘Ultan Banane’? I said, ‘No, you idiot. It’s not “Banane”, it’s “BAnan”. Like “Bannon”. I almost changed it. Then I said f**k it, they’ll get the hang of it. Sometimes I get marketing emails from bots trying to sell me spellcheck software: “We noticed that you may have made a spelling error on your website…”
p.s. You’re welcome on these shores anytime.